Europe’s 7 Most Endangered monuments and sites announced
The historic stage machinery of the Bourla theatre in Antwerp in Belgium, the neighbourhoods of Dolcho and Apozari in Kastoria in Greece, the citadel of Alessandria in Italy, the carillons of the Mafra National Palace in Portugal, the wooden churches in southern Transylvania and northern Oltenia in Romania, the Colour Row Settlement in Chernyakhovsk in Russia and the synagogue in Subotica in Serbia have been selected as the 7 most threatened landmarks in Europe in 2014. The announcement was made today by the leading European heritage organisation Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute (EIB-I) at a public event in the Austrian capital, which is hosting this year’s European Heritage Congress. These gems of Europe’s cultural heritage are in serious danger, some due to lack of resources or expertise, others due to neglect or inadequate planning. Urgent action is therefore needed. Rescue missions will be organised during and after the summer and feasible action plans proposed by the end of the year.
“This list is a key tool to raise awareness about endangered heritage in Europe. In common with these 7 monuments and sites, there are countless treasures in danger all across the continent. This list is, first and foremost, a call to action. Public and private stakeholders at local, national and European levels are urged to join forces to save the monuments and sites which tell our shared story and which should not be lost for future generations. We also wish to highlight that caring for our common heritage is a sound investment in Europe’s social capital and economic growth,” stated Denis de Kergorlay, Executive President of Europa Nostra.
Heritage specialists from Europa Nostra and financial experts from the European Investment Bank Institute will visit the 7 sites, together with the nominators, after the summer. The multidisciplinary teams will assess the sites and contribute to the development of viable solutions, in close cooperation with national and local public and private bodies. “More specifically, experts in particular from the EIB-I will provide analysis and advice and will help formulate a feasible action plan for each of the 7 sites. Our conclusions will be presented by the end of the year,” explained Guy Clausse, Acting Dean of the European Investment Bank Institute.
“We will do our utmost to help save these 7 monuments and sites by providing technical expertise, identifying possible sources of funding and mobilising widespread support. However, a key role will have to be played by national stakeholders, in particular by the nominators. Being on the list of ‘The 7 Most Endangered‘ opens a window of opportunity to rescue the sites but also means increased responsibility for the national stakeholders,” jointly stated the Executive President of Europa Nostra and the Acting Dean of the EIB-I.
The 7 Most Endangered for 2014 were selected by Europa Nostra’s Board from the eleven sites shortlisted by an international advisory panel, comprising specialists in History, Archaeology, Architecture, Conservation and Finance. Nominations were submitted by civil society organisations and public bodies from all over Europe.
‘The 7 Most Endangered’ programme was launched in January 2013 by Europa Nostra with the European Investment Bank Institute as founding partner and the Council of Europe Development Bank as associated partner. It was inspired by a successful similar project run by the US National Trust for Historic Preservation. ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ is not a funding programme. Its aim is to serve as a catalyst for action and to promote “the power of example”.
The 7 Most Endangered 2014
(listed alphabetically by country)
Historic Stage Machinery of the Bourla Theatre, Antwerp, BELGIUM
The Bourla is the last remaining municipal theatre in Europe with original stage machinery, created by the French company Philastre and Cambon in 1834. The stage machinery as well as the Neo-Classical building by the Belgian architect Pierre Bourla were, in fact, completely restored in 1993 in the context of Antwerp European Capital of Culture and even received a Europa Nostra Award.
The resident company of the contemporary theatre Het Toneelhuis advocates the dismantlement of the historic and still functioning equipment in the fly tower and understage and its replacement by a completely new system. The Municipality of Antwerp, owner of the theatre, ordered a feasability study for its modernisation.
If the original machinery is dismantled, one of the only theatres in Europe where 19th century operas and dramas can be staged authentically will be irreparably lost. If it is preserved, the Bourla could become the European centre of historically-informed performance practices, a place where our intangible heritage could be genuinely studied and performed. This would not exclude the use of the stage for modern productions. PERSPECTIV – Association of Historic Theatres in Europe made the nomination for the programme.
Neighbourhoods of Dolcho and Apozari, Kastoria, GREECE
The lakeside mountain city of Kastoria is one of the most distinguished in Southeast Europe. It has an unequalled number of medieval churches dating from the 9th to the 15th centuries, while its 18th-19th century mansions, founded on the wealth brought in by the fur trade, are among the finest in the wider region. Today the two neighbourhoods of Dolcho and Apozari constitute the surviving historic centre which contains 370 listed buildings, 351 in private and 19 in public hands.
Since World War II, the city has suffered considerable damage as a result of population growth and the construction of contemporary apartment blocks. The economic crisis and high unemployment rates have aggravated the situation. Local authorities, NGOs and private partners have joined efforts to restore the historic buildings but increased national and European support is needed. Its rehabilitation would be a vital tool to overcome the crisis at the local level.
Most of the buildings are owned by the Greek State through the Municipality of Kastoria. The nomination for ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ was submitted by Elliniki Etairia – Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage in cooperation with the local municipality.
