Of Great Buildings and Tourist Tchotchkes
Travel Blog • Jim Benning • 05.21.10 | 1:11 PM ET
Edward Hollis’s relatively new book—The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Las Vegas Strip in Thirteen Stories—is getting some good press. While a post in The New York Review of Books is worth a look, I most enjoyed coming across a 2009 review from the Guardian.
Indeed, it is odd to think of how, once upon a time, the Parthenon was a richly adorned city-state temple, the commanding architectural representation of 5th-century Athens, and is now a bleached and almost wholly rebuilt ruin for tourists to pixelate with their mobile phone cameras. “Turn away from the Parthenon,” says Hollis, “and you’ll encounter countless souvenir stands selling marble statuettes of gods and satyrs and, of course, of the Parthenon itself. The temple swims in snow domes, adorns tea towels, and crowns countless paperweights and ashtrays.”
Yet, as the author points out, “Nearly all the other buildings whose secret lives have been recounted in this book have suffered the same fate. The Berlin wall was once the edge of the world, but since the ‘end of history’ it has become a quarry of souvenir chips and scraps. Ayasofya is now a museum, Gloucester cathedral serves as Hogwarts in the film versions of Harry Potter, and the Alhambra is such a popular attraction that visits to it must be booked online three months in advance.”