Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Newgrange - County Meath, Ireland

Newgrange is one of the most notable archeological monuments in Europe. Named in Gaelic Uaimh na Gréine (Cave of the Sun), the great passage tomb stands on a low hillock beside the River Boyne in County Meath, Ireland, about 9 miles (14 kilometers) from the sea. Newgrange was built around 3150 b.c., making it as old as some of the neolithic temples on Malta and much older than the pyramids of Egypt. It is a dramatic testimony to the ancient Celts’ scientific and architectural sophistication. Its designers employed great mathematical skills to create such an uncannily accurate astronomical instrument of gargantuan scale. It forms the center of Brú na Bóinne, a region steeped in megalithic culture and ritual. Around it are more than forty prehistoric sites: standing stones, burial mounds, and other passage tombs. Irish mythology identifies Newgrange as the burial place of the high kings of Tara and the home of a preternatural race known as Tuatha de Danainn (people of the goddess Danu); other traditions are attached to the mystical place.

Newgrange is a colossal stone-and-turf tumulus, 1 acre (0.4 hectare) in area and approximately circular in plan, averaging about 280 feet (85 meters) in diameter; the top of its flattish dome is 44 feet (13.5 meters) high. The mound is surrounded by a retaining wall of white quartz and water-washed round granite boulders standing on a foundation of ninety-seven huge curbstones, many of which are decorated with incised patterns of triple and double spirals, concentric semicircles, lozenges, and zigzag lines. It has been estimated that there are some 224,000 tons (203,200 tonnes) of material in the structure. None of the stone is local: the curbstones and those used inside the tumulus were quarried about 20 miles (36 kilometers) from the site; the quartz comes from Wicklow, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the south; and the 1,600 granite boulders come from the Mourne Mountains, just as far to the north. All were quarried, transported, dressed, and fitted into place using only stone tools, and without the use of the wheel. The mound was encircled by about 40 widely spaced standing stones, up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) high, in a 340-foot (104-meter) ring. They were probably erected about 1,000 years later. Only twelve survive. The reconstruction as it can now be seen is based on some scholars’ interpretation of the position of the quartz layers found during excavations under the direction of Michael J. O’Kelly between 1962 and 1975.

For all its size, the mound encloses very little space. A single low passage, 3 feet (less than a meter) wide, penetrates 62 feet (19 meters) into the interior. The passage is lined with standing stones from 5 to 6.5 feet (1.5 to 2 meters) high and richly decorated with

patterns similar to those on the curbstones. There are twenty-two standing stones on one side and twenty-one on the other, supporting a corbeled roof of flat stones. Following the profile of the hill, the floor rises until the passage terminates in a cruciform chamber measuring about 21 by 17 feet (6.4 by 5.2 meters), with a 20-foot-high (6-meter) corbeled roof. Its stones are carved with grooves that prevent rainwater from entering the interior. Three low apses, their walls also carved with intricate geometric designs, open from the central space, Each contains a massive stone basin.

The entrance, crowned with a rectangular opening known as a “roof box,” and the passage are exactly designed so that, at dawn on the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight penetrates to illuminate the central chamber and a triple spiral on one of the great basins. Of course, the tangential sunlight also vitalizes the carvings on the passage walls, bringing life in the depth of winter. The astrophysicist Thomas Ray has calculated that the architecture was not approximately oriented but amazingly accurate. Five millennia ago, as viewed from the inner chamber, the gap in the roof box would have matched almost exactly the sun’s apparent width. Ray demonstrates that the first beam would strike the exact center line of the floor in a patch of intense light about 6 feet (2 meters) long and just a few inches wide. Then in the space of twenty minutes it would broaden, narrow again, and withdraw.

Conjecture abounds about the purpose of Newgrange, although the truth is shrouded in mystery. It seems clear that it was more than a tomb. Cremated remains found on the floor originally had been placed in the basins in only two of the recesses; the center one, whose triple spiral is annually illuminated by the rays of the sun, contained no remains. Some sources suggest that it was the focus of religious rites and only occasionally used for burials; others think that its purpose changed over centuries; and still others that it was simply a giant calendar—the least acceptable of all the explanations. Archeological investigation continues. Newgrange is open to the public and the inevitable impact of large numbers of visitors—close to 200,000 a year—is endangering its ancient fabric. Although it remains as weatherproof as ever, the humidity from tourists’ breath is a growing threat that the ancient builders could never have foreseen. It is expected that access will be restricted, especially during the summer months.

Nemrud Dagi - Turkey

The hierotheseion (royal burial precinct) of King Antiochos I of Kommagene (reigned ca. 69–36 b.c.) stands on Nemrud Dagi, the highest point of his domain, near the modern village of Kahta in the southeastern Turkish province of Adiyaman. It has been characterized by UNESCO as “one of the most ambitious constructions of Hellen[ist]ic times.” The megalomaniac king reshaped the 7,000-foot-high (2,150-meter) mountain by leveling the rock and filling the artificial platform with huge statues of himself and the gods (whom he claimed as kin); he then ordered a 500-foot-diameter (150-meter), 163-foot-high (50-meter) tumulus (artificial peak) of fist-sized rocks to replace the natural summit. It is believed that his tomb, yet unopened, lies beneath the massive pile of rubble.

Kommagene was a small buffer state between the Roman Empire and the kingdom of Persia. Located between the Amanos Mountains and the upper Euphrates, its capital Samosata commanded a strategic crossing of the great river. Mithradates’ father, Ptolemy, used that fact to seize control of the resource-rich area. It became an independent state in 162 b.c. After a brief subjection of the area to the Armenians, in 69 b.c. the Roman general Pompey installed Antiochos I on the throne. About 100 years later King Antiochos IV lost his wars with Rome and Vespasian absorbed Kommagene into the province of Syria.

Antiochos I attempted to establish a new order. His first action was to build a hierotheseion to his father Mithradates Kallinikos I (died 63 b.c.) in the city of Arsameia (now Eski Kale). Its decorations and inscriptions made it clear that Antiochos intended to Hellenize the Kommagenian culture, uniting die Persian Parthian world with the Greco-Roman; in effect, he set out to establish a new religion in which his own assumed divinity loomed large. Nowhere was that more evident than in his own hierotheseion on Nemrud Dagi.

The great tumulus is flanked on the east, west, and north by terraces carved from the mountain; it has been estimated that their creation involved the removal of 7 million cubic feet (200,000 cubic meters) of rock cut away by hand. On the east terrace stood an array of statues of the king and the gods, up to 33 feet (10 meters) high, carved from massive stone blocks mined in a remote quarry. The figures were set in order and identified by inscriptions written in Greek and Persian: Antiochos himself, the mother goddess Kommagene, the father god Zeus-Oromasdes (largest of the statues), Apollo-Mithras, and Herakles-Artagnes. Their faces were finely carved in the late Hellenistic style. At either end, the row of deities was guarded by the royal symbols: an eagle and a lion. At the eastern corner of the terrace stood a pyramidal altar of fire, and various elements around the platform carried carved relief portraits of the illustrious Persian and Macedonian ancestors whom Antiochos claimed as his own. Other relief decoration abounded.

As far as the topography would allow, the west terrace, set some 33 feet (10 meters) lower than the east, was organized in the same way, to much the same purpose: the apotheosis of Antiochos. The syncretized Persian and Greek gods facing east and west on the respective terraces revealed Antiochos’s attempted cultural synthesis. One inscription asserted that he had commissioned the site for posterity “as a debt of thanks to the gods and to his deified ancestors for their manifest assistance”; he wanted to set for his people an example of the piety due “towards the gods and towards ancestors.”

The north terrace, 269 feet (80 meters) long, was used for assemblies and rituals and also served as a processional way connecting the other terraces. Gigantic stone eagles flanked its entrance. The great tumulus was built on a rocky hill framed by the terraces. According to inscriptions, this was the place where Antiochos ordered that his remains should be buried. He died before his elaborate project was completed, and his son Mithradates neither finished the monumental work nor promoted the religious synthesis begun by his father. The site was

abandoned, the last of its priests probably leaving soon after a.d. 72.

Nemrud Dam was rediscovered in 1881 by one Karl Sester; an 1882–1883 German exploratory expedition followed, as well as a Turkish investigation. The findings of both groups were published, but no more research was carried out until 1938, when Germans F. Karl Dörner and Rudolf Naumann visited the site. Dörner returned after 1951 to work with the American Teresa Goell. In 1984–1985 a Turkish-German restoration team, led by Dörner, reerected the bases of the statues in their places. In 1987 the site was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and the following year a 35,000-acre (13,850-hectare) region around Nemrud Dagi was declared a national park. In July 1997 the Turkish government assured the world that the stone heads—all had fallen from their places—would be reset, and measures would be taken to protect the site, not only from natural damage but also from that caused by vandals or just careless tourists. Eighteen months later, the Netherlands-based International Nemrud Foundation received presidential support for a five-year master plan to restore the site, and work commenced at the end of May 2000.

Nazca Lines - Peru

The Pampa Colorado (Red Plain) is a 37-mile-long (60-kilometer) and 15-mile-wide (24-kilometer) plateau in the coastal desert of southern Peru near the town of Nazca. Across its broad face are carved staggeringly cyclopean patterns, an agglomeration of designs on the earth’s surface known as geoglyphs, which portray animals, birds, and other forms, mostly made by removing the dark reddish brown surface to expose a lighter-colored substratum; in some places piled rocks define the enigmatic forms. The challenge presented to the modern imagination by this ancient engineering feat is threefold: its momentous scale and the accuracy of surveying techniques that could project straight lines for miles over irregular terrain are remarkable enough. Beyond them is the uncanny ability of a people whose entire spatial experience was planar, never far above the surface of the earth, to conceive of geometric patterns and representational images whose accuracy and intricacy could be fully appreciated only from high—indeed, very high—above.

The Nazca Lines, as they are called, comprise literally thousands of zigzag, parallel, crossed, or radiating lines: some are 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide, others just a tenth of that. Some stretch for 6 miles (10 kilometers), maintaining their straightness regardless of the uneven topography. There are also simple or complex geometric shapes, including triangles and rectangles, nearly twenty varieties of fantastic birds, a monkey, a spider, a dog, a fish, a tree, and a hummingbird represented. As to their size: the monkey occupies the area of a football stadium; one bird has a 350-foot (100-meter) wingspan; and the spider, among the smallest geoglyphs, has a diameter of 150 feet (45 meters). Together, the lines and figures cover 45 square miles (115 square kilometers). Of course, they are best seen from above and were discovered only when aircraft first crossed the area in the 1930s.

