These 50 Treasured Places Are At Risk of Disappearing

The newly listed sites include an ancient underwater city in Greece, historic churches in Cuba, and a masterpiece of modern engineering.

Fifty cultural heritage sites in 36 countries are threatened by everything from climate change and looting to natural disasters and commercial development, according to a report released Thursday by the World Monuments Fund.

Compiled every two years, the World Monuments Watch list raises awareness and mobilizes funding for the preservation of endangered sites of outstanding significance. In its 20-year history, the program has named 790 sites in 135 countries and arranged roughly $350 million of financial support for treasured places around the world.

The 50 sites on the 2016 list range from World War II concentration camps in Italy to the approximately 5,000-year-old underwater city of Pavlopetri off the coast of the Southern Peloponnese in Greece.

Spanning Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, the sites encompass a diverse set of imperiled human achievements: There’s rock art from the Sudan, historic churches in Cuba, Buddhist wall paintings in India, and dozens of other sites.

Seven panelists with expertise in archaeology, urban planning, history, anthropology, and cultural heritage law selected the 50 sites from an initial field of over 250 nominations. World Monuments Fund President Bonnie Burnham said that three primary criteria guided their consideration: urgency of threats, significance of the site, and the viability of threat mitigation efforts.

The Unnamed Monument

The willful destruction of archaeological sites by extremists in the Middle East has prompted international outrage and extensive media coverage over the past two years. The 2016 watch list includes something called the Unnamed Monument—a catch-all category that recognizes the incalculable damage occurring in regions of political and social instability.

But many other less-publicized threats are equally urgent: Large ships and pollution endanger the submerged city of Pavlopetri, rock falls and flash floods have put the ancient city of Petra at risk, and development pressures threaten historic architecture from 19th-century England and 20th-century Tokyo.

The Nepal earthquake of April 2015 destabilized or destroyed so many of the country’s sites that a single item on the list includes all the cultural heritage sites in Nepal.

“Sites of Conscience”

In addition to contending with looting, vegetation, war, neglect, erosion, and sundry other dangers, the sites on the 2016 list sometimes face a different sort of obstacle. Sites of conscience—such as concentration camps in Italy and a slave trading post in Sierra Leone—are generally underfunded because they expose dark and difficult periods of human history.

“Were making an increasing effort to look at sites with uncomfortable histories,” said Lisa Ackerman, Executive Vice President of the World Monuments Fund.

While familiar monuments from Jordan and Rome appear on the list, Francesco Siravo, an Italian architect who specializes in historic preservation and helped in the creation of this year's list, emphasized that the fund has a broad definition of importance.

“We’re expanding the frontier of what’s considered a valuable part of cultural heritage,” Siravo said. “Ancient and famous sites are not the only ones that contribute to our understanding of history and place. Sites that are modern can be just as valuable, and often more vulnerable.”

WATCH: National Geographic Archaeologist Fred Hiebert discusses the antiquities and historic sites destroyed by ISIS in the Middle East. 

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