Ranging from the famous – Nasca lines and geoglyphs in Peru – to the little-known (like the Cour Royale at Tiébélé in Burkina Faso); from the urban realms of Charleston, South Carolina, to the rural environs of the floating fishing villages of Halong Bay, Vietnam, the World Monuments Fund’s 2012 Watch list tells stories of human aspiration, imagination and adaptation.
In all, 67 sites representing 41 countries and territories have been listed, illustrating an increasingly urgent need to create a balance between heritage concerns and the social, economic, and environmental interests of communities. As well as promoting community cohesion and pride, heritage preservation can have a positive impact on local populations in times of economic distress – like through employment and the development of well-managed tourism, for example.
Since 1996, the biennial Watch – sponsored by American Express since its inception more than 20 years ago – has drawn international attention to cultural-heritage sites in need of assistance, helping to save some of the world’s most treasured places. 「The World Monuments Watch is a call to action on behalf of endangered cultural heritage sites across the globe,」 says WMF president Bonnie Burnham. 「And while these sites are historic, they are also very much of the present – integral parts of the lives of the people who come into contact with them every day. Indeed, the Watch reminds us of our collective role as stewards of the earth and of its human heritage.」
Found in every type of environment, from the Central Asian steppe to New York City, the 2012 sites range from prehistoric to modern, and include religious structures, cemeteries, houses, palaces, bridges, cultural landscapes, archaeological remains, gardens, train stations, and entire villages and neighbourhoods. In some cases, the Watch supports an existing plan to address challenges; in others, it advocates for the development of one.
Nanyue Kingdom, Guangzhou China
Poorly managed tourism threatens many of the places on the 2012 Watch, but sometimes, the potential for well-managed tourism provides an opportunity for historic sites to thrive. The site of the palace and garden of China’s Nanyue Kingdom dates from the time of the emperor who built the terracotta warriors in the second century BC.
One of the most important archaeological discoveries in modern China, it was uncovered in 1996 but is not well known internationally. Located beneath Guangzhou, a city of over 13 million inhabitants, the spectacular site was continuously rebuilt by successive dynasties. Today, there are 15 strata, containing relics from 13 dynasties. The Chinese government has built a museum devoted to artifacts uncovered on the site, but the site itself needs a sustainable plan for visitor access, interpretation, and enjoyment by local residents, many of whom live immediately adjacent to the archaeological zone.
Balaji Ghat, Varanasi India
The need for improved stewardship of heritage sites cuts across geographic, chronological, and typological divisions. The 18th century Balaji Ghat in Varanasi, India, is an important example of the buildings constructed along the Ganges to serve pilgrims worshiping at the holy river.
Today, they struggle to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to the pressures of increasing tourism, which challenge the long-term continuity of both the natural and cultural aspects of the area. The engagement of local communities in conservation and management of the site is critical to ensuring the future of the bay and its people.
Perhaps most crucially, the WMF has always included sites affected by natural disasters, and 2012 is no exception. The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan resulted in severe damage to large swathes of the eastern part of the country. In addition to the tragedy of lives lost, an enormous number of heritage sites were damaged, in areas ranging from fishing villages, to historic towns, to agricultural regions.
Centuries of intangible cultural heritage and history, including religious rituals, festivals, and traditional craftsmanship, are threatened. The affected areas are thus in need of help in rebuilding both their physical and cultural infrastructures.
Detailed descriptions of all 67 sites can be found at www.wmf.org/watch.