The origin of the lines remains uncertain, although because of their similarity to design motifs on other artifacts, they are attributed to the well-developed Nazca civilization, which flourished between 200 b.c. and a.d. 600. Based on the same evidence, some sources suggest that three successive cultures were responsible for the lines: the Paracas (900–200 b.c.), the Nazcas, and later settlers who migrated from Ayacucho around a.d. 630.

Each culture was agrarian and it is likely that the lines may have been associated with rituals to guarantee a rich crop. On the other hand, the German anthropologist Dr. Maria Reiche, who studied the Nazca Lines for nearly fifty years, believed that they were a vast astronomical calendar, also associated with farming. Studies in the 1980s led others to the conclusion that, while part of elaborate rituals related to fertility, the lines had neither astronomical nor calendrical significance. A decade later a new theory emerged: they charted the origins and courses of aquifers—rivers beneath the desert—associated with irrigation farming in the region. In our modern culture of scientism we disengage the rational from the spiritual, and care must be taken to avoid too simple an interpretation of the actions of people whose universe was better integrated. All of the suggestions about the purpose of the Nazca Lines could be accurate

Even in their own time and place the Nazca Lines were not an isolated phenomenon. Many geoglyphs are to be found throughout South America. Areas with lines and figures very like Nazca’s have been studied on the central Peruvian coast between the Fortaleza, Pativilca, and Rimac Valleys. Others have been found in the Viru Valley, on Peru’s north coast, and in the Zana Valley, more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) north of Nazca. More examples of ground figures and hill figures survive on the other side of the world. The 370-foot-long (110-meter) White Horse (ca. 500 b.c.) cut into the chalk hills at Uffington is among Britain’s most famous, second only to the pre-Christian Cerne Giant in Dorset, a 180-foot-tall (54-meter) human figure, carrying a 120-foot (36-meter) club; there is also the Long Man of Wilmington, Sussex.

As late as 1998 a 2.5-mile-tall (4-kilometer) figure of an aboriginal warrior was discovered carved on the desert floor near Marree in the South Australian outback. It was soon exposed as a hoax, created with the help of satellite tracking equipment and earthmoving machinery The very fact of the difficulty of making such a figure using modern technology emphasizes more the incredible achievement of the ancient creators of the Nazca Lines.

Mystra, Greece

The ruins of the medieval city of Mystra are 3 miles (5 kilometers) northwest of modern Sparta in the Peloponnese. In 1204 the Fourth Crusade, turned aside from its original purpose by Venetian bribes, sacked Constantinople and established Frankish dominion over Greek territories. Among the most important states they founded was the Principality of the Morea, or the Principality of Achaea, governed from 1210 by Geoffroi I de Villehardouin. In 1249 his second son, Guillaume II de Villehardouin, built a castle atop a steep cone-shaped foothill overlooking the fertile valley of Eurotas and strategically commanding the Taygetos Range to the west and the valley of Laconia to the east.

Over the next few centuries the city of Mystra grew on the slopes below. Its name probably comes from the shape of the hill, which resembled a Myzethra cheese. Mystra, with a population that once exceeded 42,000, has been dubbed the “wonder of the Morea.” Like Venice, but for different reasons, it occupies a site that is totally inappropriate for a city, and its construction was a significant architectural achievement.

In 1261 the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus regained Constantinople. The following year, Guillaume II de Villehardouin paid his ransom—he had been captured in 1259—with a number of castles including Mystra, and Michael VIII installed a Byzantine despot. The Villehardouin line survived until 1301, when Philip of Savoy became Prince of Morea. Throughout most of the fourteenth century the principality was in the hands of the Angevin House of Naples, and then controlled by the Venetians. The Byzantines regained it through matrimonial and political alliances and in 1448 Constantine XI Paleologus, the last Byzantine emperor, was crowned at Mystra. For about 350 years after 1460 Turks and Venetians took and retook the city. In 1821 it was among the first places the Greeks liberated from their Turkish oppressors. Ironically, the demise of Mystra was brought about by the foundation of the modern town of Sparta in 1834. The first inhabitants came from the old city; others built the modern village of Mystra.

Mystra has had a tumultuous history, and the different traditions of its occupiers account for its hybridized architecture. In the mid–thirteenth century, the Byzantines’ persistent attempts to expel the Franks caused anxiety among the local populace. Many left the Eurotas plain to settle closer to the castle of Mystra. Houses were built on the lower slopes of the hill, and soon churches were constructed, clinging to the mountainside. This precipitous medieval city was surrounded by inner and outer circuit walls, commissioned in 1249 by Guillaume II de Villehardouin, and later repaired and augmented by the Byzantines and the Turks when they occupied the city. The walls were fortified by high rectangular towers, and of course dominated by the castle. They can hardly be described as concentric, because they snaked along contours and plummeted down steep slopes; nevertheless, they contained and defended the city. On its northeast and west sides the craggy hill

of Mystra climbs sheer from the narrow valley. The defensive walls divided Mystra into the lower and upper quarters: the urban classes lived in the former, while the aristocracy occupied the latter with its palaces, two- or three-story vaulted mansions, and various administrative buildings. Two heavily fortified gates—the Monembassia and the Nauplia—linked them.

The L-shaped Palace of the Despots, possibly begun by Guillaume II de Villehardouin and built in stages between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, occupies an incongruously flat terrace overlooking the Eurotas Valley to the east. The two wings housed many different functions: the private apartments, a palace chapel, an open colonnade, and a large well-lighted hall for assemblies and ceremonies. Just north of the palace stood the mid-fourteenth-century church of Hagia Sofia, a centrally planned funerary chapel for the despot Manouil Katakouzenos. The winding streets of Mystra, as they followed the contours of the hillside, are lined with churches, many built after the metropolitan bishop of Lacedaemonia—the medieval name for Sparta—transferred his cathedra to Mystra. Chief among them is the “mixed architectural type” cathedral: the Metropolis of St. Demetrios (ca. 1309) is a three-aisled basilica at its lower level; the fifteenth-century upper floor, consisting of a women’s gallery, is a cross-in-square roofed with five cupolas. Many churches—the thirteenth-century Church of St. Theodore, the Church of the Virgin Evangelistria, and the Peribleptos Monastery (both fourteenth century)—were purely Byzantine in form. Apart from the fifteenth-century Pantanassa Convent, which is still in use, the buildings of Mystra have been reduced to ruins, some by fire, others by being used as quarries when modern Sparta was being built. A few fine frescoes survive; many more have been destroyed.

Extensive restoration work has been undertaken over many years by the Committee for the Restoration of the Mystras Monuments and the Fifth Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities. Mystra was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1989.

Mycenae, Greece

Imposing even as a ruin, Agamemnon’s city Mycenae—Homer called it “Mycenae, rich in gold”—stands on a foothill of Mount Euboea between Hagios Elias and Mount Zara near the modern village that still bears its name: Mikínai. Seat of the semilegendary Atreus, it is also rich in tragic myth. Atreus’s dynasty was cursed because he fed his brother Thyestes with his own children. His son Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to gain fair winds to take his war fleet to Troy. When he returned, his wife Clytemnestra killed him; she in turn was killed by her son, Orestes. Except on the southeast, where a steep ravine provided natural fortification, the citadel or acropolis (high city) of Mycenae was surrounded by massive and daunting walls. Parts were of polygonal masonry, with shaped stones fitted together, and the gates were built of finely dressed ashlar. But most of the defenses were built of “cyclopean” masonry, so named because the later Greeks, unable to accept that humans could have moved such huge blocks, attributed them to the mythical giant Cyclops. The true purpose of such gigantic walls is still debated by scholars: they were certainly defensive, but some suggest they may have been employed more as a show of strength. Whatever the case, for engineering audacity and skill they challenge even our modern imaginations.

The generic term “Mycenaean” is used for the Late Bronze Age (Helladic) culture that arose on the Greek mainland around 1650 b.c. and whose powerful, militaristic city-states dominated the region from 1400 until 1100 b.c. Mycenaean navies controlled the Aegean and colonized Crete, Cyprus, the Dodecanese, northern Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor, Sicily, and parts of Italy. Then they seem to have outgrown their resources, and despite an attempt to secure the Black Sea grain routes by annexing Troy (sometime between 1250 and 1180 b.c.), the Mycenaean culture suffered such attrition that it was easily subsumed by the migrating Dorians a century later.

From its hilltop at an elevation of about 900 feet (270 meters), the citadel of Mycenae commanded a large, fertile hinterland and the Plain of Argos extended before it; the major route between the Bay of Argos and Corinth, Thebes, and Athens to the north passed under its ramparts. There had been neolithic and early Helladic use of the site between 3000 and 2800 b.c., but the earliest significant developments took place in the seventeenth century. Indeed, most of the surviving defenses date from after 1380 b.c., built in three major stages—ca. 1350, 1250, and 1225.

The walls of Mycenae were generally between 15 and 35 feet (4.7 and 10.7 meters) high, rising in places to 56 feet (17 meters); parts of them were as much as 46 feet (14 meters) thick. The earliest circuit (ca. 1350) enclosed the megaron (palace) precinct with all its ancillary buildings. About 100 years later the walls were extended to include the main western gate and an older grave pit close to it. Another gate, much smaller but just as cunningly designed for defense, is on the north of the citadel. Around the same time, a tunnel was built in cyclopean masonry, leading to a subterranean spring-fed cistern on the northeast side.

Impressive as they are, the walls of Mycenae pale beside the splendor of the western gate, now known as the Lion Gate (ca. 1250 b.c.), mainly because of the majestic sculpture—the earliest large relief sculpture on the Greek mainland—that crowns it. The gate had a forecourt about 50 feet long by 25 feet wide (15 by 7.5 meters). The 10-foot-square (3.5-meter) opening was formed by four massive stone blocks (a threshold, flanking pilasters, and lintel), averaging about 12 by 7 by 3 feet (3.5 by 2 by 1 meters) in size. The double gates themselves were of bronze sheathed timber. The remarkable feature was above the lintel. The corbeled triangular opening (known as a “relieving triangle”) was invented by the Mycenaeans to divert the huge loads of the upper wall masonry away from the lintel and into the jambs—a major step forward in civil engineering. Here the opening was filled by a relatively thin stone panel bearing a relief carving of two lionesses flanking or adoring a column. The composition evokes many earlier relics found on Crete, and the overt symbolism born of this agrarian culture’s emphasis on fertility should not be lost on us. From the Lion Gate, a 12-foot-wide (3.6-meter) road—Homer described the “broad streets of Mycenae”—led via a terraced ramp toward the defensible entrance of the flat-roofed

megaron and its associated complex of buildings near the summit. Most of the palace has been lost.

