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 Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 12:11

Yesterday I took the dog for a walk up to the village and around the old church. This was originally constructed in the 9th century, though when the village relocated in the 12th century it then got rather abandoned and was plundered for stone. But it has recently been restored to its former structural integity if not its former glory - it remains an unconsecrated empty shell - and today is mostly used for book-launches, concerts, plays, .... and for the wedding photos of those couples who get married in the rather un-photogenic, new (13th century) parish church, which is hidden away in the narrow lanes of the present village.

A 9th century building is old, but not excessively so, and there must be plenty of older churches in both Britain and France. But this did get me to thinking - what are the oldest, still in use, buildings in the world .... or just in the UK, Europe or wherever?

Off the top of my head I thought of the Pantheon in Rome, commissioned by Augustus, rebuilt by Hadrian, and now a church. I also considered the brochs of Scotland, but while they are still often substantially intact as built, I'm not sure they still count as in use.

So just to clarify, this isn't to solicit a definitive list, I'd just like to get some suggestions. Although I do feel that a "building" should be man-made, have walls and, perhaps most critically, still have a roof. I accept though that any building that has stood for a long time has probably had to have it's walls repaired and perhaps it's roof replaced, maybe several times .... but I don't think these repairs/reconstructions/improvements, should necessarily count against it. But I do feel that tombs are not really buildings ... so I am inclined to not consider Newgrange nor any Egyptian pyramids.

And of course some of them might not be that old: what's the oldest timber building, the oldest brick building etc... ?

Suggestions anyone ?


Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 09 Mar 2014, 18:04; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 14:30

Well Agia Sofia in Instanbul has been in use since 537. 



Some claim the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome is the oldest building in the world still in use, first begun by Julius Caesar and eventually officially opened by Augustus in 12 BC
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_of_Marcellus





Europes oldest wooden house still in use is the House of Bethlehem built 1287 in Schwyz, Switzerland http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/specials/switzerland_for_the_record/european_records/Europes_oldest_wooden_house_still_going_strong.html?cid=1288454

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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 14:47

There are a lot of ancient theatres being reused now, Epidaurus, Colloseum and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus amongst others for instance but they all had fallen out of use for quite some time between then and now so I suppose that they wouldn't count. Not being in continuous use.
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 18:36

Well there you go - I had no idea that the Theatre of Marcellus was still used - indeed it would appear to be actually lived in. I wonder did any of the buildings in Pompeii or Herculanium survive intact - although here I think they need to have survived with their roof and ceilings still up if they're not to be considered just well preserved ruins. 

Interesting that the wooden house in Switzerland is in a village with several other almost as elderly wooden houses, but as the article says: "These houses have survived because they were always lived in and used in a good manner. The moment a house is no longer in use, it vanishes."

And talking wood I've just discovered Greensted Church in Essex, probably the oldest wooden building in the UK (possibly 9th century but extensively restored and embellished in the 19th).




Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 09 Mar 2014, 19:05; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 18:45

A building is a difficult thing to keep in continuous use for over a millennium so it definitely helps when they are built to monumental proportions to begin with. When they are smaller however and are either dwellings or commercial properties then such longevity is almost unheard of and very reliant on various renovations and rebuilds over the years. I feel a special mention should be made here of Sean's Bar in Athlone, County Westmeath in Ireland. The first evidence of a tavern on the site dates from circa 900 and the venue has been in continuous use as such since then (apart from a brief hiatus when the British revoked their licence after finding out it was a safe house for Fenians). The present building has been subject to various excavations which demonstrate this continued use as well as showing reincorporation of building material during each of the building's many metamorphoses, the most recent large conversion dating back around two centuries.

Not half bad Guinness there either.



PS: The apartments in the Theatre of Marcellus are very desired residences these days. A friend of mine lived there during a prolonged stay in the 1960s when there was considerable controversy around a city proposal to strip away all but the Roman components. Since some of the apartments themselves contain elements dating back over a thousand years this lunacy was thankfully abandoned eventually.
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 19:01

Greek/Roman theatres and areans ...  yes many are still used, but they generally never had ceilings so I'm not sure they count as true buildings.

Here's the amphitheatre at Nîmes in southern France - built 70AD and still used thoughout the year as a theatre/opera/concert venu ... and occasionally as a bull-fighting arena - hence the matador statue - a use which is even closer to its original purpose which was of course as a gladiatorial arena:



And in the same city, with original roof still very much intact, is the so-called Maison Carré (Square House), a Roman Temple built 16BC and originally dedicated to Gaius and Lucius the sons of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and adopted sons of Augustus Ceasar:

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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 20:02

@nordmann wrote:

A building is a difficult thing to keep in continuous use for over a millennium so it definitely helps when they are built to monumental proportions to begin with. When they are smaller however and are either dwellings or commercial properties then such longevity is almost unheard of and very reliant on various renovations and rebuilds over the years.


Indeed, which immediately made me try to think of some smaller, secular buildings which have miraculously survived intact,  such as the 13th century 'Jew's House' in Lincoln:





Or the 12th century 'Marlipins' from my own home town of Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex ... which at various times has been a priory hospital, a warehouse, a court house, a ships' chandlers, a wine merchants ... and is now the local museum:

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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 21:23

http://www.urbexforums.com/showthread.php/971-Holy-Austin-s-Rock-Kinver-West-Mids-August-08

These might last awhile, I suppose. No-one seems sure how old the cluster of dwellings is.
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 21:26



Nottingham, The Old Trip to Jerusalem, reputedly England's oldest pub. Dates from 1189.
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Mon 10 Mar 2014, 04:00

Quote :
"These houses have survived because they were always lived in and used in a good manner. The moment a house is no longer in use, it vanishes."


