Mary Beard at the Times Literary Supplement:
Inside the monastery of S. Trinità dei Monti, which stands at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, is a room decorated in glorious trompe l’oeilas a ruin. Created in 1766 by Charles-Louis Clérisseau, and originally intended to be the cell of the monastery’s resident mathematician Fr Thomas Le Sueur, it imitates a decaying classical temple, with tumbled columns, a roof open to the sky, encroaching vegetation and a large parrot perched on one of the apparently surviving crossbeams. The irony of the design worked on several levels. It allowed the famous scholar to enjoy the pleasure of ruins without the discomfort. But it was also a wry comment on the life cycle of buildings. Ruins are one stage on their inevitable journey to destruction. As we know from some of the most ambitious modern attempts at conservation on archaeological sites all over the world, from Pompeii to Machu Picchu, collapse can be delayed – but not prevented. Here Clérisseau offered dilapidation frozen in time, a ruin built to last.
That life cycle of buildings, from conception to death, with an occasional lucky, or unlucky, resurrection, is the theme of James Crawford’s Fallen Glory – twenty chapters telling the biography of twenty structures, from across the world, ancient and modern, real and imaginary (the first chapter is on the Tower of Babel, the last on the virtual world of the web hosting service GeoCities). Some of these life stories work better than others. The Roman Forum, the subject of Chapter Six, needs so much background that we tend to lose sight of the main character as it rises out of the marshes, becomes the monumental centre of the empire, and slips back into pasture, only to be revived again in the service of Mussolini’s grandiose ambitions.