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New 'Watch List' Warns Endangered Monuments Now a Worldwide Problem - 2003-09-24

The World Monument Fund has released its biennial watch list of the 100 most endangered cultural sites and monuments across the globe. The 2004 list includes sites on all continents for the first time.

This year's "watch" list spans the globe, from Afghanistan's Ghazni Minarets to an historic Venezuelan city. Antarctica appears on the list for the first time, represented by a hut used by the explorer Ernest Shackleton.

Every other year the World Monument Fund issues its watch list of sites of historical, architectural and artistic significance worldwide that are in urgent need of help.

"Our main purpose is to address urgent conservation issues and to develop strategic approaches where it matters most through a combination of advocacy and fundraising. That is what the watch program does," said John Stubbs, vice president of programs for the World Monument Fund. "It puts a spotlight on issues and places and where possible applies strategically-placed funding and technical support to move projects on their way in the right direction."

The sites are selected from hundreds of submissions by a panel of experts. This year, the list includes an ancient city in Syria, a church in Peru, a mosque in Turkey and a synagogue in Bulgaria. Three of the most talked about cultural sites of the year, Erbil Cathedral and Nineveh and Nimrud Palaces in Iraq are on the list as they have been in previous years. But the list is not limited to structures. This year's list includes landscapes, a Soviet gulag and Paraguay's entire railroad system.

Oscar Frantanillo, a cultural advisor to the Paraguay government, points out that the idea is to preserve the system and create tourist attractions to help the development of the region. "That is unique. It is one of the oldest in South America. It was still in use until three years ago," he said. "Not only the railway system is interesting, but also the railway houses and the warehouses and all that wonderful heritage that we had under the auspices of the British companies that worked there. It is unique because we have preserved everything."

The oldest site on the 2004 watch list, a complex of rock carvings in Australia, dates to 8,000 BC. But 20th century sites also appear, including a Los Angeles home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and an airport in Finland.

Closer to home for the New York-based World Monument Fund is historic lower Manhattan, which the group says is arguably the most important cultural site in the United States with 67 landmarks. The designation does not include the site of the former World Trade Center, which was added to the 2002 list. Instead, preservationists like Ken Lustbader, want to ensure that rebuilding efforts do not destroy or damage the historic area. "What we are saying is that as planning unfolds, let's make sure that preservation is on the table, let's make sure that we are not obliterating part of history and create a good synergy because we all know and love the city," he said. "We know that economic revitalization is really important down there so we are not trying to landmark everything, simply incorporate it."

Since the World Monument Fund launched the watch list in 1995, more than 300 grants have been made, totaling $26 million, to over 150 sites in 62 countries.