by Asia Leonardi
From fires to bombings, from building speculation to structural risks, the list of edifices, neighborhoods, avant-garde buildings that we have lost in the course of our history is endless. Sometimes, this was due to unforeseeable agents, causes of force majeure, such as environmental disasters, war, invasions; other times, ignorance, superficiality, consumerism: such as, for example, the Larking Building of Frank Lloyd Wright, demolished to give space to a parking lot with only twelve parking spaces.
The etymology of the Italian word ”ricordare” (”to remember”) comes from Latin: re-cor- dare. Breaking it down, we can deduct its meaning from three segments: ”re” (a particle that indicates the act of repetition, which we could translate with the English ”again”), ”cor”, from ”cor, cordis” (literally ”heart”), and ”dare” (”to give”). So, the primordial etymological meaning of the word ”ricordare” is, taking it literally, ”to give to the heart again”. This, I think, is the meaning behind this article: telling a forgotten story, a story built with care and passion, a story that was then demolished, buried, hidden behind layers of cement, bringing with it the dreams and adventures that had inflamed the life of the generations that came before us.
Cincinnati Public Library
It was designed by architect J. W. Mclaughing and intended as an opera house. It was 1874 when the old Cincinnati Public Library was inaugurated, recognized, and called by all ”Old Main”. Home to over 300,000 books, the walls of the library stood out, five stories high, surrounded by steel shelves, accompanied by high spiral stairs. Checkerboard marble floors, skylight roof, culminating in glass coffers: the interior of the old library looked just like a vertical labyrinth to envy the famous ”Library of Babel” from the tales of Borges.
The librarian of the time was William F. Poole, whose merit is certainly to be recognized: his goal was not so much to attract book lovers — rather the considerable public of the city. For this reason, he began to distribute library cards to children, and to introduce, well in advance of the times, the practice of the library open on Sundays. ”Many young people in that category,” said Poole, ”previously strolled the streets on Sundays, spending the day less profitably, and then they began to regularly attend the library rooms and spend a part of the day immersed in reading”. After the resounding success of the Cincinnati Library, the New York Library also began to open its doors on Sundays, followed by the Philadelphia’s one and the St. Louis one, thus inaugurating the prototype of the American public library system.
However symptoms of great disease began to appear in 1920: paint began to peel, ventilation was stuffy, and often excess books were stacked without order. In 1955 the Old Cincinnati Public Library was forced to close its doors and in just three weeks its collection of hundreds of thousands of books was transferred to the new library opened at 800 Vine Street, acclaimed for its modern and fashionable design.
The cost of the lot and building was $383,594.53, about $7.7 million today, but it was sold for about $100,000. In June 1955, it was demolished with general indifference. Today, in its place, there is a parking lot. The busts of William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Benjamin Franklin, who once stood guard like lions at the main entrance, were the only original remains of the building to be saved from demolition, placed then in the garden of the new Main Library in Cincinnati.
The Church of Archangel Michael, in Warsaw
(Katedra św. Michała Archanioła or Церковь Михаила Архангела)
The Chuch of Archangel Michael was an Orthodox church. Built in 1894 in Russian Poland, during the reign of Alexander III and the beginning of the reign of Nikolaj II, with the manifest intent of the ”russification” of Poland. The cathedral, whose 75-meter-high towers could be seen from afar, was the symbol of Russian domination over the city of Warsaw. It stood at 12 Ujazdowski Avenue, in the center of the city, a point of particular attraction for the wealthy Russians.
When the Russians left Warsaw after the end of the First World War, the Church which had lost its reason for existence began to fall into ruin. Perhaps because of its decadent condition, perhaps because of the lack of maintenance, perhaps because of the still- burning memory of Russian oppression, the church was demolished in 1923.
Cathedral of Mogadishu, Somalia
It was 29 February 1928 when Umberto of Savoy landed in Mogadishu to make an official state. The Italian newspaper La Stampa anticipated the voyage of the Prince to the ”Italian Somalia” on 22nd February of that year:
”The major and culminating event of the presence of Prince Umberto of Savoy will be the consecration of the monumental Catholic church of Mogadishu. This, as is well known, is one of the most formidable works of the Regime and perhaps the clearest and most enduring example of its religious policy. In Somalia, Count De Vecchi of Val Cismon wanted the kingdom of the cross to be established alongside the kingdom of the Savoy shield and the littorio. The cathedral of Mogadishu, according to the vast and wise design of the governor, is and will be the center and base of the powerful organization, which, with missions, schools, kindergartens, the brefotrofio for the mestizos and the orphanage tends, through charity and education, the spiritual conquest of the Somalis, with results that in just two years have exceeded the most optimistic predictions. Therefore, the fact that the Crown Prince and the high staff of the State and the Church participate in the inauguration of the temple is of political and moral importance already evident to us and foreigners, but that they will be able to better evaluate future generations”.
