21 World Heritage Sites You Should Visit Before They’re Lost Forever
From war and climate change to invasive species and mass tourism, the planet's heritage hotspots are always in the balance. Those deemed to be World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) get official status and protection, but there's not much even the UN can do to guard against damage to special places in conflict-ridden countries like Syria, Libya, Palestine and Afghanistan.
Each year, UNESCO adds to its List of World Heritage in Danger, but it's about far more than those threatened by wars in the Middle East. Armed conflict, natural disaster, severe weather, unplanned urban developments, poaching, pollution and even arson can all play a part in threatening the very reasons why a property was initially inscribed on the World Heritage List.
UNESCO's watchlist — which is supposed to serve as a reminder of the places (now numbering 54) that need protection, and not just a depressing list of shame — has had some rather surprising additions to it in the past year. Yes, there are scores of places in Syria on the list; the ancient cities of Aleppo, Bosra and Damascus remain, as does the already badly damaged site of Palmyra. Several places in war-torn Yemen remain on the list, as does Cyrene in Libya, and Bethlehem and Nazareth in Palestine.
However, nobody expected to see Austria's capital Vienna added to the list. It's threatened by high-rise development, as are other historic cities, such as Liverpool in England. Meanwhile, deforestation threatens Indonesia's rainforest — home to orangutans — while poaching decimates the population of Tanzania's precious Selous National Park. The latter is a favorite haunt of honeymooners, which goes to show that the List of World Heritage in Danger also acts as a to-do list for anyone who wants to glimpse the world's heritage hotspots before they disappear.
In Vienna, UNESCO thinks there's a danger that high-rise projects are ruining the historic skyline of this great city. Here on the Danube River, visitors come for its musical legacy (it was home to Mozart and Beethoven), its Imperial palaces such as Schönbrunn, its Baroque castles and gardens, and its Habsburg architecture. What this grand city of cobbled streets doesn't seem to need is luxury apartments, a skating rink and soaring hotels.