Here Are the World’s 25 Most Endangered Cultural Heritage Sites

The World Monument Fund’s list includes sites in the Maldives, Pakistan, the United States and elsewhere, but was finalized before the war in Ukraine

In an aerial view of an ancient city, a hot air balloon floats above an enormous stone temple with steps leading up to its peak
A view of Teotihuacan, San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico Courtesy of the World Monuments Fund

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.”

A reddish stone mosque surrounded by palm trees
The Sixty Dome Mosque in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, requires climate adaptation to ensure its survival. Courtesy of the World Monuments Fund
A view of a tall thatched roof and a building surrounded by trees
The sacred houses of the Praingu Matualang Village in Sumba Island, Indonesia, will be lost without community-led training in the traditional knowledge necessary to build and maintain these structures.  Courtesy of the World Monuments Fund

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.

An example of a carved public water fountain in Nepal
An example of a stone carved hiti or public water fountain in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal Courtesy of the World Monuments Fund

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.

A bombed, empty public square in central Benghazi
Badly damaged by war, the historic Silphium Plaza of Benghazi, Libya, is in need of revitalization. Courtesy of the World Monuments Fund
An intricately decorated tomb covered in red and white geometric designs
The Tomb of Jahangir in Lahore is the only imperial Mughal tomb in Pakistan and requires restoration. Courtesy of the World Monuments Fund
A view of a cemetery surrounded by white sand and palm trees
At the Koagannu Cemetery, the oldest and largest burial ground in the Maldives, the site's distinct coral-stone architecture is threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. Courtesy of the World Monuments Fund

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.