A Short Column on Columns

Cover image of Pausanias's Description of Greece Volume 2, edited and translated by James George FrazerBack from Venice, with the sad news that the little flower-seller’s booth on the corner of Campo San Vidal (Canaletto’s ‘Stonemason’s Yard‘) has been turned into yet another shop selling ‘carnevale’ masks. It simply cannot be possible for all of these shops to make a living, even if every single tourist bought a mask on every visit and the beleaguered Venetians bought a new one each year. However, and more cheerfully, there was also exciting further confirmation of my theory that everything is connected to everything else. . .  We own a book called Secret Venice, which specifies things to look out for which you might otherwise miss, and, being geeky, have planned several walks around this. It alleges that, in a front garden opposite the Armenian College, there is a pillar from the Greek temple at Cape Sounion (to which a little Venetian winged lion was added in the nineteenth century). We duly tracked it down, and here it is:

The Pillar from Sounion

But how did it get from Cape Sounion and when? Back in the book factory, I was looking at Volume 2 of Frazer’s Pausanias, and was intrigued to see that in 1674, a German traveller counted seventeen columns still standing in the temple (then thought to be dedicated to Athene), but that Sir George Wheler in 1676 reported only fourteen (sixteen if you counted two pilasters as well). Since the Venetian fleet was very active against the Turks in the Aegean during this period, I wondered if the column now sitting in the garden was removed from the temple and brought back to adorn the city, twelve or so years before the unfortunate circumstance in which a Venetian projectile blew up the Parthenon, which the besieged Turks were using as a gunpowder store?

Further research revealed that in fact ‘our’ column was removed in 1826 (fifteen years or so after Byron allegedly carved his name on the ruins), by the splendidly named Marchese Amilcare Paolucci delle Roncole, then commander of the Austro-Hungarian fleet. Its present home is its third one, as it was originally set up on the other side of the city. But the question remains of what happened to the one (or three) that vanished between 1674 and 1676?


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