Copyright
William Chambers.

Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

. (page 53 of 58)
Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 53 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in proportion to the rest, but are attached to a large fragment of
the rock behind them, artfully covered by the building, of which it
forms the back wall. I never in my life beheld so great a curiosity,
every feature being most admirably finished. From the nose
inclining to the aquiline, and the under lip being very prominent
and pouting, the profile shews it to the greatest advantage ; and
every part, from top to toe, is smooth and highly polished.'

Of a higher order of architecture than what may be regarded as
the native Hindustani, is that introduced into India by the Moham-
medans after the time of Timur. It is exhibited in mosques and
mausoleums, so remarkable for their beauty and chasteness of design,
grace of proportion, and excellence of material and workmanship,
as to be entitled to be compared with the finest remains of Greek
and Roman art. The most remarkable of these monuments is that
known by the name of Tajmahal, situated near the city of Agra, on
the right bank of the Jumna. It is a mausoleum, occupying, with
its garden, a quadrangle of forty acres ; the principal building, with
its domes and minarets, being almost wholly of white marble. It
was built by Shah-Jehan in the early part of the seventeenth
century.

In the Burmese empire there are likewise to be found the remains
of several remarkable structures, chiefly pagodas or temples. Of
these, the most celebrated is that of Pegu, known as Shoe-madoo,
or Great Pagoda. It is an edifice of high antiquity, and is raised
on successive terraces, in a manner similar to the religious structures
of the Mexicans. It stands, according to Colonel Symes, on an
apparently artificial hill, the sides of which are sloped into two
terraces, the lower about 10, and the upper about 30 feet high. Each
side of the lower terrace is not less than 1391 feet in length, and of
the upper 684 feet. The brick walls sustaining the terraces were
formerly covered with plaster, vrought into various figures, but they
are now in a ruinous state. On the second terrace is the pagoda,
a pyramidal building of brick and mortar, without excavation or
aperture of any sort, octagonal at the base, each side measuring
102 feet, and diminishing in breadth abruptly, till it becomes of a
63 9



WONDERS AND CURIOSITIES OF ARCHITECTURE.

spiral form. Its entire height from the ground is 360 feet ; it is sur-
rounded by two rows of small spires, a great variety of mouldings,
ornaments in stucco, &c. ; the whole being crowned with the tee,
a sort of umbrella of open ironwork, gilt, 56 feet in circumference,
and surrounded by a number of small bells.

One of the most remarkable things in the history of architecture
is the discovery of a vast ancient temple in Cambodia, so recently
as 1860, by M. Mouhot. It is evidently connected with serpent-
worship, differing from the present faith both of Siamese and Hindus.
So far as inquiries have yet gone, Nakhou Wat (' the temple of the
city') appears to have been built about 1000 A.D. It is exactly
square, and measures nearly an English mile each way. There is
an inner enclosure, surrounded by a moat 250 yards wide. A cause-
way crosses the moat, and this leads to a magnificent gateway, which
anywhere else would be a palace in itself. The temple itself consists
of three enclosures, one within another, each raised 15 to 20 feet
above the one outside it. The outer enclosure has three portals
adorned with flowers on each face ; and on either side are open gal-
leries or verandahs, filled with bas-reliefs. M. Mouhot describes the
walls of these galleries as a marvel of masonry, the large stones
being adjusted without cement, and so beautifully fitting that the
joints can barely be seen. Standing out from this frontage, at inter-
vals, are bold and massive piers, with pillars, capitals, architraves,
cornices, and friezes of very striking character. The bas-reliefs in the
walls of the three successive enclosures are among the most wonder-
ful yet discovered in Asia. These are distributed in eight com-
partments, one on each side of each central group of entrances.
Each compartment is from 250 to 300 feet long by 6^ in height ;
their aggregate length is at least 2000 feet ; and it is estimated
that there are little less than 20,000 figures of men and animals
sculptured on them. Generally speaking, the bas-reliefs represent
battle scenes, expressed in a very animated manner, and somewhat
Hindu in character. One subject, however, supposed to represent
Heaven, Earth, and Hell, has a different tone about it. Within
the outer peristyles or enclosures is a court-yard, bounded by about
a hundred columns. With-'n this is the central or veritable temple
itself, surmounted by four very elaborate towers, one at each corner,
and one in the middle. The pillars everywhere are unlike those of
India. Snakes or serpents are abundantly sculptured on all sides ;
every roof has an image of a seven-headed snake ; every cornice is
composed of snakes' heads ; every one among the thousands of con-
volutions of roof terminates in snakes ; and the balustrades are
snakes. Besides Nakhou Wat, there are two other temples near at
hand, called Ongcor Thorn and Paten-ta-Phrohm, nearly as large
and quite as elaborate. Mr Fergusson gives several wood-cuts of
these wonderful buildings, from photographs executed very recently
by Mr J. Thomson.



