World Monuments Fund announces list of endangered treasures

The World Monuments Fund, a private organization battling to preserve the world’s great man-made wonders, has published a list of the most endangered monuments around the world.

It’s a depressing litany of priceless places that are under threat from a variety of factors, mostly related to human greed.

Some monuments are fantastic, such as the mountaintop monasteries of Phajoding in Bhutan, where centuries of peace and solitude are being disturbed by an increasing number of trekkers seeking peace and solitude.

Others are more mundane places that you might not even notice, yet they’re important artifacts of history, like the farm fields of Hadley, Massachusetts. When the Puritans first settled here in 1659 they replicated the system of open, narrow fields that they knew from England. The field system still exists today, but this legacy of America’s early settlers has now been rezoned for commercial and residential buildings, including a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

My own adopted country of Spain has seven entries to the list. The old medieval town of Avila (pictured here) is facing increasing pressure from new building, while Gaudí’s famous cathedral in Barcelona is threatened by the construction of a high-speed railroad right next to it. That a rich, moderately-sized country should have so many entries should come as no surprise to Spanish residents. “Developers” have been ruining the Spanish landscape for years, fueling a building boom that crashed last year and flung the country into a deep recession. The most glaring example of the rapacity of the Spanish real estate market is the coastline, where a ring of apartments, homes, and hotels encircle the country like a garrote. Some of this construction is illegal, but campaigners have had only limited success in stopping it.

The list has been published every two years since 1996 in order to bring attention to cultural heritage sites that are threatened by natural or man-made factors, although the bulk of them are man-made. Many of the sites that make it onto the list get sizable donations from the World Monuments Fund to help their caretakers preserve them.

Best of luck guys, given constantly expanding urban areas and a rising population, you’ll need it.