5 Historical Places We've Managed To Totally Trash
With nearly 8 billion people living on Earth, there are all kinds of different folks and an almost endless variety of strokes. But despite differing cultures and backgrounds, there are a few things the human race almost universally values -- such as coffee, or Tom Hanks, or things that are very old. But while most people unaffiliated with ISIS have proper respect for historic places or things, there are times when someone clearly missed the memo. Like when ...
Some Guy Destroyed Shakespeare's House Because He Got Tired Of Tourists
Unlike many of history's greatest artists, William Shakespeare was fortunate enough to be popular, even famous, in his lifetime. But living ye olde life of celebrity can take its toll, so he gave up the bustle of London for a house in the quiet village of Stratford-upon-Avon (because every English village has to have a name of Targaryen-title-like length). While living there, he wrote his last few plays, and liked to read in the shade of a mulberry tree he planted himself. Well, before you Willy Shakers (the preferred term for Shakespeare fans) plan a trip to visit, we've got a bit of bad news.
You see, except for camera phones, fans in the 1600s were a lot like fans today: loud, obnoxious, and not giving a fuck about personal space. This was a problem for Reverend Francis Gastrell, who purchased Shakespeare's former home in 1753. Almost immediately, Gastrell became irritated by the constant stream of tourists nosing around the place and peeking into the garden. In 1756, Gastrell's wife ordered the second-most unkindest cut of all and had the famous mulberry tree chopped down. That failed to stem the tide of visitors, so in 1759, Gastrell decided to handle things once and for all by tearing down the house.
The people of Stratford were enraged, and Gastrell became so incredibly unpopular that he got out, out of the damned spot and moved 45 miles away to Lichfield. The house was never rebuilt, but archaeologists began studying the site in 2010 and located its foundations, as well as the remains of Shakespeare's kitchen and cellar. Today the place is a garden, with sculptures and benches featuring famous lines from his plays and poems. It also has a VR tour of the house where you can presumably tell a CGI Gastrell to go to hell.
The Alamo Was Used As A Warehouse And Grocery Store
These days, the Alamo is sentimentally known as "the Shrine of Texas Liberty." Hundreds of Mexican soldiers and Texans lost their lives during the 1836 battle, including folk heroes Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. Overly romanticized or not, the events of the siege are generally regarded as a pivotal event in Texas history, with constant reminders in films and textbooks to "Remember the Alamo!" Surely a battleground so deeply lodged in American popular history has been treated with dignity and respect over the years. Right?
Yeah, we know that hindsight is 20/20, but in the 1800s, a building was pretty much just a building, regardless of who died there. By the late 1870s, the only original Alamo sites still standing were the long barrack and the iconic chapel, which coincidentally are probably the only parts that come to mind if you do in fact remember the Alamo.
In 1877, the long barrack and chapel were leased to a French merchant named Henri Grenet, who promptly remodeled them for use as a warehouse and general store. In 1882, the remodeled long barrack -- where most of the Alamo's garrison made their last stand against Santa Anna's soldiers -- was sold to the firm of Hugo & Schmeltzer, who made it a mercantile.
But even back then you didn't mess with Texas, and public outcry began almost immediately. In 1877, Harper's bemoaned the site's use as a grocery store, saying that "market-carts roll to and fro on the funeral pyre of heroes." The state of Texas eventually decided that maybe the place deserved a better fate than "50% off hammers and spittoons" and purchased it, ending its career in retail. The site was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015, so at least what's left of it won't be used as a deli counter ever again.
Victorian Daytrippers Took Chunks Of Stonehenge And Turned It Into A Garbage Heap
Despite humanity's collection of knowledge and fancy tools, there's still more we don't know about Stonehenge than we actually do. It's ancient, so odds are good that the site has seen its share of either bones or boning -- probably both. We do know that as far back as 1562, tourists from other countries were traveling to Salisbury Plain just to gaze upon a henge of massive stones. (Ohhh, now we get the name.) It's hard to say exactly what those tourists did there, but since a 1575 drawing of the site depicts two men digging up an ancient grave, we're gonna guess that "polite observation" wasn't it.
For the past 100 years, Stonehenge has been the property of the United Kingdom and relatively protected. Prior to that, it was private property, but that got ignored in pretty much the same way that private warehouses get used for raves. That's right, aside from being merely scenic, Stonehenge was the scene, a favorite spot for picnics, loud parties, and everything in between. In one case, a group of musicians traveled from London to play among the stones, bringing with them a full-size piano, massive crowds, and a wave of revelry and destruction. It was basically Victorian Coachella (less visible skin, but the exact same facial hair).
