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Sites in Beirut, Benghazi and Brownsville, Texas, make a most-endangered list

Dragon blood tree at Diksam Plateau, on Yemen's Socotra Island. It's one of the sites included on the 2022 Watch from the World Monuments Fund.
Chris Miller
World Monuments Fund
Dragon blood tree at Diksam Plateau, on Yemen's Socotra Island. It's one of the sites included on the 2022 Watch from the World Monuments Fund.

They are the most irreplaceable, endangered sites around the world, according to the World Monuments Fund.

For nearly a quarter of a century, the nonprofit organization has released a biennial list of fragile places threatened by everything from tourism to terrorism. This list, it says, helps conserve these sites by raising awareness and, by extension, money.

The World Monuments Watch has raised more than $300 million over the years in an effort to preserve places as varied as Chile's Easter Island, Cambodia's Angkor Archeological Park and Iraq's Mosul Cultural Museum. (The organization was started by a former U.S. Army colonel whose interest in saving historical landmarks was piqued in part by coming up with a scheme to arrest the Leaning Tower of Pisa through freezing the soil underneath.)

This year's World Monuments list includes ancient Nubian pyramids in what's now Sudan, a still-vibrant Chinatown in Kolkata (the city once known as Calcutta) dating back to the 1800s and a sophisticated water management system built before Inca times in Peru.

The current list was finalized before the raging warfare in Ukraine, and in a statement on Feb. 25. the World Monuments Fund expressed deep concern. "We urge that all precautions be taken to protect lives and avoid irreparable harm to cultural heritage in the region," it reads. "Our experience with post-crisis recovery around the world has revealed the lasting consequences of destruction on communities both near and far."

WMF President Bénédicte de Montlaur told NPR there's an emphasis as never before on sites threatened by climate change, and toward developing local solutions to global problems. As an example, she described WMF's plan to help preserve a Nepalese system of traditional waterspouts that's on the 2022 Watch List.

"What we are planning to do with this current watch site in Nepal is first to study this incredible network of water sources that are providing water and that are distribution points to underground channels," she explained. "Those need mapping and maintenance to provide Kathmandu Valley communities with reliable access to clean water. So, 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."

A stone carved Hiti still provides water around the clock in Nepal's Kathmandu Valley.
Chiva Chaitya / World Monuments Fund, Watch 2022
World Monuments Fund, Watch 2022
A stone carved Hiti still provides water around the clock in Nepal's Kathmandu Valley.

"Two of the other issues we are trying to address through the Watch this year are underrepresentation and imbalanced tourism," she added. "And we want to have a real diversity of projects because we want to showcase the diversity of heritage and to tell the full story of humanity."

The full list of sites on the 2022 Watch follows. The organization included the description of each site in the list below.

Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home, Kinchela, Australia

"A survivor-led effort seeks to transform a former government institution for Aboriginal boys forcibly taken from their families into a place of truth-telling and healing."

Benghazi Historic City Center, Libya

"Revival of an important public square in war-ravaged Benghazi can catalyze recovery efforts and serve as a symbol of community-driven urban resilience."

Mosque City of Bagerhat, Bangladesh

"The religious landscape of ancient Khalifatabad requires climate adaptation to ensure its survival and continued service to the Bagerhat community."

La Maison du Peuple, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

"An important landmark and unique example of African modernism in Burkina Faso requires rehabilitation to enhance public life and foster civic pride."

Heritage Buildings of Beirut, Lebanon

"The vibrant coastal city of Beirut, devastated by the blast of August 2020, needs further recovery support to protect and rehabilitate the historic buildings essential to its identity."

Koagannu Mosques and Cemetery, Maldives

"A historic waterfront cemetery with distinct coral-stone architecture is threatened by rapidly rising seas and highlights the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for adaptive preservation solutions."

Hitis (Water Fountains) of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

"An extensive system of historic water distribution points and underground channels needs maintenance to ensure that local communities have reliable access to clean water."

Teotihuacan, San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico

"More inclusive tourism planning and visitor management at an iconic archaeological park can help address economic challenges facing surrounding communities."

Fortified Manors of Yongtai, Fujian Province, China

"Fortified family homes in remote southeast China present an opportunity for rural revitalization, community-led environmental management, and sustainable tourism."

Tiretta Bazaar, Kolkata, India

"India's earliest Chinatown is home to minority communities seeking recognition for their history and urban revitalization to support their way of life."

Asante Traditional Buildings, Ghana

"Sacred earthen shrines, among the last architectural vestiges of the Kingdom of Asante, face ongoing deterioration that calls for new approaches to management and maintenance."

Abydos, Egypt

"Tourism and encroachment at one of Ancient Egypt's most important sites require technical expertise and careful planning to support sustainable preservation."

Sumba Island, Indonesia

"The sacred houses of the Sumbanese people will be lost without community-led training in the traditional knowledge necessary to maintain these structures and their layers of symbolic meaning."

Tomb of Jahangir, Lahore, Pakistan

"The only imperial Mughal tomb in Pakistan requires restoration to foster new visitation and provide invaluable greenspace for community recreation within an expanding urban setting."

Alcântara and Rocha do Conde de Óbidos, Marine Stations (Almada Negreiros Murals) Lisbon, Portugal

"Mid-century murals by Afro-Portuguese artist José de Almada Negreiros need conservation to promote underrepresented narratives and serve as a catalyst for port revitalization."

Yanacancha-Huaquis Cultural Landscape, Miraflores District, Peru

"Ancient pre-Inca water management systems and sustainable tourism planning are crucial for an Andean community to adapt to climate change and provide local economic benefit."

Fabric Synagogue and Jewish Heritage of Timișoara, Timișoara, Romania

"Cultural mapping and restoration of a grand synagogue can bring renewed visibility to Jewish heritage in western Romania and promote local social cohesion."

Nuri, Sudan

"Royal pyramids of the ancient kingdom of Kush threatened by environmental factors require renewed management strategies and conservation interventions to prevent further deterioration."

Monte Alegre State Park, Brazil

"Prehistoric cave paintings in the Amazon are threatened by environmental degradation and call for improved stewardship that engages and benefits nearby communities."

The Lamanai archaeological site  was once a major city of the Maya civilization. Now a popular tourist destination, it's on the 2022 Watch List from the World Monuments Fund.
/ Shutterstock
The Lamanai archaeological site was once a major city of the Maya civilization. Now a popular tourist destination, it's on the 2022 Watch List from the World Monuments Fund.

Lamanai, Indian Church Village, Belize
"An international tourist destination encompassing an ancient Maya city requires a more inclusive heritage management plan to help reinforce the relationship between the site and local residents."

Africatown, Mobile, Alabama, United States
"A historic Alabama community established by formerly enslaved Africans is seeking support to leverage a recent archaeological discovery to protect their homes and call for environmental justice."

Hurst Castle, Hampshire, United Kingdom
"A fortress built by Henry VIII that suffered partial collapse in 2021 illustrates the urgent need to address the impact of climate change on coastal heritage through continued monitoring."

Garcia Pasture, Brownsville, Texas, United States
"The traditional territory of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas threatened by natural resource extraction and desecration of ancestral lands requires formal legal recognition to ensure its future."

Soqotra Archipelago, Yemen
"The Soqotri people seek to protect and promote their identity through cultural mapping and inventory of their rich heritage across Soqotra."

Cultural Landscape of the Bunong People, Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia
"Mapping and documentation of heritage places can support the Bunong people's struggle to protect ancestral land from agro-industrial development and encroachment."

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.