Bad News for Iconic Culture Sites Wikimedia Commons
The Alhambra palace - the singular most popular tourist destination in Andalusia

Europe, the cradle of civilization, has cut back on its culture spending. Evidently, fighting unemployment, tackling immigration, prioritizing the economic recovery are all much more pressing matters. An unlikely enemy has become a significant problem for the cultural heritage sector: the lack of substantial funds needed to maintain and restore the priceless constructions. Chipping away at old monuments and historic structures has become a familiar sight and a direct consequence of the financial crisis.

In this day and age ancient artifacts and historical antiquities are vulnerable to all kinds of factors. Massive force directed against cultural heritage sites is aimed at making them permanently disappear from the surface of the Earth. Tampering with the objects paramount to the cultural identity of a nation has been a staple tactic in times of conflict throughout generations. In the state of Iraq for instance, the activities of ISIL have resulted in the destruction of countless monuments, most recently in the ancient city of Hatra , a legendary UNESCO site. Although some of the destroyed artifacts are said to have been plaster copies, the majority were the real deal. Certain measures have been taken by the international community to prevent such horrific events from reoccurring. The United Nations with its Security Council Resolution 2199  intends to put more effort into battling terrorism and its many manifestations, including the destruction of historical and cultural heritage sites, which often fall to terror and vandalism.

Outside of Spain, Granada is well-known for its tapas culture, the hauntingly beautiful sounds of flamenco, the proximity of the spectacular Sierra Nevada National Park, great weather and the diversity of its people. But Granada would not be the same place without the gem that is the Alhambra. The palace and fortress has towered over the city for centuries. Washington Irving’s book The Tales of the Alhambra popularized its captivating history in the English speaking world. Today, the historic structure is the single most popular tourist destination in Andalusia. It is the undisputed number one tourist destination in the city. Statistics show that about 6,000 visitors walk through its doors daily during the busy summer season. The stunning architecture, the unique history of the palace, the natural surroundings, they all contribute to the site’s reputation. But what would happen without the Alhambra and how would it change the tourist traffic for Andalusia? Decrease in revenue, a drastic drop in the region’s popularity, and a general slowing down of the tourism industry are but a few examples. Tourism in Spain contributes to more than 6% of the country’s GDP. In comparison, the total contribution of travel and tourism to Greece’s GDP equals 18%, and approximately 10% in France. If we want to keep tourism-related jobs and create many more in the future, we have to set some priorities and think of viable solutions now.

When it comes to the number of UNESCO sites in Europe, there are simply too many to name. The map of Europe is full of dots marking cultural heritage spots. Naturally, they act as tourist magnets and important sources of revenue for states. Inadvertently, and frankly, quite unavoidably, we stomp over ruins every day. Whether this happens in Rome, London, Berlin or Warsaw our modern cities are built on ruins, the omnipresent remnants of the world that once was. Our ancestors’ heritage is with us in both tangible and intangible ways. Preservation of cultural heritage is therefore our responsibility. There are currently 46 sites in the world that UNESCO has declared “endangered”. Two of these are situated in Europe but this is just according to the Article 11(4) of the 1972 World Heritage Convention: the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City and Medieval Monuments in Kosovo. There is more to the picture than meets the eye. As a result of the economic crisis many cultural heritage sites have been left without much needed restoration in Greece, Italy, Spain and other locations.

Sometimes even though we see a catastrophe about to happen right in front of us it is already too late to intervene. When funding ran out for the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 2012 hardly anyone was surprised about the news. The museum had to close its doors for visitors and it has not opened since. The staff however, determined and dedicated to their lives’ work, did not give up the fight easily.

The message here is clear: we must not let our cultural heritage sites deteriorate and rot before our eyes. At the same time we must do more to keep those crucial sites running. Ensuring that the appropriate financial assistance for cultural heritage is in place is a job for generations to come. Without creating a new platform for fundraising there is little hope for many iconic institutions across Europe. States clearly cannot cope on their own as they keep slashing budgets on culture spending. We need a robust intervention system in place; to allow the mismanagement of cultural funds to continue in the current financial climate is simply not an option.