WONDERS AND CURIOSITIES OF ARCHITECTURE.



WALLS AND TOWERS OF CHINA.

The greatest architectural curiosity which China affords is
undoubtedly the frontier wall, built by the Chinese to prevent the
frequent incursions of the Tartars. When this amazing barrier was
first commenced is not known with accuracy, but the time of its com-
pletion was about three centuries before the Christian era; so that,
at all events, it has withstood the wind and weather of two thousand
years. It is called by the inhabitants ' the Great City Wall, a
thousand le in length,' and bounds the whole north of China, along
the frontiers of three provinces extending from the shore of the Gulf
of Pe-chih-le to Se-ning, 15 degrees west of Pekin. It is in general
about 20 feet high, and broad enough for six horsemen to ride abreast
on it ; and throughout its whole length it is fortified at intervals with
strong square towers to the number of three thousand, which, before
the Tartars subdued the country, used to be guarded by a million of
soldiers. Its whole length, with all its windings, is computed at 1500
miles running over mountains 5000 feet high, across valleys, rivers,
and marshes, and along sandy hollows, which seem incapable of
admitting a foundation for such a weighty structure. The body of
the wall, according to Captain Parish, who accompanied Lord
Macartney's embassy, is an elevation of earth, retained on each side
by solid brickwork, and terraced by a brick platform furnished with
parapets. The total height of the masonry is 25 feet ; the basis of
it is of granite, projecting about 2 feet beyond the brickwork, the
height of which is irregular. The thickness of each retaining-wall is
about 5 feet, and the entire thickness of the whole work is 25 feet.
In many places there is a fosse or ditch, beyond the foundation.
The towers are furnished with embrasures and loopholes, but vary
much in their dimensions. The bricks used in the construction are
kiln-dried, and well moulded, and are cemented by a strong mortar
of white calcined lime. Besides the great barrier, there is an addi-
tional inner wall near to Pekin, which was built by the emperors of
the Ming dynasty, for the purpose of enclosing a portion of the
province between it and the old wall. These vast erections are now
of little or no use, and are viewed by the people with indifference.

Outside the gates of several cities in China lofty towers or pagodas
are erected, which, according to Sir J. F. Davis, are of a religious
nature, and, like the steeples of churches, were at first attached to
temples. The most remarkable of these is that of Nankin, called the
Porcelain Towerj from the roofs of its different stories or stages being
covered with porcelain tiles beautifully painted. It is of an octangular
figure, contains nine stories, and is about 200 feet high, raised on
a very solid basis of brickwork. The wall at the bottom is at least
1 2 feet thick ; and the building gradually tapers to the top, which
forms a sort of spire terminating in a large golden ball. It is



WONDERS AND CURIOSITIES OF ARCHITECTURE.




Porcelain Tower of
Nankin.



surrounded by a balustrade of rough marble, and has an ascent
of twelve steps to the first floor, from whence
one may ascend to the ninth story by very
narrow and incommodious stairs. Over each
story is a kind of penthouse or verandah on
the outside of the tower, from the eaves of
which are suspended brass bells, diminishing
in size as they approach the top, and set in
motion by the wind. Each story is formed of
strong beams of timber well boarded; the ceilings
_-^ of the rooms are adorned with paintings ; and
the light is admitted through windows made of
; network or lattices of wire. There are likewise
; many niches in the walls filled with idols ; and
j the variety of ornaments that embellish the whole,
. render it one of the most beautiful structures in
China. Unfortunately, however, this remark-
= able structure must now be spoken of rather in
"the past tense than the present, seeing that
when the Taeping rebels captured Nankin in
1853, they commenced a system of devastation
which has laid in ruins most of the fine
buildings in the city, including the Porcelain Tower.

STRUCTURES OF GREECE AND ROME.

Turning to the western world, we pass from the huge and won-
drous structures of the Orientals to the less gigantic but more ele-
gant and equally surprising efforts of Greek and Roman architecture.
Few of these now remain entire ; but contemporary writers describe
them, and this description, aided by a study of their ruins, leaves us
in little doubt either as to their extent or their matchless elegance
and splendour.

