April 10-17, 2006 issue - Luxor, Egypt
Dating back to the 14th century B.C., the Luxor temple complex on the west bank of the Nile River—which includes the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, more than 40 temples and the tombs of thousands of nobles—is threatened not only by the ravages of tourism and theft, but by the Nile itself. The construction of the Aswan Dam 40 years ago has caused salt to build up in the newly fertile soil around the temples, eroding their ancient foundations and filling many tombs with water. The World Monuments Fund is currently devising a management plan for the site, and hopes to give the complex its biggest renovation since Alexander the Great.
The largest ancient settlement in Mesopotamia was built by King Nebuchadnezzar, of ‘hanging gardens’ fame. Since the ruins were uncovered at the turn of the 20th century,
artifacts have been removed, damaged and contaminated. Saddam Hussein installed a giant self-portrait there and U. S. troops built trenches and crushed ancient roads. A recent British Museum report warns that Iraq lacks the resources to restore the site and urges an international effort.
Coral Triangle, Indonesia
Home to one of the most diverse collections of marine life in the world, the Coral Triangle extends from the waters of eastern Indonesia to Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, parts of Malaysia and the Solomon islands. More than 3,000 species of fish and 600 varieties of coral—a full 75 percent of those known to science—have been found there. But this ecosystem faces a growing threat from overfishing as well as destructive fishing, in which explosives or poisons are used to kill the fish, not only depleting the stock but also permanently destroying their habitat. Highly desirable species like grouper and Napoleon wrasse have already been fished to near extinction. Rising sea temperatures have also increased periods of coral bleaching, which kills the reefs.
Machu Picchu, Peru
The ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is in danger of becoming a victim of its own popularity. Built around 1460 and discovered by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, the breathtaking and well-preserved mountain ruins have become Peru’s most popular tourist attraction, drawing half a million visitors every year. The site’s 200 buildings, located in a geological fault zone, are in a precarious position to begin with. Constant foot traffic has made matters worse, wearing down and destabilizing the ancient stone foundations. Development near the site is exacerbating the problem of landslides, which threaten to dislodge Machu Picchu from its alpine perch. To stem the tide, Peru recently limited the number of visitors to 500 per day and closes the site for one month every year to repair damaged trails. But that may be too little too late.
It might not seem possible for an entire country to sink, but that is exactly what is happening to the Maldives, a nation of 12,000 islands that contain some of the richest marine life in the world. With more than 80 percent of its land less than a meter above sea level, the Maldives are particularly at risk from the rising sea levels caused by global warming. The 2004 tsunami, which devastated the country’s infrastructure, has already erased some tiny atolls and the country’s maps have been redrawn. Conservationists hope to prevent further erosion by regrowing damaged coral reefs.
Almost since it was settled in 452, the city has been sinking at a rate of more than one centimeter a century. The African plate on which Italy sits is slipping beneath the European plate, causing the Adriatic Sea to rise. Heavy-industry workers pumping groundwater from below the city and huge tidal wakes left by freighters and cruise ships have added to the rising water. And now Venice is too broke to do much about it.
Great Wall, China
The oldest parts of China’s most famous landmark were built in the fifth century B.C., but the 14th-century Ming dynasty really strengthened it. Today nearly two thirds of the 6,352km wall has been destroyed by erosion, crass commercialism (one 500-year-old tower contains a drinks stand) and unchecked development. With the 2008 Olympics looming, China is more interested in progress than preservation.
From this week's issue of Newsweek.