Colonnade Curiosity

Many visitors to historic #Charleston are impressed with the wealth of classic architecture that makes our city so special and scenic. The styles of ancient Romans and Greeks had become all the rage in Europe in the 17 and 1800’s, and those styles also became very popular in America. What tourists are seeing in abundance with the columns, arches domes and elaborate details is what the Greek and Romans treasured. As I often explain on my walking tours, the architectural concepts of the ancients can provide some interesting optical illusions, and one is called “entasis”, which comes from the Greek for “stretching”. The towering fluted Corinthian columns pictured here at Charleston’s Trinity Methodist Church appear to be uniform in circumference from top to bottom, but in fact are slightly larger at the base, tapering almost imperceptibly to the top. The concept is classical displayed in the 451BC Parthenon in Athens, Greece, where the symmetrical look of the columns is actually created by the asymmetry of entasis. Because the base is closer to the eye, a perfectly uniform column shape would appear to be concave and unstable, but the entasis corrects the visual illusion with its own. Come join me on the tour, and I’ll show you. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Classic Columns”

Captivating Curvature

When asked what makes historic #Charleston, SC such a captivating scenic experience for those touring the city, I say it’s all in the details. Most of the buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries are basically no different in concept than modern structures – all typically built in box-like symmetrical fashion. But what greatly separates the charm of the classic buildings from the bland of the modern is exquisite detail on the exteriors. Pictures here is the Blacklocke House on Bull Street built around 1800. What attracts the sightseeing eyes is evident in its grand entrance. The side-to-side steps are what’s known as an Imperial Staircase to replicate European grandeur; The doorway is embellished with attached columns and fanlight tracery; and the stair rail is beautifully hand-forged in the style of the ancient musical instrument, the lyre. These details are expensive and demanding of super architectural skill. This was very important to buildings owners and craftspeople long ago, but sadly not so much today.

Soldiers’ Service

The 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II coincides with the “class that never was” at the South Carolina Military Academy – The Citadel. The Citadel was created in Charleston in 1842 as a college for military cadets, and Citadel graduates have served in every war going back to the Mexican War. The campus is located along the Ashley River, with distinctive crenelated barracks and parade ground that thrills visitors to Charleston year after year with military parades and a wealth of military hardware from various wars, including tanks, aircraft and cannon. The Citadel has produced more soldiers in American wars than any other colleges with the exception of the military colleges at West Point and Annapolis, and 6,000 cadets served during World War II, including a group of seniors who never had a graduation ceremony, thus the “class that never was”. With the Allies badly in need of manpower in the Spring of 1944, the senior cadets were asked to enlist in the war effort before the academic year was completed. They all did, and served admirably in the latter stages of the war. Surviving members of the class did return to get their senior rings, which is a great tradition at The Citadel, but never a graduation ceremony.

<img.src=”Charleston Military History” alt=”The Citadel Class of 1944”

Resurrection Reality

One of the most interesting aspects about historic and scenic #Charleston, SC, is the Holy City’s wealth of plants that visitors find so appealing on walking tours. In our warm Summer season, one plant that often catches the eye does so not because of its beautiful flowers or statuesque trunk, but its ability to seemingly come back to life after dying. The scientific name is a great tongue-twister, Pleopeltis Polypodioides, but its common name is Ressrection Fern. This small plant is an epiphyte, one that grows on top of other plants, such as the limbs of live oaks, as well as crevices in walls, by absorbing nutrients out of the air. The Resurrection fern’s diet consists mostly of water, and when dry periods occur, instead of dying, it restricts the amount of water it needs by creating a hormone called abscisic acid, allowing the leaves to curl up and turn brown and look dead without hurting the plant. The fern can tolerate dryness for weeks and lose up to 97 percent of its water and still come back strong after a good soaking rain, turning lush green. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Resurrection Fern”

