Heritage At Risk: The 2020 World Monuments Watch

Heritage At Risk: The 2020 World Monuments Watch
The moai of Easter Island, one of 25 endangered sites, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Around the world, these are the 25 endangered landmarks that need local initiatives and robust conservation

Nayanika Mukherjee
November 23 , 2020
17 Min Read

The World Monuments Fund calls for the international community to point their lens at several sites in need of conservation and attention every year. These range from modern structures to Unesco World Heritage Sites to complexes and communities that are unknown but hold centuries worth of information. All locations are critical sources of tangible and intangible heritage, and are most at-risk despite local efforts at restoration. A brief look at the 25 sites on the 2020 Monuments Watch List:

Bears Ears National Monument (USA)

Bears Ears is a national park in Utah with lands sacred to the Native American community. A 1.35-million acre monument under President Obama, its cultural treasures include scattered rock carvings, cliff dwellings and artefacts. However, under President Trump, the protected area was shrunk to an alarming 200,000 hectares, allowing utility lines, access roads, recreational off-roading and cattle grazing, along with mining and drilling in de-designated areas. With increased tourism and existing challenges like vandalism and desecration, protecting Bears Ears gets challenging every day. Local groups work with archaeologists towards documentation, conservation and fencing, but tribal and Pueblo voices are still not taken seriously. The WMF has called for the US government to reconsider their new management plan

Central Aguirre Historic District (Puerto Rico)

Wooden houses in Central Aguierre were severely damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Over 400 cultural resources lie in different stages of decay, with lack of specialised workers and preservation standards being an issue. The local communities also face difficulty in restoring them, due to high cost of materials

Anarkali Bazaar (Pakistan)

This lively market outside Lahore is a historic neighbourhood. It contains packed residential areas, colonial-era buildings, the Lahore Museum and several universities. Today, it is in need of cultural mapping to identify important cultural spaces, local memories and intangible heritage, alongside the usual arts and architecture

Notre-Dame (France)

The historic cathedral in Paris was devastated by fires inApril 2019, but saw some of the most high-profile donation and relief efforts. Debate broke out how to rebuild its roof and spire in France, with some wanting identical reconstruction, while others favoured a newer, more contemporary design. Whatever the final decision, it's likely to take years before visitors can enter the new Notre-Dame

Chivas and Chaityas of Kathamandu Valley (Nepal)

Chaityas are sites of public worship for the Newar Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley. The structures, ranging from small constructions to the 'mahachaityas' of Swayambhunath, have carvings of divinities, saints and bodhisattvas, and religious inscriptions, often marked with a donor's name and year of creation. The shrines, with their open, unguarded locations in different neighbourhoods, are most threatened by urbanisation

Ontario Place (Canada)

Established in 1971, this was a theme park and entertainment venue split into five sections that celebrated the pluralistic heritage of Canada. It was closed in 2011 due to low numbers, and is at risk of redevelopment that abandons the complex's original vision. See the large golf-ball shaped building? That's the Cinesphere, home to the world's first permanent IMAX theatre.

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) - Orongo (Chile)

The entirety of Easter Island, including the ceremonial village of Orongo, are protected under Rapa Nui National Park. Despite ample conservation efforts, the petroglyphs in the area are threatened by the inherent weakness of the basaltic rock on which they are carved, a solution to which indigenous communities currently have no answer. Several petroglyphs have already been lost, with overtourism emerging as a further problem

Koutammakou Landscape (Benin and Togo)

The takienta houses in the Koutammakou landscape are icons of Togo and Benin. Built by the Batammariba tribe, the mud dwellings are unique, as they are built in striped layers, are likened to men and women and have components named after the human body, and are built with specific functions like being granaries, store rooms, bedrooms and more. Some have flat roofs, while others are thatched and bear cylindrical form. Despite legal protection and heritage management, this cultural tradition is at the risk of disappearing

Traditional Houses of Old Jewish Mahalla in Bukhara (Uzbekistan)

Bukharan Jews are an isolated yet culturally distinct diaspora, having resisted persecution and assimilation attempts over their 1000 years of living in the Uzbek city. A long tradition of woodworking is visible in their old homes at the centre of Bukhara, the settlements divided into ‘mahallas’ or neighbourhoods. Only 200 Bukharan Jews stay in the Old Mahalla today, with most having emigrated to the USA and Israel. With the empty homes, alterations are a culturally insensitive risk, with sustainable and respectful reuse plans being the need of the hour

Choijin Lama Temple (Mongolia)

