Wednesday, 17 May 2006

The end of the world

I'm fascinated by the number of cities that have 'end of the world' myths - or at least, the end of the city.

For instance, London will fall when the last raven leaves the Tower of London. And Rome will fall when the last piece of gilding flakes off the statue of Marcus Aurelius. Or when the places for portraits of popes in Santa Maria Maggiore have all been filled up.

And Hildesheim will decay if the thousand-year rose tree that grows up the cathedral ever dies. Despite heavy bombing in the Second World War, the rose tree survived - and so did Hildesheim.

These are only odd legends I've collected over the years. I wonder if there are more? Were there similar legends in Abbasid Baghdad or in Constantinople under the Byzantine emperors? Or did every small town in Germany have one?

I suppose many of these legends are actually rather comforting. Whatever the vicissitudes or politics or even war, they offer a hope that the city can be prevented from falling, that everything will be all right if only we can protect the ravens or the rose.

Of course life's not like that. But how we wish it were.

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