10 of the World's Amazing Cultural Sites That We Are in Danger of Losing - Atlas Obscura
Our new kids' book is on sale! Shop now.

10 of the World’s Amazing Cultural Sites That We Are in Danger of Losing

Last week, the World Monuments Fund announced the 67 sites on their 2014 World Monuments Watch, which highlights cultural heritage sites that are at risk around the world. The two-year advocacy program for the sites seeks to get them wider attention, especially with their local communities to assure their survival. The threats to these sites include war, neglect, environmental changes, development, tourism, and just the constantly shifting culture of a particular place.

Below are 10 sites we are highlighting from the 2014 World Monuments Watch that we are in danger of losing, or seeing irreversibly changed. 

FORT OF GRAÇA
Alentejo, Portugal

article-image
Aerial view of the fort (courtesy Elvas City Council, Technical Department/World Monuments Fund)

With its construction dating between 1763 and 1792, the Fort of Graça in Portugal has a striking, earthworks-based star design. Yet ever since the feat of military engineering was demilitarized in the 20th century, it’s been seeking a new purpose, and needs local involvement to turn it into a heritage site before it deteriorates too far into obsolescence. 

article-image
View of the governor’s house at the top of the fort (courtesy Elvas City Council, Technical Department/World Monuments Fund)

article-imageView of the governor’s house (courtesy Elvas City Council, Technical Department/World Monuments Fund)

ANCIENT RIDGED FIELDS OF THE SAN JORGE RIVER FLOODPLAIN
Córdoba and Sucre Departments, Colombia

article-imageAerial view of the floodplain (photograph courtesy Museo del Oro - Banco de la Republica, Sebastian Schrimpff/ World Monuments Fund)

The Ancient Ridged Fields of the San Jorge River Floodplain in Colombia’s La Mojana region were started in the early sixth century to control the overflow of the water and direct it to a bog for crops in the drought season. However, with dams and other retaining walls, the floodplain has been abandoned for centuries, and could completely disappear. The listing on the 2014 Watch is aimed at showing that revitalizing the floodplain could be a more sustainable way of water management, while at the same time preserving the historical site. 

article-image(photograph courtesy Museo del Oro - Banco de la Republica, Sebastian Schrimpff/ World Monuments Fund)

article-image (photograph courtesy Museo del Oro - Banco de la Republica, Sebastian Schrimpff/ World Monuments Fund)

BUKIT BROWN
Singapore

article-imageVisitors to Bukit Brown (photograph by Claire Leow/World Monuments Fund)

Bukit Brown is popular with visitors and locals to Singapore who walk the lush green trails of the cemetery, which started as a burial ground for Chinese immigrants. However, on all sides urban development is encroaching, and this year the government put forward a plan to cut through the cemetery with a major thoroughfare. Other sections of Bukit Brown would be exhumed and residential developments put in their place, with those remains not claimed by relatives being reburied in the sea.  

article-image
Charred offerings in the cemetery (photograph by Brian Jeffery Beggerly)

article-image
Detail on the Tomb of Ong Sam Leong (photograph by Steel Wool/Flickr user)

article-imageShaded tombs (photograph by Bianca Polak)

WOODEN CHURCHES OF TRANSYLVANIA
Northern Oltenia and Southern Transylvania, Romania

article-imageRepairing the roof of the church of Târnăvița (photograph by Dan Cioclu/World Monuments Fund)

The wooden churches in Romania’s northern Oltenia and southern Transylvania region were largely constructed from the 18th to 19th centuries, although some even date back to the 16th. Due to the delicate structures with their intricate painted interiors not having heating or electricity, many have been abandoned and left to the elements, with some now on the verge of collapsing. To preserve the wooden churches, the hope is to find ways to restore them, while also incorporating carefully some modernity to re-establish them as community spaces. 

article-image
Interior of the wooden church of Urşi, with icons and painted decoration (photograph by Octavian Costin/World Monuments Fund)

article-imageBogdan Voda church, built in 1718 (photograph by Richard Mortel)

ELEVATORS OF VALPARAÍSO
Valparaíso, Chile

article-image
(photograph by Paula Soyer-Mola)

