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Palpung named to list of endangered monuments

September, 1997  

On September 8, 1997 the World Monuments Fund of New York City, USA announced that Palpung Monastery would be included in its 1998-1999 list of the world's 100 most endangered monuments.  This marks the first time that an international organization has recognized Palpung's immense value as a traditional, well-preserved Tibetan structure.  Another Tibetan building, the Namseling Manor in Drachi, TAR, was also named.
 About Palpung, the World Monuments Watch listing states:

The World Monuments Watch program  receives major funding from the American Express Company.  Below is reproduced the foreword that appears in the booklet announcing the World Monuments Watch selection list. It was written by the president of the World Monuments Fund, and it explains the background, scope, and purpose of the program.


THE WORLD MONUMENTS WATCH, A GLOBAL program to call attention to cultural sites throughout the world that are in urgent peril, was pioneered in 1996 by the World Monuments Fund and American Express.  It is, first and foremost, a call to action-to challenge government authorities responsible for important cultural resources to identify sites immediately at risk, and to stimulate public awareness of the tremendous need to preserve and create sustainable uses for significant heritage made by man.  The first biennial phase of the program has been a time of momentous progress, and it is with pride and confidence in the process and its results that we now jointly announce the List of 100 Most Endangered Sites for 1998-99.

This list is chosen from amongst hundreds of nominations received from public authorities, local preservation groups, and qualified individuals.  Every site nominated was endorsed by an institutional sponsor, adding credibility to the nomination and institutional support to the project.  All nominations are reviewed by a panel of experts in the field of cultural heritage and its conservation.  This panel selects the list of 100 sites, which will become the focus of the World Monuments Watch promotion and fundraising efforts for the next two years.

The criteria for listing sites as endangered are both straightforward and broad-the site's overall significance, the urgency of its situation, and the viability of action plans to save it.  Over the last year, we have refined what we mean by these terms, and identified some of the common issues that affect many of the sites that are nominated.  In light of this, the selection panel in 1997 added to the list an additional criterion of sustainability-evidence that the site, if restored, could be maintained properly in the future by a local constituency with the means to do so.

When the panel met to select the present list of endangered sites, it was with the mission to choose sites that satisfy these criteria and also represent the best opportunities to address the great challenges facing the preservation field.  In its selection, the panel also weighed the nominators' ability to take advantage of the public platform offered by the World Monuments Watch listing to initiate local action that would result in positive change.

Every site listed in 1996 was reviewed for inclusion in the present list.  Following this review, 25 sites were retained, vacating 75 places on the 1998 list for new selections.  In a few cases, sites were removed because a dramatic turnaround has occurred since the original listing in 1996 and we can say with certainty that the site's future is secure.  For the Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill in Barbados, the Etz Haylm Synagogue in Crete, and the Temple of Hercules in Rome, the mission of the World Monuments Watch listing has been accomplished.  The monument is well on its way to being saved.

Many sites were removed from the 1998 list because significant progress had been made toward a healthy state of conservation; these sites will be monitored and reviewed again for inclusion in the list at the time of the selection for the year 2000.  Finally, a few sites were removed from the World Monuments Watch list because there had been no progress or no communication with the nominator, suggesting that listing had no impact.  The panel removed these sites from the list to make room on the list for others that might benefit more from the World Monuments Watch process.  The Progress Report section of the present catalogue summarizes the status of each site on the 1996 list that was excluded from the present listing.  Overall, it shows an impressive record of momentum building behind the solution of problems that until very recently seemed insurmountable.

The second step in the World Monuments Watch process is the awarding of grants, including $1 million per year from American Express, with additional support provided by several other WMF donors and new partners.  Nearly half the sites on the 1996 list have received financial support from the World Monuments Watch.  A total of $3 million in grants has been approved for World Monuments Watch sites, and the search for funds continues.  But direct support is only part of the story.  We have learned from many nominators that, as a direct result of listing, governments haven made significant funds available for World Monuments Watch sites, in cases where these funds were not forthcoming prior to the listing.  Funds allocated by government agencies and local donors are at least equal to the support contributed by WMF.  This tremendous leverage is perhaps the program's greatest strength, and one that we will learn to maximize as more successful case histories are gathered from the field.

Finally, we turn to the new listing-what does it contain and why?  As in the last round, several of the grandes dames of the world's monuments and sites are listed-Pompeii, the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, Hagia Sophia, Mesa Verde.  These great sites are in need of new strategies and significantly increased funds to ensure their continued role amongst the world's greatest cultural treasures.

The list contains sites affected by catastrophe, especially the recent conflicts that have left ancient cultural resources on the brink of destruction.  The Islamic city of Herat in Afghanistan, the Roman ruins at Butrint in Albania, and the great Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik, Croatia need international help now to prevent irretrievable losses in the difficult postwar times that these countries face.

Historic urban areas, where rapid change has placed the traditional historic fabric at risk, were the theme of many nominations to this year's list.  Several of the world's most picturesque cities-including Prague, Tbilisi in Georgia, Ahmedabad in central India, and the high-rise, mud-brick city of Shibam in Yemen-are listed to reflect concern of nominators that new urban design, abandonment of traditional building materials, and the new scale of modern cities will obliterate the fabric of the past.  With city populations expected to escalate in coming decades, this is one of the key problems facing conservationists today.

The legacy of the nineteenth century and the modern era-elaborate soaring churches and massive industrial and utilitarian structures-poses special problems and this year's listing contains a sprinkling of examples, including the Radio and Television Building in

Brussels; the Alameda Railway Station in Santiago, Chile; and the fabricated steel-frame San Sebastian Church in the Philippines, to remind us that the architectural products of engineering and large-scale enterprise are now amongst the meaningful landmarks that many communities cherish.

U.S. sites listed this year are all victims of an inadequate vision to recognize and properly manage primary cultural resources.  Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, besieged by mall shoppers; the South Pass Cultural Landscape in Wyoming potentially opened to oil pipelines; and the deserted mining town at Bodle State Park in California, left to its own destruction, all suffer from commonly misguided public policies for their management.

This year's endangered list contains many jewels whose names are not yet familiar yet they are at risk of disappearing.  The marvelous Bogd Khaan Palace in Mongolia; the Russakov Club in Moscow, a stellar modern landmark; and the recently discovered Rio Lauca Prehistoric Burial Towers in Bolivia are sites that deserve and will receive more recognition through the World Monuments Watch.

These and the other sites on the endangered list have two things in common: they are seriously imperiled, but they can still be saved.  To read the endangered list is an instructive and enjoyable process of discovery both of the places and of their current challenges.  Please realize that your engagement in learning about these places by reading the List of 100 Most Endangered Sites is part of the process of saving them, and in itself, a way to help.  Therefore, enjoy.

Bonnie Burnham
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