By Enakshi Sharma
The struggle between man and nature is nothing new. Men have always tried to get the better of nature but time and again the nature comes back with a vengeance and reminds us that we still have a long way to go. The most recent example of nature’s fury was seen during the Nepal earthquakes. Apart from the devastating loss of life, this disaster was also painful for the connoisseurs of art and heritage as a lots of historical temples with invaluable artefacts were irreparably destroyed by this quake. Even several UNESCO heritage sites in and around Kathmandu were partially destroyed including the durbar square. In light of such losses, today we are trying to remember a few other works of art lost due to natural causes.
The ruins of the city Pompeii
Portrait of the baker Terentius Neo with his wife found on the wall of a Pompeii house.
Pompeii was a glorious and prosperous Roman City. It was the envy of its neighbours during its heydays. It had numerous monuments, palaces, statues and other artefacts, each of which would have become invaluable in the modern era. But they made the mistake of choosing the wrong location, under the live volcano of Mount Vesuvius! So one day it really erupted and consumed the entire city and its inhabitants. Charred ruins of the city are still flocked by tourists after two thousand years. But had it continued to be inhabited by living people, it could have been another Rome today with its own monuments, museums and art galleries displaying its rich past.
Crucifix, 1287-1288. Distemper on wood panel, 448 cm × 390 cm (176.4 in × 153.5 in). Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence
Photograph of the work taken by Ivo Bazzechi after damage in the 1966 flood and before the commencement of restoration
Cimabue was one of the greatest medieval Italian painters. Crucifix is a classic distemper on wood painting by the Florentine master circa 1265 AD. It is an important work as it breaks away from traditional Byzantine style brings about modern, naturalistic rendering of the human form. It was installed in the church of Santa Croce and remained there for almost 600 years. But tragedy struck in 1966 when a sudden flood devastated Florence. The crucifix was badly damaged and practically destroyed along with many others valuables. It was later “restored” with a new coating of paint but let us face it, it will never be the same as the original.
LIGHTHOUSE OF ALEXANDRIA
Drawing by archaeologist Hermann Thiersch (1909).
The lighthouse as depicted in the Book of Wonders, a late 14th century Arabic text
It was an achievement because there was nothing taller in the world when it was built. It built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom that came to rule Egypt after Alexander’s conquests. It was erected between 280 and 247 BC and the height was believed to be between 120 and 137m tall. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it helped ships discover shore for more than millennia but was gradually weakened by three major earthquakes over the centuries and finally succumbed to ruination in the 14th century.
COLOSSUS OF RHODES
The Colossus of Rhodes as imagined in a 16th-century engraving by Martin Heemskerck, part of his series of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Surely everyone has heard of the Colossus of Rhodes. In fact the very word “colossal” is derived from this statue which was among the seven wonders of the ancient world. At 33 metres, it was the tallest statue of those times and as seen in the artistic re-imaginations, ships could sail through its legs. We are not sure how it exactly looked and if the quality of sculpting was up to the mark. But it deserves the respect for its sheer size must have taken some serious effort. Sadly, it did not last long. An earthquake in 226 BC destroyed it forever and the pieces were collected by people and all that is left now is a word in the dictionary.
Ribeira Palace in its mid-18th century Mannerist and Baroque form, only years before its destruction in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.
Ribeira Palace in Lisbon was a royal palace that was destroyed by earthquake and tsunami in 1755. Apart from the loss of property, it also lost a huge collection of art. Among others, it had many paintings by renaissance era greats such as Titian, Rubens, and Correggio. All such works were never recovered and the palace was also never built again as the King, who survived the disaster, developed claustrophobia. As of now, the location is just used as the city square in Lisbon.
ROYAL ALCAZAR OF MADRID
It was originally a Moorish fortress built in the 9th century. It was later modified and enhanced by the Spanish Royalty to serve as the seat of their power. During its heydays it used to be one of the most magnificent palaces in the medieval world and remained so till its last day i.e. the Christmas Eve of 1734. That day suddenly a fire broke out and engulfed the palace in no time. It had seen battles and revolts before but this time it was final. Among other things, the pride of Alcazar was the Royal Art Gallery. Out of its 2000 paintings, at least 500 were completely lost. These included the likes of La Expulsión de los moriscos, by Diego Velázquez, equestrian portrait of Philip IV by Peter Reubens, The Twelve Caesars by Titian and many others by such names as Tintoretto, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.
Closer home, the Gujarat earthquake of 2001 also turned out to be devastating not only for the people but also for the rich heritage of Kutch. The 113 year old Kutch Museum was completely flattened along with its treasures. It lost a major statue of Lord Buddha from the 7th century, a gun Tipu Sultan, centuries old miniature paintings of traditional Kutch culture etc. Apart from that there were many large and small historical sites across the region were partially or fully damaged during the quake.