Citadel of Alessandria, ITALY
This is the most important hexagonal fortress in Europe, according to UNESCO, on whose Tentative List it has been inscribed since 2006. Spreading over 74 hectares, the Citadel of Alessandria is a perfect example of a modern-type fortress. Built between 1732 and 1808, it was the setting of several key moments in the history of both Italy and Europe. During Napoleonic times, it was one of the most important fortresses of the Empire; during the Italian Unification, it was a symbol of the revolutionary movements in favour of the Constitution.
The slow degradation of the monument started in 2007, when its military use ended. The most imminent threat is the proliferation of a very invasive weed, the roots of which are seriously undermining the walls. The ailanthus has already affected a 7.2-hectare area. Its eradication requires specific skills and an incisive plan, and is estimated to be a costly and prolonged process. Major restoration works are also needed.
The local community and authorities are strongly engaged in making the Citadel viable but they need widespread (inter)national know-how and financial help. The site, which is under the ownership of the Agenzia del Demanio, was nominated for ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ by FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano.
Carillons of the Mafra National Palace, PORTUGAL
The two towers of the Mafra National Palace feature a unique set of 120 cast bronze bells, divided into hour, liturgical and carillon bells. These outstanding musical instruments, both of which cover a range of four octaves, are the largest surviving 18th century carillons in the world.
Due to lack of maintenance or poor conservation, the wooden structures that support the bells are at risk of collapse. Emergency work to stabilise the structures has been undertaken but transnational expertise and financial support are needed to save these gems of our tangible and intangible heritage.
The Mafra National Palace is a key work of the Baroque in Portugal. Nowhere else in the world is there a basilica with six organs of such high artistic and historic values and two carillons of this size and significance. The restoration of the carillons would strengthen the links of the monument to music, through exchanges with universities and music schools. It would also help to attract new audiences and stimulate the integration of the Mafra Palace into the national and international tourism and musical circuits.
The Portuguese State, through the Direcção-Geral do Património Cultural, is the owner of this heritage asset. The Centro Nacional de Cultura made the nomination for ‘The 7 Most Endangered’.
Wooden Churches in Southern Transylvania and Northern Oltenia, ROMANIA
Small communities built these vernacular structures, using wood from Romania’s thick forests and traditional construction techniques, in the 18th-19th centuries. The churches are simple structures dominated by high roofs. The interior is covered with paintings on wood or frescoes on lime plaster. The modest architecture is enhanced not just by the artistic mural paintings but also by the privileged location.
Despite their historic, social and cultural importance, numerous churches have been abandoned over the past few decades, due to their small capacity and lack of amenities, and are today in an advanced state of disrepair. Some became cemetery chapels, whilst others are threatened by inadequate conservation.
The local community has made major efforts to rehabilitate and reuse these religious buildings but they have to be backed at national and European levels. The restoration of these churches would contribute significantly to the revival of old crafts, materials and construction techniques as well as to the training of young people. This could pave the way for routes between the villages, also stimulating traditional hospitality.
The wooden chuches are owned by some 60 local Orthodox parishes. The nomination for ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ was made by Pro Patrimonio Foundation.
Colour Row Settlement in Chernyakhovsk, RUSSIA
Built in 1924, the Colour Row Settlement is the only remaining example of the early work of the renowned German architect Hans Scharoun in former East Prussia. It is a prototype of modern domestic architecture with many of the original details still preserved (joinery, decoration, ceramics). It is an immediate forerunner of other pioneering social housing projects in Germany, such as the Siemensstadt in Berlin (classified by UNESCO in 2008), in which Scharoun was also involved.
Despite virtually no maintenance over the past 60 years, the houses are still used and cherished as homes. Thanks to the research and dedication of a small group of enthusiasts, the authorities have taken steps to safeguard this historic and significant site by listing it. However, it hasn’t been possible so far to gather sufficient funds from Germany and/or Russia to ensure its continued existence, let alone its restoration to proper living standards. The complete renovation of the Colour Row Settlement and the creation of a research centre could boost tourism and the local economy.
The settlement features 17 houses, of which 13 are in private hands and four are owned by the local municipality. The International Centre of the Roerichs made the nomination for ‘The 7 Most Endangered’.
Synagogue in Subotica, SERBIA
This is one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau religious architecture in Central Europe. Designed by Hungarian architects Marcell Komor and Dezsö Jakab and built in 1902, the Synagogue of Subotica combines a modern concrete and steel structure with traditional decorative elements from Hungarian Folk Art. It is acknowledged as a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance.
At the time the synagogue was built the city had a large Jewish population of around 3,000 people. After World War II, this number fell and a building of this size could no longer be sustained. Nonetheless, the synagogue remains of huge importance to the Jewish community both locally and internationally.
The building was used by the Subotica National Theatre for a number of years but is now empty, with visitor access available only one day a week, and its condition has inevitably deteriorated.
Despite the restoration works undertaken in recent decades, the building remains highly endangered. International expertise and solidarity are needed to save this architectural and cultural gem.
Europa Nostra Serbia nominated the monument, which is under the ownership of Municipality of Subotica, or ‘The 7 Most Endangered’.