The World Monuments Fund (WMF) announced its biennial watch list of 25 at-risk cultural heritage sites in late February, just prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The biannual list of the New York-based organization is highly influential in efforts to raise awareness and funds for the preservation of vital regions, structures and histories across the globe.
Notably, the list was selected by a panel of experts before Russia escalated attacks against Ukraine in late February, per NPR. Last week, the WMF released a separate statement expressing “deep concern” for the threat posed to civilian lives and Ukrainian cultural heritage. Already, the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, north of capital city Kyiv, has suffered a serious fire related to the violence. Authorities have also condemned a Russian strike that hit close to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv, per Nadav Gavrielov of the New York Times.
“Ukraine is home to an extraordinary wealth of cultural heritage sites, all of which are put in danger by this conflict,” the WMF adds in its statement against the ongoing violence. “Our experience with post-crisis recovery around the world continues to reveal the lasting consequences of destruction on communities.”
WMF president Bénédicte de Montlaur tells Neda Ulaby of NPR that this year’s selection stands out for its emphasis on the perils of global climate change. Sites impacted by rising temperatures and other issues surrounding climate change include the ancient Nubian pyramids of Nuri in Sudan and the Hurst Castle in the United Kingdom, a coastal fortress built in 1544 by order of King Henry VIII. Last February, a section of the historic artillery fort partially collapsed under pressure from rising seas in 2021, as Francesca Street reports for CNN.
In Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, much of the local population relies on water piped through traditional public water fountains, known as dhunge dhara, or hitis. Dated in some areas to the sixth century CE, this centuries-old distribution system will require mapping and maintenance as development and changes in aquifer water levels threaten its survival.
“[A] big part of the work will be not only be engineering studies, but also talking with the local communities to understand where they are getting their water from, where their ancestors were getting water from, to be able to map those historic systems and then to revive them,” de Montlaur tells NPR.
The list also includes famous destinations, such as the temples of Teotihuacán in Mexico, and lesser-known gems, including the oldest and largest cemetery in the Maldives, Kolkata’s Chinatown district and La Maison du Peuple or the African modernist architecture of the House of the People, in Burkina Faso, per a WMF statement.
Some sites are vulnerable to ongoing war or violence, while others suffer from either too much or too little tourism. In Egypt, for example, the ancient city of Abydos sees very few visitors and receives far too-little government oversight, leading to the deterioration of one of the oldest and most important locations in the country’s history, according to CNN. Mexico’s Teotihuacán, on the other hand, attracts crowds of tourists each year, yet residents of the nearby city have been historically excluded from reaping the economic benefits of the bustling tourist site, the WMF says.
Additionally, the list highlights sites that honor underrepresented communities. In the United States, for example, a recent survey found that country’s monuments overwhelmingly honor those who have historically held the most power and money—in other words, white men. These patterns also apply on a global scale: “[m]any celebrated historic places and monuments are reflections of power and privilege that fail to represent the complete human experience,” the WMF notes in its statement.
In that vein, the list aims to raise awareness of ignored, repressed, or underrepresented histories—such as those of the historic Africatown community in Mobile, Alabama.
Descendants of the enslaved people transported on the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to arrive in the United States, built and founded the settlement after the Civil War and continue to live there now. As Lawrence Specker reports for Alabama.com, the community made headlines in 2019 when archaeologists discovered the remains of the Clotilda in the Mobile River. Africatown resident Lorna Gail Woods, whose great-great grandfather was aboard the ship, told Smithsonian’s Allison Keyes at the time that she that she had been hearing stories about the Clotilda and her family history since she was a child.
The WMF hopes that the site’s increased visibility will allow Africatown residents to leverage this discovery for their benefit, “protect their homes and call for environmental justice.”
Since the list’s 1996 debut, WMF estimates that it has raised an estimated $100 million for conservation efforts at more than 300 sites, per the statement. Readers can explore the full list of 2022 watchlist sites here, explore photos of previously highlighted sites and see additional lists on the WMF’s website.