I have always been interested in historical restoration of buildings, despite the fact that many archeologists oppose such restoration as not genuine, especially in buildings of great antiquity or in buildings which have been totally destroyed.
If any restoration should take place often it is in the consolidation of the buildings foundations or some partial and limited reconstruction of any structure, clearly marking where the work took place so it should not be mistaken by any future restorer or student as original.
In Athens in the last 30 years important restorations have taken place on the Acropolis, a monumental complex 2500 years old. The work was necessary due to the advance state of decay of the remaining buildings and their importance to Western Civilization. The Parthenon has been extensively restored to prevent any further decay and hundreds of fragments have been found so they could be re-incorporated into the building. The original Parthenon was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC and re-built under Pericles between 479 and 439 BC. The greatest destruction was inflicted during the long war between the Ottoman Turks and the Venetians who attacked Athens in 1687 and fired upon the temple which the Turks had used as a gun powder depot, the resulting explosion gave us what we see today. The restoration which I visited many times in the last 17 years are very impressive and will conserve this important monument for the future. The Greeks in recent years have also restored the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike and the gate or Propylaea.
Under Mussolini from 1923-1939 much of what tourists see today in the Roman Forum was the results of excavations and restorations as political gestures to support the Fascist program of Il Duce. Prior to Mussolini’s rule little could be seen and most of the Roman Forum was covered with modern neighbourhoods, all had to be destroyed and removed to uncover Imperial Rome.
In Germany with the end of the Second World War much of the country was in ruins, the great monuments of the 17th and 18th centuries had been bombed and burnt. Dresden was destroyed in two nights of fire bombing in February 1945. After the war, Dresden found itself in the Eastern part of Germany and the Communists had no interest in re-building the city. What Canaletto had painted in 1747 while under commission to Frederick-Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland was the only memory of that glorious city.
We visited Dresden 3 years ago and saw how the city has been re-built to a point where all the ancient monuments have been brought back to life. The most stunning is the Lutheran FrauenKirche (church of our Lady) built in 1726 by George Bähr with a height of 91 meters.
When we first saw it it was nothing more than rubble, an amazing feat of restoration.
The City of Berlin has undergone the same transformation since 1989 with its re-unification as the Capital of Germany, the Berlin City Palace is nearing completion and is the single most expensive public-private project in Germany at 790 million Euros.
In Potsdam which is a suburb of Berlin, much restoration and re-building of the 18th century buildings has been going on. The City Palace was completely re-built and the Park complex where the famous palace Sans Souci of Frederick II the Great is located has seen much restoration of the pavilions, gardens, Royal tombs and other palaces including the Neue Palais built in 1763 to commemorate the victory of Prussia and England in the Seven Years War against France and Austria.
The Neue Palais (new palace) is intact and avoided being bombed during WWII. Frederick II used it to show off the power of the Prussian State. Frederick II would live there in the Winter and move to Sans Souci down the park alley in the Summer. This palace is also interesting has it was the last residence of the German Emperor Frederick III who only reigned for 99 days dying of cancer and his son Emperor Wilhelm II until his forced abdication in 1918 and exile to Holland.
In front of the Palace and in keeping with the baroque style so loved by Frederick II a folie or fantaisie was built in the form of a semi-circle colonnade with two pavilions. It was damaged after 1918 and during WWII. The first time I saw it in 1997 it was in very poor state and needed much repair, it was cordoned off because it could collapse.
As of 2004 a great effort was made to re-built it and the work is now complete, it can be admired as it was at the time of Frederick II. Here are some photos of it.
This photo taken from the steps of the Neue Palais looking at the colonnade during an open air concert.
Side view, prior to 1997 many of the allegorical statues on the top where missing and had to be re-carved and re-installed. The columns and architectural elements replaced and the copper roof completely redone.
This aerial photo shows the complex, the buildings on either side of the colonnade where servants quarters. Today the buildings are part of the University of Potsdam. While the Neue Palais is a museum, it has 200 rooms and 4 state reception rooms and much of its original furnishings. All of these places are interesting to visit because it is living history.
There are many more cities in Europe who restored their ancient buildings. The State is actively involved and the public often subscribe with donations to these projects.
In France one famous site is the Palais of Versailles, with the help of the American Friends of Versailles, hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised to restore this palace and garden to its pre-revolutionary glory. I remember one visit in 1969 with my parents, what a sad site it was, so much was closed to the public and only up-keep work could be done. Much of the furniture of the palace was sold in 1792 prior to the execution of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Most bought by wealthy English Aristocrats for a few pennies, in London today much of this furniture and various paintings and objects belonging to the Royal Family of France can be seen in mint condition.
Restoration and conservation is important and gives an accurate picture of what life was like back then. One wonders why in Canada we make so little effort to conserve and protect our history.