The citadel survived an attack around 1200 b.c. only to be destroyed, possibly by invading Dorians, about a century later. The walls were not pulled down and the buildings outside, found near every Helladic acropolis, were not deserted. It seems that Mycenae was continuously occupied in some form until about 468 b.c., when the small preclassical city built on the ruins of the ancient citadel was destroyed by Argos and its population banished. The city was briefly reoccupied in the third century b.c. A new temple was built at the summit of the acropolis and the city wall repaired. There is some evidence of Roman occupation, but when the Greek traveler Pausanias visited the region around a.d. 160, he found only ruins. Serious archeological investigations began in 1841 and have continued intermittently.

Mount Rushmore - South Dakota

The broad granite southeast face of 5,725-foot (1,750-meter) Mount Rushmore, neat Rapid City, South Dakota, is carved with the massive portrait heads of four U.S. presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. For its sheer engineering ingenuity and

ambitiousness of scale—Washington’s head is 60 feet (18 meters) high—the ensemble may be regarded as an architectural feat.

In 1923 South Dakota’s state historian Doane Robinson suggested carving giant statues in the Black Hills. Perhaps he was prompted by the knowledge that a colossal Confederate memorial had been commissioned a few years earlier for Stone Mountain, Georgia, but it is more likely that the idea was first conceived as a tourist attraction. Initially, Robinson wanted to have a cluster of tall granite outcroppings known as the Needles carved to form a procession of the Amerindian leaders and European explorers who shaped the Western frontier. Conservationists resisted the idea, and there was no public support. Nevertheless, in 1925 the financial backers of the proposed memorial approached the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who was known to specialize in large-scale sculpture and was then rather unhappily employed on Stone Mountain.

Borglum suggested that the southeast face of Mount Rushmore would make an ideal site for a monument. He proposed to carve the heads of the four presidents beside a table inscribed with a history of the United States. Such a composition would have more than regional significance; it would commemorate “the foundation, preservation and continental expansion of the United States” and be a shrine to democracy. And behind the figures a hall of records would preserve national documents and artifacts.

President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927, and Borglum began drilling. But although less than half the time was spent on actual carving, the work would take fourteen years to complete. Most of the delay was due to money shortages during the Great Depression. Borglum lobbied at every political level, playing on nationalistic feelings and stressing that public works created jobs and won votes. As a result of his persistence, nearly 85 percent of the monument’s $1 million cost came from federal coffers. The Washington head, 500 feet (150 meters) up the mountain, was formally dedicated in 1930, when the name “Shrine of Democracy” was officially adopted; Jefferson followed in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and Roosevelt in 1939. Borglum died in March 1941 and his son Lincoln supervised the completion of the sculpture.

Borglum’s plaster maquettes were based on life masks, images, and descriptions, but the differences between them and the finished heads demonstrate that the sculptor did not simply transpose from plaster to stone. Once the dimensions were scaled up to the finished size and marked out on the mountain, the team of carvers was faced with the problem of removing the unwanted granite. Despite Borglum’s first inclination against its use, dynamite was the only practical way to do that. Once an oval-shaped mass of rock was formed for each head, explosive experts blasted its surfaces to the approximate final measurements. Carvers suspended in bosuns’ chairs shaped the features. They used pneumatic drills to cut closely spaced holes that nearly defined the final surface, and the honeycombed granite was ultimately chiseled away to expose the smooth surfaces of the presidents’ faces. Viewed from a distance, stone miraculously became flesh; as the architect Frank Lloyd Wright observed, “The noble countenances emerge from Rushmore as though the spirit of the mountain heard a human plan and itself became a human countenance.”

A similar feat, already mentioned, deserves a little more detail. The north face of Stone Mountain, 16 miles (26 kilometers) east of Atlanta, Georgia, is carved with a 138-foot (42-meter) equestrian bas-relief of the Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson B. Davis. What began in 1915 as a commission for Borglum to produce a 70-foot (21-meter) statue of Lee developed into a proposal for the group portrait. Preliminary work started soon after World War I and carving began in June 1923. Irreconcilable differences with the client caused Borglum to quit in March 1925—just as he received the Black Hills commission—when little more than Lee’s head had been finished. Augustus Lukeman replaced Borglum, dynamited most of the earlier work, and started again. Disputes over property ownership halted the project in 1928, and it was not revived until 1960, when an international competition led to the appointment of Walker Hancock as chief carver. He started work in 1964, making only slight modifications to the Lukeman design. The use of thermo-jet torches allowed for rapid, accurate removal of the stone and, in collaboration with Roy

Faulkner, Hancock had the gigantic memorial finished by 1972.

The grandiose neoclassical character and the gigantic size of Mount Rushmore and similar projects call for comment about our seemingly irresistible need to enshrine ideals that are anything but inhuman through overwhelming and inhuman scale. Consider, for example, the 150-foot (45-meter) Statue of Liberty or the Cristo Redentore above Rio de Janeiro. On the other hand, colossi have been built for reasons of vainglory: the Colossus of Rhodes collapsed after one generation; the 120-foot (36-meter) statue of Nero (originally near the Roman Colosseum and providing its name) is long gone. One of the multitude of Egypt’s Ramessean statues is described by the poet Percy Shelley as a colossal wreck, “two vast and trunkless legs of stone.” Destroyed by nature or by conquerors, such works are at once monuments to our engineering ingenuity and our transience.

Mont-Saint-Michel - Normandy, France

Mont-Saint-Michel is a craggy, conical island, about half a mile (0.8 kilometer) across and standing half a mile from shore in the Gulf of Saint-Malo, near the border of Brittany and Normandy on France’s northern coast. The north side of the island is wooded and the west presents a barren face to the sea. A fortified village of fewer than 100 inhabitants huddles on the lower southern and eastern slopes and the great Benedictine abbey, dating from the thirteenth century, crowns the entire mount, towering about 240 feet (73 meters) above. The integration of monastery with village and both with the rock was noted by UNESCO as “an unequalled ensemble” when the site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979. Mont-Saint-Michel is an architectural feat for that reason and others: the audacity displayed by the builders on so difficult a site and the harmony achieved between its parts, which were built in many architectural styles over five centuries.

The place known as Mont Tombe, which became Mont-Saint-Michel, has a spiritual history dating from pre-Christian times. There the Gauls had worshiped Belenus, the god of light, and there the Romans consecrated a shrine to Jupiter. By the fifth century a.d. the secluded crag and the Scissy Forest around it had become a retreat for hermits. There is a tradition that in 708 St. Michael appeared to Aubert, twelfth bishop of Avranches, directing him to build a sanctuary to the archangel on the mount. In October of the following year, Aubert consecrated a simple circular oratory, to accommodate about 100 people, and built cells to replace the earlier huts, but not before an abnormal tide—some sources say a tidal wave—had gouged a channel between rock and shore, creating the islet. At low tide a land bridge connects to the mainland across beaches of gray silt; at high tide it is covered by about 40 feet (14 meters) of water.

Under the sponsorship of Richard the Fearless, Duke of Normandy, Abbot Mainard occupied the island in 966 with twelve Benedictine monks from Monte Cassino. He built a rectangular chapel with 6.5-foot-thick (2-meter) stone walls on the ruins of the oratory. By that time, the Benedictines had enjoyed four centuries of prominence in western Europe and monasticism had reached a zenith. In France, the abbeys—there were about 120 of them— exercised great influence in many spheres: spiritual, artistic, intellectual, economic, and political. Besides the Benedictines, whose other Normandy houses were at Fecamp, Lessay, and Lonlay, the Premonstratensian (Canons had established themselves at Ardenne and La Lucerne. Eventually, Mont-Saint-Michel would become a magnet for thousands of the faithful from all over Europe.

The next building phase was initiated by Abbot Hildebert II in 1017. An extensive masonry foundation

leveled the entire top of the island and an abbey church was built on the summit. Mainard’s sturdy chapel formed its crypt and was later named Notre-Dame-sous-Terre (Our Lady Underground). The rest of the new cruciform church—with its seven bays, the nave was nearly 230 feet (70 meters) long—was supported on masonry walls and piers. The project, designed in the latest style (now known as Romanesque), was completed by 1135. That was not the end of the architectural development, and about thirty-five years later Abbot Robert de Torigny commissioned a new west front with twin towers.

In 1203 the French king Philip II Augustus sent an expeditionary force against the abbey, and some of its dependencies were destroyed by fire. To compensate for the damage, a generous endowment allowed Abbot Jordan to immediately commence the granite conventual building known as La Merveille (the Marvel), flanking the church on the seaward side of the rock. Remarkably, the extensive, logistically

difficult works were completed by 1228. The Marvel began at 160 feet (49 meters) above the sea and consisted of three terraced levels. The lowest housed the almonry and cellar. The second was taken up by the kitchens; a huge refectory with timber barrel vaults; a guest hall, adorned with tapestries, stained glass, and glazed tiles; and a scriptorium (now called the “hall of the knights”). At the top was the monks’ dormitory and a beautiful arcaded, vaulted cloister attributed to Raoul de Villedieu.

In contrast to that tranquil security, the Marvel has been described as “half military, half monastic.” Louis IX visited the Mont in 1254 and later helped to pay for its fortification. Strategically located, it acquired a defensive role and housed a garrison jointly paid by king and abbot. Through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, both the abbey and the town were enclosed by walls on the land side, adding another texture to the varied architecture of the rock. Frequently attacked, it would never be captured, even remaining unconquered when English armies took most of the fortresses of Normandy early in the fifteenth century.

There was a series of structural failures in the abbey church. In 1300, one of de Torigny’s west towers fell down. More serious was the collapse in 1421 of Hildebert’s Romanesque choir. France was still at war with England, and all thought of reconstruction was deferred until 1446, when a massive base known as the Crypt of the Large Pillars was built as foundation for a replacement building. Work on the new choir began in 1450 and it was completed in 1521. Apsidal in plan, with radiating chevet chapels, it was naturally built in the contemporary, highly ornate French style, appropriately named flamboyant because of the flamelike patterns of its window tracery. Other architectural failures followed: in 1618 the de Toringy west facade started to collapse, and eventually it was pulled down in 1776, together with, the three western bays of the nave.

