Last updated

Roman Forum ruins in Rome Tavares.Forum.Romanum.redux.jpg
Roman Forum ruins in Rome
Ruins of Spis Castle in Slovakia Spissky hrad 2007.jpg
Ruins of Spiš Castle in Slovakia

Ruins (from Latin ruina 'a collapse') are the remains of human-made architecture: structures that were once intact have fallen, as time went by, into a state of partial or total disrepair, due to lack of maintenance or deliberate acts of destruction. Natural disaster, war and population decline are the most common root causes, with many structures becoming progressively derelict over time, due to long-term weathering and scavenging.


There are famous ruins all over the world, from ancient sites in China, the Indus valley and Judea to Zimbabwe in Africa, ancient Greek, Egyptian and Roman sites in the Mediterranean basin, and Incan and Mayan sites in the Americas. Ruins are of great importance to historians, archaeologists and anthropologists, whether they were once individual fortifications, places of worship, ancient universities, [1] houses and utility buildings, or entire villages, towns and cities. Many ruins have become UNESCO World Heritage Sites in recent years, to identify and preserve them as areas of outstanding value to humanity. [2]


1906 San Francisco earthquake: Ruins in vicinity of Post and Grant Avenue. Post-and-Grant-Avenue-Look.jpg
1906 San Francisco earthquake: Ruins in vicinity of Post and Grant Avenue.

Ancient cities were often highly militarized and fortified defensive settlements. In times of war they were the central focus of armed conflict and would be sacked and ruined in defeat. [3] Although less central to modern conflict, vast areas of 20th-century cities such as Warsaw, Dresden, Coventry, Stalingrad, Königsberg, and Berlin were left in ruins following World War II, and a number of major cities around the world – such as Beirut, Kabul, Sarajevo, Grozny and Baghdad – have been partially or completely ruined in recent years as a result of more localised warfare. [4]

Entire cities have also been ruined, and some occasionally lost completely, to natural disasters. The ancient city of Pompeii was completely lost during a volcanic eruption in the 1st century AD, its uncovered ruins now preserved as a World Heritage Site. The city of Lisbon was totally destroyed in 1755 by a massive earthquake and tsunami, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake left the city in almost complete ruin.

Deliberate destruction

Ruins of Whitby Abbey, England Whitby Abbey 060615.jpg
Ruins of Whitby Abbey, England
Ury House, Aberdeenshire ruined by removal of the roof after the Second World War to avoid taxation. Ury House Aberdeenshire.jpg
Ury House, Aberdeenshire ruined by removal of the roof after the Second World War to avoid taxation.
Ruins of Viljandi Castle in Viljandi, Estonia Viljandi Landmarks 36.jpg
Ruins of Viljandi Castle in Viljandi, Estonia
Mesen Castle, former Residence of the Marquess of Lede, designed by Giovanni Niccolo Servandoni Markizaat Lede.jpg
Mesen Castle, former Residence of the Marquess of Lede, designed by Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni
Ruins of Kajaani Castle in Kajaani, Finland Kajaani Castle ruins - tower remains.jpg
Ruins of Kajaani Castle in Kajaani, Finland

Apart from acts of war, some important historic buildings have fallen victim to deliberate acts of destruction as a consequence of social, political and economic factors. The spoliation of public monuments in Rome was under way during the fourth century, when it was covered in protective legislation in the Theodosian Code [5] and in new legislation of Majorian. [6] and the dismantling increased once popes were free of imperial restrictions. [7] Marble was still being burned for agricultural lime in the Roman Campagna into the nineteenth century.

Winston Churchill visiting the ruins of Coventry Cathedral after the Coventry Blitz of World War II Churchill CCathedral H 14250.jpg
Winston Churchill visiting the ruins of Coventry Cathedral after the Coventry Blitz of World War II

In Europe, many religious buildings suffered as a result of the politics of the day. In the 16th century, the English monarch Henry VIII set about confiscating the property of monastic institutions in a campaign which became known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Many abbeys and monasteries fell into ruin when their assets, including lead roofs, were stripped.