In Athens the temples of Minerva, Neptune, Theseus, and others,
'iiave long been subjects of admiration their columns, external
sculptures, and statues within, or what remains of them, still serving
as models to the sculptor and architect. The Athenians could also
boast of their public institutions their theatres, baths, and monu-
mental trophies most of which were formed of the finest Pentelic
marble, and erected in the most classic styles that the fertile but
chaste imagination of Greece could produce. ' The chief glory of
the Acropolis,' says a modern writer, 'was undoubtedly that of the
Parthenon, or Temple of Minerva. It was a peripteral octostyle.
of the Doric order, with seventeen columns on the sides, each 6 feet
2 inches in diameter at the base, and 34 feet in height, elevated on
three steps. Its height from the base of the pediment was 65, and
the dimensions of the area 233 by 102 feet. The eastern pediment
was adorned with two groups of statues, one of which represented



WONDERS AND CURIOSITIES OF ARCHITECTURE.




The Parthenon of Athens.



the birth of Minerva, the other the contest of Minerva with
Neptune for the government of Athens. On the metopes was sculp-
tured the battle of the Centaurs
with the Lapithas; and the
frieze contained a representa-
tion of the Panathenaic festi-
vals. Ictinus, Callocrates, and
Carpion were the architects of
the temple ; Phidias was the
artist ; and its entire cost has
been estimated at one and a
half millions sterling. Of this
building eight columns of the
eastern front, and several of the
lateral colonnades, are still standing. The sculptures with which it
was enriched constitute the chief portion of the matchless Elgin
marbles at the British Museum, obtained by the English ambassador
to Turkey (the Earl of Elgin) between the years 1801 and 1812, and
afterwards purchased by the English government for 35,000. The
Parthenon, dilapidated as it is, still retains an air of inexpressible
grandeur and sublimity ; and it forms at once the highest part in
Athens and the centre of the Acropolis.' The temple of Theseus is
regarded as one of the most noble remains of the ancient magni-
ficence of Athens, and the most perfect, if not the most beautiful,
existing specimen of Grecian architecture. It is built of Pentelic
marble ; the roof friezes and cornices still remain ; and so gently has
the hand of time pressed upon this venerable edifice, that the first
impression of the mind in beholding it is doubt of its antiquity.

Of their numerous sculptures, the statue of Jupiter Olympus
regarded as one of the seven ancient wonders was perhaps the
most gigantic and costly. This statue was made by the famous
sculptor Phidias. It was composed of ivory, gold, and precious
stones, and was seated upon a throne equally remarkable for its
costliness and workmanship. The height was about 180 feet. It
was placed in the innermost recess of the temple of Jupiter Olympus r
at Achaia, between the cities of Elis and Pisa, where the Olympian
games were observed. The statue of Minerva, executed by Phidias
after the battle of Marathon, and placed near the gate of the
Acropolis, was another colossal sculpture the height, including
the pedestal, being about 60 feet.

The temples, theatres, baths, monumental columns, and triumphal
arches erected by the Romans, though not equal in point of taste
and genius to those of Athens, were perhaps of a bolder and more
gigantic description. The baths, as they now exist, are an assemblage
of naked, half-dilapidated brick walls, which surprise by their huge
size and the extent of ground they cover those of Caracalla, for
example, occupying not less than twenty-eight acres ! In the palmy



days of Rome, these were fitted not only as baths, but as gymnasia,
reading and lecture rooms, gardens, theatres, and the like being, as
a whole, the most gigantic places of recreation ever built or known
in any age or in any country. Among the numerous sacred edifices
that once adorned Rome, the Pantheon, and the temples of Vesta,
Peace, Fortune, and Bacchus, present extensive and very interesting
remains. The former, though stripped of its external ornaments,
to furnish materials to decorate the modern cathedral of St Peter's,
is still incomparably the finest. It is a perfect circle of 180 feet
in diameter. 'Its beauty,' says Forsyth, 'consists in its admir-
able proportions; and its portico, no feet in length by 44 in depth,
supported by sixteen Corinthian columns of white marble, has a
most majestic appearance.'