That is right and I don't quite understand why. It doesn't even need to be 'used in a good manner'. In our community there was a beautiful house architecturally designed and people of my age remember dancing in it in a wonderful large hall.  When we visited it a couple of years ago on our heritage tour it was falling down and not all that safe.  It was used by the owner to have his lunches while he was working on the farm.  People said they had bought it but hadn't been 'house people' and didn't keep it maintained.  It is a dreadful shame, especially when it is thought to have been designed by a famous architect who built many churches, including First Church and Knox Church, Otago Boys High, Larnach Castle (NZ's only castle), the Christchurch Opera House and various banks.

But our house doesn't fall down.  We don't do a lot of maintenance on it and I certainly don't do more (less rather) than the basics of house cleaning etc.  The garden gets plenty of attention but not so much the house (though we have redone the kitchen and a couple of the bedrooms). But even if we hadn't it would not be falling down; nor does our little tenanted house, which is given little attention and isn't in very good condition.  But it sits there happily enough.  Is it just the airing a lived-in house gets, and some heating if you are lucky? Or what?

I don't know oldest houses and buildings - they certainly aren't in NZ.  Every second pub in Britain, though, has plaques out saying they are the oldest in the country.
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Mon 10 Mar 2014, 06:39

How about the cave dwellings of Cappadocia? 3,500 years of continuous occupation according to some sites.



http://dornob.com/underground-cities-3500-years-of-cappadocian-cave-homes/#axzz2vXTkZQMz
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Mon 10 Mar 2014, 08:53

Cappadocia's underground dwellings are fantastic - so much so that they are referred to quite legitimately as underground cities in most texts. Even more remarkably is not only that they are dated back to the Bronze Age and have been used continuously since but that only six of these cities out of several hundred have ever been properly excavated. The wealth of archaeological information yet to be gained from examining these unique sites is staggering to contemplate.

On another tack entirely I would also like to include old dwellings which, although not nearly so ancient, have survived "against the odds" - be it weather or historical fortune that might have worked against them. They may not have the character or even the archaeological interest of their more ancient equivalents but they are surely at least partly indicative of the dynamics by which certain of these older dwellings or places of business have survived too and in that sense represent valuable comparative data when attempting to fathom the phenomenon. Cities are notorious places for regenerating aggressively over centuries making survival of individual premises a very precarious prospect and New York, for example, provides some quite vivid instances of the phenomenon in progress.

The New York Daily News provided some pictorial examples of what they term "hold outs" in a recent article:







The last one - of the resilient little porn store - is proof that it is defintely not the aesthetic nor the prestige of the trade performed that always plays a role in these cases!

The link to the NYDN article is here.
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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Mon 10 Mar 2014, 11:26

@nordmann wrote:
Cappadocia's underground dwellings are fantastic - so much so that they are referred to quite legitimately as underground cities in most texts. Even more remarkably is not only that they are dated back to the Bronze Age and have been used continuously since but that only six of these cities out of several hundred have ever been properly excavated. The wealth of archaeological information yet to be gained from examining these unique sites is staggering to contemplate.

Oh definitely, as brilliant as the above ground towns are there is yet much more below. An idea here of what exists beneath the surface from just one small area of Cappadocia.

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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Mon 10 Mar 2014, 13:05

The cave houses of the Sassi in Matera in Basilicata in southern Italy are claimed to be the oldest occupied houses in the world where people are still living where their ancestors did 9000 years ago. Although there is evidence of occupation here from the palaeolithic onwards, I suspect that the actual houses may be similar to granny's old broom - the one that's had two new handles and three new heads - in that they have been remodelled constantly over the years. In the 1950s most of the inhabitants were rehoused in new buildings but not all were abandoned and now (or at least a few years ago) some were still occupied, some were being used as tourist exemplars of the old life style and some were becoming rather fancy hotels and restaurants.



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PostSubject: Re: Oldest buildings in Britain, Europe, the World?   Sat 28 May 2016, 12:05

@Meles meles wrote:
Interesting that the wooden house in Switzerland is in a village with several other almost as elderly wooden houses, but as the article says: "These houses have survived because they were always lived in and used in a good manner. The moment a house is no longer in use, it vanishes."

And talking wood I've just discovered Greensted Church in Essex, probably the oldest wooden building in the UK (possibly 9th century but extensively restored and embellished in the 19th).

Wooden buildings always have a special impact when it comes to longevity for obvious reasons relating to their perceived vulnerability. One need only think, for instance, of the ancient stave churches in Norway which were burnt down by arsonists in the 1990s to appreciate this. Old timbers (such as the grey ones in the Greensted church picture) just look old. It's a very difficult look to fake.

That said - what are believed to be among the world's oldest surviving wooden structures are to be found in the grounds of Horyu temple located a few miles outside of Nara in Japan. The pagoda and octagonal hall, for example, are said to date from at least the 8th century AD although some suggest that they could be nearly a hundred years older than that. The thing is though, in appearance they look as though they could have been built in, say, 1970:





The rich reddish colour of the lumber sourced (predominantly from umbrella pine and Japanese cypress) could go a long way towards explaining this. And along with fastidious maintenance and high attention to detail (qualities for which the Japanese are generally well renowned) then the age claim is perhaps justified.

Bizarrely, however, the main hall (which the Buddhist seminary says was rebuilt in the 1950s following a fire) actually looks older:



Note the slightly wonky alignment of the upper floor compared to the dead strait lines of the five-storey pagoda. And this in a country prone to frequent and major earthquakes too. All in all (and however old they are) they form an exquisitely beautiful complex of buildings.
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