In the 20th century, a number of European historic buildings fell into ruin as a result of taxation policies, which required all structures with roofs to pay substantial property tax. The owners of these buildings, like Fetteresso Castle (now restored) and Slains Castle in Scotland, deliberately destroyed their roofs in protest at, and defiance of, the new taxes. Other decrees of government have had a more direct result, such as the case of Beverston Castle, in which the English parliament ordered significant destruction of the castle to prevent it being used by opposition Royalists. Post-colonial Ireland has encouraged the ruin of grand Georgian houses, symbols of British imperialism. [8]

Relics of steel and wooden towers

Ruins made-to-measure: the "Roman Ruin" in the park at Schonbrunn, c 1800 Ziegler Janscha 001.jpg
Ruins made-to-measure: the "Roman Ruin" in the park at Schönbrunn, c 1800
Rust-Belt ruins of former factory, Detroit, Michigan Abandoned Packard Automobile Factory Detroit 200.jpg
Rust-Belt ruins of former factory, Detroit, Michigan

As a rule, towers built of steel are dismantled, when not used any more, because their construction can be either rebuilt on a new site or if the state of construction does not allow a direct reuse, the metal can be recycled economically. However, sometimes tower basements remain, because their removal can sometimes be expensive. One example of such a basement is the basement of the former radio mast of Deutschlandsender Herzberg/Elster.

The basements of large wooden towers such as Transmitter Ismaning may also be left behind, because removing them would be difficult.

The contemplation of "rust belt" post-industrial ruins is in its infancy. [9]


Procession to Hambach Castle during Hambach Festival, lithograph about 1832 Hambacher Fest 1832.jpg
Procession to Hambach Castle during Hambach Festival, lithograph about 1832
The ruins of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Much of the original marble which formed the roof and frieze now forms a pile of rubble at its base. Parthenon from south.jpg
The ruins of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Much of the original marble which formed the roof and frieze now forms a pile of rubble at its base.

In the Middle Ages Roman ruins were inconvenient impediments to modern life, quarries for pre-shaped blocks for building projects, or marble to be burnt for agricultural lime, and subjects for satisfying commentaries on the triumph of Christianity and the general sense of the world's decay, in what was assumed to be its last age, before the Second Coming. With the Renaissance, ruins took on new roles among a cultural elite, as examples for a consciously revived and purified architecture all' antica, and for a new aesthetic appreciation of their innate beauty as objects of venerable decay. [10] The chance discovery of Nero's Domus Aurea at the turn of the sixteenth century, and the early excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii had marked effects on current architectural styles, in Raphael's Rooms at the Vatican and in neoclassical interiors, respectively. The new sense of historicism that accompanied neoclassicism led some artists and designers to conceive of the modern classicising monuments of their own day as they would one day appear as ruins.

In the period of Romanticism ruins (mostly of castles) were frequent object for painters, place of meetings of romantic poets, nationalist students etc. (e.g. Bezděz Castle in Bohemia, Hambach Castle in Germany, Devin Castle in Slovakia).

Ruin value (German : Ruinenwert) is the concept that a building be designed such that if it eventually collapsed, it would leave behind aesthetically pleasing ruins that would last far longer without any maintenance at all. Joseph Michael Gandy completed for Sir John Soane in 1832 an atmospheric watercolor of the architect's vast Bank of England rotunda as a picturesquely overgrown ruin, that is an icon of Romanticism. [11] [12] Ruinenwert was popularized in the 20th century by Albert Speer while planning for the 1936 Summer Olympics and published as Die Ruinenwerttheorie ("The Theory of Ruin Value").

Ruins remain a popular subject for painting and creative photography [13] and are often romanticized in film and literature, providing scenic backdrops or used as metaphors for other forms of decline or decay. For example, the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle in England inspired Turner to create several paintings; in 1989 the ruined Dunnottar Castle in Scotland was used for filming of Hamlet .

See also

Related Research Articles

Lost city Human settlement that has become extensively or completely uninhabited

A lost city is a settlement that fell into terminal decline and became extensively or completely uninhabited, with the consequence that the site's former significance was no longer known to the wider world. The locations of many lost cities have been forgotten, but some have been rediscovered and studied extensively by scientists. Recently abandoned cities or cities whose location was never in question might be referred to as ruins or ghost towns. The search for such lost cities by European explorers and adventurers in Africa, the Americas, and Southeast Asia from the 15th century onwards eventually led to the development of archaeology.

