Monday, January 08, 2007

A Road Ain't Supposed to be Sometimes Thing

According to a recent AP article, during construction of a train line in the Netherlands, a section of the ancient Roman "limes" were uncovered outside of the town of Houten.

"The Limes" were ancient Roman fortified roads, with this stretch operating from A.D. 50 to A.D. 350. Other stretches are found throughout Germany, into Israel, etc. This ancient border line is Europe's largest archeological monument, and it has been a UNESCO-World Heritage Site since 2005. The path of many limes are known from medieval copies of ancient maps, but the changing course of the Crooked Rhine near this Netherlands site has made the location of sections there difficult to locate.

The Latin noun "limes" (the plural is limites) has the root of "limit", and "limes" has many meaning around the idea of path, limit, and boundary. Wikipedia has a pretty informative entry which gets more into the etymology.

There are a few intriguing ideas to me in this story. The first of them is the idea that a road can be lost. It's like the physical reverse of a Richard Long art project, although conceptually it's a very similar thing. A road or path is the result of action and movement. If this human impact is taken away, then the road vanishes. I guess it's just that roads feel so permanent in many ways, or somehow in my mind it seems more likely that destination will change, but roads keep on going.

Another thing that interests me is that "The Limes" have this "world heritage" designation. It's seldom that I think of infrastructure as something deserving such a title. I suppose the Roman Empire did shape Europe in lasting ways, and these roads were its limit. But is a road really something worth preserving in this way? I like the idea of the train taking the same path, so the road comes back to life in some different way, but I don't like the idea of some tourist stop while driving on some other road. And what about all of the roads we build in modern times? Will the American freeway system someday be equally important? Or are there just too many roads now for it to matter? A shift seems to have happend in how roads define posistive and negative space. It used to be with a few roads that the line itself was the positive space, and that was important. Now there are so many roads, that they define the negative spaces, or land parcels, which are the important space. At least that's how it seems to me.

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