The threatened wonders of the world
By Deepshikha Punj
05th August 2012 12:00 AM
History has a way of preserving its mysteries. After the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, the search is on for a legendary third Buddha. In 630 CE, the Chinese traveler Xuanzang visited Bamiyan and wrote of a reclining Buddha. There are ancient ambassadors of history, who merely by standing still, tell the stories of mankind. However, many like the Jaisalmer Fort, the Fenestrelle Fortress, Italy or the Chan Chan city in Peru are in dangerous decline. A list of the world’s top 10 endangered historical sites.
Jaisalmer Fort: More than half a million a year visit this fort built in 1156 by King Rawal Jaisal on the advice of a sage who said Lord Krishna had blessed the site mentioned in the Mahabharata. The government built a sewage system that is causing great damage. Damage Control: Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage rebuilt outer walls and strengthened holding beams. Renovations on using traditional methods.
Fenestrelle Fortress, Italy: Built in 1728, the fortifications complex is called the “Great Wall of the Alps”—or the Siberia of the Alps by many eminent prisoners held there once— and covering 320 acres, it is one of the largest fortified structures in Europe, almost two miles long, at a height of 2,000 feet. Damage Control: Restoration work 80 per cent complete but its upper parts unreached.
Chan Chan, Peru: Once the capital of the Chimú empire that lasted from 850 A.D. to around 1470 that stretched 600 miles from just south of Ecuador down to central Peru and home to 60,000 people by the 15th century. Called the “first true engineering society in the New World”, Chimú engineering methods were unknown in Europe and North America until the late 19th century. They made a great civilisation bloom in the desert. Chan Chan fell to the Inca. Frequent El Nino storms are causing damage to the brick structures. Damage Control: Peru’s National Institute of Culture has set up tents over collapsing parts, friezes are being hardened or covered.
The City of Hasankeyf, Turkey: One of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world—some 10,000 years—the cradle of civilisation is threatened by the new hydroelectric dam. Hasankeyf is home to thousands of human-made caves, Roman ruins, Byzantine architecture, the 1409 El Rizk Mosque; and the 15th-century cylindrical Tomb of Zeynel Bey. Damage Control: Temporary.
Visoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo: Nestled among chestnut groves at the foot of the Prokletije Mountains in western Kosovo, this 14th century Unesco World Heritage Site is where “traditions of Romanesque architecture meet artistic patterns of the Byzantine world”. The Biblical frescos are still intact. Since the ethnic strife of the 1990s, the building has been attacked many times. Damage Control: Under guard by UN Peacekeepers.
Famagusta Walled City, Cyprus: The imagined birthplace of Othello, Famagusta was where Crusader kings were crowned and was the conduit point for armies, merchants and ships. Some 200 buildings—reflecting Byzantine, French Gothic and Italian Renaissance architectural styles—are losing the war to weeds, wildflowers and neglect. Cyprus gained independence in 1960, and was promptly invaded by Turkey and forcibly partitioned. Damage Control: Prompted by Europa Nostra, a pan-European federation for cultural heritage, the Greek and Turkish mayors of the city met in Paris to support efforts to preserve Famagusta.
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem: The roof of 1,700-year-old basilica—the birthplace of Jesus Christ—is rotting, threatening the structural integrity of the building. Built, razed and rebuilt innumerable times, the building is a site of dispute between three denominations—the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches and the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church—which is holding up all hopes of restoration.
Hill of Tara, Ireland: Around the Hill of Tara lies the archaeological heritage of Ireland. As much as it is the site where thousands gather on midsummer’s eve for atmosphere now, it was the stage for rituals, battles and burials from 4000 BC. Legend has it St. Patrick is stopped at Tara to seek the king’s permission—more than 100 Irish kings were crowned there— before embarking on his mission to spread Christianity. In 1843, Daniel “the Liberator” O’Connell held a “monster meeting”, of 750,000 people to challenge the country’s union with Britain. In 2003, the Irish government cleared the construction M3—a new four-lane tollway— that will cut through the Tara complex. M3 will slice between the Hill of Tara and Rath Lugh, an ancient earthen fort a two-mile distance away. The highway construction has unearthed 38 new archaeological sites near Tara that include prehistoric settlements, Bronze Age burial mounds, a possible medieval charcoal manufacturing kiln and the remains of a 19th-century post office.
Dampier Rock Art Complex, Australia: First occupied around 30,000 years ago, the Dampier islands in Western Australia were the tops of volcanic mountains 60 miles inland. Rock carvings of 20,000 years old have been found: 500,000 to one million petroglyphs depicting kangaroos, emus and hunters carrying boomerangs. Some even show Tasmanian tigers, which became extinct around 3,000 years ago. But the site is a rich source of iron and estimates show a quarter of the petroglyphs have been destroyed by industrial activity by iron ore mines, fertiliser plants and liquid natural gas treatment facilities. Acid rain from the gas facilities could erase rock art; a gas company recently received a permit to move rocks that host 941 petroglyphs.
Canada: No one lives on this island anymore. It was once at the core of the Canadian whaling industry and is facing an onslaught from the sea: within 50 years, all vestiges of whaling culture and the traditions of the Thule Inuit Indians will be swept away. Ice and permafrost are melting producing dramatic changes in the shoreline. The island is like an Arctic Noah’s Ark where black, polar and grizzly bears share the same habitat with moose, musk oxen and caribou, as well as bowhead and beluga whales.
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