12 Historic Sites & Ancient Ruins in Danger of Disappearing


Vandalism, climate change, encroaching development and rampant commercialism – these are just a few of the threats facing priceless ancient ruins and historical sites around the world. While over 200 sites are in danger, the Global Heritage Fund has named these 12 sites as most likely to disappear if action isn’t taken immediately, erasing evidence of hundreds or even thousands of years of human history including an Armenian city that once rivaled Constantinople and a sacred place of Buddhist pilgrimage in Afghanistan.

Intramuros and Fort Santiago Historic District, Philippines


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The crumbling walls of a medieval fort make a strong contrast with an adjacent modern skyline, but that’s nothing compared to what you see once you step inside the high walls of Intramuros, the walled city containing the last vestiges of Spanish-era influences in Manila. Beside the ruins that were pelted with heavy shelling during World War II and only partially reconstructed are a Starbucks and a McDonalds. Some of the old moats surrounding the historic zone, which includes the imposing Fort Santiago, have been filled and converted to a golf course. The Global Heritage Fund fears that Intramuros will soon be “overrun by rampant commercialism”, and some historians fear that high-rises and malls will be next.

Hisham’s Palace, Palestine


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Hisham’s Palace’s troubles began over a thousand years ago, when an earthquake leveled it and covered it with sand in 747 AD. It was entirely forgotten for centuries until archaeologists unearthed the remains of this Umayyad winter palace in Palestine beginning in 1934. Historians are intensely curious about the palace, especially since it was unfinished when the earthquake struck, but may never be able to solve the mystery as urban development is encroaching fast. Archaeologists believe that if it’s not preserved now, Hisham’s Palace may be lost forever.

Abandoned Medieval City of Ani, Turkey


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Once upon a time, Ani was home to structures that were among the most technically and artistically advanced in the world, and rivaled renowned metropolises such as Constantinople and Cairo. Today, the former medieval Armenian kingdom (now part of Turkey) is in ruins, uninhabited and nearly forgotten. At its height, Ani was home to 200,000 residents, but a siege by invading Mongols in 1226 decimated its population and it lay dormant until the 19th century. It has been placed on ‘endangered sites’ lists by organizations like World Monuments Fund due to constant threats from earthquakes, neglect and nearby quarrying.

Nineveh, Iraq


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It was the ‘Ancient jewel of the Assyrian Empire’, but Nineveh – located in Iraq near the modern city of Mosul – spent centuries as a pile of rubble even as the Bible told of its greatness. It was rediscovered by archaeologists in the 19th century and many of its ruins have been excavated and rebuilt, but its remains could be buried once again due to constant looting, vandalism and expanding suburbs.

City of Kings: Famagusta, North Cyprus


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The Crusader kings were crowned in Famagusta, a once-bustling port city on the northeastern coast of Cyprus; such was its importance in the world. The medieval walled city flourished from the 12th to 15th centuries and was heavily fortified under the protection of Venice but nevertheless sacked by Ottoman Turks, and lay in depressed disuse with just a handful of poverty-stricken residents as it fought for its independence from Turkey. Today, Turkish-Muslim North Cyprus is segregated from Greek Orthodox South Cyprus and some experts say Famagusta won’t get the attention it deserves until Cyprus is reunified.

Swahili City of Lamu, Kenya


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Once the trade capital of East Africa, Lamu, Kenya is the one of the oldest remaining Swahili towns on the East African coast and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. According to the Global Heritage Fund, Lamu dates back to the 12th century and its buildings embody the long history of Swahili technology and culture. Already pressured by neglect and insufficient management of fresh water resources, Lamu may fall to a large port development that is currently under consideration along the coast that will include an oil refinery and boost population to an unsustainable number.

Ancient Taxila, Pakistan


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A Mesolithic cave, Buddhist monasteries, Muslim mosques and four ancient settlements are just the beginning of the treasures that Taxila, Pakistan has to offer. Each settlement represents a different time period, revealing the pattern of progress over centuries including the rich religious and cultural history of the Pakistani people. Declared one of the top tourist sites in Pakistan, Taxila is also in danger of disastrous damage due to development, mining, looting, war and conflict.

Chersonesos Archaeological Site, Ukraine


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In photos you’d never guess that these sea-swept ruins, with their tall white columns, were located anywhere but the Mediterranean. But Chersonesos is actually an ancient Greek settlement in Ukraine, founded about 2500 years ago and ruled over the centuries by both Rome and Byzantium. Its isolation made it an ideal place of exile for people who angered Rome, including Pope Clement I and the deposed Byzantine Emperor Justinian II. The ruins, found in the suburbs of Sevastopol, reflect the cultures of Greece, Rome and Byzantium. Urban encroachment and coastal erosion are both threats that the Ukrainian government is ill-equipped to handle due to lack of funding.

Maluti Temples, India


(image via: global heritage fund)

Compared to the majestic palaces and stunning ruins that can be seen all over India, the Maluti Temples are nothing to call home about. In fact, most people haven’t even heard of them. To anyone who loves the juxtaposition of formerly grand architecture with overgrowth and decay, the 72 remaining terracotta temples in the village of Maluti are undeniably beautiful, but they’re in danger of deteriorating completely without proper care. Unfortunately, the local government finds itself in a sort of catch-22 because although protecting the temples could bring in tourism revenue, they currently don’t have the funds or a plan to make it happen.

Bamiyan Valley Archaeology, Afghanistan


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An important Buddhist center on the Silk Road, the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan and was home to two towering Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. The art and architecture that remains standing in this picturesque area, nestled within the mountains of the Hindu Kush, stand as a unique intersection of Indian, Hellenistic, Roman and Sasanian cultural influences as well as the Islamic influence that came later. Once a place of Buddhist pilgrimage and still home to many monasteries and sanctuaries, the Bamiyan Valley is threatened by continued cultural and religious conflict.

Sans Souci Palace, Haiti


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Not to be confused with a palace by the same name in Berlin, Haiti’s Sans Souci Palace was the royal home of King Henri Christophe and Queen Marie-Louise. The palace – named “without worry” in French – was built starting in 1810, just after Haiti won its independence, and Henri’s reign was far from peaceful. The unpopular ruler committed suicide on the grounds in 1820 and the palace was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1842. It was named a World Heritage Site in 1982 but today, as the country struggles to recover from the severe earthquake of January 2010, rebuilding the palace seems unlikely.

Mahasthangarh Archaeological Site, Bangladesh


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Bangladesh’s earliest archaeological site contains both ancient and medieval ruins dating back to the 3rd century BC as well as the tomb of Shah Sultan Balkhi Mahisawar, who settled in the area and converted the people to Islam. Unlike most of Bangladesh, Mahasthangarh is located almost 36 meters above sea level, helping to protect its many archaeological digs from the nation’s frequent floods, but the site is deteriorating rapidly and has been subject to looting and vandalism.