Last week Thursday, the world marked the International Day for Monuments and Sites also known as the World Heritage Day. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a network comprising representatives from 151 countries, had in 1982 established April 18 as the Monuments and Sites day.
Since adopting the day, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has tasked itself and members of the United Nations (UN) in preserving and preventing the destruction of major historical buildings and sites having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and adjudged important to the collective interests of humanity.
Then began the recognition of such monuments like ancient ruins, historical buildings, deserts, forests, islands, lakes, mountains, or wilderness areas as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. As at July 2018, a total of 1,092 World Heritage Sites (845 cultural, 209 natural, and 38 mixed properties) exist across 167 countries. Italy, with 54 sites, has the most from any country, followed by China (53), Spain (47), France (44), Germany (44), India (37), and Mexico (35).
In Nigeria, there are 11 approved World Heritage Sites namely: Ancient Kano City Walls, Kano State; Gashaka-Gumti National Park, sited in Taraba State, Adamawa State and some parts of Cameroon; Idanre Hill in Ondo State; Ikom Monoliths in Cross River State; and Oban Hills in also in Cross River.
Others are Ogbunike Caves, Anambra State; Old Oyo National Park in both Oyo and Kwara State; Osun Osogbo Sacred Groove in Osun State, Sukur in Adamawa State; Sungbo’s Eredo in Ogun State; and Walls of Benin in Edo State.
Observing the International Day for Monuments and Sites every year has provided the opportunity to raise awareness about the world’s cultural heritage and the importance of conserving it. Today, world’s monuments have continued to be under the risk of human and animals trespassing, intentional damages, uncontrolled excess, and administrative negligence.
Experts believe that despite decades of conservation efforts, the awareness among the global citizens has not been up to the mark. While many of the glorious monuments have seen significant restoration and conservation, many others have since disappeared, been damaged or destroyed accidentally, deliberately, or by a natural disaster.
Last week Monday, the world gasped in horror at the sight of Paris’ 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral burning in a cataclysmic moment. While Parisians howled, the rest of the world watched in silence, muted by the horror of the unthinkable: the disintegration of one of the world’s greatest monuments.
The fire consumed much of the roof’s wooden latticework, which was called “the forest” because it took 52 acres of oak trees to build it.
Begun in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII, the cathedral took nearly 200 years to construct, but it only took 12 hours of blistering flames to reduce its core to ashes.
The fire, which came during Christianity’s holiest week and was apparently accidental, left a smoldering stone shell where there had once been a peerless work of architecture, engineering and craftsmanship.
The Cathedral spokesman, Andre Finot, told reporters that the building had sustained “colossal damage” and that the medieval wooden interior — a marvel that has inspired awe and wonder for the millions who have visited over the centuries — had been gutted. “Nothing will remain from the frame,” he said.
Nearly nine hours after it began, in an address to the nation just before midnight, France President, Emmanuel Macron, said the worst had been avoided, that the exterior structure had been preserved and that the cathedral would rise again.
“I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral, even more beautifully” he vowed. “Notre Dame of Paris is our history, the epicenter of our lives. We won’t lose this history.”
Heeding to the rallying appeal of their president, France’s three wealthiest families are coming to the rescue of the national icon, spearheading a fundraising drive to rebuild Notre Dame that has topped $700 million. The billionaires behind luxury giants LVMH Group, Kering and L’Oreal last Tuesday pledged a combined €500 million ($565 million).
The weight of the symbolism is still not grasped, as mourners still seek the right ones to express the enormity of the loss, not just to Paris, the French and Catholics, but also to humankind. The destruction of so much history and beauty is unquantifiable.
Parisians and the French feel the loss most acutely. Notre Dame has always been part of their daily life and is, as have been documented, the heart of a city that has survived revolution and wars. But, just as Notre Dame has been a place of transcendence for those who have entered there, its splendor and meaning transcended boundaries of nationality and religion.
As the world grapples with the reality of Notre Dame, there are some incredible historical sites and monuments around the world that humans have failed to preserve every year due to globalization, war, vandalism, and neglect.
Syria is in the midst of one of the worst wars in history, and along with the horrific loss of human life, the war is stripping the country of some of the world’s most treasured historical sites. Damascus and Aleppo have endured continuous damage since the start of the war in Syria, and parts of both cities are now in ruins.
The ancient Aleppo Souk was destroyed by a fire in 2012, obliterating one of the most important historic Silk Road trading posts. Just a year later, the UNESCO-listed castle, Krak des Chevaliers, was hit by an airstrike. The war in Syria has also allowed professional tomb robbers to operate under the radar and loot invaluable sites such as Palmyra, an oasis in the Syrian Desert. In December 2014, the UN announced that 300 heritage sites across Syria had been either completely destroyed or partially damaged.
Another is the vandalism by American soldiers in Iraq. American soldiers have been present in Iraq since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. Some are responsible for vandalizing the ruins of ancient Babylon, which lay at the foot of Saddam Hussein’s former summer palace.