The monastic foundation seemed to decline with the buildings. Although by the twelfth century under de Toringy, the Benedictine abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel had acquired fame for its intellectual life, drawing pilgrims from across Europe, about a century later its power had begun to slowly wane. As the balance of its role tipped from devotion to defense, the size of the community decreased. In 1523 it was granted in commendam to Cardinal Le Veneur, the series of commendatory abbots continuing until 1622—by then hardly any monks remained—when control passed to the reformed congregation of St. Maur. In turn, the Maurist monks were dispossessed during the French Revolution. From 1790 the abbey, its name ironically changed to Mont Libre (Mount Freedom), was used to incarcerate criminals and political prisoners. Napoléon III abolished the prison in 1863. Having gone full circle, the buildings were leased to the Bishop of Avranches until 1874, when the Commission des Monuments Historiques appointed the architect E. E. Viollet-le-Duc to restore it. In 1966, in recognition of the monastery’s millennium, the French government allowed the resumption of monastic life on Mont-Saint-Michel; since then a community of monks, nuns, and lay oblates lives in a part of the abbey, reviving the ministry to pilgrims.

This has been a complicated story, whose point is just this: the architectural feat of Mont-Saint-Michel was not achieved in a day, a month, or a year. The harmony and the unity of its parts, diverse in date, style, and function, took 500 years to realize.

Mohenjo-Daro - Pakistan

The city of Mohenjo-Daro (“hill of the dead”) was the largest settlement of a culture that for more than 600 years from 2500 b.c. extended over 600,000 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers) of India and Pakistan—larger than western Europe. The city’s ruins, on the west bank of the Indus River about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Karachi, evidence careful urban design combined with a sophisticated infrastructure that was undreamed of in the contemporary river-valley civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Although presented with undeniably nationalistic and political bias, recent archeological evidence from the subcontinent suggests that there, and not in Mesopotamia, was the cradle of civilization. Mohenjo-Daro has been chosen here as simply representative of a great achievement, the invention of city planning.

The first traces of the ancient cities were accidentally discovered on the Indus River floodplain in 1856. The occupying British, building the East Indian Railway between Lahore and Karachi, plundered hundreds of thousands of bricks from the site of Harappâ, a metropolis on the Ravi River, 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of Mohenjo-Daro. In 1920 Sir John Marshall, director general of archeology in India, initiated investigation of these “twin capitals,” and discoveries were made by Daya Ram Sahni (at Harappâ) and R. D. Banerji. Nani Gopal Majumdar worked in the Sindh region (now in southern Pakistan) from 1927 to 1931. About a decade later, Ernest Mackay discovered Chanu Daro, and Sir Aurel Stein found more sites in Baluchistan and Rajputana. From 1946 into the early 1950s, Sir Mortimer Wheeler continued excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappâ.

The terms “Indus valley civilization” and “Harappân culture” spring from the collective work of all these men, but Hindu scholars in India and Pakistan recently have challenged that nomenclature. Some insist that the civilization was created by Vedic people. Hard evidence is displacing earlier speculative myths about origins. Since the early 1990s archeologists have uncovered several cities east of the Indus. The settlement known as the Dholavira

excavation, about 150 miles (250 kilometers) from modern Bhujin in India; another under modern Rakhigarhi in the Haryana district; and Kunal, also in Haryana and close to the dry Ghaggar-Hakra River (thought to be Mother Saraswati of the Rig Veda), are evidence of how widespread Harappân culture was. It extended from the mountains of northern Afghanistan south to the Arabian Sea, and from the Baluchistan highlands in the west eastward to the Thar Desert, once a fertile plain watered by the Saraswati. Of about 1,400 sites now uncovered, about 900 are in India, 1 is in Afghanistan, and the remainder are in Pakistan. Because there are more Harappân settlements along the Saraswati than along the Indus, it has been suggested by some Indian archeologists that the name “Indus-Saraswati” civilization be adopted; their peers in Pakistan prefer “Hakra” civilization.

However modern scholars choose to classify them, well-structured barley- and wheat-growing communities existed in the region around 4300 b.c., and by 3200 b.c. large villages stood along the great rivers. The historian Arnold Toynbee has suggested that such locations were chosen not because they offered an easy life but because of the challenges presented by annual flooding. Whatever the case, the Harappâns made a dizzying leap from villages to cities between 2600 and 2500 b.c. As elsewhere, there was no intermediate, evolutionary step. The U.S. archeologist Gregory Possehl describes this as a century of cathartic changes, and Gordon Childe coined the expression “the urban implosion.” Quite suddenly, there existed commercial centers with high levels of municipal control; complex social organization; specialized occupational structures; administrative expertise; and tools, such as a system of writing (that of the Indus-Saraswati culture is as yet undeciphered), mathematics and especially geometry, survey instruments, and standard weights and measures.

Although there were other locations of comparable size and importance, Mohenjo-Daro was certainly a principal—and typical—city. This largest Indus valley settlement covered more than 200 acres (80 hectares) and was over 3 miles (5 kilometers) around. Like most Indus-Saraswati cities, it had two principal and functionally disparate districts, each built on a huge mud-brick platform, which raised it above the annual floods. To the west stood the 45-foot-high (14-meter) “citadel,” measuring 1,400 feet (430 meters) by 450 feet (140 meters). Fortifications have survived at its southeast corner and the entire platform may have been enclosed by a wall. Several public buildings stood on it. Archeologists once imagined these to include a large granary (with a wooden superstructure), an assembly hall, a college, and a ritual tank, but more recent scholarship has found no evidence for those conclusions. Whatever their purpose, the layout and juxtaposition of the structures demonstrates careful urban design. Noteworthy among the buildings was the so-called Great Bath, about 29 by 23 feet (8.8 by 7 meters) and 8 feet (2.4 meters) deep, entered by steps at each end. It was built of fired bricks laid in gypsum mortar and sealed with bitumen.

Across an area of probably unused land, the residential “lower” city of Mohenjo-Daro occupied a more extensive platform to the east. It also was set out on a north-south, east-west grid of properly drained, brick-paved streets, 30 feet (9 meters) wide, forming rectangular urban blocks measuring about 400 by 270 yards (360 by 240 meters). Tightly packed courtyard houses and places of business, all built of fired brick, faced the streets. It is likely that internal walls were plastered, and most houses had stairs leading to either a second story or a flat roof. The houses normally had a private bathing area supplied with water from their own wells, and a properly drained toilet. A secondary grid of narrow service lanes subdivided the main blocks, and chutes from most residences were connected to a system of covered sewers—more evidence of well-developed municipal controls that still cannot be found in many Asian cities. Because of the high water table beneath Mohenjo-Daro, it is impossible to extend archeological investigation to its foundation level. Exploration continues, and in the early 1980s German scholars discovered a “suburb” about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the “downtown area.”

Harappâ and many other Indus-Saraswati sites are almost identical to Mohenjo-Daro in layout and organization, indicating that, at the peak of the civilization, regional centers may have been built to a

standard city plan. There are exceptions in detail, if not in overall form.

This remarkable civilization remained unified for nearly 700 years. Then, partly because of overexpansion of its trade networks, after about 1900 b.c. it gradually disintegrated into a regionalized pattern of cultures, referred to as late or post-Harappân. Within 150 years Mohenjo-Daro’s efficient urban government had deteriorated. Administrative breakdown was augmented by ecological factors. Recent research has established that most protohistoric cultures suffered three centuries of persistent drought from about 2200 b.c., perhaps activated by a sudden global climate change. The passing of the Indus-Saraswati cities can be attributed in part to changing river patterns, upsetting a river-based agricultural and trade economy that had already outgrown its strength. The Saraswati dried up, the Hakra-Nara’s tributaries were diverted eastward to the Jamuna River and westward to the Indus, and the course of the Indus itself began to change, resulting in frequent violent flooding of its southern reaches.

Moai monoliths

The small Pacific island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), 2,300 miles (3,680 kilometers) west of Chile, is the most remote inhabited island in the world, with Pitcairn, its nearest neighbor, 1,400 miles (2,240 kilometers) away. The staggering architectural

achievement of the people of Rapa Nui was the creation, but especially the transportation and erection, of hundreds of monolithic moai—stylized giant human heads-on-torsos—carved in hardened volcanic tufa. On average, the statues are 13 feet (4 meters) high and weigh 14 tons (14.22 tonnes). But the largest ever raised once stood at the prominence known as Ahu Te Pito Kura; nearly 33 feet (9.80 meters) high, it weighed about 91 tons (83 tonnes). Even it would have been dwarfed by another found incomplete in a quarry: measuring almost 72 feet (21.6 meters), its weight was perhaps 185 tons (168 tonnes).

Since the Dutch seafarer Jacob Roggeveen made Rapa Nui known to Europe in the 1720s, scholars have debated the origins of its culture. Local legend has it that the canoes of Hotu Matu’a (the Great Father) arrived from Polynesia around a.d. 400. Some scholars, citing archeological evidence, assert that they came between 300 and 400 years later. Whatever the case, among the lush palm forests the newcomers planted their gardens of bananas, taros, and sweet potatoes. The South American origin of the latter led the adventurer Thor Heyerdahl to conjecture that Polynesia had been colonized by pre-Inka people, a view refuted by later scholars, who cite biological, linguistic, and archeological evidence to support Southeast Asian origins. As compelling as it is, the question is not our present concern.

Unique in Polynesia, the mysterious moai are thought to have been carved between a.d. 1400 and 1600 by specialist master craftsmen using tools made from obsidian found at Orito. The figures, always male, are believed to be iconographic representations of powerful beings—ancestors, chiefs, or others of high rank—rather than portraits. The red volcanic stone for their headdresses (pukaos) came from the Puna Punau volcanic crater; their eyes were made of shell and coral. They were the product of a spiritual and cultural imperative that seems to have become an obsession.

The archeologist Jo Anne van Tilburg of the University of California at Los Angeles suggests that the statues acted as ceremonial mediators “between sky and earth, people and chiefs, and chiefs and gods.” The statues were transported, probably by conscripted labor, from where they were quarried and set up on the perimeter of the island, mostly on the southeast coast. Some were moved up to 14 miles (22.4 kilometers) and placed facing inland upon flat mounds or stone pedestals (ahu) about 4 feet (1.2 meters) above the surrounding ground. The word ahu also conveys a sacred site, and some, comprising massive masonry blocks and tons of fill, supported a whole group of moai.

