There's something morbidly romantic about old wars. That must be why military history is such a popular subject with historians, reenactors, and every single man over the age of 35. But we really don't need to hoard muskets to get in touch with the violence of old. Look hard enough, and you'll see that cities and towns are still pockmarked with creepy remnants of wars gone by. For example ....
The heady days of the French Revolution were some of the most exciting in all of history. The passion, the intrigue, the utter unadulterated terror. And nothing symbolized this beautiful brutality more than the guillotine, which made its debut smack dab in the middle of the Parisian streets. Of all the ways people have been executed throughout history, we daresay that none has left its mark quite like the guillotine. No, really. You can still see evidence of the murder blade on Parisian streets.
Over the course of 48 years, a total of 69 people were publicly executed by way of the Paris guillotine. And if you want to stand exactly where a 19th-century liberated French peasant stood when royal heads started to roll, all you have to do is go to Paris and take a stroll to Rue de la Croix-Faubin, where La Roquette Prison once stood. There, you can find five very distinct slabs of stone in an otherwise unremarkable road. These mark the spots where the guillotine's foundation was placed. Because old-timey streets weren't exactly flat, five heavy stones were pounded into the ground so that the guillotine could be placed on a perfectly level platform. Good for the guillotine, bad for all the convicts hoping for a last-minute Looney Tunes-like slide away from the blade.
St. Lambert's Church in Munster, Germany is a popular tourist attraction. It's easy to see why: It features beautiful late Gothic architecture. Plus it's an old church -- why else do people visit Europe? But there's a hidden feature of this particular church, and it revolves around the somewhat inconspicuous metal cages, which in 1534 played a very gruesome role during the failed Munster Rebellion.
Sure, tourist websites mention the cages, but only in passing, which is insane, given the history. During the European Reformation, some radical religious folk started Anabaptism, which, get this, insisted that only willing adults should be baptized instead of dunking babies in cold water and giving them an irrevocable lifetime membership to Christianity before they can even lift their heads.
At first, Anabaptists worked by spreading their polygamist communes throughout the lands and bringing new believers into the fold. But one branch tried a more aggressive approach to spreading their ideology. Their plan: Take over the city of Munster like their patron saint was Lex Luthor. They did eventually manage to take control of the city for 18 months, but then the local bishop banded together a resistance and managed to win it back. To remind any ambitious zealots what the town was capable of, the executed bodies of the Anabaptist leaders were displayed from the side of the church's steeple in three ornate cages. Flash forward 484 years, and the cages can still be seen from the streets, right where the resistance fighters left them. Nearly five centuries later, the people of Munster still seem to think that if they let down their medieval torture cages, those pesky Anabaptists will come back out of the woodwork to strike them when they least expect it. See, now that's how you hold a grudge.
During the Civil War, when New York blatantly called for even more Union men to stand in front of Confederate muskets, poor New Yorkers did the only thing they could to protest their unfair treatment by these rich, privileged white men: Burn down an orphanage for colored children and leave the cinders for all to see.
The Colored Orphan Asylum has been heralded as one of the first institutions in history that offered refuge for disenfranchised minorities. Founded by Quakers, the orphanage took in African American, Native American, and occasionally Asian children for nearly 30 years, until a bunch of angry white people decided to light it on fire. In 1863, as the Civil War raged on, New York passed a new law which would forcefully draft young men into the Union Army. There was a way out, however, as rich families could pay $300 and have their sons be replaced by a poorer family's child. Riots immediately broke out throughout the city, with the impoverished masses taking to the street to fight against their wealthy overlords and their bloody war. But Manhattan was a bit of a long walk for some rioters, so they just went over to local nonwhite orphanage because of, uh, selfish slaves coming over here and forcing us to free them?
A large crowd fronted by Irish-American gangsters descended on the Colored Orphan Asylum, burning, stealing, and destroying everything in sight, including baby clothes. And even though a hundred lives were lost in the ensuing fight, not a single child was harmed. That's because of the heroic efforts of firefighters who fought off both flames and flaming idiots long enough for school officials to sneak all 233 children out the back door.
The aftermath left a giant lot filled with ash and rubble, but there were hopes to rebuild on the very spot on which the orphanage once stood. This caused immediate outrage for two very different reasons. The point was raised that the building should be moved to a safer (and more secluded) location. The more popular argument was that the burned-down husk of the former orphanage had become prime real estate and was now far too valuable for ratty ragamuffins.
Filled with greed, the New York council decided to sell the location and built a new orphanage on Roosevelt Island in 1967. Nowadays, it is a grim monument to the horrors of institutionalized racism ... right across from an Urban Outfitters. But depending on when you're reading this article, it might be too late to witness this important historical scar for yourself. Sadly, the lot was finally picked up by a realtor in 2016, a good 153 years after the fateful riot. History buffs in the area hoped to have the site registered, but history itself isn't as important as condos or whatever.
It turns out you don't need a $40 movie ticket and a butter-popcorn-induced heart attack to see the aftermath of fire and bombs. Simply walk outside, because the fallout is everywhere. All over Europe, buildings can be seen with so many gaping holes in them that you'd think every war was guerrilla marketing for Swiss cheese. Much of the time, this destruction dates back as far as hundreds of years, from Budapest to Barcelona to Berlin.
Craters left behind by bombs and bullets can be seen in the walls of buildings all throughout the continent. But Europe isn't the only place gifted with gnarly battle scars. America's has it's own old wounds courtesy of the War of 1812. Even the White House is still covered in scorch marks from the time a bunch of British soldiers set every last piece of presidential furniture on fire, because soldiering could be bloody good fun in the old days.
Still, as cool as this stuff looks, it's still a bunch of holes and some burn marks. Not so much a peek into history as $5,000 off the property value. Well, how about a bunch of buildings in Gettysburg hanging out with gun shells embedded in them? Because that's totally a thing:
You may have noticed that these cities wear their collateral damage with pride, like it's a cool scar from a bar fight that America won when it was young and wild. That's not the case for Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When an estimated 300 shells were dropped on the city per day back in 1993, the streets inevitably became riddled with craters. Obviously, leaving a gaping hole in a street is inadvisable, so the Sarajevo government filled them in. With red resin.
The resin marks are known as Sarajevo Roses, a poetic name for a severe reminder of a gruesome siege that took the lives of 5,434 innocent civilians. Or course, it's no coincidence that most of them look like blood spatters, because Sarajevo knew long before the rest of the world that people have a short memory.
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