Things of beauty from long ago

It is heartbreaking to see how these beautiful rooms and villas, churches, and palaces have abandoned, left to decay for decades, centuries. This article appears in The Epoch Times. If you aren’t subscribed to The Epoch Times, I urge you to jump on board. You’re missing out on the best news outlet of our time. Subscription rates are reasonable.

Photographer Enters Unreal Abandoned Churches With Jaw-Dropping Art, Creepy Soviet Stations, and More

Through his lens, Dutch photographer Roman Robroek, 34, has captured the forgotten splendor of once-glorious abandoned buildings, offering us temporal insight into our present and future.

For a dozen years, Robroek has toured hordes of abandoned sites across Europe—everywhere from old Soviet power stations, to decaying Italian chapels, and even deserted homes near the bomb blast that shook Lebanon in 2020.

Amidst these ruins, Robroek portrays vestiges of past grandeur.

“Abandoned buildings offer a unique glimpse into the past,” he said. “A source of reflection, perhaps, as they prompt us to think about the future.”

It might have once been an important haven in a community, a home for a family, or a workplace where coworkers spent their day. Amidst the ruins, all that past activity somehow still haunts.

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Inside Chiesa di San Ruffino di Cerendero in Canarie, Italy, photographed in 2015. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)

“What does that say about what we hold certain today?” asked Robroek. “These are the traces of the past of many communities, and if we follow them, we can see where we all came from and perhaps where we’re going.”

The fallen Soviet empire, politically outmoded, left behind vast industrial husks of a collapsed tyrannical juggernaut.

Once-wealthy pastoral estates, still filled with supremely exquisite architecture and artwork, were forsaken after their descendants moved to seek their fortunes in the big city.

Places once in their prime have turned into crumbling hovels.

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An abandoned former Soviet power plant in Budapest, Hungary, photographed in 2016. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An abandoned, crumbling villa in Capraia, Italy, photographed in 2017. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photographyand @romanrobroek)

Yet, remarkable works left behind speak volumes about the former inhabitants’ lives, while hinting at the impermanence of where we are today.

Robroek’s photography of these buildings speaks to that.

How It Started

An IT service manager, in 2010 Robroek sought reprieve from his often-stressful daily grind and took up photography as a hobby.

He became intrigued with abandoned buildings after he drove by a vacated stone factory in Germany and decided to drop in.

That led to his further exploring abandoned buildings throughout Europe.

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Villa Sbertoli in Pistoia, Italy, photographed in 2015. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An abandoned villa close to Florence, Italy, photographed in 2015. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)

“I was looking for different kinds of architecture that would interest me,” he said. “I started to explore much more of Europe, and for example, ended up in Romania where I photographed the abandoned casino of Constand.”

His photos of an abandoned powerplant in Hungary in 2016 won Robroek first prize in a large international photo competition, he said.

This garnered his work much more attention—as did a major publication that featured his photos from 2014 of Castle di Sammezzano in Leccio, near Florence, Italy.

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Castle di Sammezzano in Leccio, near Florence, Italy, photographed in 2014. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An abandoned church in Italy, parts of which are as old as the 16th century, with additions from the 19th century. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)

From there, Robroek’s professional photography career took off.

He swapped his Canon EOS 650D for a new Sony A7R II and continued honing his skills, snapping shots of forsaken sites.

Robroek’s favorite foray featured an abandoned farm in Piacenza, Italy, which he photographed in 2017.

“That is located along a busy road and surrounded by industrial buildings,” he said. “From the outside, you’d have no idea a room as beautiful as this one is found inside.

“Once inside, I lay down on the floor for a while just soaking the beautiful artwork and craftsmanship in it.

“It’s a mesmerizing room and such an unexpected gem.”

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Robroek’s personal favorite. This photo was taken in an abandoned farm, surrounded by industrial buildings, in Piacenza in 2017. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An abandoned palace close to La Spezia, Italy, photographed in 2019. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photographyand @romanrobroek)

A deserted palace in La Spezia, Italy, showcases a breathtaking fresco mural featuring classical mythology—with lively, dimpled cherubs and Raphaelesque female figures set in a picturesque landscape—which Robroek photographed in 2019.

“This is a photo of a room with a beautiful fresco,” he said. “The room was located in a palace which is one of the most important buildings in the historic center of the town.”

The fresco decorates the whole wall and ceiling, he added, and was painted by well-known neoclassical artist Niccolò Contestabili. The palace is currently being converted into new, modern apartments.

A marvelous pastoral fresco on a vaulted ceiling, photographed in 2020 in an abandoned villa in Northern Italy, seems to bring an idyllic landscape indoors. Despite the dilapidated plaster work, it retains a freshness with its swaying trees and exquisite birds fluttering.

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An abandoned villa in Northern Italy, photographed in 2020. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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A dilapidated church in Italy, photographed in 2022. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)

How It’s Going

One of Robroek’s more recent excursions in 2022 portrayed a dilapidated church in Italy.

A partially caved-in, arched roof and floor consumed by foliage and overgrowth illustrate the effects of time. Indoor and outdoor spaces are fused together in these ruins.

Remains of the church apse hint at the past ecclesiastical devotion of a preceding community.

Robroek says he can’t reveal all the locations he’s visited, as he wants to preserve what remains of those precious places.

Villa Sbertoli in Pistoia, Italy, was struck by vandals, he said. A piano inside was thrown out of one of the windows while some of the murals were spray-painted with graffiti.

“It’s not common to share the exact locations of the buildings I photograph,” he said. “I try to keep them hidden in an attempt to protect them from thieves or vandalism.

“Where possible, I will share the specific name and location. Please understand where I can’t.”

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An abandoned villa in Limbiata, Italy, photographed in 2017. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An abandoned villa in Limbiata, Italy, photographed in 2017. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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Paradiso Sul Mare in Anzio, Italy, photographed in 2022. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An unnamed abandoned space, featuring classical European art and architecture. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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Another unnamed abandoned space, featuring classical European art and architecture. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An unnamed abandoned interior, featuring baroque European art and architecture. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An interior located in the Viterbo province, Italy, features a mural of “The Last Supper.” (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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An abandoned church in Viterbo province, Italy. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)
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A view from inside Castle di Sammezzano. (Courtesy of Roman Robroek Photography and @romanrobroek)

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Michael Wing

Michael Wing is a writer and editor based in Calgary, Canada, where he was born and educated in the arts. He writes mainly on culture, human interest, and trending news.

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