Every major city has structure or two which characterizes it. These buildings may be religious, military or civic but have one thing in common – they were built to inspire and bring awe to citizens and travellers alike. It stands to reason that most of these buildings stand for generation after generation. In terms of location, these buildings can usually be found where they would get the maximum exposure; that could as center-piece in a main square, beside the city’s main road or, as it is the case with the Rotunda, crowning a hill, and approached by a massive triumphal walkway. Think of the Parthenon, the Hagia Sophia, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Notre Dame, the Louvre and Eiffel tower, or the Washington Memorial – all of them dominate the skyline, and are placed on important crossings in their respective cities.
In places where lands change hands or where civil change takes place, these building tend to follow the trend of the times. When a building is built to inspire awe and to project power, it makes perfect sense that governments, religions or the citizens of a city will use it to display their current philosophy or ideas. This can be anything from hanging different tabards, repainting the frescos, making additions to the structure or even tearing it down and rebuilding on top of it (the latter being quite the statement!). There are even cases where the building materials of the destroyed or dismantled building are used for the construction of the new building.
Another reason for a building to be repurposed is a natural disaster. In cities that undergo major disasters like fires, floods or earthquakes, major buildings are often rebuilt with a different character, which symbolises the struggle of the people of the city and their rise to prosperity through hardship. In these cases, although the character of the structure might remain the same, additions are made to show that not only that it still stands, but that it stands brighter. This was not the case with the Rotunda in Thessaloniki (featured in the video above), but certainly was true for the cathedral of Aghios Dimitrios (less than 2 miles away), where the important (but originally small) church was augmented in size not only once, but three times.
The Rotunda and bricks
At the beginning of the video you can see the interior of the Rotunda, and you’ll notice that the walls are made of brick, with square inlets into the walls. During the building’s peak, these brick walls were hidden by massive marble plaques, which covered the whole interior of the building all the way up to the dome.You can imagine, then, that the Rotunda would have looked far more impressive dressed in white shiny marble, and perhaps how the sense of awe and richness would have been multiplied for visitors. But alas, marble is expensive and at some point, the Rotunda was stripped. Its marbles were reused to ornament another building in the Ottoman empire.
Have you already used re-purposed buildings to show you history in your campaigns, stories or world building? Do you think it’s a good idea?
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