The great wonder of ancient Rome, however, is the Colosseum,
unquestionably the most august ruin in the world, and by far the
largest theatre of which we have any knowledge. It consists of
a vast ellipse, the length of the longest diameter being 620 and
that of the shortest 513 feet, so that it covers
about five and a quarter acres of ground !
The longest diameter of the arena has been
variously given at from 287 to 300, and the
shortest at from 180 to 190 feet; the space
between the arena and the outer wall (from 160
to 167 feet) being occupied by the walls, corridors,
and seats, that rose, tier above tier, from the
wall round the arena nearly to the top of the
outer wall. The latter, which is about 179 feet
in height, consists of three rows of vaulted arches,
rising one above another, exclusive of which it
had, when perfect, upper works of wood. This
colossal amphitheatre is said to have had seats
for 87,000 spectators, and standing room for
20,000 more ! Belonging to the same class of
buildings were the circuses, of which Rome had
at one time no fewer than fifteen. Of these the
chief was the Circus Maximus, of which there
are now no remains ; but of whose dimensions
we may judge from the statement of Pliny, that
it was capable of accommodating 200,000 spec-
tators.

The only other remains to which we can
allude are those triumphal columns alike remark-
able for their antiquity and workmanship. That
erected in honour of the Emperor Trajan is about
Trajan's Pillar. 130 feet high, exclusive of the pedestal. It con-
sists of large blocks of white marble, hollow
within, and so curiously cemented, as to seem but one entire stone.




WONDERS AND CURIOSITIES OF ARCHITECTURE.

Within, there is a spiral staircase leading to the summit, to which
the light is admitted by a number of loopholes ; and the outside is
adorned with fine bas-reliefs, representing the principal actions of the
emperor. It is now inappropriately surmounted by a statue of St
Peter, instead of the golden urn in which the ashes of Trajan were
deposited. The Column of Antoninus Pius is higher than the pre-
ceding, but inferior in point of workmanship. The emperor's statue,
which originally adorned the summit, has been succeeded by one of
St Paul. The ornaments on the outside are of the same nature as
those on Trajan's Pillar; and amongst them there is one representing
Jupiter Pluvius sending down rain on Antoninus's fainting army
and thunderbolts on his enemies. Of the Roman obelisks now
remaining, the most beautiful is that which stands in the piazza
before St Peter's, whither it was brought from the circus of Nero,
after it had lain buried in ruins for many centuries. It is of one
entire block of Egyptian marble, 72 feet high, 12 feet square at the
base, and 8 feet at the top. Notwithstanding its immense weight
(calculated at four hundred and seventy tons), it was erected on a
pedestal 30 feet high, by the celebrated architect Dominico Fontanae,
in the pontificate of Sixtus V. with vast expense and labour.

SARACENIC OR. MOORISH STRUCTURES.

Posterior to the introduction of Christianity, but yet neither Chris-
tian nor pagan, are those works which were executed by the Saracens
during the reign of the caliphs in Asia, and by the Moors during
their ascendency in Spain both nations being alike Mohammedan.
There is a great deal of richness and beauty in those works, an off-
shoot from the Roman architecture of earlier times, but modified
by oriental luxuriance and ornamentation. We can only spare room
to mention one illustrative example the far-famed Alhambra in
Grenada. This was at one time a Moorish stronghold in that city,
with the palace of the Moorish kings in the centre. Around all
was a wall a mile in circuit, studded with towers. One of these
towers contains the famous Hall of the Ambassadors. There are
only portions of the real palace still remaining, running round two
oblong courts, called the Court of the Lions and the Court of the
Fishpond. These consist of a wonderfully rich assemblage of por-
ticoes, halls, columns, arches, cupolas, &c. elaborately adorned with
gold, colours, and marble. The much-admired Alhambra Court in
the Crystal Palace at Sydenham is a reproduction of the Court of
the Lions and some of the smaller adjacent portions.

STRUCTURES IN MEXICO AND YUCATAN.

Mexico, with its Aztecs and Toltecs, is a puzzle to architects as
well as to ethnologists ; there are old buildings of a remarkable



WONDERS AND CURIOSITIES OF ARCHITECTURE.