Medicinal Magnolia

The Magnolia Grandiflora is a native tree that is currently in bloom all around historic #Charleston, SC. This big evergreen can grow well over 50 feet in height and produces large white flowers that give it its distinctive name. The blooms of the Magnolia are especially alluring with their creamy color and soft, linen-like scent. The petals actually will open and close with sunlight for several days, and when the stamens fall off, a cone-like seed pod emerges. The seeds, bark, leaves, and roots of the Magnolia have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, and during the Civil War, became important as a source of alternative medicine when supplies were cut by the Northern naval blockade. The Magnolia can help reduce inflammation and anxiety, lower liver toxicity and regulate blood sugar, as well as helping the respiratory system. Many of these benefits can be found in The Resources of the Fields and Forest of South Carolina, published during the Civil War by Charleston physician Francis Porcher. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Magnolia Grandiflora”

Synchronized Styles

There are many historic buildings throughout scenic #Charleston that display features that come from different architectural eras. It was common throughout the city’s history for building owners to update the look of an existing structure by adding a newer, in-fashion look. Most typical are the buildings, such as this one on Broad Street, that were “Victorianized” in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Victorian period in architecture was known for a dramatic change in roof lines, as the high-hipped, fish-sale slate Mansard Roof became all the rage. Times were tough in Charleston in the decades after the Civil War, so few building owners had the money to tear down and rebuild – which is out great fortune today. The body of this building dates to circa 1800, when the roof would have been much different. The Victorian additions give buildings like this a regal look, and it was all down without losing much history or money. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Victorianized buildings”

Maternal Memories

I have this enchanting oil on canvas of my great-great-great grandmother Caroline Poincignon Trouche, painted by her husband Auguste circa 1830. He was a gifted Charleston artist well-known for the realistic qualities of his work, and in her eyes there is a tangible look of the love, dignity and compassion for which she was known. They were married at St. Mary’s Church in 1826, and lived on Church Street in the old city. She was gifted in music, and his work survives in famed paintings featured at the Gibbes Museum of Art. Both were second-generation French immigrants, and I have composed a poem below her photograph in the language she grew up speaking to honor her on Mother’s Day.

Le doux visage de notre matrone de famille,

qui nous savons d’huile sur toile.

Vit encore dans sa lignée aujourd’hui,

avec nous toujours comme la caresse d’un voile.

Angelic Adornment

One of the most interesting interiors in historic #Charleston is that of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church on Hasell Street. Although the church is named after the Biblical story of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to announce that she would mother the Messiah, it’s most noticeable painted image is that of another biblical concept of the Assumption – when at Mary’s death, angels took her body to heaven. The scene of the Assumption was painted on the church ceiling after the building was completed in 1839, and according to church records was rendered by Italian artist Caesare Porte. The church is filled with remarkable painted images and has been my family’s church since it was completed. I spent many a Sunday morning in our family pew as a child, looking up at Mary surrounded by the angels’ faces, and in my youth always wondered if she were up there looking down at me.  <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”St. Mary’s Church”

Memorable Memorials

I typically take the walking tour into at least on of the historic #Charleston graveyards. Visitors to Charleston are usually very interested by the variety of unusual burial markers that often have a story of their own. This stone is from the Circular Congregational Church, which has the oldest grave markers found in the city, with some dating to the 1690’s. Fortunately for posterity, the style then was to carve images and memorials in slate, which has proven to be the most durable of all burial materials. Because the slate and the slate carvers where largely from New England, the procedure was to mail an epitaph to them, and have the stone delivered with the finished wording and symbols. Some of the old spelling is interesting, as well as images such as this skull with wings, a “soul effigy” representing the immortal memory of the departed Mrs. Peronneau.<img.src=”Charleston Folklore” alt=”Graveyard markers”

Amazing Azaleas

There is probably no image that better captures historic #Charleston, SC than that of blooming azaleas in the Spring. This native of India (Indica Azalea) is a member of the Rhododendron Family, and was not planted in landscape settings until 1843. Rev. John Grimke Drayton had inherited Magnolia Plantation before the Civil War, and turned its former rice fields into lush gardens. His prized showcase bloom was the azalea, so radiant with its creamy whites and blazing pinks and reds on star-shaped petals. I take my walking tours past numerous public and private displays of azaleas, which grow best under the canopy of larger trees, benefitting from mottled sunlight. The shrubs can easily grow as high as six feet, and seem to explode with vibrant color this time of year.  <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Azalea Flowers”