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How Plagues Shape the Landscape

  • February 23, 2021

When cholera devastated Marseille in the 1830s, its mayor promised to solve the problem, “no matter the cost.” The burghers demanded clean water, and the canal’s builders overcame treacherous topography to provide it, leaving us this 50-mile-long marvel. In the current, dire moment, their feat resonates, and at the same time seems fantastical.

Epidemics of the past have bequeathed us monuments, places of worship, hospitals, fortifications, cemeteries and feats of civil engineering. Now, in the age of disposable masks and makeshift hospitals, it is hard to imagine what lasting traces Covid-19 will leave on the planet’s surface.

“Our historical memory of epidemics is short, and that’s natural,” said Jessica Play, who oversees historical quarantine stations on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. “It’s the memory of death and suffering, things we would rather not think about.”

Now, during our current global plight, landmarks, long ignored as relics, are regaining their meaning. Here is a look at some of them.

A pillar of stone clouds rises above the Graben, Vienna’s emblematic avenue. Nine angels stand among the clouds, below a golden depiction of the Holy Trinity. The column, a template for similar memorials that recall later tragedies, commemorates an outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1679 that killed an estimated 12,000 people in the Austrian city.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/travel/epidemics-landmarks.html

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