But the problem wasn't merely a reckless disregard for mystery masonry. Visitors left trash and food, which drew animals. The animals in turn built tunnels and dens, which destabilized the stones. Worse still, it was accepted, even expected, that visitors would chip off pieces to keep as souvenirs. It got so bad that painter Benjamin Robert Haydon called his habitual theft "the English disease," saying, "On every English chimney piece, you will see a bit of the real Pyramids, a bit of Stonehenge!" By 1900, the stones were collapsing and unsafe, and when 700 masked Druids showed up on Midsummer at dawn, the owner finally decided he'd had enough. In 1915, Stonehenge was auctioned off and sold for a mere 6,600 pounds (roughly equal to 474,000 pounds, or $619,000, today).
Three years later, the new owner gifted the site to the UK to be managed by the English Heritage Trust, which has the unenviable task of balancing public access with historic preservation.
Popes Took Apart The Colosseum To Build The Vatican
Much like the people and animals who fought and died there, the Colosseum's had a pretty rough life. An iconic image of ancient Rome, it's basically an enormous, lopsided, slightly pink ruin that looks a lot like the world's largest pasta strainer. In fact, we're so used to seeing it with partially destroyed upper levels that renderings of what it once looked like feel wrong. But how did the Colosseum get destroyed, anyway?
In the 2,000-ish years since it was built, the Colosseum has endured fires, earthquakes, and a couple of World Wars. But even worse, it had to endure the Catholic Church and several of its popes, who had a lot to do with why the Colosseum looks like Swiss cheese today. See, when it was time to build St. Peter's Basilica or the Palazzo Venezia, they were all like, "We need stones? There's a sweet-ass quarry sitting right in the middle of Rome!" Yup, they swiped bits of the Colosseum and other Roman structures to build cathedrals. The floor of St. Peter's, for example, is made of rose porphyry, an extinct stone pilfered from the Colosseum. Over the years, so much of the Colosseum was hauled away to be used in other buildings that its stability was compromised, making it extra vulnerable to earthquakes, gravity, and time.
And that's not all the Colosseum has been through. Once the gladiators were gone, the site basically became Rome's back alley, with all the expected shady activities, and some interesting extras for good measure. People dumped manure and planted vegetables on the floor, while everybody from cobblers and money-changers to glue-makers and priests set up stalls throughout the labyrinthine passages. After dark, necromancers showed up and attempted to summon demons from the roof. One pope looked at the place and decided what it really needed most was to house a giant wool factory, complete with workshops and living quarters. Today the Colosseum is a World Heritage Site, so it's being restored and protected and definitely not being used like an open doorway by the dwellers of the underworld ... we think.
The Great Wall Has Been Neglected, Repurposed, And (Literally) Shit On For A Long Time
Even if you can't actually see it from space, the Great Wall of China is a remarkable feat of engineering and architecture. With portions constructed as early as 221 BC and others built as recently as 1878, the wall stretches an estimated 13,000 miles, standing as an iconic monument to Chinese history and culture through the ages. Yet today, roughly a third of it is gone, and what's left standing isn't looking particularly great.
Since the wall was built over thousands of years, its popularity and relative importance have varied quite a bit. Some dynasties were all about adding to the wall and shoring up the existing fortifications, while others have actually encouraged its destruction. In the 1970s, Chairman Mao advised people to dismantle the wall and use the bricks to build homes or pigsties or whatever else might be more useful than a very large wall. Some locals removed bricks and sold them to tourists as souvenirs, and you would too if you were dirt poor and someone would pay you money for a rock. And it's not like the government tried particularly hard to keep the wall in one piece, either.
In 2005, skateboarder Danny Way became the first person to jump the wall without motorized assistance. His reward for the stunt? A chunk broken off of the wall ... by the Ministry of Culture.
But it's not physical removal of bricks that's causing all this damage. Nightclubs don't see half the action that portions of the wall closest to Beijing have. Local governments have allowed it to be used as a stage for pop concerts and charity events, while company-sponsored raves have resulted in partiers urinating, dancing, and having sex on the wall and in its watchtowers. Any ordinances or laws regarding the treatment of the wall are rarely enforced, either because the government doesn't care or because they lack the manpower to police 13,000 miles of real estate. The bottom line? If you're itching to see the wall in person, you probably shouldn't wait too long ... and bring some wet wipes.
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