General Question

fremen_warrior's avatar

Why are we drawn to (old) places?

Asked by fremen_warrior (5471 points ) August 28th, 2012

…or places with a “history” to be told. What does it give us, that we visit ruins, old houses, ancient battlefields? Why do we prefer objects once used by historical figures, long dead family members, celebrities even? When you hold one of these objects, or go to these places… how/what do you feel? Why?

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21 Answers

Seek's avatar

Glad to have your water with our water, @fremen_warrior

I think in many ways we are genetically predisposed to feel a connection to our ancestry. As small children we take the word of our elders without question, and as adults we appeal to authority of long-held knowledge in religion. I think our affection for the past springs from that.

Cold and scientific as that may seem, it doesn’t at all change the emotional bond one might have for certain historical locations, objects, or persons (or even stories about them).

I personally have a strong affinity for old gravesites, and am borderline obsessed with the history of the British Isles and Ireland of the bronze and iron ages. It gives me a feeling of connection with humanity as a whole, and not merely the age in which I happened to be born.

newtscamander's avatar

Maybe it gives us a different perspective towards our own life, the times we live in? We see that humans or, when it comes to nature, the planet earth have been here for a long time.
I think it makes the things we concern ourselves with on a daily basis seem less important. Also, the sheer age of these attractions is pretty amazing! It’s hard to imagine that this planet began existing 4.5 billion years ago.

abundantlife's avatar

Because we considered them as a part of our culture which is rapidly vanishing now.

bookish1's avatar

Excellent question @fremen_warrior . I think it’s an interesting idea that many people are drawn to something old regardless of whether they’d say they are “interested in history.”
I think it might have to do with both a sensation of continuity in a very disconnected age, and a sense of our own impermanence and smallness…
I discovered a while back that old places give me the shivers. The sense that they were inhabited by people whose lives I can only imagine with difficulty. Whether it be an old house that served as part of the Underground Railroad in my own state, or the wall in P├Ęre Lachaise against which the last of the Communards were massacred unarmed, old places give me very strong emotions. Might be because I’m studying history though ;)
One of the biggest recent trends in history is in fact memory, “memory studies,” and commemorations.

thorninmud's avatar

Because we crave meaning.

Meaning is just another word for the stories we build to make sense of our world. Humans may be unique in not just taking the world as it is given. The world, as it is, doesn’t come with a story: we supply that. We feel the need to imagine ourselves as extending forward into a future, and to do that, we need to see ourselves as having come from a past. Our stories are how we construct that temporal context.

But stories alone seem like such insubstantial material for supporting our desire for continuity. It’s comforting when we can substantiate the story with material evidence, rooting the story in places and things.

digitalimpression's avatar

It is important to recognize and acknowledge the people, places, and things which came before us. Armed with this knowledge we can more productively and objectively move toward our futures.

bookish1's avatar

@thorninmud: One of my favorite phrases is “We tell ourselves stories in order to live;” it’s the title of a book by Joan Didion.

DigitalBlue's avatar

I think that everything has been covered already, above, but I have a somewhat relevant story.

The other day I was looking for something in my art room, and I opened up the case to my grandmother’s sewing machine. She left her machine to me when she passed, we were very close, and she taught me to sew, so it has a lot of sentimental value to me. I don’t sew with it, I have my own machine, I just keep it on my (my grandfather’s) desk in my sewing area. I have probably only opened the case once or twice since she passed, but opening it the other day I was hit in the face with a strong, familiar smell. It smelled like her home, like her, and it hit me so hard that I instantly burst into tears and I closed it very quickly – not because I was upset, but because I want to preserve that scent for as long as I possibly can. It’s like a time warp, the memories coming back, hearing her voice, remembering what it was like to snuggle up to her as a child when she read me stories.
On a personal level, that kind of nostalgia is emotionally powerful, and it’s good to be reminded of fond memories. On a wider scale, I think the same applies. It’s good to know where we’ve come from.

CWOTUS's avatar

Nice story. Ribbon candy will do that for me, @DigitalBlue. I hate ribbon candy. I didn’t even like it at Gramma’s house when I was a kid, but it was novel, it was unique (in my experience) to her house, and I always think fondly of her when I see it. But I would never eat that stuff. I just wish that someone would show me how to cook her yellow cake with the semi-hard chocolate frosting.

