Landscape – On the trail of unknown animals

If someone failed to go to the Amazon, Borneo or safari in Kenya last summer, they can also get a taste of the exotic adventure in the city. Interspersed in the architectural details on old buildings, there are, immortalized in stone, examples of our ancestors’ fascination with wildlife. Portals are often topped with an overdoor in low relief, which frequently shows an animal.

Was the choice of an animal motif as the central decorative point just an aesthetic measure, referring to the natural world only accidentally? Not necessarily. Taking a closer look at the animals placed on overdoors, we will in many cases be surprised to discover that these are specific animals, with details as if from a wildlife atlas, allowing for precise identification of their species. Interestingly, some of these animal species are truly rare, unknown to most people even today, in the age of the Internet and satellites. On the building in Grodzka Street in Krakow, next to the Asian elephant and the Indian rhinoceros, there is a mysterious animal. Many details indicate that this is the babirussa, an extremely rare species of wild pig, living in Celebes and several smaller islands of the Malay Archipelago. Was the news about it brought to Europe by Dutch traders seeking the riches and spices of the Far East?

Animal illustration in architecture may have, apart from decorative significance, far-reaching implications for wildlife. If modern zoologists had carefully looked at wall decorations in the Egyptian pyramids, the gerenuk antelope would have been „discovered” much earlier than at the end of the nineteenth century. Ancient paintings show that this slender East African antelope with an extremely long neck had been known to the Egyptians since the time of the pharaohs. The official science described it as late as 1878, after its rediscovery by Sir Victor Brooke.

Heads up then! We may discover an unknown animal in an architectural detail, too