If an architect wants to design a building with a timeless, distinguished look, they will often channel the ancient Greeks and Romans. That's why so many famous structures—like the Capitol building in Washington D.C.—feature imposing white columns. But look closer and you'll find another detail many of them share: sculpted leaves curling at the top of the pillars. According to a new video from Vox, these leaves are all modeled after the same plant, acanthus, and their origins can be traced back to the same ancient myth.
Columns featuring acanthus leaves are known as Corinthian columns, and they first appeared around 550 BCE. A Roman writer named Vitruvius explained the ornamentation by creating a legend about a young woman who passed away. After her death, her nurse gathered her possessions into a basket and sealed it with a tile, and as time passed an acanthus plant crept up the sides of the container and covered it completely. The legend goes that the overgrown basket was spotted by a sculptor who was inspired to make Corinthian columns.
There's another symbolic reason acanthus leaves appear in classical architecture: The plant can grow from root cuttings. The leaves represent strength and durability, make them a natural fit for the top of a column. The design is striking enough to persist all these centuries later.
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