Nature strikes back: These places have been recaptured from civilisation
The buildings, monuments and machines aren’t going to be here forever. Without the support of human maintenance, many of our cities will be retaken by the trees and plants to become natural havens. The good news for environmentalists is that some of our actions have a very limited impact in the long term.
Animals and plants have by far the most staying power and in many cases conquer their former territory piece by piece. These are the places where a spectacular mix of nature and civilisation has emerged.
MILL IN SORRENTO, ITALY
In the village of Sorrento near Naples is a steep ravine known as the ‘The Valley of the Mills’. And it is here, through the dense vegetation, that you will find an old mill dating back to the 900s. It was used for grinding wheat but abandoned in 1866 when the creation of the Piazza Tasso isolated the area from the sea and caused a marked increase in humidity. Today the weathered ruin is one of the most treasured attractions in Sorrento.
THE PIANO TREE, USA
Mother Nature can play a beautiful melody when she wants to. This is no more evident than in the living installation of Jeff Mifflin. The artist is believed to have divided a piano into many parts and placed them around the tree in the grounds of California State University. The tree continued growing and pushed its trunk and branches through the instrument – its tune has changed to a sorrowful one though since a drunkard decided to smash it up.
TA PROHM, CAMBODIA
The temple Ta Prohm is east of Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmer Empire, and brings to life every man’s Indiana Jones fantasy. The Buddhist sanctuary was built in 1186 but then abandoned and forgotten by man. The Cambodian jungle saw its chance and swallowed the towers, narrow corridors and closed courtyards of Rajavihara, or the ‘Monastery of the King’, as it was originally known. What you see today is not by chance: it is a beautiful merger of architecture and nature, now fastidiously maintained to protect the structure from the giant tree roots.
BIKE TREE, USA
On Vashon Island, west of Seattle, is a scene which has gained great notoriety: the ‘Bike Tree’ looks as though the gnarled plant has devoured a bicycle and decided it’s had its fill, leaving the carcass of the two-wheeler suspended in its middle. Legends abound about how the child’s bike got there, but an article in ‘Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber’ from 2009 has the truth of it: in the 1950s a young boy left the bicycle in the woods, forgot about it and never returned to retrieve it. Mother Nature’s not planning on giving it back any time soon.
The ghost town of Kolmanskop is situated in the south of Namibia, around 10 km from Lüderitz. It was named after driver Johnny Coleman who abandoned his ox wagon next to the small settlement during a sandstorm. Once the setting of miners seeking their fortune, it was abandoned in 1954 by its German founders after fewer and fewer of its precious diamonds could be found. Since then it has been battered by decades of desert wind and become a magnet for tourists wanting to walk its eerily empty buildings reclaimed by the sand.