Cities old and new

We visited Lisbon in March this year but I never got a chance to write about the trip. Earlier this week, while browsing through the Dutch section at the Louvre, my thoughts strayed back to Lisbon. This 1670 painting by Jan van der Heyden depicts the Royal Palace at Dam Square:


It’s the same square I pass by every day on the way to office. Almost 350 years later, the square looks more or less the same and is still in active use. The city of Amsterdam endures on.


But what happens 1000 years from now? Will our big cities be still around or will they be ruins at the outskirts of the future city-centers? When in Rome last year, the traces of the Roman Civilization were all around me. Buildings in that city fell into disuse, were abandoned or demolished and new ones came up — sometimes just a few yards from the old ones. From the holes in the walls of Colosseum, I could see windows of buildings barely a few decades old:


Lisbon had spooked me a little because the old quarters of the city felt completely abandoned in patches. Many houses looked like no one had lived in them for years.




We saw a lot of repair work too but it seemed unable to keep up with the decay and degeneration.





But then Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe and all this might be quite normal for a city that is already thousands of years old.

P.S. In the Egyptology section at the Louvre, we saw an ordinary piece of parchment that looked like a section from a grocer’s balance sheet. What stories must it tell? Some of our ordinary, careless scribbles will show up in a museum thousands of year from now and scholars will agonize over them in search of some glimpse into our present times.

October 7, 2012