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Although we are often told to look after our planet, we don’t always realize the importance of protecting our natural and cultural heritage until it’s too late. Every year, globalization, war, vandalism, and neglect damage or destroy important environments and historical sites around the world. Highlighted below are some incredible locations and monuments that humans failed to preserve.
Nauru sits halfway between Hawaii and Australia on a tiny eight square mile speck. In 1798 a passing British captain, dubbed it “Pleasant Island” due to the lush and dense tropical vegetation that covered its surface. Unlike many other small, remote islands, Nauru possesses phosphate, a sought-after ingredient for fertilizers, and beginning in 1900 various colonial powers stripped the island bare. Today Nauru is home to one Australia’s offshore detention centers. The photo above showing the east of Nauru demonstrates what the whole island now looks like: a rugged, patchy heap of stone where nothing can grow. Although Nauru still exists, the Pleasant Island known for its lush vegetation and beautiful beaches is gone forever.
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 one 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 United Nations announced that 300 heritage sites across Syria had been either completely destroyed or partially damaged.
Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, and due to the lack of moisture in the atmosphere, delicate drawings and artefacts have been pristinely preserved there for years. However, in 2009 the site hosted the Dakar Rally, and thanks to the negligence of the organizers, six irreplaceable sites in the Atacama were destroyed. These included ancient artworks in the landscape, known as geoglyphs, that were left with tire tracks running through them and a pre-Columbian hunter-gatherer camp that was turned to dust. Despite the damage, races continued to be held here, and according to the Santiago Times, the 2011 race irreversibly damaged 44 percent of all sampled sites, leaving the Atacama’s cultural heritage in tatters.
In 2014 Freedom House ranked Tibet among the 12 worst countries in the world for repression of political and civil rights. Today Tibet is one of the most closed societies in the world. China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950 resulted in the deaths, imprisonment, or torture of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans. Since 1949 over 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries have been destroyed. By 1978 only eight monasteries and 970 monks and nuns remained in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Tibetan monks are endlessly working to end repression, and the destruction of their monasteries has been a large-scale tragedy.
The Singapore Stone was a fragment of a large sandstone slab that measured 3 meters high and 3 meters wide and stood at the entrance to the Singapore River. The slab bore an undeciphered ancient script. Today, it is thought that the script is written in either Old Javanese or in Sanskrit and was commissioned by an Old Sumatran. For those who discovered it in 1819, it was an enigma. In 1843 the British army announced plans to build a fort on the land the slab occupied, and it was blown to pieces. The remains of the slab were used as building material. Only a few fragments were saved, and these now reside in the National Museum of Singapore. The formerly sacred site was utterly annihilated, and the majority of the slab’s text was erased forever, leaving the meaning of the script an everlasting mystery.
The Library of Alexandria in Egypt was one of the largest and most famous libraries of the ancient world. It formed part of the Alexandrian Museum. Both the library and museum were founded by Ptolemy I Soter and were maintained by the Ptolemies in Egypt from the beginning of the third century BC. The famous burning of the Library of Alexandria, and the loss of its invaluable ancient works, has become a symbol of the irretrievable loss of public knowledge. Myths about its demise have circulated for centuries, with suspected culprits including Julius Caesar, Theophilus of Alexandria, and Caliph Omar of Damascus. Although stories surrounding ‘the burning of the Library at Alexandria’ continue, ancient and modern sources identify several possible occasions for the partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria.
Nelson’s Pillar, which towered over Dublin from 1808 to 1966, was erected as a monument to Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. The pillar was made of granite and black limestone and rose 134 feet into the air in the middle of O’Connell Street. Many residents of Dublin were far from impressed by the monument, complaining it was a symbol of British imperialism and that it blocked traffic. However, after debates regarding whether it should be removed, the pillar remained, backed by arguments that it provided unparalleled views of Dublin. The first attempt to destroy the pillar came from a group of University College Dublin students associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They locked themselves inside and attempted to melt it with flame throwers, but ultimately failed. In 1966 another IRA group succeeded in planting a bomb that destroyed the upper half of the pillar. Army engineers blew up the rest of the pillar six days later, judging it too damaged to save.
In the late 1990s Lake Urmia in Iran was the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, measuring twice the size of Luxembourg. Since then it has shrunk significantly, and in 2008 it was divided in half as a consequence of the building of a 15 kilometer causeway, which aimed to shorten the travel time between the cities of Urmia and Tabriz. In the past, the lake was renowned for attracting migratory birds, including flamingos and pelicans, and tourists who flocked to the lake to bathe in its supposedly healing mud. Today, Lake Urmia is on the verge of disappearing, and its waters have receded so far back that rusted boats are left abandoned on its dry shores and much of its wildlife has left.
The Pearl Monument in Bahrain was erected on the Pearl Roundabout in 1982 in honor of the country’s first time hosting the Gulf Cooperation Council. The monument featured six ‘sails,’ which represented the member nations of the council, supporting a pearl, which symbolized Bahrain’s historic pearl industry. In 2011 the Pearl Roundabout became a focal point for the Bahraini uprising, and thousands of demonstrators set up tents around it in protest of the uprising’s first fatality. The Bahraini police shot at least four more civilians, and tanks were instructed to disseminate the demonstrators. The camp was set on fire, and the government destroyed the Pearl Monument, stating that it had been “desecrated” by the protests and had to be “cleansed.”
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. In 2007, it was confirmed that American armed forces had converted Nebuchadnezzar’s great city of Babylon into a 150-hectare camp for 2,000 troops. In the process, the Ishtar Gate was damaged by tanks, and the brick pavement leading up to the gate was destroyed. The rich soil of the city was bulldozed to fill sandbags, and Babylon is now considered to be archaeologically barren.