The Timeless Allure of Ruins

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In ruins, we find beauty in the lost.

Every ruin is a relic of history, evidence of the human quest for immortality.

Paul Cooper, a British Ph.D. candidate, is intrigued by the timeless allure of ancient and modern ruins. On a recent episode of the North Star Podcast, Cooper said:

“Every ruin is a place where a physical object was torn apart, and that happened because of some historical force. If a building is ruined, an economic ruin, a closed down factory, — whether it’s been blown up by a bomb, or it’s been abandoned because people moved away — it’s because huge historical forces have washed over it…. So, each ruin is a window into a particular historical moment where something changed. That’s what really fascinates me every day about them.”

Humans have always explored ruined places. Ruins reflect the diversity of human emotion and are associated with the occult and with dreams.

Ruins freeze the passage of time and create ghost-like sensations. They are silent, empty places. Sometimes we draw inspiration from ruins, and sometimes, they terrify us. Historically, people were afraid to enter ruined sites for fear of ghosts who were believed to roam there.

Ruins are portals to another time. Ruins bring back the dead and unsettle the ruin gazer.

By analyzing the ruins before us, we grant them meaning.

Cooper continues:

“When people in previous ages have looked at ruins, what they see is what we’ve been describing. There was a cataclysmic event, something went wrong here, and they try to tell stories about why that might have happened…Ruins don’t mean anything by themselves. They seem like a kind of place that slightly resists meaning. People try to give meaning to them. They try to tell stories about them that make sense about what must have happened.”

Ruins speak to the passage of time. From the tangled gardens of the Roman Colosseum to the towering summit of Machu Picchu, ruins inspire evocative melancholy and force us to pause — to regain moments of stillness — amidst the rush of modern life.

Many artists portray ruins as places outside of time, where observers get lost in the breadth of history and time slips away.

Here’s Cooper:

“Everyone who comes to a ruin brings a different perspective and a different story and a different meaning. And all the time, the ruin is just sitting there, kind of meaning nothing. It doesn’t mean anything by itself. It needs somebody to come along and give it meaning. And so in that way, the ruin forms a battleground. Everybody is in this five-way tug of war about what this crumbling mass of bricks in the desert means and that’s what makes them incredible places to study.

Ruins freeze a moment in time. In turn, ruins marry the work of man and the destruction of the natural world.

Symbols of enlightenment and repositories of lost knowledge, ruins illuminate the fragile, fleeting nature of life — the entropy of history.

In ruins, we find poetry.

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Cover Photo: Paul Simpson/Flickr via C.C. 2.0