Elegant decay

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Elegant decay is the cultural agreement that some places, and structures, become gradually more elegant, notable, or beautiful as they decay, or fall into ruin, due to their historical, architectural, or cultural significance. Although such reverence is subjective, it is true that certain cities, regions or even countries are more susceptible to the general concept due to past opulence, or their lengthy or enduring history or culture.[citation needed]

The path to the summit of Palatine Hill, Rome, Italy

Contrary to the general interpretation that places or structures are more noteworthy in their newness, or older structures hold more value and interest after being historically restored to their original state, the concept of elegant decay is that in the slow degradation of the structures an inherent elegance, or beauty, emerges due to past historic importance. In recent times, this concept has been exploited by those seeking to stimulate tourism.


A wall in Venice, Italy, slowly crumbles into a canal.

With its rich history, and centuries of past prestige and prominence, Western Europe has many places where elegant decay is notable and celebrated. One of the most salient is Italy, due to its lengthy historic prominence in prehistoric, ancient, medieval, and modern times. The most celebrated of Italian cities in elegant decay is arguably Venice, largely due to the whole city slowly crumbling and sinking into its lagoon.[citation needed]

Although Western Europe holds many instances of elegant decay today, the New World also has places of crumbled reverence as well. Most notable in the United States may be the city and region around New Orleans, Louisiana, with its historic fusion of cultures and important contributions to American expansion. In the concept of elegant decay, there sometimes appears to be an element of impending doom to such places and structures, as Venice slowly sinks, and New Orleans is under constant threat from hurricanes.

Elegant decay is different in concept and plan than ruin value, in which structures are planned to look beautiful as ruins from the early planning stages. The concept of elegant decay is related to the concept of patina.

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