But it’s not just small sites no-one’s ever heard of. UNESCO currently lists 46 World Heritage sites which are under threat of destruction. Here’s five amazing World Heritage Sites we really don’t want to lose.
With the current situation, it’s little surprise that Syrian sites feature heavily on the list; there are 6 sites classed as under threat by UNESCO, all added last year in reaction to conflicts in the country. Aleppo is a hugely important site for archaeology as the crossroads for several trade routes in the 2nd millennium BC. Its importance in its heyday is shown by its successive rulers – the Hittites, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamelukes and Ottomans. Sadly it has been damaged by bombing and gunfare as have other Ancient Syrian cities such as Bosra and Damascus.
10km South of Jerusalem lies a church which has been identified by Christian scholars as the likely birthplace of Jesus. Even for non-Christians this is an important site with the first church built on it in 339 AD and some of the original, elaborate mosaic floor remaining intact. In the first year the church was included in the World Heritage register it also made it into the danger list due to concerns about damages caused by water leakages. The site also includes terraced gardens, bell towers and a pilgrimage route.
At the gateway to the Sahara, Timbuktu is an example of how friction in modern religion creates problems for the remnants of historic religion. Founded in the 5th century A.D as a small market town, Timbuktu rose to prominence in the 15th century, becoming an important spiritual and intellectual centre. Its three great treasures are its mosques; Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia. As well as desertification, concerns have been growing about the safety of the site due to potential looting and destruction by groups who consider the shrines to be idolatrous and un-Islamic.
The Ancient City of Ashur was a city-state of huge importance in the 3rd millennium BC. It was the first capital of the Assyrian Empire and the centre of worship to the god Ashur and goddess Ishtar. The main concerns about its safety came with plans to build a reservoir which would partially flood the site. These plans were thankfully stopped in their tracks due to new administration brought on by the Iraq War.
But the sites at risk are not all in such distant places. This Scouse site is much closer to home. Though its strong ties with the slave trade mean not all aspects of its history are celebrated, Liverpool was also a pioneer in modern dock technology and transport systems. A World Heritage Site since 2004, it is now believed to be in danger due to plans for a major redevelopment project called Liverpool Waters. With the project still in motion, all we can do is hope not too much of this remarkable history is destroyed in the process.
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