Laura C. Mallonnee
Western media stories about cultural heritage destruction have recently focused on places like Syria, Iraq, and Libya. But a new report on Europe’s endangered cultural heritage sites offers a good reminder that preservation begins at home.
According to Hurriyet Daily News, the Brussels-based nonprofit Europea Nostra has released a shortlist of 14 at-risk buildings, monuments, and archaeological sites located in such unexpected places as Norway, Finland, and France. Some, like the Venetian Lagoon in Italy, are widely familiar, while others — ever heard of Estonia’s Patarei Sea Fortress? — are not.
Each was nominated by members of Europa Nostra’s network and voted on by a panel of experts in disciplines including history, archaeology, architecture, and conservation. In March, the organization will narrow its list down to seven sites. It will then help formulate a conservation action plan for each.
Venice’s picturesque lagoon is by far the most beloved site on the list. But its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site has not saved it from the container and cruise ships that have torn up its seabed and led to the dredging of ever-deeper channels.
The Y-Block at the Regjeringskvartalet in Norway might be the most hated site on the list, despite the Picasso mural that adorns it. Architect Erling Viskjø designed the building in 1969 in the much-reviled Brutalist style. Norwegian officials have cited damage to the building by 2011’s terrorist attack as a reason to tear it down and begin anew.
But the Europea Nostra list also features plenty of obscure sites that might not stir anyone but the most devoted enthusiasts.The 18th-century Mavisbank House in Scotland, for instance, has long been regarded as one of the country’s best examples of neoclassical architecture. But it has been rapidly deteriorating ever since a fire partially destroyed it in 1973. Though locals have been working to raise funds for restoration, the process has been slow.
In many cases, development is the greatest threat to historic sites. In the Netherlands, a new road could soon run through where the 14th-century manor Castle Rijswijk currently stands. The Finnish government is considering razing the aging Helsinki-Malmi Airport, a relic of 1930s functionalism, to make way for a housing development. And, perhaps most troubling of all, Turkish authorities are planning the construction of the Ilısu hydroelectric dam, which could swallow up 80% of Hasankeyf. The ancient settlement is more than 12,000 years old and contains everything from neolithic caves and Roman ruins to medieval monuments.
Whoever the winners turn out to be, it’s clear that the loss of each site on the list would represent a blow to the collective heritage of humanity.
Here’s the full Europea Nostra shortlist of endangered sites:
- Ancient city of Hasankeyf, Turkey
- The archaeological site of Ererouyk and village of Ani Pemza, Armenia (*)
- The Palace of Justice in Brussels, Belgium
- The Patarei Sea Fortress in Tallinn, Estonia
- The Helsinki-Malmi Airport, Finland
- The Colbert Swing Bridge in Dieppe, France
- The Castle in Divitz, Germany
- Kampos of Chios, Greece
- The Venice Lagoon, Italy
- Castle Rijswijk, the Netherlands
- Y-block in Oslo, Norway
- The Valflores Palace and Estate, near Lisbon, Portugal
- The Convent of St. Anthony of Padua, Extremadura, Spain
- Mavisbank House, near Edinburgh, the United Kingdom
(*) The italics are ours ("Armeniaca")