Travel, Timing, and Reconstruction: Why You Can’t See What You Came to See
Washington DC had a very unusual earthquake in 2011. It destroyed some of the statuary at the National Cathedral and cracked the Washington Monument, an iconic obelisk-shaped landmark in the center of the city. This summer a massive scaffold has gone up over the tower to continue the repairs. Reconstruction and restoration are common sights for travelers where long-term improvement projects often leave facades covered and historic interiors obstructed. You can still enjoy these sites with in most cases with minimal impact on your visit!
Progress Done Right
In general, a reconstruction team is very much aware that they are essentially hiding a notable site and will take steps to accommodate the public whenever possible. Work may be segmented so limited portions of a cathedral are covered at any one time. I visited the Duomo of Milan in the early stages of its recent exterior restoration. Only the lowest level was covered and there were great informational signs explaining each discreet step of the repair.
I very much like the exterior of the Washington Monument scaffolds. Blue netting has been hung to create the illusion of blocks thereby creating a more interesting appearance than a construction zone. It is a nice touch considering the entire structure has to be encased. Sadly, the night-time scaffold lighting isn’t consistent with this block pattern.
Timing Is Everything
To avoid disappointment, it is a great idea to check ahead for any on-going construction before planning your itinerary. If a building is completely closed, it’s better to know early so you don’t spend time getting to a site only to be disappointed.
Many of these projects are years in duration and so you will almost certainly run into on-going work. Just remember that restoration is an important part of preserving historic landmarks and so you should take the occasional scaffolding in stride.
You will still find something to enjoy even if the view is a little obstructed. Visitors to the Hagia Sophia in 2010 were probably in awe of that magnificent interior space even though ceiling repairs were underway.
There’s always the option to revisit a site after construction is completed. Imagine having seen the dark muted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or perhaps its partial restoration and then visiting the incredibly colorful masterpiece today? It would be worth another trip to Rome just to see the restorations completed. It also helps us justify the years of scaffolding at the Vatican; to see the outcome, you know it was worth it.
Some Things Just Have to Wait…
As much as I would have liked to see some places in my travels, construction closures have bumped some to my next trip. Not far from Olympia is the Temple of Apollo Epicurius in Bassae, a 450 BC limestone UNESCO World Heritage. Badly damaged by acid rain, the temple was placed under a tent in 1987 and has had limited visitor access. Since I was never able to get opening hour confirmation and since the temple was several hours away, I decided to skip it this time.
I also really wanted to see the brilliant Byzantine mosaics of the Daphni Monastery (of Dafni Monastery) outside Athens. Unfortunately earthquake damage has closed the site since 1999 so that was also a no-go. In the last year, visitors have been let inside to view the on-going restoration but on a limited basis, i.e. one morning a week… maybe. Sounds like something you will definitely need to call ahead and arrange. I know that the outcome of these restorations is well worth the wait!