Disappearing wonders: World Heritage sites in danger
Standing atop the ramparts of China's Great Wall. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. These are the giants of our collective imagination, the plumes in our travel caps. Although they might seem timeless, many of the world's most treasured sites are in peril, threatened by theft, development, climate change or unsustainable tourism.
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Featuring some of the world's most popular destinations, our picks draw from UNESCO's World Heritage in Danger list as well as “Disappearing World: 101 of the Earth's Most Extraordinary and Endangered Places” by Alonzo C. Addison. From ancient cities to virgin rainforests, we hope these wonders stick around to inspire future generations.
Great Wall, China
Constructed to shelter China's people and culture from the outside world, the Great Wall stretches over 4,500 miles and took 2,000 years to construct. UNESCO calls it "an absolute masterpiece" not only "because of the ambitious character of the undertaking but also the perfection of its construction." But perfection isn't protection, and the Great Wall is now under threat from the pressures of the modern world.
Unsurprising given its incredible length, large portions of the wall now suffer from neglect and erosion from the elements. More popular sections are subject to the wear and tear that comes with millions of visitors each year. But according to Addison, the biggest threat to the Great Wall may be the "slow and seemingly innocuous destruction and brick-by-brick looting. Portions that had survived for 2,000 years have vanished in recent decades and there are reports of quarrying in many locations."
Until you get an aerial view of Memphis and its necropolis, you may not realize just how close the sprawl of Cairo has crept to the three pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza, Memphis' best-known sites and the sole survivors of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Hotels and shops surround the site where a hundred years ago the pyramid fields of Memphis stood alone as beacons in a vast desert.