For fifteen years van Tilburg carried out a “census” of the moai, finding a total of 887 statues. Fewer than one-third (288) had been transported to their coastal locations. She recorded another ninety-two as “in transport,” that is, on their way to their intended locations. The remainder were still in the quarries at what van Tilburg calls the central production center, in the volcanic caldera known as Rano Raraku near the eastern end of Rapa Nui. Perhaps they were abandoned because flaws were found in the stone, perhaps they were too large to move, or perhaps deteriorating social conditions forced the work to end.

How were they moved to their solemn stations around the coast of Rapa Nui? Several possibilities have been suggested. There is a local tradition that the moai “walked” to their sites, which led Heyerdahl to conclude that they were stood upright and rocked from side to side, thus “walked” along. A poorly rendered Dutch illustration of 1728, showing a statue standing upright on a base at which people are working, has been interpreted as moving the moai on rollers. Both systems have been tested using pseudo-moai and both worked. Others have suggested that the gigantic figures were laid prone, just as they had been carved, and dragged on sleds. Working from computer models that took account of many variables, including the food needed for the workers, van Tilburg proposed a plausible alternative, tested by experiment: the massive figures were moved in the prone position, supported on long logs that were rolled on smaller ones. In fact, no one knows with certainty how such loads were moved over the difficult terrain of the island.

Around a.d. 1550, Rapa Nui’s population reached a peak of about 10,000, placing an untenable load

on the tiny island’s resources just when moai carving and, more significantly, transportation reached a climax. Over the next century or so, radical change occurred, heralding the collapse of the society. Some scholars lay most of the blame for decline on the compulsion to construct the colossal figures. The once abundant palm forests were cleared for housing and crop production and to provide tools and pathways for moving the moai. Deforestation allowed the erosion of topsoil, and crops failed. Soon, driven by territorial imperatives, the island clans descended into civil war and even cannibalism. All the coastal moai had their eyes smashed out and the statues were toppled and decapitated by the islanders themselves.

Contacts with the West from the beginning of the eighteenth century served only to make matters worse, and in 1862 Peruvian slavers and exotic diseases together ravaged the population, reducing it to little more than a hundred. The process was reversed after Rapa Nui was annexed by Chile in 1888, and in 1965 it received the same privileges as other Chilean provinces. The economy now depends on sheep ranching and tourism. The main attraction for tourists is the mysterious moai, whose uniqueness led to the island being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1995, with the following description:

Rapa Nui … bears witness to a unique cultural phenomenon. A society of Polynesian origin … established a powerful, imaginative and original tradition of monumental sculpture and architecture, free from any external influence. From the tenth to the sixteenth centuries this society built shrines and erected enormous stone figures, moai, which created an unrivalled cultural landscape and which today continue to fascinate the entire world.

Mishkan Ohel Haeduth (the Tent of Witness)

The Mishkan, or sacred tent, was a unique portable temple constructed under the direction of Moses as a place of worship for the Hebrew tribes. It was used during the forty-year period of wandering between their liberation from slavery in Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land (ca. 1290–1250 b.c.). According to chapters 25 and 26 of Exodus, the warrant and exact specifications for its construction were given by God. The tent seems to have been still in use in the first half of the eleventh century b.c., but it no longer served a religious purpose after Solomon built a permanent temple in Jerusalem in 950 b.c.

Portable shrines existed in Egypt as early as the Old Kingdom (2800–2250 b.c.), and fine examples were discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamen, (ca. 1350 b.c.). But they are small in comparison with the Tent of Witness, which differed from all contemporary religious buildings in several remarkable ways. First, it was the only temple constructed by the monotheistic Israelites, in contrast to the many—often several dedicated to the same deity—built by their polytheistic neighbors. Second, it was never associated with one particular sacred geographical location, peculiar to the deity; rather, it was set up wherever Yahweh, the God of Israel, indicated, in the belief that his presence made every location sacred. Third, it was small and outwardly unimposing,

and although constructed of the choicest durable materials, it did not have (indeed, could not have) the appearance of weighty permanence common to contemporary religious buildings. Fourth, the materials used imparted a brightness that contrasted with the dark tents of the tribespeople who camped around it and that marked it out against the somberness of other shrines. Finally, its construction was not financed by temple taxes but by the voluntary offerings of the Israelites: according to Exodus, they gave 2,800 pounds (1,270 kilograms) of gold, 9,600 pounds (4,360 kilograms) of silver, and 6,700 pounds (3,050 kilograms) of bronze besides the necessary yarn and textiles. Its architectural character was inextricably linked to the Hebrews’ nomadic life for the first forty years of its existence. The Law of Moses provided instructions for the Levite families of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari responsible for assembling, demounting, and carrying the Mishkan and its court.

The complex invariably stood at the very center of the Israelite camp. It comprised a large courtyard around a comparatively small building that may be regarded as the Tent of Witness proper. The outer court was enclosed by a white linen wall, 150 feet (46 meters) long by 75 feet (23 meters) wide and 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) high, hung on 60 pillars of the brownish orange wood from the durable desert acacia. The pillars, each crowned with a silver capital, stood on bronze sockets, and their guy ropes were fastened with bronze pins. Access to the court was through a “gate” at the eastern end, also of white linen but distinguished from the general walls by an embroidered pattern in blue, purple, and scarlet and fastened to its pillars with gold hooks. Immediately inside the gate was an altar made of bronze-sheathed acacia wood. It is a comment upon the portability of the sanctuary that, at only 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) square and 4.5 feet (1.35 meters) high, this was the largest of the furnishings, designed to be carried on poles, rather like a sedan chair. Nearby stood a bronze basin holding water used for the priests’ ritual ablution.

The Tent of Witness itself stood at the western end of the court. An oblong enclosure, about 45 feet long by 15 feet wide (13.5 by 4.5 meters) and 15 feet high, was framed by walls assembled from 48 gold-sheathed acacia boards, each 27 inches (about 70 centimeters) wide. Standing on foundation blocks of solid silver, the boards were locked together by a system of bars passed through brackets on their outer faces and through their centers.

The plain exterior gave no clue to the richness and brilliant color of the rooms it contained. The ceiling was a draped curtain of the same textile as the courtyard gate, covered with another of goat’s hair, then red-dyed rams’ skins; an outer layer of porpoise skins provided durable protection. The interior was reached through a door of the same embroidered fabric hung on gold-sheathed pillars. By absolute contrast, the floor was simply the earth of the desert. The first compartment, 30 by 15 feet (9 by 4.5 meters), was called the Holy Place. It was furnished with a gold-sheathed table; a small altar for burning incense, also covered in gold; and a seven-branched menorah (lamp stand) hammered from solid gold. Beyond an inner curtain emblazoned with embroidered cherubim (angelic beings) was the Holy of Holies. The only furniture in that inner sanctum was the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-sheathed wooden box containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. This was the dwelling place of the God of Israel, who sat invisibly enthroned above the gold “seat of atonement” that rested on the Ark. Access was denied to all except the High Priest, and then only on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Because of the uniqueness of the spiritual beliefs that the Tent of Witness expressed, it was never a prototype for anything else. When Solomon built the great temple in Jerusalem, the architectural emphases were quite different.

Mir space station

Mir (Russian for “peace”) was conceived in 1976 as the climax of the (then) Soviet program to achieve the long-duration presence of a man in space. Its first component was launched into orbit ten years later. The first modular station assembled in space, it is the pioneer work of extraterrestrial building; constructed in a virtually gravity-free environment, it is unique among architectural and engineering works. Earlier space stations had been integral units, completed before launching. Mir circled the earth for over fifteen years. As first proposed, it was 43 feet (13.1 meters) long and 13.6 feet (4.2 meters) in diameter; its mass was 46,200 pounds (20,900 kilograms). By 1985 the Russian Space Agency had decided that four to six additional modules, each with a mass of 46,000 pounds (20,800 kilograms), would be moored at docking ports on the station. By the time the final module was in place, the total mass was about 221,000 pounds (100,000 kilograms). Mir, humanity’s first landmark—if that is the correct word—in space, orbited the earth at an altitude of 225 miles (390 kilometers) and an inclination of 51.6 degrees.

The primary function of the station was as a location for scientific experiments, especially in the areas of astrophysics, biology, biotechnology, medicine, and space technology. At various times, Mir was “leased” as a laboratory. Cosmonauts, astronauts, and scientists of many nationalities—Russian, American, Afghan, British, Canadian, German, Japanese, and Syrian among them—conducted over 20,000 experimental programs on board. However, space-watcher David Harland observed that Mir was the first station

to be permanently manned, extending the time spent in space for periods between one month and six; “learning how the technology degrades, and how to repair it, and do so in space” showed its real mission as a technology demonstrator.

The Mir module, the core of the station, was launched on 20 February 1986. Most of it was occupied by the main habitable section—crews’ quarters, a galley, a “bathroom” with shower, hand basin, and toilet—and the operational section, forward of which were the primary docking module and air lock. The galley was furnished with a folding table with built-in food heaters and refuse storage. For privacy, each crew member had a separate cubicle containing a folding chair, sleeping bag, mirror, and porthole. To provide a familiar environment in microgravity, the living quarters had identifiable surfaces: the floor, above several storage compartments, was carpeted in dark green; the light green walls had handrails and devices for securing articles; and the white ceiling had fluorescent lights. The other part of the core module was the station’s control area, set up for flight control, as well as systems and medical monitoring. There were six docking ports on the core’s transfer compartment for secondary modules or the Soyuz and Progress-M transport vehicles: one on the long axis, four along the radius, and another aft, connected to the working module by a 6-foot-diameter (1.8-meter) pressurized tunnel. The engine and fuel tanks were in the assembly compartment.

Five more modules, added between 1987 and 1996, completed the space station. The first, located on the aft docking port, was the astrophysics module known as Kvant-1. Nineteen feet (5.8 meters) long and 14 feet (4.3 meters) in diameter, it contained a pressurized laboratory compartment and a store. Kvant-2, about twice as long as Kvant-1, was the scientific and air-lock module added in 1989 that allowed cosmonauts to work outside the station. It also included a life-support system and water supply. Kristall, a 39-foot-long (12-meter) technological module, was attached to the station in 1990; it carried two solar arrays as well as electrical energy supply, environmental control, motion control, and thermal control systems. In 1995 U.S. astronauts installed a special docking port that allowed the U.S. space shuttle to dock without obstructing the solar arrays. Also in 1995, the Spektr remote-sensing payload arrived at Mir with equipment for surface studies and atmospheric research and four more solar arrays. Mir was completed when the Priroda remote-sensing module arrived on 26 April 1996.

