Travels in Greece
Abridged from Travels in Southern Europe and the Levant, 1810-17: the Journal of C.R.Cockerell RA, first published in 1903
Charles Robert Cockerell, a descendent of the famous diarist, came to Greece as a King¢s messenger in 1810, where he joined forces with the artist von Stackelberg, and met Lord Byron. His four year stay was an almost unparalleled chronicle of vandalism and theft. He “excavated” the temples of Aphaia on Aegina Apollo at Bassae, smuggling the best sculptures from those sites out of the country, auctioning them to the highest bidders. He was even the cause of some destruction on the Acropolis of Athens. He subsequently came to be recognized as an eminent architect, and designed the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and many other notable buildings.
Extract:“On the second day one of the excavators, working in the interior portico, struck on a piece of Parian marble which, as the building itself is of stone, arrested his attention. It turned out to be the head of a helmeted warrior, perfect in every feature. It lay with the face turned upwards, and as the features came out by degrees you can imagine nothing like the state of rapture and excitement to which we were wrought. Here was an altogether new interest, which set us to work with a will. Soon another head was turned up, then a leg and a foot, and finally, to make a long story short, we found no less than sixteen statues and thirteen heads, legs, arms, etc., all in the highest preservation, not three feet below the surface of the ground. It seems incredible, considering the number of travellers who have visited the temple, that they should have remained so long undisturbed.”
“We conduct all our affairs with respect to them in the utmost secrecy, for fear the Turk should either reclaim them or put difficulties in the way of our exporting them. The few friends we have and consult are dying with jealousy, and one who had meant to have farmed Aegina of the Captain Pasha has literally made himself quite ill with fretting.”
Review:'[H]e writes with infuriating arrogance about his 'excavations'...Nobody who has visited Aegina's extraordinary Temple of Aphaia should neglect to read Cockerell's account of his dig there, and the subsequent auction of his looted marbles... 'Sixteen entire figures' were included. It is a staggering tale of vandalism, blithely recorded.' Jonathan Carr in Athens News