Protecting our past

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Heritage tourism is one of the most appealing tourist attractions. Millions of people around the world indicate that they visit places with cultural and heritage appeal.

protecting our heritage might mean fewer tourists on the water taxis in Venice

Cities like London, Paris, Istanbul, Kyoto, St Petersburg, Florence, Venice, Rome Athens – I could go on and on – are magnets for people. Who is there in the UK that hasn’t been to Stratford-upon-Avon, Stonehenge, Edinburgh, the British Museum or just one of our hundreds of castles? It is like asking a resident of France who hasn’t visited Notre-Dame or Versailles, Carcassonne or a vineyard or asking an Italian who hasn’t seen the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain or St Peter’s Basilica.

That we have so much heritage around the world is important to understanding our past and the way we lived, the abilities we had and how civilisations evolved.

Therefore it is necessary to protect what we are able when it is challenged by man, the elements or time.

Three instances last week brought this to mind.

Readers will know that I have visited Venice on many occasions but not since lockdown

I wasn’t there for the flooding in the sixties that gave birth to the Venice in peril movement and nor was I there when flooding returned last November. I wasn’t there last week when the 78 barriers were raised as a test to see whether the barrage might be able to hold back food waters.

 Flooding has done considerable damage to the city over the years with November’s floods estimated to have cost a billion euros in damage. The barriers cost €6 billion. Had they been constructed earlier when first mooted after the floods of the 1960’s and not been dogged by indecision then perhaps they would have saved that €1 billion damage.

In Istanbul last week the Turkish government altered what many of us knew as a museum into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul – originally founded as a Christian cathedral some fifteen hundred years ago – has been turned back into a mosque which is what it was from the time Istanbul was renamed Constantinople until the founding father of modern Turkey changed it to a museum in 1934.

During the time it was a mosque the Christian iconography was covered up. That will now happen again.

Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the organisation has expressed a little concern and some wonder whether the site will maintain its status. As one of the busiest tourist attractions in Istanbul, some of the world’s history will now be covered over but at least it remains even if we can’t see it.

Two years ago a man attempted to steal a copy of Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral. This week he was sentenced to four years in prison. What did he hope to achieve? Could he have sold it? People would have been astonished if a fifth copy had turned up. Besides it was too well known and stylistically different. Even the richest and secretive of collectors would have been dissuaded from buying.

It looked like a case of wanton destruction

There are just four copies of the charter that has helped shape law-making in many countries around the world. Each is prized. Luckily the protection afforded to the cathedral version was tough enough to withstand the man’s efforts. Since then it has been improved but will it ever deter the fanatic.

It was fanatics that destroyed some of the heritage of Iraq. The leaning minaret of the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri was destroyed just a few years ago by ISIL fighters as were many other buildings from centuries ago. In Raqaa in Syria, the two thousand, eight hundred year old Assyrian lion sculpture gateway was destroyed.

Many other sites have been destroyed for all time leaving just photographs of what we once could enjoy.

It would be a comforting thought if the barrage in Venice gave impetus for us to protect what we have and enjoy what remains.

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