The Choijin Lama was Mongolia’s state oracle till 1918, and this temple in Ulaanbaatar—a dedicated residence—  was the site of his pronouncements. An example of Chinese-style religious architecture, the complex had five temples for different deities. In the 1920s, Communist revolutionaries took over the government with help from the Soviet Union, and began religious suppression via executions and destruction. Amid the chaos, this holy building survived, and later became a museum. Religious worship and monasteries remained prohibited till 1990. As Mongolian Buddhism sees a revival, the temple’s collection and buildings are a priceless resource in need of conservation

Alexan Palace (Egypt)

A grand residence of the Coptic Alexan family, this waterfront building in Asyut has been designated as a future museum site. Conservation of its facade, European revival architectural elements and documentation of interiors are a priority, if the museum is to successfully open for local Egyptians. Asyut has a mix of Muslim and Coptic Catholic heritage, which can be showcased in exhibits

Canal Nacional (Mexico)

Mexico’s oldest man-made waterway was built over 2,000 years ago to ferry goods. This 12-kilometre canal is one of the few survivors of a once-large network that has disappeared due to redevelopment and expansion. Today, it is a gathering place for nearby residents, and a natural habitat for birds and animals in the middle of Mexico City’s urban sprawl. Despite limited support, citizens have adopted sections of the canal for cleaning, planting and art campaigns, and in 2015, opposed a government plan to pave over the waterway to build a road. These community members today want a seat during urban planning, wanting to share inputs in the development of a linear park that is in the works

Inari-yu Bathhouse (Japan)

A mural of Mt Fuji, painted by one of only two designated traditional artists, inside the bathhouse. Located in Tokyo's Kita ward, Inari-yu is a famous example of the once-common practice of visiting 'sentos' or public baths. These spaces for socialising, relaxation and hierarchical dissolution are fast disappearing at an attrition rate of almost one per week, as youngsters prefer the privacy of home. But Inari-yu, which narrowly survived the 1945 bombing by the US, is looking to increase interactions by using its secondary buildings into informal gathering spaces to attract new customers. This could be a successful model for other struggling bathhouses to emulate

Traditional Burmese Teak Farmhouse (Myanmar)

A Burmese man poses beside the carvings on his farmhouse. Monasteries once had a monopoly on using teak while building, but the fall of monarchy and colonialism eased restrictions for the common man. Built on elevated platforms, the space below each house was used for storing agricultural tools and livestock. Today, homeowners are opting for more comfortable, modern homes, with farmhouses sold off as 'historic building materials', since the illegal trade of teak is strong in Southeast Asia. Little research and documentation exists on the farmhouses' construction and their support of the trade, and the WMF hopes to raise awareness among homeowners about its cultural value and elevate its status

Sacred Valley of the Incas (Peru)

This region between Cusco and Machu Picchu is locally known as the Urubamba River Valley. Dotted with Quechua villages, it’s a fertile agricultural stretch where developing an airport to amp up tourism in Cusco (and bypass a stop in Lima) has been a long-time goal. But the chosen site—a plain outside the town of Chinchero—has an indigenous culture and 15th-century Inca ruins that could be affected. Past land deals saw local participation being sidestepped, and the unregulated growth of hotels, business and infrastructure, which disrupted communal land ownership traditions. Experts are now worried about the physical impact of the airport on the material remains on the Chinchero Plateau and at nearby sites like Ollantaytambo, Moray and Maras

Historic Water Systems of the Deccan Plateau (India)

Daulatabad, in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, was the seat of the sultans of Delhi from the 14th century. These rulers created an elaborate system of reservoirs, tanks, wells, and channels by damming mountain streams and building underground stone and terracotta pipe networks. In areas where surface water couldn’t be collected, groundwater was harnessed by the ‘karez’ system, which used sloping underground tunnels and wells with shafts dug for ventilation above ground. This can be seen in Bijapur in Karnataka, where Adil Shahi rulers created the system. Silting, encroachment and unchecked water extraction are issues threatening this water management system, which depends on natural rates of replenishing. Reactivating this historic network, according to the WMF, could help abate the water crisis for communities today. This is a water system at Chand Baudi, near the walls of Bijapur

Bennerley Viaduct (UK)

 This viaduct in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire was laid in 1877 to carry a rail line over the Erewash River. One of only two viaducts built using wrought iron, it was a lightweight structure built while keeping in mind underground mining tunnels below. Last used by a freight train in 1968, locals have opposed the viaduct’s demolition, wanting to convert it into a walking and cycling trail for community use. It’s a thoughtful way of reusing industrial heritage to enjoy the iconic English countryside

Mam Rashan Shrine (Iraq)

