One Crazy Reason Why The Renaissance Happened Essay
The Renaissance happened for a lot of reasons, but one factor that helps explain the intense curiosity of the era often gets overlooked.
Imagine on your daily drive to school you passed giant, ancient structures so technologically advanced that no one alive today could replicate them. In my mind I picture tall towers reaching impossibly high into the sky, hovering over the ground, held up by something we can’t understand.
The idea is spooky and futuristic sounding, kind of like Planet of the Apes. Who built them? How did they build them? What is their purpose? Yet that scenario would happened to anyone living in post-Roman, pre-Renaissance Italy.
Imagine Rome in the 14th century AD. The city has been pillaged repeatedly by an endless procession of barbarians and Byzantines. The population hovers around 50,000 down from 1 to 2 million at its height. As those Romans struggled to feed themselves, avoid malaria, and pay taxes to whoever had conquered them that day, they also would be walking past ruins so vast and so grand that they still inspire awe today. The Colosseum. Constantine’s Arch. Trajan’s Column.
Unexplainable, unfathomable splendor surrounded pre-Renaissance Italians at every turn. It’s natural to wonder, “How did they build this?” and dare to dream that men could one day build such wonders again.
Nothing exemplifies this technological gap better than domes. For 1,000 years the knowledge of how to create large, durable domes disappeared from Europe. The Romans capped everything with domes, as easily as I cap my burgers with cheese and bacon. The most famous of these domes is the Pantheon.
This technical ability was so foreign to Italians, that Filippo Brunelleschi actually got permission to cut out a little section of the Pantheon as he was trying to build the Duomo in Florence. He was working at a further disadvantage because the secret to making concrete: light, strong, and perfect for domes, had also been lost.
We all know that eventually that during the Renaissance Italy and Europe eventually surpassed what the Greeks and Romans had done. Brunelleschi built his dome, and it was even bigger than the Pantheon’s. But for a thousand years people were walking among the ruins of the future, looking up and thinking “How…?” And eventually they decided to answer those questions.