Mama_Cakes's avatar

Sounds crazy, but I like to picture how things went down then (back in time), when there.

A few of us broke into an old, abandoned mental hospital in Traverse City, MI. Walking the halls, scattered files everywhere, old metal beds, bars on the windows—looking down the hall and into the rooms, I could easily picture what it was like back then. Creepy.

Mama_Cakes's avatar

I’m actually drawn to old building/sites. Have been for awhile. I collect antiques for the same reason.

_Whitetigress's avatar

Because nostalgia is awesome.

wilma's avatar

I live in an old house, full of antiques and sentimental old things.
I don’t want to live in a new house, because then I wouldn’t have anything to keep me company.

YARNLADY's avatar

All the above, and I would like to add that we are drawn to the new as well, such as new buildings, new parks, new restaurants and so on. We crave differences in our life.

fremen_warrior's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr yes, Shai Hulud knows, this is a good sietch – albeit a virtual one ;-)

Thank you everyone for posting, I have really enjoyed reading your replies so far, keep them coming…

Earthgirl's avatar

I think it’s an aura that surrounds these places. We wonder who walked these same steps, peered through these same windows, touched these same stones. What kind of world did they live in? When I’m in a place that has such an ancient history I try to imagine what life must have been like for those who lived there at the time. In a place with many years of history behind it you know that you are treading in the footsteps of many other people. It may have been common folk, it may have been kings and queens. One thing you know is that the world was a very different place when those statues were carved, those stones were mortared together and those gates were smelted. It“s one of the things I love about going to Europe. I haven’t been able to go too many other ancient places but I’d love to see Stonehenge, the Acropolis, Easter Island, the Lascaux caves and many other ancient places.

I have been to this monastery which is one of the oldest in Europe. I remember peering into the hall where the monks used to take their meals. My host told me the story of how the monks weren’t supposed to eat meat during Lent so they hid it in pasta!
Here is the source I can give you to say that my host was not making it up!

“Maultaschen are rumored to have been invented by monks of the Maulbronn monastery to conceal the fact that they were eating meat during lent. The monks hid the meat inside of the Maultaschen, believing that God couldn’t see it that way. (This is reflected in the humorous alternative Swabian name Herrgottsbeschei├čerle (roughly: “little ones to cheat on the Lord”

I just love the sense that we are all connected some way in time. On this same trip we had homemade Maultaschen! It was soooo good!

Here is the monastery where those crafty monks sought to cheat the Lord! See? Some things just never change, do they?

wundayatta's avatar

History, for one thing. These are the places with the stories of our history. But they also tend to be beautiful or strong. They are places that people have found worth keeping up over time, and that means a lot. So they are places we would want to go, whether or not history was there.

lifeflame's avatar

Jellies here are sharing how they are moved by old things, but honestly, I question the assumption that we are drawn to something just because it’s old. I do find certain old places to be awe-inspiring and impressive—and that generally has to do with the fact that (a) either someone has put a lot of thought and care into its construction or (b) the place invokes a type of story/myth for me; but there are also other places where I feel are overemphasized for the purpose of tourism. Relics in particular do very little for me. I’m baffled by things like the Shroud of Turin or the Terracotta warriors. I was rather bored when I went to see the Great Wall of China.

Having said all this, I just bought a second hand foldable bicycle from the local corner shop instead of a spanky new one off the internet. Even though a new one would have cost almost the same, I really enjoyed the interaction from the process. I felt like I had to touch and test drive the bicycle before buying it, and this was something that I couldn’t do with the ones online, or even with the shiny new ones. However, I also really like the fact that my bike used to belong to the sister of the owner and was much loved and well maintained. And I value that type of personal, historical connection, something the anonymity of a new bicycle couldn’t give me.

fremen_warrior's avatar

To each their own <shrugs>.

HazeandCloudie's avatar

I will say this. I usually go back to old places that remind me of the sweet and somber times I remember experiencing. I visit NYC and always go to my old building to recapture my mother’s death. How I miss her so much and things like that. Memories can guide, drag and force you to places.

kitszu's avatar

I have always had a fascination for this kind of thing. Dilapidated factories, burned out, abandoned buildings, railroads (still in use or not). I don’t know why, I never really thought about it.

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