There were once 31 elevators on Valparaíso’s Bellavista Hill, but now only 14 are left, with just seven still traveling up and down the steep slope. The elevators were listed on the Watch list back in 1996, and while some have been restored, there is still a longterm plan that needs to be established before the little cars can securely continue their ambling into the future.

article-image
The entrance to Santo Domingo Elevator, which used to provide access to Cayocopil Street on Santo Domingo Hill (courtesy Municipality of Valparaíso/World Monuments Fund)

article-image
(photograph by Angelica Guzman)

article-image(photograph by Ronald Woan)

YEMREHANNA KRISTOS
Amhara Region, Ethiopia

article-image(photograph by Travel Aficionado/Flickr user)

Located in a cave surrounded by juniper trees, the church of Yemrehanna Kristos in Ethiopia is incredibly well-preserved, but an approaching highway has the potential to turn this once-remote outpost into a well-traveled destination, and it already has some structural problems that need to be addressed. The church still operates as it has for decades, with priests and hermits residing in the timber and plastered stone structure, while the bones of pilgrims who once traveled there to die rest peacefully behind the church.

article-image(photograph by martinosdoodles/Flickr user)

article-imageA priest stands in front of the main entrance to the church of Yemrehanna Kristos (photograph by Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund)

BATTERSEA POWER STATION
London, United Kingdom

article-imageBattersea Power Station seen from across the river Thames during the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant (photograph by Keith Garner/World Monuments Fund)

London’s Battersea Power Station was almost demolished in the early aughts, and now it’s in danger again, this time with a development plan that may permanently alter the Art Deco style and iconic chimneys designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. It’s been shut to the public since 1983 and the abandonment has already negatively impacted its future, so the hope is to find it a way to survive in a developed state without losing its industrial grace. 

article-image
(photograph by Benji Carter)

article-image(photograph by Steve Cadman)

POKFULAM VILLAGE
Hong Kong, China

article-imageView of Pokfulam Village (photograph by Nigel Ko/World Monuments Fund)

It’s kind of surprising Pokfulam exists at all, but among the sprawl of Hong Kong the little village still survives, even while development edges in on all sides, with high rises now planned for the area. One of the traditions that is in danger of disappearing if Pokfulam is totally incorporated into the city is the Fire Dragon Dance that occurs each autumn, in which a hay dragon lit with incense parades to each house to offer blessings. Yet the residents are having a hard time even repairing their homes, as due to squatter laws, only modern materials can be used. 

article-image
A poster for the dragon festival (photograph by randomwire/Flickr user)

article-image
(photograph by Kelvin Keung)

article-imageThis bamboo “altar” for the Fire Dragon lies at the entrance to Pokfulam, with a hay dragon on the roof (photograph by Nigel Ko/World Monuments Fund)

DAMIYA DOLMEN FIELD
Damiya, Jordan

article-image(photograph by Gaetano Palumbo/World Monuments Fund)

The 300 early Bronze Age structures that exist in the Damiya Dolmen Field are quickly collapsing as the whole area gets quarried, with some now looming up alone on peninsulas above the voids, or shaken so much that they might fall over at any moment. The sandstone slab structures were built as tombs in the Jordan Valley, but more and more their strange forms are vanishing. 

article-image(photograph by Gaetano Palumbo/World Monuments Fund)

GRAN PAJATÉN
Mariscal Cáceres, Peru

article-imageMicroorganisms and vegetation on a frieze (photograph by Warren Church/World Monuments Fund)

The researchers who explored Gran Pajatén in Río Abiseo National Park in northern Peru may have had good intentions when they uncovered the ornate sculptures and circular buildings at the archaeological site in 1965 and 1990, but left to the open air they have deteriorated and been covered with damaging microorganisms. The ruins, which date to as early as 200 BC, are rarely visited, being so remote, and visibility is necessary to their conservation, or they may be consumed completely by the jungle. 

article-imageStructures of Gran Pajatén are covered with vegetation (photograph by Ricardo Morales/World Monuments Fund)

Click here to view all 67 sites on the 2014 World Monuments Watch