Mam Rashan Shrine before (left) and after its destruction by ISIS. The terrorist group destroyed several Yazidi shrines in the Mt Sinjar area which were dedicated to seminal figures in the Yazidi religion. The structures were marked by tall, conical domes atop a circular drum set on a square, windowless chamber. Mam Rashan, for example, was in honour of a saint associated with agriculture, rain, and the annual harvest. ISIS no longer controls Sinjar, and many Yazidis have returned to this homeland. Rebuilding the shrine as a way to renew continuity with the past is a major desire in their road to reparations

Courtyard Houses of Axerquia (Spain)

Cordoba in Spain is internationally renowned for its charming Andalusian courtyard houses and the Fiesta de los Patios (Festival of the Patios). Axerquia is part of Cordoba’s historic centre, and its flower-laden, spacious traditional houses—partly inspired by the Romans—pull throngs of tourists for photo-ops. Due to this overtourism, many homeowners are abandoning their courtyard homes for quieter, more comfortable lives. Gentrification of this historic neighbourhood is being resisted by locals, who wish to repopulate it to its former glory

San Antonio Woolworth Building (USA)

This Texas structure was one of the first stores to peacefully desegregate lunch counters during the US civil rights moment. But the memory of the Woolworth Building’s role in history—in later years, turned into an entertainment venue—is now fading, especially with a famous neighbour like the Alamo Plaza. The Woolworth was being readied to become a museum in 2017, but when an architect was assigned without proper structural assessments of this landmark, historians and activists spoke up. They have advocated to preserve this under-represented slice of African-American history by expanding outreach and inviting varied voices to share their vision on how to integrate it back into the local community

Kindler Chapel (Poland)

Interiors of the chapel in Pabianice. The town was once a textile powerhouse with a diverse group of industrialists, administrators and workers. In these circles, a wealthy family was the Kindlers, who built the church as a mausoleum and later turned it into a chapel. With the fall of communism, Pabianice lost its steady demand from Russia, and suffered waves of pessimism and out-migration. Authorities today are trying to revitalise its urban life, wanting to use the chapel as a civic and cultural gathering point that will connect citizens with artistic performances

Tusheti National Park (Georgia)

The Tush community lives in seasonal settlements across four mountain valleys in the Tusheti areaa. Its pastoral beauty includes tall peaks, carpets of blooms, majestic waterfalls, and activities like horseback riding, and the community moves to warmer areas during winter when shepherding is impossible. A single unpaved road leads to Tusheti—inaccessible during winter, it’s used by tourists in the summer, creating a natural sustainable tourism economy. Increased tourism is reviving dry stone building skills and the Tush’s economic strength, but a new highway through Tusheti could be a problem. It’ll increase connectivity, but risks mass tourism destroying their historically sustainable patterns. Many oppose the project, and want better roads in the lowlands instead

Sardar Vallabhai Patel Museum (India)

Built in Ahmedabad, the stadium is part of a group of experimental structures designed by architect Charles Correa and engineer Mahendra Raj that expressed a progressive outlook post Independence. It hosted the country’s first ODI match in 1981, and later became a regular (and quality) venue for domestic cricket, recreation and school events. Due to poor maintenance and funding over the years, the stadium has seen much physical damage, and recognition as a heritage site could kick in stronger conservation efforts

Gingerbread Neighborhood (Haiti)

Villa Castel Fleuri, on Avenue Christophe. This area filled with broken-down, elegant buildings showcasing fretted wood and ornate latticework is an emblem of Haitian architecture. They remind locals in Port-au-Prince of their creative and prosperous past, and are seen as inspiring icons for Haiti’s rise. Most of the ‘gingerbread houses’ resisted collapse during the 2010 earthquake, but political and economic instability has hampered their preservation efforts. While being part of the 2010 and 2012 WMF watchlists, the houses are building towards rehabilitation and being turned into energetic community spaces with guided tours and art (Dufort House) and even a dance school (Maison Guthier)

Iwamatsu District (Japan)

A port town on the island of Shikoku, Iwamatsu thrived in the 17th century due to its sake industry. The houses of sake merchant families and former stores are still part of its legendary cityscape, with around 50 surviving buildings and 20 houses. Changes in cargo shipping in the 20th century led to Iwamatsu’s decline. Today, a decreasing birthrate and aging population are crippling the town, which is looking for private investment to revive its heritage. The WMF is helping with restoration, starting with the house of the Konishi merchant family (interiors above), now a public building. Residents are advocating for historic designation of the area, as well as seeking to promote tourism

The WMF publishes an e-magazine highlighting all its Monuments Watch sites every year. You can read the 2020 edition here

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