Sunday, October 18, 2009

Somewhere in Europe?

Yesterday being a Saturday we got twitchy to be out and about.
Instead of following our usual path and driving out into the countryside we headed into the heart of Melbourne City. We drove into the city because as one of the few perks of working for a charity I have free access to a car parking space near the centre.

I am afraid I am putting my “Uncle Harry” tour guide hat on for the rest of the post.
Melbourne is by European (and even by American East Coast) standards a young city.
The first European settlement occurred here in 1835.
Initially the town grew slowly, but by 1847 Melbourne was declared a city by Queen Victoria.

Then the Victorian gold rushes of the 1850’s began. Immense wealth flooded into the city and the population exploded. By the 1880s Melbourne was the second largest city in the British Empire (after London) and the richest city in the world.

The wealth of the time is reflected in many grand (and also some grandiose) buildings that still survive in the CBD. Anyway we were in the city for about two hours and I took photos of sections of three streets.

A few blocks from where we parked is the “Old Treasury Building”. The building, on Spring Street, was completed in 1862. Its main function was to house the vaults that contained literally tonnes of precious metal that were flooding in from the goldfields. I like it what do you think?
Behind this statue of Adam Lindsay Gordon (a 19th Century bush poet of local renown) is the modern treasury building. Not a patch on the original in terms of style.
Across the road is the Windsor Hotel. The Windsor is the only surviving “Grand Hotel” of the 19th Century left in Oz. Again I think the Windsor is a quite tasteful piece of architecture. Some pretensions, but not too over the top.
I should say something about the tram. Melbourne unlike the rest of Australia’s major cities left its tram system intact in the 1960’s. This tram is of a 1950’s or 60’s vintage. A few of these old style trams are kept running in sections of the city where there are significant numbers of tourists.

Still on Spring Street, is the Victorian Parliament. Overall the building is, I think a bit grandiose. When you look at some of the decorative details it goes over the top. The lamps (originally gas) are simply gaudy.
While the friezes go the whole hog on the “Empire” theme. You’d think we were in Ancient Rome or something. Also what is really galling for me is that while the craftsmen who did this work were very technically competent, the art is simply a poor imitation of the classical period.
Across the road from Parliament is The Princess’ Theatre:
Which is so gaudy it is almost attractive:

In terms of feel, Melbourne is the most European city in Oz. Although the older sections of most Oz cities were trying to remind their inhabitants of what they still saw as home.

These few streetscapes complete with the next couple of generations of trams (1980s and 2000s) and deciduous trees complete the European look.
Then walking up through Parliament Gardens I got this shot of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral through a window of foliage.
Up on Albert Street is a what appears to be a Roman temple. VECCI is the Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I think the building is quite attractive but the architecture says “Rome” and “Empire” not “Australia”. Am I being too parochial?

Still on Albert is Saint Peter’s East Hill Anglican church. St Peter's is the oldest Anglican Church in Victoria. It has the interesting distinction that the letters patent of Queen Victoria declaring the city status of Melbourne were read here in 1848.

Finally St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral. This building was clearly deigned to dominate the Melbourne Skyline and this perspective gives the impression that it still does. In reality the skyscrapers behind it tower over it and the rest of the 19th Century buildings of the city.


Walk Talk Tours said...

Melbourne's municipal C19th architecture apes European architecture of the C19th. Many UK buildings of that period are also neo-classical or gothic or neo-gothic. Even when Britain had a huge empire its public buildings were based on the blueprints of buildings from other older cultures.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

I love the pic of the old treasury building! So much nicer than the new one. Beautiful.

Johanna said...

Wow...what an awesome tour...I feel like I was right there with you! Love the pics.

Lisa said...

Those street lamps look like a group of people designed them and each one got to pick something that was added to them! Totally agree that the Princess Theater is so far gone that it's great! What a disappointment to go from the Old Treasury building to the new one, which looks more like a prison.

Al said...

Hi Phil,
I shouldn't really grumble a lot of this 19th Century architecture leaves most of that from the 20th for dead. But the new locals should have remembered they were at the other end of the world.

Hi Christy,
The original is much better isn't it!

Hi Johanna,
Thanks for commenting! Pleased you liked it, I'll have to show more of Melbourne some time soon. Pleased you like the photos!

Hi Lisa,
Design by committee on the lamps? I think you hit the nail on the head! The Princess' is like it went so far in bad taste it discovered some new style. You're right again the new treasury does look like a prison. So much of public architecture from the 60s and 70s looks like that.

heidenkind said...

I think Melbourne looks like an absolutely gorgeous city! It definitely seems to have a European flair to it. And I can see the influence from Victorian architecture.

My little hometown was founded in the 1870's, but it doesn't look anything like that! ;)

Al said...

Hi Tasha,
Melbourne is in most ways my favourite Aussie city. And it is the most European like city in the country.
What fuelled Melbourne architecture was a nearly 40 year long gold driven boom. I've barely scratched the surface with this post, there are so many grand 19th century buildings still in existence it's a bit hard to know where to start in terms of talking about them.