From antiquity until the middle of the twentieth century, a lifeline of continuity connected architectural styles. They reflected the beliefs and values of the people of each age in which they were conceived.
The breathtaking exterior design of the imposing Shrine of Remembrance at Melbourne was inspired by a very large tomb famous in antiquity, built above the ground in the city of Halicarnassus – Bodrum in modern day Turkey.
The city came under Persian rule in 545 BC and the tomb of the Satrap Mausolus ruler of Caria (377-353 BC) could be found for centuries in the city of Halicarnassus, an ancient Greek city originally founded by the Dorian Greeks a province of the Achaemenid or Persian Empire.
Its design was influenced by the ideal of a great Greek temple raised high on an acropolis of its own. Mausolus, from whose name the term mausoleum derives embraced Hellenic culture. After he died his wife Artemisia II who succeeded him, had the mausoleum completed to reflect his glory before joining him inside.
It was considered a wonder of the ancient world and today only rubble marks the spot where it once stood.
There are five orders of architecture, which form the decorative elements of the architectural vocabulary of antiquity, originally pertaining to design in ancient Greece and that of ancient Rome.
Each order is made up of a particular style of column.
The Dorian Greeks are the culture that invented the Doric; the first order of architecture for constructing buildings in the post and lintel style. Understanding their proportions, and handling each order appropriately, architects for centuries would have not felt equipped were they not able to draw them. The base supports the column, surmounted by a capital, which in turn supports an entablature above, all following a set formula.
The Doric order was made famous when it was employed on the great Parthenon on the Acropolis, which is considered by many the mightiest temple the ancient Greek peoples built. In Victoria’s case, the acropolis, or high place for their extraordinary Shrine of Remembrance was man made to support the Neo-Greco style design which won a competition in 1923 for the firm of Hudson & Wardrop. Two Melbourne architects and ex-servicemen, Philip Burgoyne Hudson (1887-1952) and James Hastie Wardrop (1891-1975) had each received the Silver Medal of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.
At the Shrine of Remembrance the tomb’s twin entries, support pediments featuring sculptural relief as at the Parthenon in Athens. The memorial may have initially been built to remember the fallen in the Great War 1914-1918, but since it was completed it has become so much more.
This symbol of respect is for all Australians. For those who lay buried overseas and those laid to rest in unmarked graves whatever their creed or culture. In death nothing separates us. In life the Shrine is symbolic of better things to come.
The layout both inside and out features a mixture of open and enclosed spaces. The entrance to the all new Education Centre, constructed in the last decade, reveals how well contemporary design can compliment historical design.
On the interior the sacred spaces provide a great contrast of light with darkness, which promotes an element of mystery as hidden views slowly reveal themselves along an often-disguised progress.
Having descended into the great Pyramid at Giza myself in 1989 I was immediately taken with how similar it felt as I was going down to the crypt and how well the design aligned.
In the centre of the crypt below the main reflection hall is a superb sculpture by Ray Ewers of a father and son dressed in their first and Second World War military uniforms.
Surrounding them suspended above are the Light Horse guidons, Regimental, and Sovereign colours representing the many Victorian units that took place in both wars.
The colours of a regiment that has been disbanded have since both world wars, often been laid up in the great cathedrals of Europe and England in a tradition ongoing for centuries ever since the legions of ancient Rome.
There they are to hang forever, never restored just left to rot and go to dust eventually as a symbol of humanities fading glory.
The Sovereign colours of the 14th Infantry Battalion disbanded after the First World War (1914-1918) have been given a prominence of their own. They were reconstituted as a Citizens Military Force unit in 1921 and used until the 1970’s when the British Union flag inset into the flag was changed.
On the exterior from the balcony up above the roof there is an amazing vista revealing how the Shrine of Remembrance is set in a direct line with Swanston Street, leading to the heartland of Melbourne city.
The origins of our gardens in the west are from those of the Mediterranean basin.
As in the gospels where a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, it divided and became four rivers, one of which was the Tigress and one the Euphrates, whose valleys became the so-called cradle of civilisation.
In ancient times gardens were designed to emphasize the contrast between two separate worlds; the outer one where nature remains in awe inspiring control and the inner one, artificially created as a sanctuary.
They reflected the gardens of paradise and often featured the four rivers of life, dividing the garden into quarters to meet at a central basin.
This idea is repeated on the inside as the four entrances to the sanctuary from the ambulatory walk that surrounds it, all meet in a central basin.
This contains a sunken gravestone bearing the inscription Greater Love Hath No Man, which you need to bow your head to read.
Forget Them Not is what it says on a plaque of commemoration.
The main building has significant heritage value, demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class or period of design.
As well it has monumental and symbolic heritage value, for the development of its architectural style and its history.
Historically the siting of a Greek temple was not a rational, but an explicit and well-planned exercise, one that was all at once intuitive, subtle, as well as being an emotional process.
Its design had implications for the participator that only now in our own time is only beginning to be fully comprehended.
Importantly such great civic spaces were meant for exercising the body and the mind, for study and sacramental purposes.
It was part of the way of life intimately connected to holy shrines.
The temple was meant to collaborate, not dominate its surrounding because it was believed that, wild though the elements may be at times, there was some yet unrecorded harmony and inner balance between man and nature.
It was a sanctuary; a place of security and safety in times of trouble and this ideal overflowed into the Romanesque and Gothic style cathedrals of Europe during the period known as the Middle ages.
As I was leaving I examined the four corners of the Shrine whose sculptures representing Peace, Goodwill, and Justice on the east wall with Patriotism and Sacrifice on the west wall.
Unlike a great cathedral these walls do not allow light to infiltrate, except via tripartite sets of windows on the rooftop balcony level.
They knowingly or unwittingly also reflect the trinity; father, son and holy spirit or remind us that to serve your country and the greater good is all about love and respect.
Standing up on the balcony that completely surrounds the building and overlooking Melbourne, you come to terms with the enormity of the scale of this stunning monument and its conception.
This is an amazing architectural space offering a great deal to the people of Victoria and visitors here, as do the gardens that surround it.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Leadest thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all he silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or seashore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return*
This Holy Place commemorates the glorious dead, who gave their all, even life itself, so that others might have an opportunity to live in freedom and peace.
At the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne we honour all those who paid the supreme sacrifice for and on behalf of the Australian nation, all those who have served, and those who continue to serve.
Any day is a day of reflection for us all about the ongoing fight to retain those rights and freedoms we enjoy today so valiantly defended. It is a battle that is always ongoing, against prejudice, injustice, infamy and repression.
Lest we forget.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
* John Keats