The station could not remain in orbit indefinitely, and two options for closure were available. Mir could be fitted with booster rockets and moved to a higher orbit or simply abandoned and allowed to crash into the ocean. Mir fell into an uninhabited part of the South Pacific late in March 2001. That course of action was chosen so that efforts could be refocused on the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). The decision fits in with the claim of NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) that the nine U.S. collaborations with Mir since 1994 formed Phase One of the joint construction and operation of the ISS.

The ISS is a joint venture of the United States, Russia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Brazil. The first components of the station, the Zarya and Unity modules, were put into Earth orbit in November and December 1998, respectively. Scheduled for completion in 2004 after a total of 44 launches deliver over 100 components, the ISS will have a mass of 1 million pounds (454,500 kilograms) and measure 356 by 290 by 143 feet (109 by 88 by 44 meters). It will orbit Earth at about the same altitude and inclination as its predecessor. A crew of up to seven will have pressurized living and working space about twice as big as the passenger cabin of a jumbo jet. Mir was there first.

Meteora, Greece

The almost flat valley of the Pineios River, north of the town of Kalambaka in Thessaly, is punctuated by spectacular formations of iron gray conglomerate rock, huge, sheer-sided columns abruptly projecting up to 2,000 feet (600 meters) above the plains. On the seemingly inaccessible pinnacles of many of these weathered outcrops there stand, as though growing out of the rock, the monasteries of Meteora. Were they architectural feats? We believe so. Although most conventual buildings by definition demonstrate some degree of preoccupation with solitude, those at Meteora are unique, built where it appears virtually impossible to build. Not only were there no materials in situ, the task of delivering the imported materials to the builders—indeed, of getting the builders themselves to the precarious sites—could hardly have been more difficult. The logistical problems were subordinated to the need for isolation.

Christian monasticism originated in Egypt and spread throughout the Byzantine Empire between the fourth and seventh centuries. For a hundred years after the accession of Emperor Leo III in a.d. 717, the Iconoclasts attacked the eastern monasteries, seizing their treasured relics, thus greatly diminishing their wealth and power. As the rabid movement waned, Christian ascetics, perhaps moved with fear of a recurrence or perhaps with an eye on the restless power of Islam, sought secure places in which to follow their religious exercises. Throughout the ninth century hermits settled in rock crevices and caves in the great brooding pillars of the Pineian valley, long known as a retreat by mystics of pre-Christian religions.

As their numbers increased, the Thebaid of Stagoi Monastery was created at Doupiani, and its community grew during the eleventh century. Meteora

became a sanctuary, especially after about 1300, when it provided asylum for secular as well as religious refugees under Ottoman rule. Around 1356 St. Athanassios Meteoritis founded Great Meteoron (from which the region derives its name), and about eighty years later the Serbian Orthodox prince John Uresis joined the community, endowing it with such wealth and privilege that it soon became the region’s dominant monastic house. The growth of other foundations—Varlaam, commenced in 1350 and rebuilt in 1518; Holy Trinity of around 1470; and Roussanou, established in 1288 and rebuilt sometime before 1545—led to a golden age of monastic life and produced an environment in which scholarship and Byzantine ecclesiastical art flourished. At its peak the whole community numbered thirteen coenobite monasteries and about twenty smaller foundations. The patriarch Jeremias I (ruled 1522–1545) raised several of them to the rank of imperial stavropegion.

The monks set out to create places of inaccessible isolation. In the completed buildings entry could be gained only by a series of vertical wooden ladders of dizzying length (65–130 feet, 20–40 meters), which could be drawn up at night or when intrusion was imminent, or by nets hauled up by windlasses housed in cantilevered towers. Great Meteoron, or the Monastery of the Transfiguration, largest and highest of the houses, stands on the Platylithos (Broad Rock) 1,780 feet (534 meters) above the valley. Varlaam was originally reached by using scaffolding dug into the rock, and its windlass and rope in the tower (built 1536) were used for materials and supplies until 1963. Roussanou is built on a site only just large enough for it, and its walls stand right at the edge of the precipice. Whatever the reason for such a defense against the world—whether to protect the souls and minds of the monks or the wealth of the monasteries—the construction of these buildings in the sky, some of which are large and complex, represents a formidable challenge to the resolve and skill of the builders. It has been well met.

The monasteries generally declined in the seventeenth century (although some had failed long before), and by about 1800 they were little more than a “decaying curiosity,” a unique sight for tourists. They surrendered their independence to the Bishop of Trikkala in 1899. At the beginning of the twenty-first century only five are still occupied: the monasteries of Great Meteoron, Ayia Triadha, Varlaam, and the convents of Agios Stefanos and Roussanou

Mesa Verde Cliff Palace - Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park is spread over more than 52,000 acres (21,000 hectares) of a well-wooded mesa between Cortez and Durango, Colorado, at a general elevation of 7,000 feet (2,100 meters). Within its boundaries are the ruins of almost 4,000 Amerindian settlements, some up to 1,300 years old. The largest and most remarkable is the so-called Cliff Palace, a multistory building like a modern apartment block built under overhanging cliffs. It accommodated probably 100–150 people in its 151 rooms and 23 kivas, and its size and complexity make it a preeminent feat of “architecture without architects.”

Who were these exceptional builders? They are generally known as the Anasazi (Navajo for “ancient ones”), and their civilization was centered around the region where the states of Arizona, New Mexico,

Colorado, and Utah now join. Some scholars identify the Anasazi as the ancestors of the Hopi and other indigenous Pueblo groups of the southwest United States, and modern Pueblo Indians prefer to call them “ancestral Puebloans.” The precise origins of the Cliff Palace dwellers are unknown: certainly there were permanent settlers in the region before a.d. 500, farming and using caves or adobe structures for shelter and digging covered storage pits. By about 700 villages were being built: those in caves consisted of half-buried pit houses, while those on open ground had straight or crescent-shaped row houses with rooms both above and below ground. For the next three centuries the same house types—though somewhat larger—persisted, and stone masonry began to replace earlier pole-and-mud construction. The pit houses are the predecessors of the kivas, underground chambers common in the next phase of building.

Known as the Classic Pueblo period (a.d. 1050–1300), this was the era of the Cliff Palace and other villages built in similar sheltered depressions, as well as large freestanding apartment-like structures along the walls of canyons or mesas. Most consisted of two to four stories, differing little in construction from the earlier masonry and adobe houses, and often stepped back so that lower roofs formed a sort of patio reached from the floor above. All were built in places difficult to reach, some accessible only via almost vertical cliff faces, hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. The population of the region became more concentrated, perhaps acting upon the conviction that there is safety in numbers.

The Cliff Palace clearly was located with defense rather than esthetic appeal primarily in mind. The only access to it was by hand- and footholds—large enough for only fingertips and toes—carved in the rock. Afraid of something or someone (there is now no indication of what or whom), the Anasazi built fortresses unique among indigenous Americans. Their main building material was sandstone, laid in a mortar made from mud reinforced with tiny stone chips; the masonry was covered with a thin coat of plaster. Deliberately small doorways, set a foot or two above the floor, were probably intended to keep out winter drafts; they could be covered with rectangular sandstone slabs about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) thick.

The Cliff Palace was first excavated and stabilized by Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution, in 1909, more than twenty years after it was first seen by European Americans. Archeological work did not resume until about eighty years later, when evidence was discovered of a hierarchical society: a wall divides the Cliff Palace into two parts. It has also been suggested that the site was not continuously occupied except by a small caretaker population of perhaps 100 people. Then, its twenty-three large kivas would have accommodated larger numbers who gathered there only on special occasions, perhaps for the distribution of surplus food. The kiva, traditionally described as a ceremonial room, was a sunken, usually circular chamber entered through an opening from the “plaza” above. It had a ventilated hearth, and ledges and recesses surrounded the central space. The Anasazi may have used the Cliff Palace as living quarters during the winter lull in the agricultural year. The investigation of the site continues

Mesa Verde was abandoned quite suddenly, around a.d. 1300. The Anasazi left so much behind that it has been suggested that their departure was hasty.

But that is speculation, and other sources suggest that they depleted the resources of the region, leading, through a tragic path of famine and internal wars, to the demise of their culture. Others cite the migration of Navajos and Apaches from the north, and yet others a fifteen-year drought at the end of the thirteenth century. For whatever reason, the Anasazi departed, leaving behind them the amazing and mysterious ruins of an architecture that is one of North America’s greatest archeological treasures.

Menier chocolate mill, Nolsiel, France

The Menier chocolate mill at Noisiel, Marne-la-Valleé, was at the heart of a factory complex of industrial structures associated with Menier’s chocolate-manufacturing business. The multistory mill, built between 1872 and 1874, demonstrated an innovative design approach that frankly exposed its structure and materials, using the latter for decorative effect. It is widely regarded as the first building in continental Europe to have been constructed with an iron frame and non-load-bearing masonry walls and has been described as “one of the iconic buildings of the Industrial Revolution.”

In 1816 the pharmacist Jean-Antoine-Brutus Menier opened premises in Paris to sell his medicinal powders to chemists and hardware shops. Later he expanded his business to include chocolate-coated medicines and chocolate confectionery. Having outgrown his Paris base, in 1825 he transferred to Noisiel on the River Marne, where he purchased a mill to grind powders. Following his death in 1853, his son Emile-Justin took over the business, transferred its pharmaceutical arm to St. Denis and diversified into rubber production in a factory on the outskirts of Paris. The Noisiel plant was given over entirely to chocolate production.

