Advent Calendar - Preserving World Heritage

Posted December 2nd, 2007 by Andrea Vianello

The world keeps changing at fast pace, and probably everybody has heard of climate change by now. However, world heritage also needs constant attention and funding for its preservation, even when not directly threatened. There are several organisations that are concerned with this issue, and since the end of the year is an ideal moment to pause and reflect on all what happened during the past year, the state of world heritage should also be in our thoughts.

UNESCO with its World Heritage list is perhaps the best known organisation. The list, which was featured in one of our Limelights, is growing year by year and there is a webpage listing all the newly inscribed sites. Among the hidden gems of our planet that have been recently inserted in the list is Gobustan (image below from an original by Bruno Girin on Flickr, licensed by Creative Commons).

Gobustan

More organisations concerned with heritage can be found under Intute’s Preservation of Monuments and Cultural Heritage headings. Among the international organisations worth checking out are the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS); Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE); the World Monuments Fund; and the Global Heritage Fund. These organisations often support and finance projects concerned with the natural environment or projects that have a return on local economies, often through sustainable tourism. For instance, the case of the Mirador Basin, the cradle of Maya civilisation, is a good example to illustrate the rationale of such interventions. And since we are approaching Christmas, why not help one of these projects with a single donation for environment, people and heritage?

There is no denying that in the past few years the single greatest emergency for world heritage is Iraq due to the prolonged state of chaos there. Iraq is a country with significant archaeological, artistic and historical heritage. Several websites report and denounce the situation, one has only to browse Intute to find them.

The increased sensibility for cultural heritage is also manifesting itself in Europe, with a spate of requests from Italy (e.g. agreement with Getty museum), Greece (e.g. Parthenon marbles) and Egypt (e.g. Nefertiti bust) for looted antiquities to be returned. This does not happen because these are endangered monuments. Rather, these are the first signs that some countries are taking the responsibility attached to their heritage more seriously. Will future museums only conserve local artefacts and copies of the rest? The debate is on.

And since we are talking of extraordinary places around the world, why not visit one of these places on your next holiday? Monuments in the World Heritage list are spread across the globe and there are currently 27 such sites listed in the United Kingdom alone. Stonehenge (and its area) and Hadrian’s Wall are well known, but there is much more. I suggest the Orkney Islands, which have preserved a Neolithic landscape in a beautiful scenery (image below was taken at Skara Brae; from an original by “werewindle” on Flickr, licensed by Creative Commons).

Skara Brae

Another wonder to watch out during this time of the year is the sunset at Maeshowe (image below from an original by Andy and Fran on Flickr, licensed by Creative Commons).

Maeshowe

There are plenty of wonderful places around the world, but there are even more small wonders across the world. Preserving these is as much important as saving a more famous site. Let’s not forget our heritage.