Last chance to see
NEVER mind 100 things to do before you die, how about thousands of things to see before they vanish? The world’s heritage is under threat like never before. A combination of urbanisation, disasters, war and climate change mean it’s not just Venice in peril from the sea or the colours of the Barrier Reef fading in the sun. Unsustainable tourism and neglect also take their toll.
The Global Heritage Fund has a list of hundreds of endangered sites and UNESCO its compendium of designated World Heritage sites under threat. The International Council on Monuments and Sites, meanwhile, has just released its sixth Heritage at Risk report on places in peril.
The World Monuments Fund has its own watch list and is running specialist tours of fragile places in Turkey and Ethiopia. Stolen futures: Looting is a problem from Angkor Wat to the Apennines. In Peru, the remains of the bloodthirsty Moche civilisation are being ransacked by treasure hunters who have dug about 1000 trenches and tunnels in places such as Galindo. More visitors could mean a legitimate living for the locals and, at the same time, take pressure off sites such as Machu Picchu. Geologists fear landslides. Archeological travel specialist Andante offers trips exploring Moche. More: andantetravels.com. The tide is high: Straddling the India-Bangladesh border are the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Its waterways are home to endangered Bengal tigers and the Ganges river dolphin. Rising sea levels and the natural subsidence of the Bengal Basin are inundating its 26,000sq kms. Poaching has seen tiger numbers halved and the Javan rhino vanish. More: bangladeshtraveller.com. Divide and misrule: In the early 1970s, Famagusta in northern Cyprus was bursting with lobsterred Brits chasing cheap packaged sun. Mostly they ignored the ruins of what was once the richest city in the world; the coronations of the Crusader kings of Jerusalem were held in its cathedral. Concrete hotels encroached before the Turkish invasion of 1974 led to the division of Cyprus and the abandonment of much of the ghost town.
Neglect means its tombs and mansions are on the verge of disappearing forever, according to the Global Heritage Fund. More: globalheritagefund.org. Flower power: The Cape Floristic Region of South Africa holds almost 20 per cent of the entire African continent’s plant diversity. Many fynbos species have fire as part of their eco-system but non-native gums, pines and acacias are changing fire patterns in the 5530sq km protected area. A quarter of this ecological treasure house has already been lost to farming and forestry. More: southafrica.net. Stone dead: Athens’s infamous pollution may no longer be a reason for not returning the Elgin Marbles to the Parthenon now the Greeks have built a shiny new museum to hold them, but plenty of places across the planet are suffering from traffic terror. The Taj Mahal’s white marble is still turning black. At the walled city of Segovia, half an hour by train from Madrid, the 813m-long Roman aqueduct has survived 2000 years but traffic fumes are eating away its stones dangerously. A word for it: Modern life and communications may be creating a global village but they are also eroding difference. Although in reality Eskimos have no more words for snow than we have for rain, cultures can only ever be fully explained in their own language. UNESCO holds a register of the intangible cultural heritage of songs and ceremonies of the world’s peoples. Hear the unaccompanied cantu in paghjella chant of northern Corsican male trios before it disappears forever. More: unesco.org; visitcorsica.com. Last service: Communal violence in recent decades has seen ancient churches, mosques and temples razed from Indonesia to Nigeria. Ongoing tensions in Kosovo mean that more than 120 churches and mosques have been badly damaged since the official end of hostilities with Serbia in 1999. But Visoki Decani Monastery, the largest and bestpreserved medieval church in the Balkans, survives. globalheritagefund.org icomos.org wmf.org.uk
The Roman aqueduct at Segovia, near Madrid, is under threat