The 2008 World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites was announced today by Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), the nonprofit organization that, for more than 40 years, has helped save hundreds of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world. This year’s list highlights three critical man-made threats: political conflict, unchecked urban and industrial development, and, for the first time, global climate change.
Announced every two years, the WMF Watch List acts as a call to action, drawing international public attention to threatened cultural heritage sites across the globe. The Watch List is assembled by an international panel of experts in archaeology, architecture, art history, and preservation. For many historic sites, inclusion on the List is the best, and sometimes the only, hope for survival.
The 2008 Watch List clearly shows that human activity has become the greatest threat of all to the world’s cultural heritage, causing irreparable harm to many of the important places in the world that provide unique access to shared human history. Pollution eats away at ancient stones. The rapid rise in global tourism is bringing more and more people to fragile and often unprotected places. Cities and suburbs are spreading unchecked, at the expense of historic landscapes and buildings. Political discord and armed conflict are not only wreaking havoc on sites directly—with modern weapons more destructive than ever—but are destroying communities, leaving the world’s cultural heritage open to neglect, vandalism, and looting. And, perhaps most daunting of all, the destructive effects of global climate change are already clearly apparent. The 2008 Watch List includes several sites that are threatened right now by flooding, encroaching desert, and changing weather patterns. Sadly, future lists will bring many more.
“The World Monuments Watch List is our best indicator of the pressures that face the field of heritage preservation,” said World Monuments Fund President Bonnie Burnham. “On this list, man is indeed the real enemy. But, just as we caused the damage in the first place, we have the power to repair it, by taking our responsibility as caretakers of the world’s cultural heritage seriously. So today we are sounding the alarm, using the World Monuments Watch List to demonstrate, through the vivid examples of beloved places around the world, the importance of working together to meet these challenges and join forces to protect our world’s shared architectural heritage.”
The Templar monument in danger is the Epailly Chappel, in Courban, France.
The Knights Templar began construction of the Epailly Chapel in 1200 as part of a larger military complex and a base of operations during the Crusades. The Templars occupied it until the early fourteenth century, when the Knights Hospitaler took over the site. They finished the chapel around 1330 and remained custodians of the site until the French Revolution in 1789. The chapel, considered among the most important built by the Templars in Europe, is the burial place of many priories from the Champagne region. In addition to the sanctuary, vestiges of a number of other military structures built by the Templars are preserved at the site, including thirteenth-century fortification walls and towers and a large vaulted hall. Remains of the Hospitaler occupation include two barns, annexes, and a pigeon house. Following the French Revolution, the chapel was used as a barn. Early in the twentieth century, its owners decided to dismantle the chapel and sell its parts. Thanks to the Commission of Antiquities of the Côte d’Or, the building was rescued on the eve of its demolition and, in 1925, designated a historic monument.
Like many monuments in France, the chapel was damaged during World War II and has since suffered from neglect. The structural elements of the chapel (currently not in use) are collapsing and deteriorating. The roof needs to be replaced, there is a crack in the choir vault, the ribs and vaults of the first bay of the nave are splitting and breaking, and the vaults and walls of the side chapel are disintegrating and unstable. A viable plan has been suggested for the restoration of this rare example of a Crusader-era chapel. It is hoped that listing will encourage its implementation.