The Art and Architectural Splendours of Ancient Turkey
Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch’s Kingdoms of Ruin at first glance appears to be the classic coffee-table book, destined for a ten-minute browse before consignment for eternity to the bookshelves. In fact it is a significant contribution to the genre of ruin literature, and its text is a match for its pictures. It includes an accomplished history of early Turkey, a superb photographic odyssey through some 75 ancient sites, and a very useful bibliography.
There is an intriguing first chapter titled “Significance in Ruins”. This verges at times towards the pretentious (for instance, “there is significance in ruins because significance itself is ruined” or “ruins embody what modernity cannot” or “ruins embody the intuition that this world is not the whole story”). But perhaps a degree of pretension is inevitable in any general discussion around the question any ruin enthusiast must have asked themselves a hundred times, which is “why do I find these shattered stones of ancient civilisations so compelling and fascinating?”
Like every other author who has asked this question – from Rose Macaulay to J-J Rousseau – he fails to come up with a good or concise answer, but I found the discussion thought-provoking. He believes ruins can induce a temporary insanity because “contemplated in solitude, such ruins defy the aesthetic categories of scale, harmony, order and beauty on which sanity depends”. He finds beauty in their disorder. They provoke an intoxicating feeling of discovering the Sublime, although he cannot be precise about what exactly the Sublime is. This is the outpouring of a cultivated, well-travelled author/photographer entirely captivated by his subject.
His photographs, for me, are most successful in detailed shots – for instance, of an upended cornice block from Termessus or of the great neo-Hittite relief from Ivriz. He has great feeling for the texture of rock and an eye for detail. But I would have enjoyed a little mood and drama and more pictures that place the ruins in the landscape that surrounds them.
Rupert Scott’s anthology of travel writing, Tukrish Coast Through Writers’ Eyes, is published by Eland