Theft, terror and tourism ravage world history

They have survived centuries of neglect, warfare, vandalism and robbery to become the world's greatest tourist attractions.

But today, UNESCO's World Heritage Sites - the creme de la creme of monuments and architecture - still face these same threats, along with some new ones, such as heavy-duty tourism and air pollution.

No one is too surprised that important sites - such as the Great Pyramids of Giza - are now under threat.

But even in wealthy countries, such as Britain, some of our most precious ancient structures are at risk. Last month, eight of the great stones in the 4,000-year-old circle at Avebury, Wiltshire, were defaced by graffiti, which inspired copycat attacks in Somerset and Wiltshire.

The attacks are one new worry for curators, whose chief concern until now has been coping with the pressure of growing numbers of visitors and the surrounding 20th-century blight. Sir Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage, yesterday said two of Britain's 14 World Heritage Sites, the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament, were "absolutely wrecked by traffic".

Another cause for shame is the nearby buildings and structures, which seem ugly and inappropriate. Britain's worst example is the Sixties visitor centre next to Stonehenge, a brutal concrete construction which funnels visitors into an underpass leading them beneath the A344 to the stones.

Yet at least the monuments themselves are intact, and more popular than ever. England's ten World Heritage Sites attract over13 million visitors a year, half of them from overseas, with huge gains to the national and local economies.

The problems facing Britain's sites pale in comparison with those in Third World countries.

The huge temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia suffered grievously from almost 20 years of war. It was peppered with bullets and shell fragments and surrounded by mine fields. Then the jungle invaded, with tree roots prising apart its stones. Carved masonry was stolen. Even so, says Ann Le Maistre of UNESCO in Paris, there are grounds for hope since the 200sq km, 1,200-year-old monument, was inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites in 1992. Visitors to the monument are increasing, giving the Cambodian government an incentive to conserve it. Legislation to preserve monuments has been enacted and a national organisation set up to look after it.

In the next century it will be commonplace for tourists arriving at a great site to be offered two very different experiences.

The first is a quick round of an interpretive centre, where the history and function of the place would be explained, aided by virtual reality techniques.

The second experience will be to actually enter the site itself. The visitor doing this will be expected to commit much more time - half or all of a day - possibly pay more and pre-book.

Taj Mahal: Its marble is under threat of erosion from acid rain caused by nearby industry burning high-sulphur coal, major roads, and thousands of tiny petrol- burning electricity generators which start up during the area's routine power cuts. Unesco, the Asian Development Bank and the Indian government have collaborated on a $100m (pounds 65m) scheme to tackle air pollution, but the government has stalled its implementation.

Dubrovnik: This treasure of the Adriatic in Croatia was heavily shelled by Serb forces during the conflict between Croatia and Serbia during the early 1990s.

However, since then the historic town has undergone extensive repair and restoration.

Tower of London: Marred by a busy five-lane road running just outside it, a disappointingly empty moat and ugly buildings and structures next door. Improvement plans, including filling the moat, are under way but English Heritage's hopes for the road to go into a tunnel - which would cost many tens of millions of pounds - seem very unlikely to be realised.

Stonehenge: Arguably Britain's most important monument, spoilt by heavy traffic on two A roads next to it and an ugly, inadequate visitors' centre. English Heritage has ambitious, expensive plans which involve gradually closing off the roads, building a new visitors' centre more than one mile away and allowing more dedicated tourists to walk among the stones again - something they have not been able to do for many years

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable