On a Preference for Graceful Decay
I suppose this post is the outcome of the exhausting walk back from the castle (this week we are without the 4 by 4 jeep that had made life so much easier but is unfortunately temporarily out of action). As, after a long day in the heat and dust I watch the younger members of our team walking briskly back up the rocky slope, I find myself falling behind to catch my breath.
We cannot avoid aging and no efforts at opposing physical decline are in the long run really effective. The often pathetic results of those who attempt to defy nature with rhytidectomy procedures, Botox injections and hair transplants should make us come to terms with aging and accept that to grow old gracefully is not such a bad thing.
The same, it seems, is true with ruined fortifications. They face neglect, wanton vandalism, erosion, war damage, stone robbing. At Montfort the roots of trees finger their way down behind vault ribs, and winter rains have brought down massive walls. The pounding waves have eaten away the sea walls of Ascalon, Caesarea and Arsuf. Safed and Latrun have all but vanished to earthquakes and stone robbers. Warfare at Crac des Chevaliers and Beaufort has done irreparable damage. Vandals have ripped out huge basalt stones from the bathhouse at Vadum Iacob, have wantonly shattered a pillar base at Montfort and have incised or painted their names on walls of almost every castle.
But sometimes the greatest damage is caused by the good intentions of restorers. I have earlier mentioned the over-restoration of Harunia in Turkey, that has turned that Cilician fort into what appears more like a factory than a castle. Ile de Greye in the Gulf of Aqaba has taken on an amusement park appearance. The often near complete restoration of many European castles is impressive. Malbork (Marienburg), the Prussian castle that replaced Montfort as the chief fortress of the Teutonic Order, is a particularly remarkable reconstruction of a reconstruction of a medieval castle, having been first meticulously restored in the nineteenth century and then severely damaged in the Second World War when more than half of the castle was destroyed in shelling. It was damaged again by a fire in 1959 which left it in a still more ruinous state and then it was restored yet again, beginning in 1962 and including the most recent restoration of the castle church in 2016.
There is no doubt that the restoration of a castle has its advantages. it gives the visitor a real sense of what it had formerly been. But it cannot be denied that something is lost in the process, something of authenticity and indeed something of history. And of beauty. There is certainly a beauty in crumbling ruins, as the eighteenth century gardeners of England were aware. But then, those ruins were not authentic, and perhaps these are merely the ramblings of a man becoming increasingly aware of his own physical limitations.