Sites listed on world's 100 most endangered

Updated: 2007-06-07 04:51

Early modern Shanghai architectures and over 1,000-year-old Xumishan Grottoes in northern China were listed by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) on the 100 most endangered architectural and cultural sites in the world on Wednesday.

The watch list, announced every two years by the non-profit organization based in New York City, highlights this year three critical man-made threats: political conflict, unchecked urban and industrial development, and global climate change.

WMF said some of the most prominent early modern structures in Shanghai have been recognized as landmarks and the threats to the buildings from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s persist due to lack of awareness and development pressures.

Shanghai, China's primary economic hub, is once again experiencing a period of remarkable growth. The work of the early Chinese architects is significant historically and architecturally but lacks long-term safeguarding, WMF said.

As for Xumishan, a Buddhist enclave with more than 130 grottoes, the main threats are exposure to the elements, vandalism and limited resources to protect the cultural site.

The grottoes were adorned with statues, wall paintings, and inscribed stelae during a 600-year period between the fourth and tenth centuries A.D.

Although the Xumishan Grottoes have been designated a National Level Cultural Relic Protected Site in China, they face imminent danger due to natural causes, including wind and sand erosion, water damage, and earthquakes.

Previous emergency conservation measures, including reconstruction of some elements in concrete, also need to be reconsidered and possibly reversed.

China's State Bureau of Cultural Relics is eager to protect the site and hopes that placement on the 2008 Watch List will not only increase public awareness of the importance of Xumishan, but also encourage international efforts to preserve this magnificent, yet little-known site, WMF said.

The 2008 Watch List includes a number of sites threatened by global warming, among which are Sonargaon-Panam City, Bangladesh, Leh Old Town, Ladakh, India and New Orleans, Louisiana, United States.

The cultural heritage sites of Iraq are on the 2008 Watch List as a whole.

When asked about whether it is possible to protect the Iraqi cultural heritage during the warfare, WMF President Bonnie Burnham said she did not personally think Iraq is out of reach, and her organization was working along with the local Iraqi government on this.

The Bamiyan Buddhas, Afghanistan destroyed in 2001 was listed this year. Burnham's explanation was though the colossal Buddhas had gone, the remains were still a main tourist destination.

The leftover fragments and historic context remain endangered and their future in question, WMF said.

One of the most impressive sites listed this year is St. Petersburg Skyline, Russia. The low coherent city skyline untouched since the 18th Century would be irreversible changed by a proposed skyscraper.

WMF said recently, Gazprom, Russia's largest oil company, announced plans to build a 300-meter-high tower, known as "Gazprom- city," in the area. If the project goes forward, it could establish a dangerous precedent of inappropriate siting of tower blocks in historic towns. Furthermore, the project could jeopardize the historic city center's UNESCO World Heritage status.

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