The cathedral was designed by the engineer Antonio Vandone, Count of Cortemiglia, on the model of the cathedral of Cefalú, in Gothic-Norman style. It was strongly desired by the Governor of Somalia, C.M. De Vecchi of Val Cismon, who on October 31, 1927, wrote:
”The city of Mogadishu has changed the face and takes an unrecognizable look to those who saw it a few years ago. Whatever work is built bears the unequivocal signs of the civilization of the Littoria that creates it, of the Dynasty that holds the homeland, of the government that acts; These works, so marked in stone, concrete, and bronze, will remind the next few how firm our will was and what spirit-guided it. As I write this note, the largest church in East Africa is now covering itself in the rooftops in Mogadishu, designed by the engineer account A. Vadone, and according to the concepts of style and construction that I indicated so that they would not clash with the true grace of which the city is dressing. It is inspired by the cathedral of Cefalù, the symbol of the Christian reconquest of Sicily, a magnificent monument of our art and the Catholic spirit, restorer of the spiritual values of fascism”.
The cathedral, in the presence of the Prince of Piedmont Umberto Savoia, was inaugurated on March 1, 1928. It is the most imposing Christian temple in East Africa, a seed of evangelization in predominantly Islamic territory. On July 9, 1989, while the mass is celebrated inside the cathedral, there is a man who collapses on the steps for a gunshot that pierced his chest. He was the Franciscan Pietro Salvatore Colombo, the last bishop of Mogadishu. A few days after, the dictatorship of Siad Barre collapses, and civil war breaks out. The cathedral is the victim of continuous looting and of the war between the twelve Somali tribes that continues to the present.
Today, in the cathedral of Mogadishu nothing remains but a pile of rubble, the roof and towers have collapsed, the apse turned into a latrine. The ruins of the church are shelter for refugees escaping from war, hoping to flee to Italy, in search of a better future, but they do not know that Italy has forgotten its sad colonial past, and has forgotten Mogadishu.
The Round City of Baghdad
”Then we arrived in Baghdad, ”Home of Peace” and capital of Islam, a city of sublime merit and noble rank, the seat of caliphs elected by the wise as a place of stay,” wrote Ibn Battuta, the medieval Moroccan historian considered one of the greatest travelers of all time.
The round city of Baghdad was founded in 795 at the behest of Al Mansur, second Abbasid caliph, on the west shore of the Tigris River. The origin of the name is uncertain but it seems that it comes from the composition of the words of the ancient Persian ”Bagh” and ”Dad”, whose meaning is ”Gift of God”. For a long time, however, the city was referred to as ”Madinat As-Salam”, meaning ”city of peace”. The original core of the city was surrounded by a circle of walls of exactly 1 km in diameter. The round city had four gates: ”Bab al Kufa”, ”Bab al-Sham”, ”Bab al Khorasan” and ”Bab al Basra”.
It quickly became the center of the Islamic Arab world and came to be the first city in the world to exceed a million inhabitants, who arrived from every corner of the world. It is precisely in the round city that many of the famous stories of ”The Thousand and One Nights” were set, in which appears the figure of Caliph Harun Al Rashid, a real celebrity in those times, and a profound innovator of Baghdad.
Thanks to the caliph’s passion for literature, the ”Bayt al Holman” is built in the city, the ”House of Wisdom”, which will become one of the legendary places of study in the history of humanity. It was initially his private library, which over the years expanded more and more until it became public and housed half a million volumes. Soon it became a university, then expanded to an astronomical observatory, and finally to a hospital, thus reserving the role of the best center of knowledge in the world for centuries.
The decline of Baghdad began in 835, with the transfer of the capital to Samarra. The Mongol siege of Hulegu Khan in 1258, with the subsequent destruction of the library and the extermination of 800,000 civilians, led to the ruin of the city, which found its end in 1534 with its annexation to the Ottoman Empire.
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Other articles by Asia Leonardi include Schliemann’s Discovery of Troy.
The blog’s last article was A Summer Conversation Between Oakley and Eagerton.
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