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News > World

5 Other Historic Sites Lost or Damaged in the Last Decade

  • The message of mostly European Greenpeace activists raised the controversy in Peru.

    The message of mostly European Greenpeace activists raised the controversy in Peru. | Photo: EFE

Published 16 April 2019

As many mourn Notre-Dame, a multitude of other equally important historical and cultural sites have also been lost or damaged due to wars, negligence, or human error. 

On April 15, the world watched aghast as the roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was forever lost, engulfed in flames. In more than 800 years the building had endured two World Wars and witnessed events such as the coronation of Napoleon and the beatification of Joan of Arc, earning a quintessential place as a historical site for humankind. 

Paris' Historic Notre-Dame Cathedral On Fire

While many are mourning the partial destruction of this monument, this article highlights times during the last decade when multiple other equally important historical and cultural sites have also been lost or damaged due to wars, negligence or mere foolishness by human actions. 

Nazca Lines - Peru

The Nazca Lines are a series of images (geoglyphs) scratched into the coastal desert surface of Peru, about 225 miles south of Lima. The lines, which depict anthropomorphic figures, animals and plants, were believed to have been made over 1,500 and 2,000 years ago by the Indigenous Nazca People. Due to their pristine conditions, historical importance and complexity, in 1994, they were designated  a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in order to preserve the site. However, in the last decade, the lines have been severely damaged by more than one careless human action. 

Back in December 2017, environmental activists from Greenpeace decided it would be a good idea to place giant banners on the soil close to the figure of a hummingbird, reading “time for a change, the future is renewable,” with the aim of pressuring negotiators at the U.N. climate talks happening in Lima.

The publicity stunt angered the Peruvian government and those who learned of the damaged it caused. "They are absolutely fragile. They are black rocks on a white background. You walk there, and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years. And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all," Peru’s Deputy Culture Minister told the BBC. The group later apologized but the damage was done.

The Peruvian government had also been a culprit. By allowing the Dakar rally circuit in the desert back in 2012, 2013 and 2016, a portion of the race took place at Nazca. The German-Peruvian Maria Reiche archaeological preservation foundation denounced that many racers drove over the giant geoglyphs. Similar to when truck driver Jainer Flores Vigo was arrested back in 2018 after intentionally driving his tractor-trailer off the Panamerican highway that runs through the protected historic area.

The 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel before and after. Photos: Reuters

Palmyra - Syria

Palmyra, located in the present-day Homs Governorate, Syria, is a city that dates back to the first and second centuries. It acted as a crossroads for several civilizations including Persia and the Greco-Roman empire. Its strategic and economic importance gave way to the construction of monumental temples, tombs, and buildings that stood the test of time for millennia. 

However, during the height of the Syrian Civil war, in 2015, as the radical Islamic State group took the city, it fell victim to the systemic destruction of historical buildings. The group vowed to destroy statues and shrines that it considered idolatrous, they destroyed the Lion of Al-lāt, the temples of Bel and Baalshamin, the Arch of Triumph and other sites in Palmyra. 

Syrian antiquities chief Abdul Maamoun Abdulkarim described the Temple of Bel as Palmyra’s most important site and the most important temple in the Middle East alongside Baalbek in Lebanon. Construction on the temple began in 32 B.C. and ended in the second century. It later served as both a church and a mosque.

The pyramid mound, which stood at about 100 ft tall, was bulldozed by a private company. Photo: Reuters

Nohmul complex - Belize

The Maya civilization built hundreds of pyramid complexes in the jungles of Central America between 200 and 900 AD. The Nohmul complex in northern Belize was a ceremonial center dating back at least 2,300 years and the most important site in Belize, near the border with Mexico. 

The pyramid mound, which stood at about 100 feet tall, was an example of Maya engineering in the dense jungles of Belize. However, in 2013, a construction company destroyed it overnight with backhoes and bulldozers to extract crushed rock for a road-building project.

"It's a feeling of Incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity ... they were using this for road fill," Belize Institute of Archaeology's Jaime Awe, said, adding that "it's like being punched in the stomach, it's just so horrendous."

Norman Hammond, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Boston University who worked in Belizean research projects in the 1980s, told AP that "bulldozing Maya mounds for road fill is an endemic problem in Belize (the whole of the San Estevan center has gone, both of the major pyramids at Louisville, other structures at Nohmul, many smaller sites), but this sounds like the biggest yet."

Mosul - Iraq

The Iraqi city of Mosul, located in the Nineveh governorate, was probably one the most affected by the Islamic State Group’s cultural destruction. According to the United Nations, by the end of May 2016, 41 buildings of historical value in Mosul were verified to have been either ruined or completely razed and 114 other cases of annihilated Islamic period heritage have been confirmed in Nineveh province alone. 

In June 2014, the radical group occupied the city and began to destroy hundreds of historical artifacts and sites. It burned down its historic library, destroyed and looted the tomb and Mosque of the Prophet Yunus (Jonah), and a large part of the collection at the Mosul Museum. Several important examples of the peculiar group of early Ottoman mosques (16th-18th century AD) disappeared as well.

“The city, previously one of the most attractive historical centers of the Near East, has lost many of the elements that created its authenticity,” reads a report from the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro is engulfed in fire. Photo: Reuters

Brazil's National Museum - Rio de Janeiro

Just as with Notre-Dame, the Museu Nacional (National Museum of Brazil) caught fire in September 2018, however, it wasn’t as fortunate as the Parisian Cathedral. The fire engulfed the building destroying the historical collection of more than 20 million items ranging from Egyptian artifacts to Brazil’s oldest known human fossil.

The museum was founded in 1818 and linked to the Rio de Janeiro Federal University and the Education Ministry. It held invaluable items such as the the12,000-year-old skeleton known as “Luzia.” Approximately 90 percent of its collection, as well as items on loan from other museums, were lost.

Adding insult to injury, Cristiana Serejo, the museum's deputy director, announced that neither the building nor its contents were insured. Speaking in front of the buildings blackened shell, Serejo said a library of 500,000 books, which was maintained in a separate area and the famous Bendego meteorite were among the only items spared the wrath of the flames.

Many Brazilians posted under the hashtag, #lutopelomuseunacional (mourning for the national museum) to express their sadness and outrage regarding the major incident, blaming austerity measures taken by former President Michel Temer, whose funding cuts many said were the cause of Brazil's multi-cultural loss of heritage.

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