Our history as a species is such an important thing to hold onto, but we are generally not very good at looking after it. So many ancient wonders have been lost due to neglect, damage from war, deliberate destruction or natural disasters and even today there are plenty of important sites around the world that are at risk. UNESCO has published a list of 53 properties that are in the most danger, largely in Africa and the Middle East.
It’s always a privilege to visit an ancient and historically significant site, but sometimes we can take them for granted because they don’t always look as grand as they once did. Visiting ruins has a certain appeal for sure, but you still need to use your imagination to picture what they looked like in their prime. But now you can, thanks to these digital recreations.
Hatra (Al-Jazīrah – Iraq)
To say that Iraq has seen a lot of warfare in the last few decades would be an understatement, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Isis militants that the ancient city of Hatra was under serious threat of destruction. Dating back as far as the 2nd Century, this fortress remains largely intact but in 2015 it suffered damage from bullets and sledgehammers while statues they considered offensive were destroyed.
Leptis Magna (District of Khoms – Libya)
Roman emperor Septimus Severus arranged for his Libyan hometown to get a makeover and this theater was at the heart of it. As you can see from the recreation, it was a very special building, but now only the lower pillars remain and the ongoing civil war in Libya has meant that the whole city is under threat.
Palmyra (Tadmur, Homs Governorate, Syria)
If the name Palmyra rings a bell, it’s probably because you were as horrified as everyone else when Isis militants captured and tortured the 82-year-old head of antiquities in this ancient city because they wanted to find where he had hidden some treasures they wanted to destroy. So it’s no surprise to find it on this list, especially as they also mostly destroyed the 1st Century Temple of Bel, which you can see restored here.
Portobelo-San Lorenzo Fortifications (Province of Colon, District of Cristobal, Panama)
Deliberate destruction isn’t always to blame for threatening historical landmarks, and the Portobelo-San Lorenzo Fortifications are facing much more natural problems due to coastal erosion, while urbanization and some disastrous repair work have also taken its toll on this once-proud fort.
Nan Madol (Temwen Island, Federated States of Micronesia)
Another ancient wonder that is suffering the ravages of nature is Nan Madol, a ‘city on the water’ built between 1200 and 1500 by Pohnpei islanders. It’s lain empty since the 1820s and has become overgrown and structurally unsound because of frequent storm damage.
Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls (Jerusalem, Israel)
The old city of Jerusalem still looks spectacular today, but rapid urbanization in the area – made all the more complex by the political divisions in the area – has taken its toll and you only need to look at the recreation to see what it used to look like.
What will happen to these historic sites remains to be seen, but hopefully the awareness being raised by UNESCO will help people find solutions to save them.