An Insider’s Look: Cultural World Heritage Sites in Danger
Cultural Experience,  Environment,  Environmental Issues

An Insider’s Look:
Cultural World Heritage Sites in Danger

When a site is identified as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site, it immediately gains notoriety. While you might not know that many sites are world heritage sites, you’ve likely heard the names of many of them in the media. 

Let’s take a closer look at what a world heritage site is, and specifically what Cultural World Heritage sites are and why some are labelled in danger. 

What are world heritage sites? 

A world heritage site is a site identified by UNESCO that has either cultural, historic, or even scientific significance. UNESCO is an organization that is part of the United Nations. Gaining world heritage status is a significant identifier for the site and usually adds prestige and recognition for the country that the site is located in. 

Why would a world heritage site be in danger? 

Sites are labelled “in danger” by UNESCO for a variety of reasons that threaten either the safety of the people at the site, the surrounding ecosystem, or the site itself. For Cultural World Heritage sites specifically, sites are often identified for lack of protection, civil disputes, or wars within the area.

Cultural World Heritage sites in danger

Now that we’ve covered what a world heritage site is and why some of them are in danger, let’s explore a list of the Cultural World Heritage sites (as of October 2021) on the danger list and why they’re in peril.  

  • Abu Mena (Egypt): cave-ins within the area have made the site unstable
  • Ancient City of Aleppo (Syria): Civil war in the area
  • Ancient City of Bosra (Syria): Civil war in the area
  • Ancient City of Damascus (Syria): Civil war in the area
  • Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (Syria): Civil war in the area
  • Site of Palmyra (Syria): Civil war in the area
  • Archaeological Site of Cyrene (Libya): Civil war in Libya
  • Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna (Libya): Civil war in Libya
  • Archaeological site of Sabratha (Libya): Civil war in Libya
  • Old town of Ghadames (Libya): Civil war in Libya 
  • Rock art sites of Tadrart Acacus (Libya): Civil war in Libya
  • Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat) (Iraq): Iraq War caused delays in construction of reservoir and overall lack of adequate protection of the area
  • Hatra (Iraq): Military and armed groups activity within the area
  • Samarra Archaeological City (Iraq): Iraq war and general civil unrest in the area
  • City of Potosi (Bolivia): Local mining has made the area unstable
  • Coro and its port (Venezuela): Heavy rains have made local structures unstable
  • Cultural Landscape and Archaeological remains of Bamain Valley (Afghanistan): Military and terrorist activity within the area has caused deterioration of much of the site
  • Fortifications on the Caribbean side of Panaman: Portobelo-San Lorenzo: Urban development and overall lack of maintenance 
  • Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town (Palestine): Military activity within the area
  • Historic Center of Shakhrisyabz (Uzbekistan): Urban development and destruction of historic buildings and neighborhoods
  • Historic Center of Vienna (Austria): Urban development
  • Historic town of Zabid (Yemen): Deterioration of historic buildings
  • Old city of Sana’a (Yemen): Local civil war
  • Old Walled City of Shibam (Yemen): Armed conflicts and general unrest in the local area
  • Minaret and archaeological remains of Jam (Afghanistan): lack of protection and poor maintenance of the site
  • Medieval monuments in Kosovo: lack of protection and poor management, as well as local political instability
  • Nan Madol Ceremonial center of Eastern Micronesia: poor maintenance of waterways and existing structures at the site
  • Old City of Jerusalem: Continuing urban development and poor site maintenance
  • Old towns of Djenne (Mali): Deterioration of the historic town and site
  • Timbuktu (Mali): Religious groups threaten security and safety of the area
  • Tomb of Askia (Mali): Religious groups threaten security and safety of the area
  • Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi (Uganda): Destruction of the area from a local fire 
  • Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem: poor planning of urban development and natural site maintenance
  • Rosia Montana Mining landscape (Romania): Mining activity has caused deterioration of the site
  • Chan Chan Archaeological Zone (Peru): Natural erosion has caused damage to the site

Cultural Heritage Sites: How Can We Help Preserve them?

There are a few things that you can do to help the efforts to preserve the Cultural Heritage sites in danger. First, if you are able, you can donate to local NGOs that are dedicated to helping preserve these sites. If you are unable to donate, or wish to do more, you can also often volunteer with these NGOs as well. They need positions of all types filled, so even with little experience you can still lend a hand to help. 

While it is tempting to plan your next trip to many of these sites, you should research these sites before buying a plane ticket. Some of these sites are safe to visit, but some because of the activity in the area are not safe for travelers. For the sites that are traveler-friendly, consider joining an ecotour in a sustainable manner. Ecotours use local guides, and a portion of the fees for the trip are used for conservation of the site.


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