character in that land, which no one seems able to trace to the early
civilisations of the old continent. Cities have been rediscovered
which were inhabited and in the full tide of prosperity at the time of
the Spanish conquest. How much is reliable of the alleged history of
the Aztecs and Toltecs between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries
is not certain ; but the remarkable temples of Mexico and Yucatan
were built somewhere within that wide interval. Some suppose that
the Toltecs were of Esquimaux origin, who crept down the Pacific
coast from Behring's Strait to Central America in the lapse of ages ;
that the Aztecs were an offshoot from the Red Indians, who arrived
from the inner portions of America ; and that the Yucatans had
Carib blood in their veins : but the recently discovered temples in
that region are far in advance of anything that Esquimaux, Red
Indians, or Caribs have produced elsewhere. Messrs Stephens and
Catherwood actually visited sixty old ruined cities in Yucatan, full of
remarkable buildings, and supposed to be from 500 to 700 years old.
One of the most celebrated buildings of which detailed descriptions
have been given, is the teocalli or temple of Cholula. It now looks
little other than a vast mound of earth ; but examination shews it to
be a pyramid-temple, 1440 feet square at the base, by 177 feet high ;
it is four times as large as the great pyramid of Egypt in area, but
only one-third the height. The bulk of the pyramid is formed of
clay and sun-dried bricks. It consists of four terraces ; and on the
top was once a temple of the Toltec god of the air. It contains
spacious sepulchral cavities ; a square chamber formed of stone and
cypress-wood, when discovered a few years ago, was found to con-
tain two skeletons and several painted vases. The teocalli at
Palenque was a far more splendid structure, comprising sanctuaries,
sepulchres, courts, cloisters, galleries, and cells ; forming altogether
a spacious quadrangle enclosed by porticoes, and resting on a plat-
form composed of three graduated terraces. Much of the interior is
decorated with sculptures and hieroglyphics in stucco. The palace
of Mitla is another of these large and remarkable Toltec structures,
and seems to consist of five tombs of kings, exhibiting notable works
in porphyry, stone, stucco, and cypress-wood, adorned with elabo-
rately painted representations of sacrifices, trophies, weapons, &c.



CHRISTIAN AND MODERN ARCHITECTURE.

We shall now take a rapid glance at some of the more remarkable
structures which are either modern, or Christian without being
modern. They may be more correctly designated curiosities than
wonders ; but some of them, nevertheless, are wonders in beauty,
and a few in size. It will be convenient to group them according
to kind or purpose, rather than according to country or age.

16



WONDERS AND CURIOSITIES OF ARCHITECTURE.



LEAN ING- TOWERS.

Great celebrity has been attained by the cathedral and the leaning-
tower of Pisa, in Italy. This cathedral is one of the most regular,
beautiful, and lightsome
pieces of Gothic architec-
ture to be seen in Europe.
The choir is of the finest
marble, and the roof is sup-
ported by eighty columns of
the same stone, each of one
solid piece. The pavement
is of tesselated marble ; and
the gates, which are of brass,
are exquisitely wrought with
the history of our Saviour's
birth, life, and passion.
The most celebrated por-
tion, however, is the campa-
nile or leaning-tower, which
stands detached. This erec-
tion is of a round form, and
190 feet high, entirely built
of white marble. It was
begun in 1174, but was not
completed till about the
middle of the fourteenth
century. It is ascended by
230 steps, has several gal-
leries on the outside, and is open in the interior. It stands not less
than 15 feet out of the perpendicular. Some conceive this reclining
position, which produces a very singular effect on the traveller, to be
occasioned by a sinking of the foundation on one side, and others, to
the ancient builders aiming at eccentricity in erecting this remark-
able tower ; but as the observatory and baptistery, which stand in
the same square, have also a slight inclination, there can be little
doubt that the former is the correct opinion.

The only other lofty structure known to incline so much from a
perpendicular position is the leaning-tower of Saragossa, in Spain,
which was erected in 1503. It is built entirely of brick, and stands
in the centre of the square of San Felippo, in solitary grandeur,
insulated and lofty, being ascended by a stair of 284 steps.




Leaning-tower of Pisa.



CATHEDRALS AND CHURCHES.

Among the numerous cathedrals which have been considered
remarkable for their dimensions, their architecture, or the richness



WONDERS AND CURIOSITIES OF ARCHITECTURE.

of their decorations, that of St Peter's at Rome is, beyond all
comparison, the most magnificent. The first stone was laid by
Pope Julius II. in 1506, the main body of the edifice was com-
pleted in 1614, and the colonnade added in 1667. The extreme
inside length of the building, which is in the form of a Greek cross,
is 607 feet ; the length of the transepts 445 feet ; and the height
from the floor to the cross, which surmounts the cupola, 458 feet.
'So vast are its dimensions,' says Maclaren, 'that colossal statues
and monumental groups of figures are stowed away in its aisles and
recesses, without impairing the unity and simplicity of the plan, as



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 53 of 58)