Nalanda Ancient Buddhist monastery in India

Nalanda was an ancient Mahavihara, a revered Buddhist monastery which also served as a renowned centre of learning, in the ancient kingdom of Magadha in India. The university of Nalanda obtained significant fame, prestige and relevance during ancient times, and rose to legendary status due to its contribution to the emergence of India as a great power around the fourth century. The site is located about 95 kilometres (59 mi) southeast of Patna near the city of Bihar Sharif, and was one of the greatest centres of learning in the world from the fifth century CE to c. 1200 CE. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tourism in Albania

Tourism in Albania has been a key element to the country's economic activity and is constantly developing. It is characterized by its rich archaeological and cultural heritage dating back to the classical period when Illyrians and Ancient Greeks inhabited the region. Over the course of history, the territory of Albania was occupied and populated by Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans. Notably the country features unspoiled beaches, mountainous landscapes, traditional cuisine, archaeological artifacts, unique traditions, low prices and the wild atmosphere of the countryside.

Golden Ring of Russia Region in Russia

The Golden Ring of Russia unites old Russian cities of five Oblasts – usually excluding Moscow – as a well-known theme-route. The grouping is centred northeast of the capital. These were the north-eastern part of the ancient Rus'. The ring formerly comprised the region known as Zalesye. The idea of the route and the term was created in 1967 by Soviet historian and essayist Yuri Bychkov, who published in Sovetskaya Kultura in November–December 1967 a series of essays on the cities under the heading: "Golden Ring". Bychkov was one of the founders of ВООПИК: the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture.

Pena Palace

The Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle in São Pedro de Penaferrim, in the municipality of Sintra, on the Portuguese Riviera. The castle stands on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains above the town of Sintra, and on a clear day it can be easily seen from Lisbon and much of its metropolitan area. It is a national monument and constitutes one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is also used for state occasions by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other government officials.

Saint Sophias Cathedral, Kyiv cathedral in Kyiv

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv is an outstanding architectural monument of Kyivan Rus. The cathedral is one of the city's best known landmarks and the first heritage site in Ukraine to be inscribed on the World Heritage List along with the Kyiv Cave Monastery complex. Aside from its main building, the cathedral includes an ensemble of supporting structures such as a bell tower and the House of Metropolitan. In 2011 the historic site was reassigned from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Regional Development of Ukraine to the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine. One of the reasons for the move was that both Saint Sophia Cathedral and Kyiv Pechersk Lavra are recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Program as one complex, while in Ukraine the two were governed by different government entities.


Avdat, also known as Abdah and Ovdat and Obodat, is a site of a ruined Nabataean city in the Negev desert in southern Israel. It was the most important city on the Incense Route after Petra, between the 1st century BCE and the 7th century CE. It was founded in the 3rd century BCE, and inhabited by Nabataeans, Romans, and Byzantines. Avdat was a seasonal camping ground for Nabataean caravans travelling along the early Petra–Gaza road in the 3rd – late 2nd century BCE. The city's original name was changed to Avdat in honor of Nabataean King Obodas I, who, according to tradition, was revered as a deity and was buried there.

Ruin value Concept in architecture

Ruin value is the concept that a building be designed such that if it eventually collapsed, it would leave behind aesthetically pleasing ruins that would last far longer without any maintenance at all. The idea was pioneered by German architect Albert Speer while planning for the 1936 Summer Olympics and published as "The Theory of Ruin Value", although he was not its original inventor. The intention did not stretch only to the eventual collapse of the buildings, but rather assumed such buildings were inherently better designed and more imposing during their period of use.

Kadisha Valley

Kadisha Valley, also romanized as the Qadisha Valley and also known as the Kadisha Gorge or Wadi Kadisha, is a gorge that lies within the Becharre and Zgharta Districts of the North Governorate of Lebanon. The valley was carved by the Kadisha River, also known as the Nahr Abu Ali when it reaches Tripoli. Kadisha means "Holy" in Aramaic, and the valley, sometimes called the Holy Valley. It has sheltered Christian monastic communities for many centuries. The valley is located at the foot of Mount al-Makmal in northern Lebanon.

Old Havana Municipality of Havana in Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba

Old Havana is the city-center (downtown) and one of the 15 municipalities forming Havana, Cuba. It has the second highest population density in the city and contains the core of the original city of Havana. The positions of the original Havana city walls are the modern boundaries of Old Havana.

