The timeless allure of ruins

Source: BBC News

By Paul Cooper

Mankind has always lived among its own ruins. Since our earliest history, we have explored ruined places, feared them and drawn inspiration from them, and we can trace that complex fascination in our art and writing.

Sixth Century BCE Babylonians feared the ruins of the previous Sumerian and Assyrian civilisations

One remarkable ancient artefact, a Babylonian world map from the Sixth Century BCE, marks the beginning of this obsession. The map, inscribed on a clay tablet, shows how ancient people imagined the quadrants of the earth: it describes lands of serpents, dragons, and scorpion-men, the far northern regions “where the sun is never seen”, and a great body of water they called “the bitter river”.

(Credit: British Museum)

This Babylonian map of the world from around the 6th Century BCE marks the start of our obsession with ruins (Credit: British Museum)

But the map also makes one other curious reference. It describes “ruined cities… watched over by… the ruined gods”. By that time, the ruins of great cities like Ur, Uruk and Nineveh already littered the landscape, destroyed and abandoned due to natural causes or cataclysmic wars. These ruined places were thought to be places of magic, terrible warnings to living humans and the haunts of ghosts and evil spirits.

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Categories: History, The Muslim Times

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