In Europe, cultural heritage—often dating back thousands of years—seems to be around every corner in the guise of well-preserved and beautifully curated landmarks that bring the continent’s history to vivid life. But not every landmark in Europe is in as good of shape as, say, the Eiffel Tower or getting the attention that ancient Pompeii is now receiving. If you look closely enough, you can see places that are crumbling or actively endangered. In a bid to draw attention to those cultural landmarks—and preserve them for future generations—Europa Nostra, a European heritage organization, recently named seven cultural landmarks and a special eighth “most-endangered” location as Europe’s most on-the-brink sites.
Europa Nostra's list crosses regions and even millennia. It was put together by a group of international advisors with expertise in everything from history and preservation to finance. Though the organization notes that the list is aimed “to serve as a catalyst for action and promote ‘the power of example’”, it is not a funding program.
That doesn’t mean that the sites won’t receive funding and attention, however. Now that the list has been released, Europa Nostra has assembled a board of heritage and financial experts who will undertake what they call “rescue missions” to each of the seven sites. Each mission will result in an action plan to preserve the site for future generations, no matter what its condition now. And organizations like Unesco are taking note as well.
For every place that’s nominated for intervention, there are thousands more that go unnoticed and unattended. In a release, Europa Nostra cites everything from funding cuts to a lack of preservation expertise for the gaps that seriously threaten the continent’s rich cultural heritage. Regardless of the reason, the program sheds light on sites that might otherwise be ignored. Here are the sites declared most endangered in 2016:
Venice Lagoon (Venice, Italy)
Shocked to see one of Europe’s most familiar sights at the top of the most-endangered list? Don’t be. The bridges and buildings of the city of Venice are threatened by rising seas, and the lagoon is in danger, too. The stretch of water doesn’t just contain the famous canals—much of the 212-square-mile lagoon is made up of sand banks and muddy wetlands, indeed, it holds the distinction of being Europe’s largest wetland. The lagoon is under threat from climate change, industrial fishing and a steady traffic of cruise and container ships. Europa Nostra cites a local project to turn the lagoon into a commercial port as a particular threat. It’s so important (and threatened) that the organization gave it a “special nomination,” bringing the count of endangered landmarks to eight instead of its usual seven.
Ererouk and Ani Pemza (Armenia)
Located near the border of Turkey and Armenia, the basilica of Ererouk dates back to the fourth century and has been in a state of collapse for centuries. The church’s remote location, as well as the devastating earthquakes it has faced has contributed to its current dilapidated condition. According to Europa Nostra, the once-important church is now “at risk of being lost before it has been comprehensively studied and documented.” Also at risk is the village of Ani Pemza a few miles away, which has been completely abandoned since a nearby mine closed in 1994.
Patarei Sea Fortress (Tallinn, Estonia)
In 1820, Tsar Nicholas I commissioned a sea fortress that would serve as a brutal prison once Soviet Russia came into being. Both Estonian Jews and Soviet political prisoners were interrogated, tortured and killed. “That is the reason why this building has a particularly sad and horrible reputation and why it is difficult to find a new use for it,” writes an Estonian heritage organization. The prison wasn't closed down until 2005. Rather than find a use for it, it’s simply been abandoned and is now filled with graffiti and crumbling architecture. “If no emergency actions are taken to stop the rapid decay,” writes Europa Nostra, “the buildings will be irreparably lost.”
Helsinki-Malmi Airport (Helsinki, Finland)
In 1940, Helsinki was scheduled to host the Olympic Games—but World War II got in the way, and the grand airport built to accommodate all of those visitors who never materialized was never used for its intended purpose. These days, the airport is Finland’s second busiest, but a development project that proposes it be shut down and rezoned for residential use threatens its pre-war runways and functionalist architecture.
Colbert Swing Bridge (Dieppe, France)
Back in the day, movable “swing” bridges, which pivot to allow water traffic were the height of modern innovation. But they’ve gradually fallen out of fashion, and today the Colbert Bridge, which is Europe’s last and the longest of its kind, has fallen into disrepair. Built in 1886, the bridge still works just fine, but now it is endangered by shoddy maintenance and plans to destroy it. However, the danger doesn’t keep thousands of pedestrians and cars from using the bridge every day—the bridge is a lifeline between central Dieppe and the city’s Le Pollet quarter.
Kampos of Chios (Chios, Greece)
Think of Kampos as the lavish historic suburb of this lush Greek island. The area, which is within the limits of the island’s main city, was once home to more than 200 fancy estates and fabulous garden orchards packed with citrus fruit. Vineyards, nut orchards and silk trading rounded out the rich economy of Kampos as the area changed hands between Genoese nobles and the Ottomans. But things changed in the 19th century, when a Turkish massacre drove many Chians from the island and a citrus freeze ruined the local economy. More recently, the beautiful area has been in decline due to what Europa Nostra calls “the inability of the owners to maintain the properties” and the gradual disintegration of the area’s historic architecture.
Convent of St. Anthony of Padua (Extremadura, Spain)
St. Anthony has a special relationship with Spain—not only is he the patron saint of lost and stolen articles, but his feast day on January 17 is a kind of national holiday when people bring their pets to church to be blessed. It’s not surprising, then, that a convent in western Spain would take the saint’s name. But the once lovely Renaissance building has been on the decline since Spain expelled the Franciscan priests who ran the convent and monastery and sold the building. It’s been repurposed ever since, and is now in danger of simply falling apart.
Ancient City of Hasankeyf (Turkey)
Located on the banks of the Tigris River, this ancient city is 12,000 years old. Though to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, it’s been home to over 20 cultures over the millennia. And it shows: Hasankeyf is so packed with archaeological treasures that Europa Nostra calls it “a living museum of epic proportions.” But that may not be enough to keep the city safe: Despite legal battles, the Turkish government plans to displace Kurdih locals and move forward with a controversial hydroelectric dam project that will flood 74,000 acres of the precious city.