Between 1860 and 1867 Emile Menier commissioned the architect Jules Saulnier (1817–1881) to redevelop the plant, constructing new buildings and improving the existing premises to better support the chocolate-making process. The factory would earn the nickname “the cathedral” because of its architecture. In 1869 Saulnier, working with the engineers Logre and Girard, prepared designs for replacing the timber-framed water mill that spanned the river, in order to house three new turbine wheels; he first chose stone as the principal material. Interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, construction did not commence until 1872. By then Saulnier had revised the design and the outcome has been described as his masterpiece. The structural frame of the six-story chocolate mill was of puddled iron, diagonally braced to achieve a distinctive effect across the upper three levels of the facade Saulnier likened the resulting pattern to the girders of a lattice bridge. The non-load-bearing, 7-inch (18-centimeter) yellow brick infill walls were decorated with diaper work and ceramic tile inlays with flower and cocoa-bean motifs, mainly in reds, dark yellow, and black. The frame was supported by a skeleton iron structure resting on the substantial stone piers that had carried the earlier timber-framed building, and floors were constructed of shallow brick arches between I beams, which were in turn carried by the main frame. The water-driven turbines were located between the piers. The interior was disposed to house the cocoa-bean milling process, and to free the third level of columns, its floor was suspended from the roof trusses. The spacing of columns and windows varied slightly, and deliberately, contributing to the artful composition of the facade.

Under Emile Menier’s entrepreneurial leadership the business continued to expand. In the 1880s it established a factory in London and acquired cocoa plantations in Nicaragua, as well as a sugar refinery and a merchant fleet. It even established a railroad company to move materials and products. More buildings were constructed at Noisiel, utilizing the most advanced constructional methods and materials. A self-contained village was founded in which most of the factory’s 2,000 employees lived in detached two-family houses or, if single, in hostels. The

complex was set in extensive landscaped grounds. At the turn of the century the Menier chocolate business was the world’s largest, and it reached its hey-day before World War I. Decline was probably inevitable.

Between 1971 and 1978 the British confectionery company Rowntree-Mackintosh progressively purchased the Menier company, including its Noisiel factory, where chocolate continued to be made until 1993. The multinational Nestlé, which has owned Rowntree-Mackintosh and its subsidiaries since 1988, has taken over the Menier factory as Nestlé-France’s headquarters, conserving the original buildings at a reported cost of Fr 800 million (U.S.$107 million). The chocolate mill has been made the focal building in the redevelopment by architects Robert and Reichen, and is used for a boardroom, reception rooms, and directors’ offices. The French government has registered it as a Monument Historique

Menai Suspension Bridge

The many achievements of the Scots engineer Thomas Telford (1757–1834) include bridges over the River Severn at Montford, Buildwas, and Bewdley, all built in the 1780s. In the following decade, as engineer for the Ellesmere Canal Company, he designed and constructed aqueducts over the Ceiriog and Dee Valleys in North Wales. Temporarily returning to Scotland, with William Jessop he built the Caledonian Canal, more than 900 miles (1,440 kilometers) of highland roads, and harbor works at Dundee, Aberdeen, and elsewhere. From 1810 he was engaged as principal engineer—William Alexander Provis was the resident engineer—to construct a highway between the Shropshire county town of Shrewsbury and Holyhead in northwest Wales. It is widely agreed that his masterpiece is the Menai Suspension Bridge (1819–1826), which carries that highway across the Menai Strait, linking Bangor in mainland Wales with the island of Anglesey. It was the first large-scale chain-link suspension bridge and at that time the longest span bridge ever erected.

In 1782 a meeting on Anglesey examined complaints concerning the operation of the ferries at Porthaethwy, Llanfaes, Llanidan, and Abermenai that for centuries had been the only means of crossing the Menai Strait to the Welsh mainland. Increasing traffic across had led to delays and overcharging, and many of the boats were neglected and in dangerously poor condition. Alternatives to the ferries were canvassed, including an embankment and stone or timber bridges. With 4,000 vessels passing through the strait each year, those proposals were met with reasonable objections, and nothing was done. In October 1785 the Irish Mail Coach service was inaugurated between London and Holyhead on Anglesey, where travelers took ship for Ireland. The situation was further exacerbated in 1801, when the Act of Union demanded that Irish members of Parliament travel between Dublin and London, partly via the primitive Holyhead-Shrewsbury road and of course the ferry. Nevertheless, it was not until 1810 that Parliament commissioned Telford to recommend the line for a link across North Wales and Anglesey, including a bridge across the Menai Strait.

Attempts to improve only parts of the existing road were disastrous, so in 1816 Telford was appointed its resident engineer. His 69-mile (110-kilometer) stretch of the 93-mile (150-kilometer) toll highway (now the A5 national road) was probably the best road in Britain. It was up to 40 feet (12 meters) wide, with easy gradients and excellent bridges; moreover, its well-designed construction meant that it could accommodate heavy wagons.

Telford offered three alternative designs for the Menai Strait bridge, and that for a suspension structure was accepted. Finally, after forty years of debate and quibbling, the first stone was laid on 10 August 1819, and in the face of opposition from ferry proprietors and businesspeople in the ferry ports, construction work commenced. Including the approaches the bridge is 1,500 feet (459 meters) long. The approaches, completed in the fall of 1824, were carried on seven stone piers—three on the mainland side and four on the Anglesey side—supporting arches. The 579-foot (177-meter) main span, with its 24-foot (7.4-meter) dual carriageway, was suspended 100 feet (30 meters) above the water by sixteen chain cables hung from 153-foot-high (47-meter) massive battered towers—they were called “pyramids”—at each end, built of limestone from Penmon Quarries at the north end of the strait. Telford designed the piers to stand above the low-water mark, to facilitate inspection of the masonry.

The suspension chains were fabricated in wrought iron from Hazeldean’s foundry near Shrewsbury. Each consisted of 935, 9-foot-long (2.75-meter) eyebar links, about 3.5 inches (83 millimeters) square in cross section, pinned together. To prevent rusting between fabrication and placement, they were immersed in warm linseed oil. Tunnels were excavated in rock to provide anchorage, and the first section of chain was secured at the mainland end, draped over the top of the eastern pyramid and left hanging to water level. The procedure was repeated on the Anglesey side. The central section, weighing nearly 28 tons (25.4 tonnes), was maneuvered into position between the towers on a barge and connected to the end sections before being raised to the top of the tower by block and tackle and the strength of 150 men, thus completing the span. The chains were all placed in ten weeks, by July 1825. Iron rods suspended from them were bolted to iron joists that carried a timber deck. The Menai Strait bridge was opened to the public on 30 January 1826. Its completion and Telford’s Shrewsbury-Holyhead road reduced the travel time between London and the Irish Sea port by a quarter.

Without stiffening lateral trusses, Telford’s bridge soon proved unstable in the winds that swept through the strait, causing the road deck to oscillate. In 1826 a gale caused 16-foot (4.9-meter) deformations in the deck before it failed; although severely damaged, the bridge survived and was strengthened. A more rigid timber deck was incorporated in 1840 and that was replaced by a steel structure in 1893. Further changes were made in a major renovation of 1938–1941, ostensibly to cater for modern automobile traffic (the previous load limit per vehicle was 5 tons [4.6 tonnes], although it might also have been defense related). The arched openings in the towers were widened to allow easier passage of larger vehicles, the carriageway was strengthened, and the chains were replaced with steel cables and realigned. The bridge remains in use.

Mausoleum at Halicarnassos - Anatolia, Turkey

The tomb of King Mausolos, known as the Mausoleum, was a structure impressive enough to merit inclusion among the seven wonders of the ancient world, and its name has passed into many European languages to describe any imposing funereal structure. It was designed by the Greek architect Pythios (some sources credit Satyros also) and decorated with works by the sculptors Scopas, Bryaxis, Timotheus, and Leochares. Because it survived for sixteen centuries, descriptions abound; combined with archeological evidence, they provide a good idea of the monument’s appearance.

Mausolos (reigned ca. 377–353 b.c.) was a Persian satrap (governor) of Caria in southwestern Anatolia—a region so remote from the Persian capital that it was virtually independent. With a view to extending his power, Mausolos moved his capital from Mylasa in the interior to the coastal site of Halicarnassos, with its key position on the sea routes and large safe harbor, on the Gulf of Cerameicus. In 362 b.c. he joined the ill-starred rebellion of the Anatolian satraps against Artaxerxes II, but anticipating defeat, withdrew from the alliance in time. From then on he became the almost autonomous king of a large domain including Lycia and several Ionian cities northwest of Caria, later forming coalitions with the island city-states of Rhodes and Cos.

Mausolos undertook major urban design projects in Halicarnassos: a defense system, civic buildings, and a secret dockyard and canal. But the most interesting of all his public works was the planning of his great tomb. Conceived during his lifetime, it was initiated probably after his death by Artemisia II, who was at once his sister and his widow, and who for three years was sole ruler of Caria. She died in 350 b.c. and was buried with Mausolos in the uncompleted tomb. According to Pliny the Elder (a.d. 23–79), the craftsmen, realizing that the tomb was a monument to their own creativity, elected to finish the work after their patroness died.

Sited on a hill above Halicarnassos, the tomb rose 140 feet (43 meters) into the air from the center of a stone podium in an enclosed courtyard. A stair flanked by lions led to the top of this platform, whose outer walls were arrayed with statues, including an equestrian warrior at each corner. Its rectangular, tapered pedestal of white marble, with base dimensions of about 120 by 100 feet (37 by 30 meters), was 60 feet (18.3 meters) high. Its faces were carved with reliefs of Greek legends, including battles between centaurs and Lapiths, and Greeks and Amazons. The pedestal supported a colonnade of thirty-six 38-foot-high (11.6-meter) Ionic columns that housed a sarcophagus of white alabaster decorated with gold in a burial chamber. The tomb was roofed with a 22-foot-high (6-meter) stone pyramid of 24 steep steps, crowned with a 20-foot (6-meter) marble chariot bearing statues of Mausolos and Artemisia. Sculptured friezes of people, lions, horses, and other animals adorned every level of the Mausoleum; tradition has it that each of the famous sculptors was responsible for a side.

Under Memnon of Rhodes, Halicarnassos resisted Alexander the Great in 334 b.c. But it successively fell to Antigonus I (311 b.c.), Lysimachus (after 301 b.c.), and the Ptolemies (281–197 b.c.), after that retaining its independence until the Roman conquest in 129 b.c. Throughout all this conflict and for 1,600 years, the Mausoleum remained intact until a series of earthquakes shattered the columns and damaged the roof, bringing down the stone chariot. By the fifteenth century a.d. only the base remained. When the Crusader Knights of St. John of Malta invaded the region, they built a castle on the site and in 1494 used the stones of the Mausoleum to fortify it against an expected Turkish invasion.

