Ruin as Monumental Object in European Architecture

Heidelberg Castle, watercolour drawing. Plundered in the late seventeenth century by the French during the War of the League of Augsburg, the gutted towers from the ruins of Heidelberg Castle are a work both “of time and of man,” in Chateaubriand’s sense.
Syros, Cyclades, watercolour drawing. © Tuija Lind, 2001. In the late twentieth century, even ordinary ruins spark interest, such as those of an abandoned factory. All ruins foster curiosity, as they allow the eye to pierce through their walls.

Beginning with the Renaissance, interest in ruins focused on the monuments of Antiquity, before including all of the remains of the European past. The Enlightenment helped give birth to the new discipline of architectural conservation, because ruins then began to be regarded as aesthetic objects as well as mere historical records. Archaeological studies and measures for protection increased over the following centuries, as did the categories of ruins considered to be monuments or objects worthy of conservation. Certain ruins created by voluntary destruction, natural catastrophe, or abandonment were added to what were referred to as romantic or archaeological ruins. Today, ruins—edifices whose structure is seriously damaged—continue to spark great interest among professionals and visitors, while guides and administrators of heritage tourism have replaced the artists and writers of the past.