Somapura Mahavihara

Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur, Badalgachhi Upazila, Naogaon District, Bangladesh is among the best known Buddhist viharas in the Indian Subcontinent and is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. It is also one of the earliest sites of Bengal, where significant amount of Hindu statues were found. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It dates from a period to the nearby Halud Vihara and to the Sitakot Vihara in Nawabganj Upazila of Dinajpur District.

Church of Saint Simeon Stylites Historical church northwest of Aleppo, Syria

The Church of Saint Simeon Stylites is a building that can be traced back to the 5th century, located approximately 30 kilometres (19 mi) northwestern part of Aleppo, Syria. It is one of the oldest surviving church complexes. It was constructed on the site of the pillar of Saint Simeon Stylites, a renowned recluse monk. The church is popularly known as either Qalaat Semaan or Deir Semaan.

Pompeii Ancient Roman city near modern Naples, Italy

Pompeii was an ancient city located in what is now the comune of Pompei near Naples in the Campania region of Italy. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was buried under 4 to 6 m of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

Jagaddala Mahavihara

Jagaddala Mahavihara was a Buddhist monastery and seat of learning in Varendra, a geographical unit in present north Bengal in Bangladesh. It was founded by the later kings of the Pāla dynasty, probably Ramapala, most likely at a site near the present village of Jagdal in Dhamoirhat Upazila in the north-west Bangladesh on the border with India, near Paharapur. Some texts also spell the name Jaggadala.


The Wachau is an Austrian valley with a picturesque landscape formed by the Danube river. It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations of Lower Austria, located midway between the towns of Melk and Krems that also attracts "connoisseurs and epicureans" for its high-quality wines. It is 36 kilometres (22 mi) in length and was already settled in prehistoric times. A well-known place and tourist attraction is Dürnstein, where King Richard the Lionhearted of England was held captive by Duke Leopold V. The architectural elegance of its ancient monasteries, castles and ruins combined with the urban architecture of its towns and villages, and the cultivation of vines as an important agricultural produce are the dominant features of the valley.

The architecture of Switzerland was influenced by its location astride major trade routes, along with diverse architectural traditions of the four national languages. Romans and later Italians brought their monumental and vernacular architecture north over the Alps, meeting the Germanic and German styles coming south and French influences coming east. Additionally, Swiss mercenary service brought architectural elements from other lands back to Switzerland. All the major styles including ancient Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Modern architecture and Post Modern are well represented throughout the country. The founding of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne in La Sarraz and the work of Swiss-born modern architects such as Le Corbusier helped spread Modern architecture throughout the world.

Architecture of Jordan

The architecture of Jordan has been subject to vast development, specifically in the final years of the twentieth century. Jordan is a small country located in the Middle East. Its location has great significance to Christians, Muslims and Jews as it is considered part of the Holy Land.


  1. "Nalanda University Ruins | Nalanda Travel Guide | Ancient Nalanda Site". Travel News India. 5 October 2016. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  2. Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "World Heritage". Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  3. Max weber, The city, 1958
  4. Stephen Graham, Postmortem City: Towards an Urban Geopolitics
  5. Codex Theodosianus, xv.1.14, 1.19, 1.43.
  6. Novellae maioriani, iv.1.
  7. See Dale Kinney, "Spolia from the Baths of Caracalla in Sta. Maria in Trastevere", The Art Bulletin68.3 (September 1986):379-397) especially "The status of Roman architectural marbles in the Middle Ages", pp. 387–90.
  8. A selection chosen for their picturesque value, appear in Simon Marsden (photos), Duncan McLaren (text), In Ruins: The Once Great Houses of Ireland, 1980, expanded ed. 1997.
  9. But see Tim Edensor, Industrial ruins: spaces, aesthetics and materiality, 2005.
  10. The European career of the pleasure and pathos absorbed from the European contemplation of ruins has been explored by Christopher Woodward, In Ruins (Chatto & Windus), 2001.
  11. Widely illustrated in this context, including in David Watkin, The English Vision: the picturesque in architecture, landscape, and garden design, 1982:62
  12. PERPINYA, Núria. Ruins, Nostalgia and Ugliness. Five Romantic perceptions of Middle Ages and a spoon of Game of Thrones and Avant-garde oddity. Berlin: Logos Verlag. 2014
  13. Simon O'Corra: France in Ruins, Buildings in Decay, London 2011 ISBN   978-1-906137-23-6