The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization have been formed to maintain world peace and create its awareness internationally by cooperating through education, science, and culture. The protection of the world heritage sites is one of the vital functions of UNESCO. In 1972, it was assigned to secure and conserve cultural, natural, and historical sites around the world. Such as by saving forests, lakes, or mountains which are significant to world interests and protecting ancient monuments or ruins of archaeological sites.  

Unfortunately, there are a few UNESCO archaeological sites in danger in different parts of the world. These are due to lack of conservation and management, man-made disasters such as terror attacks and war, or natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and climatic change. A few such examples have been discussed in this article below. 

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UNESCO Archaeological Sites in Danger ©Wikipedia

1) Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan 

There were two statues of Buddha in the valley of Bamiyan. It was carved into the precipice made of sandstone. The Eastern Buddha sculpture depicted the female Shamama or the “Queen Mother”. It is also known as the smaller statue as it was 38 meters high and was carved around 570 AD. Similarly, the idol of the Western Buddha portrayed the male Salsal meaning “the light shines through the universe”. It is also known as the larger statue as it was 55 meters in height and was built around 618 AD. These two figures represented the classical style of Gandhara Art. 

In March 2001, the whole world was traumatized as it witnessed the destruction of these two ancient sculptures. The Taliban blew up these magnificent artworks as they declared them as idols which were prohibited by their government. Thereby, this became one of the endangered UNESCO archaeological sites in 2003. The smaller statue was being restored by applying the process of anastylosis and, a program for sustainable cultural tourism was supposed to be implemented in the valley. Currently, it is pending due to some criticism and disapproval by human activists. 

Meanwhile, in 2015 a Chinese couple funded the restoration of the two holographic statues in the cliff niche. It is hoped that one-day restoration work is completed so it will be stricken off from the list of world heritage sites in danger.

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Cultural Landscape & Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley ©UNESCO

2) Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna, Libya

Leptis Magna is one of the spectacular UNESCO archaeological sites during the Roman period. This impressive ancient city was developed and bejeweled by the Roman emperor Septimius Severus between 193 AD and 211 AD. The city expanded with the creation of the beautiful forum, harbors, public monuments, storehouses, the marketplace, shops, and residential streets. Gradually, it was abandoned after the Islamic invasion in 647 AD. It was in the early 19th Century when this ancient city was excavated. 

There was the discovery of colorful mosaic floorings which was a great example of a masterpiece. This showed similarity with the floorings implemented in Pompeii. In 2011, this site was used as a cover for tanks and other military vehicles by the pro-Gaddafi army during the First Libyan Civil War. The government and the international organization were fading during the Second Libyan Civil War. There was no such visible damage during the terror attack; still, the localities took the initiative to protect this mesmerizing archaeological site. 

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Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna © UNESCO

3) Abu Mena, Egypt

Abu Mena was a town that provided monasteries for the Christian pilgrimage. There was excavation between 1905 and 1907 which unearthed a large basilica church, a reception area, and a huge dormitory for needy pilgrims. In 1979, this historical heritage became one of the UNESCO Archaeological sites. 

There was a constant deterioration of the site due to the rise in the water level. This resulted in the weakening of the foundation and ruining the fragile structures of the town. In 2001, this was added to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger and effective conservation measurements are being taken by controlling and managing the inundated water table. 

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Abu Mena © UNESCO

4) Samarra Archaeological City, Iraq

The civilization in Samarra existed between 5500 BC and 3900 BC. It was first uncovered between 1911 and 1914 which consists of a huge ancient and impressive mosque and a spiral minaret. Around 80% of this UNESCO archaeological site has still been concealed under the ground. In the 18th Century, this place became a martyr’s corner as it observed the Ottoman-Persian War. The place regained its significance in the 20th Century after a permanent lake was built. There was a bombardment at the mosque and destruction of two minarets and a clock tower between 2006 and 2007. Thereby, this site was perpetually shut down and was later named in the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger by UNESCO. 

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Samarra Archaeological City © Wikipedia

5) Archaeological Site of Sabratha, Libya

This UNESCO Archaeological site was excavated from 1921 onwards and has always been the priority of Italian archaeologists. Sabratha mainly consists of an amphitheater that retains a three-story backdrop wall, temples, and a basilica church depicting a stunning work of colorful mosaic flooring. 

The conditions of these ancient Roman monuments made of soft sandstone are worsening due to the weathering and soil erosion.  The public bath, harbor and the olive press building has been blemishing as it is made of calcarenite, a type of limestone, as a result, it is jeopardizing the long term conservation. 

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Archaeological Site of Sabratha © Wikipedia

6) Old Town of Djenne, Mali

The ancient town of Djenne is situated on the banks of the River Niger. It is one of the oldest towns in sub-Saharan Africa that is famous for its notable Sudanese style of architecture. All the houses, buildings, and the Great Mosque, the most distinct building and an Islamic centre of the town were made of plaster coated sun-dried earthen bricks. It was constructed in the high hilly region to protect from the annual flood. 