Within twenty-five years almost every block of stone had been placed in the walls of their Castle of St. Peter the Liberator. Before grinding much of the Mausoleum’s surviving sculpture into lime for plaster, the knights selected many of the pieces to adorn their castle. They renamed the city Mesy; today the ancient site is occupied by the town of Bodrum In 1846 Charles Newton of the British Museum began a search for vestiges of the Mausoleum. By 1857 he had uncovered sections of the reliefs and pieces of the roof. He also found a broken wheel from the stone chariot and, finally, the statues of Mausolos and Artemisia that had ridden in it for twenty-one centuries. All that remains of this wonder of the ancient world can now be found in the Mausoleum Room of the British Museum.

Maunsell sea forts - England

The coasts of Kent and Essex Counties, England, overlook the Thames Estuary, the only sea route to London. Throughout World War II it was constantly endangered by German minelayers, U-boats, and the Luftwaffe. From 1939 until 1942 the British navy patrolled the area; then a series of seven sea forts was built to permanently guard the river mouth. They were an innovative architectural and engineering achievement. The reinforced concrete and steel structures were entirely prefabricated in a Gravesend dry dock, floated to their locations, sunk, and anchored on the bottom of the sea, up to 9 miles (14 kilometers) off the coast. Although not as large as the now almost commonplace offshore oil and gas platforms around the world, the sea forts predated them by about five years, and the six so-called “Texas Towers” that form part of the U.S. lighthouse system by almost twenty.

Two kinds of forts, one for the navy and another for the army, were designed by the civil engineer Guy Maunsell. Even when war was little more than a threat, he submitted several proposals for seaward defenses, but it was not until October 1940—over a year after the outbreak of war—that the Admiralty commissioned him to design a prototype sea fortress. His initial costly proposal, for a 2,900-ton (2,640-tonne) pontoon supporting a gun battery, was shelved by the government. But when France fell, the Admiralty was moved to action and asked Maunsell to produce five sea forts for the Royal Navy.

The naval sea forts were essentially steel gun platforms with two 6-inch (150-millimeter) cannon and a Bofors antiaircraft gun. The huge structures were assembled by Holloway Brothers at the Red Lion Wharf, Gravesend, towed downriver by three tugs,

and sunk by flooding their hollow pontoon base. Two were positioned in the estuary off the Essex coast and two off the Kent coast. Each fortress had a crew of about 100, who lived, provisioned for more than a month, in the two 26-foot-diameter (8-meter), 7-story concrete “legs” that supported the main platform, with its guns, radar, and control tower. The first was sited at The Roughs in February 1942. Sunk Head followed on 1 June, and Tongue Sands was completed about a fortnight later. Knock John was ready for action on 1 August. The fifth was never built.

The army sea forts, also designed by Maunsell, were England’s response to German air attacks on the strategic Liverpool docks via the undefended Mersey Estuary. It was decided to build five in the Mersey mouth and seven in the Thames Estuary. Each self-contained fort had living quarters for twenty-four men and comprised seven steel platforms supported on four 160-foot (49-meter) concrete legs. Four were gun towers with 3.7-inch (95-millimeter) cannon; a fifth was armed with a Bofors gun; the sixth was a searchlight tower; and the last was for radar. They were linked high above the sea by tubular steel catwalks that also carried power and fuel lines between the platforms. Their disposition was based upon the proven layout of shore gun batteries. In the event, only three were built on each side of England. Those in the Thames Estuary, constructed by the engineers who built the navy forts, were towed downriver in pairs and lowered by winches at strategic sites: The Great Nore, Shivering Sands, and Red Sand—all rather closer inshore than the navy counterparts. The pontoon bases used in the earlier structures would have been unsuitable in shallower water, where tidal currents constantly shifted the seabed; instead, Maunsell designed a self-burying footing that firmly anchored each tower in place. Construction began in August 1942, and the last tower was completed sixteen months later. At each site, the Bofors platform was erected first to defend the construction crews as they assembled the rest of the fort.

There is now no way to measure the passive deterrent effect of the Maunsell forts, but during their short active life they accounted for the destruction of twenty-two enemy aircraft and about thirty flying bombs. Because the Ministry of Defence believed that a combination of bad weather and tidal action would quickly destroy them after the war, no thought was taken for their disposal. For a few years after 1945 the naval forts were serviced by the Thames Estuary Special Defence unit, and two were temporarily adapted as lightships. Difficulty of access in storms led to that being discontinued; in fact, Tongue Sands was wrecked in bad weather in 1966. Only Knock John and The Roughs survive. After May 1964 the former, together with Red Sand and Shivering Sands army forts, was occupied at various times and for various periods by pirate radio stations, until the last was shut down under the Offshore Broadcasting Act in July 1967. The Roughs continues to have an eccentric postwar history.

It lies slightly north of the Thames Estuary off Harwich, and in September 1967, when it was still outside British territorial waters, a former British army officer named Paddy Roy Bates formally (and it must be said legally) annexed it as the Principality of Sealand, going aboard as the “prince” with his family. In the late 1990s a consortium of U.S. Internet entrepreneurs set up the world’s first offshore data haven there, offering prospective clients security for their computer operations, free from the interference of legislation.

The army forts also went into decline. For a short while, under the control of the Anti-Aircraft Fort Maintenance Detachment, they were furnished with improved searchlights and radar installations. Any perceived crisis past, the army stripped all guns and equipment from them in 1956. The Red Sand fort, off the Isle of Sheppey, was abandoned that same year. The Great Nore fort was dismantled in 1958 after being struck by a ship and officially declared a hazard to shipping. In 1959 another vessel collided with the Shivering Sands fort, bringing down one of the towers. Despite their short-lived roles as radio stations, the survivors are now derelict. Their robustness means that their skeletons will stand in the North Sea for some years to come, gaunt confirmation of the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Guy Maunsell did not survive his great sea forts, dying in 1961 after establishing an international civil-engineering partnership, which continues.

Marib Dam - Yemen

The Republic of Yemen is located on the southwestern coast of the Arabian peninsula, the region once possessed by the ancient southern Arabian kingdoms that occupied the mouths of large wadis (valleys) between mountains and desert. The first-millennium-b.c. kingdom of Saba sprang up in the dry delta of the Wadi Dhana that divides the Balak Hills. In the eighth century b.c., at the height of their prosperity, the Sabaeans had established colonies along both sea and land trade routes to Israel, and they dominated the region. Their capital, Marib, among the wealthiest cities of ancient Arabia, stood 107 miles (172 kilometers) east of Sana’a, the capital of modern Yemen. It is generally agreed that artificial irrigation was practiced near ancient Marib as early as the middle of the third millennium b.c. About 2,000 years later a dam was built to harness the biannual floods and systematic irrigation was introduced. Some scholars believe that the Marib Dam was the “greatest technical structure of antiquity.”

Around 685 b.c., under King Karib’il Watar, Saba enlarged its borders. Territories were conquered in the southwest of the peninsula; Ausan in the south was defeated and Sabaean rule extended northwest as far as Nagran. In the second half of the sixth century b.c., two kings successively built the Marib Dam near the mouth of the Wadi Dhana, the largest water course from the Yemeni uplands. By impounding water during the two rainy seasons, the dam provided irrigation for some 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) of fields and gardens. Replenished and enriched by sedimentary deposits, this agricultural land supported a population estimated to be about 30,000.

The first dam was a simple earth structure, 1,900 feet (580 meters) long and probably only 13 feet (4 meters) high, built between rocks on the south side

of the wadi and a rock shelf on the north. Its location a little downstream of the wadi’s narrowest point permitted space for a natural spillway and sluices. Around 500 b.c. a second 23-foot-high (7-meter) earth dam was built. It was triangular in section; both faces sloped at 45 degrees and the upstream side was faced with stone set in mortar. The final form of the Marib Dam was not built by the Sabaeans.

Late in the second century b.c. the Himyarites, a tribe from the extreme southwest of Arabia, established their capital at Dhafar and gradually absorbed the Sabaean kingdom, gaining control of South Arabia. They undertook the next major reconstruction of the Marib Dam, building a new 46-foot-high (14-meter), 2,350-foot-long (720-meter), stone-faced earthen wall, incorporating sophisticated hydraulic systems. It was nearly 200 feet (60 meters) thick at the base, built on a stone foundation, and created a lake that was probably 1.5 square miles (4 square kilometers) in area. At each end of the wall there were sluices, constructed with what has been described as the “finest ancient masonry … in Arabia,” through which water was channeled to extensive irrigation networks on both sides of the valley floor. The southern sluice system had a 10-foot-wide (3.5-meter) spillway about 23 feet (7 meters) below the top of the dam. The northern system included a spillway and a massive channel outlet between the spillway and the earth wall. It carried water via a 3,300-foot-long (1-kilometer), 40-foot-wide (12-meter) stone-lined earthen conduit, rectangular in cross section, to a distribution point that fed 12 irrigation canals. The discharge flowing into the conduit was controlled by a pair of gates; it also passed through a large settling basin.

When the Romans began to trade with India directly via the sea routes, the South Arabian economic monopoly was broken. The overland route declined, and social structure began to disintegrate. The Himyarite dynasty was toppled by an Ethiopian invasion in a.d. 335, reestablished toward the end of the fourth century, and again overthrown by the Ethiopians in 525. The Himyarites were absorbed into the wider South Arabian population.

The Marib Dam was regularly breached, usually by overtopping, during the extreme floods that occurred about once in fifty years. Just as regularly—for example, in a.d. 450 and 542—substantial repair work was undertaken. But when it was overtopped in 575, it was not repaired. Its final destruction was later recorded in the Koran (632–650), attributed to the judgment of Allah: “But they turned aside, so We sent upon them a torrent of which the rush could not be withstood, and in place of their two gardens We gave to them two gardens yielding bitter fruit. …” There is also a Yemeni proverb, “The Marib dam was destroyed by a mouse.’ Archeologists and engineers attribute its collapse to lack of adequate, regular maintenance or to the gradual failure of the foundation. Whatever the case, deprived of their water supply, the lifeblood of their crops and gardens, thousands of people from Marib returned to the nomadic life or migrated northward. The collapse of the dam expedited Bedouin insurgence from the Najd, and Islam was introduced around 630.

In December 1986 a new 125-foot-high (38-meter) earth dam was officially inaugurated. It closes off the Wadi Dhana a little under 2 miles (3 kilometers) upstream of the old dam site. Like its ancient predecessor, it was designed to impound water for irrigating the Marib plains; a 12-square-mile (30-square-kilometer) lake with almost a capacity of 437 million cubic yards (400 million cubic meters) has transformed 45,000 acres (18,000 hectares) of desert into productive farmland.