This UNESCO Archaeological site made it to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1988. The site also possessed a five-year long term conservation and management plan between 2008 and 2012. It also has the possibility of a rise in problems with the increase in the population and the building speculation. 

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Old Town Djenne © UNESCO

7) Site of Palmyra, Syrian Arab Republic 

The UNESCO Archaeological site is an oasis in the Syrian Desert which is located in the north-east of Damascus. There are pieces of evidence that show this site existed during the Neolithic period. Between the 1st and 2nd Century it was built by the fusion of Greco-Roman techniques with the local traditional styles and Persian influences. 

This site is vulnerable to frequent earthquake tremors, trespassing of the adjacent city, and a rise in population and road traffic. It was declared as a World Heritage Site in 1980. Still, it lacks proper management and conservation due to the Syrian Civil War in 2011. 

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Site of Palmyra © UNESCO

8) Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, Peru

The word Chan Chan means “Sun Sun” and this UNESCO Archaeological site is the largest adobe city in the world as it covers around 20 square kilometers. The site includes residences or accommodation rooms, ceremonial rooms, temples, burial chambers, and reservoirs. 

The site is affected by soil erosion due to the change in climatic conditions. The heavy rain, strong winds, and scorching weather damage the structures as they are made of an amalgamation of mud and organic materials. It was declared as a World Heritage Site on 28th November 1986. Still, a proper risk management plan has to be implemented to conserve and control the damage of this 15th Century historic site. 

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Chan Chan © UNESCO

9) Historic Town of Zabid, Yemen

Zabid is an ancient town of Yemen designed in military and domestic architecture which depicts it as an impressive UNESCO archaeological site. This town played a vital role in the world of Arabs and Muslims due to the existence of Islamic University. The Great Mosque was the center of attraction where the structure was made of basic bricks and carved bricks with stucco decorations. It was declared as a World Heritage Site in danger in 2000. 

Still, the site’s condition is depleting as around 40% of the historic residential houses have been converted into concrete buildings.  There is a lack of conservation and protection of this historic town by the government. This heritage site may lose its prestige within 2 years if proper protection measurements are not implemented.

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Historic Town of Zabid © apollo magazine

10) Archaeological Site of Cyrene, Libya

Cyrene was the oldest and the most famous Greek town in the Hellenic world and was established in 631 BC. It was a center for philosophers as the famous school of philosophy Cyrenaics in the 4th Century BC. There was the excavation of countless sculptures and inscriptions that portray that the town was under the Roman influence around 74 BC. 

The temple of Apollo is the most distant feature of the town. The temple Zeus which is partially un-excavated has been affected by the Jewish Revolt in 115 AD and earthquake tremors in the 4th Century AD. It was declared a UNESCO Archaeological site in 1982. Numerous objects were discovered in 1917 which were stolen in May 2011. As a result, it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2017. 

Archaeological Site of Cyrene © UNESCO

The archaeological, historic, and natural sites are declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO to gain its significance. These sites are later added up to the danger list on basis of their deterioration status. So, there should be an implementation of better restoration provision and improved conservation and protection measurements. Unfortunately, in a few UNESCO Archaeological sites, the necessary actions are unable to apply either due to some unavoidable situations or the irresponsible attitude of the Governing body. However, UNESCO is sparing no effort to preserve the vulnerable sites and expects one day it will be scratched out from the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. 


01) Online Source: Buddhas of Bamiyan – Wikipedia

02) Online Source: Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

03) Online Source: Leptis Magna – Wikipedia

04) Online Source: Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

05) Online Source: Abu Mena – Wikipedia

06) Online Source: Abu Mena – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

07) Online Source: Samarra – Wikipedia

08) Online Source: Samarra Archaeological City – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

09) Online Source: Sabratha – Wikipedia

10) Online Source: Archaeological Site of Sabratha – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

11) Online Source: Djenné – Wikipedia

12) Online Source: Old Towns of Djenné – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

13) Online Source: Palmyra – Wikipedia

14) Online Source: Site of Palmyra – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

15) Online Source: Chan Chan – Wikipedia

16) Online Source: Chan Chan Archaeological Zone – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

17) Online Source: Zabid – Wikipedia

18) Online Source: Historic Town of Zabid – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

19) Online Source: Cyrene, Libya – Wikipedia

20) Online Source: Archaeological Site of Cyrene – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

21) Online Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre – List of World Heritage in Danger


An architect and interior designer by profession. A passionate traveller who developed inquisitiveness on expanding her knowledge and gathering information on different styles of designs and architecture around the world. She strongly believes that nature and history plays a key role in the field of architecture.