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Notre Dame reignites loss of world’s great, Nigeria’s disappearing monuments


Last week Thursday, the world marked the International Day for Monuments and Sites also known as the World Heritage Day. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a network comprising representatives from 151 countries, had in 1982 established April 18 as the Monuments and Sites day.

Since adopting the day, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has tasked itself and members of the United Nations (UN) in preserving and preventing the destruction of major historical buildings and sites having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and adjudged important to the collective interests of humanity.

Then began the recognition of such monuments like ancient ruins, historical buildings, deserts, forests, islands, lakes, mountains, or wilderness areas as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. As at July 2018, a total of 1,092 World Heritage Sites (845 cultural, 209 natural, and 38 mixed properties) exist across 167 countries. Italy, with 54 sites, has the most from any country, followed by China (53), Spain (47), France (44), Germany (44), India (37), and Mexico (35).

In Nigeria, there are 11 approved World Heritage Sites namely: Ancient Kano City Walls, Kano State; Gashaka-Gumti National Park, sited in Taraba State, Adamawa State and some parts of Cameroon; Idanre Hill in Ondo State; Ikom Monoliths in Cross River State; and Oban Hills in also in Cross River.

Others are Ogbunike Caves, Anambra State; Old Oyo National Park in both Oyo and Kwara State; Osun Osogbo Sacred Groove in Osun State, Sukur in Adamawa State; Sungbo’s Eredo in Ogun State; and Walls of Benin in Edo State.

Observing the International Day for Monuments and Sites every year has provided the opportunity to raise awareness about the world’s cultural heritage and the importance of conserving it. Today, world’s monuments have continued to be under the risk of human and animals trespassing, intentional damages, uncontrolled excess, and administrative negligence.

Experts believe that despite decades of conservation efforts, the awareness among the global citizens has not been up to the mark. While many of the glorious monuments have seen significant restoration and conservation, many others have since disappeared, been damaged or destroyed accidentally, deliberately, or by a natural disaster.

Last week Monday, the world gasped in horror at the sight of Paris’ 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral burning in a cataclysmic moment. While Parisians howled, the rest of the world watched in silence, muted by the horror of the unthinkable: the disintegration of one of the world’s greatest monuments.

The fire consumed much of the roof’s wooden latticework, which was called “the forest” because it took 52 acres of oak trees to build it.

Begun in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII, the cathedral took nearly 200 years to construct, but it only took 12 hours of blistering flames to reduce its core to ashes.

The fire, which came during Christianity’s holiest week and was apparently accidental, left a smoldering stone shell where there had once been a peerless work of architecture, engineering and craftsmanship.

The Cathedral spokesman, Andre Finot, told reporters that the building had sustained “colossal damage” and that the medieval wooden interior — a marvel that has inspired awe and wonder for the millions who have visited over the centuries — had been gutted. “Nothing will remain from the frame,” he said.

Nearly nine hours after it began, in an address to the nation just before midnight, France President, Emmanuel Macron, said the worst had been avoided, that the exterior structure had been preserved and that the cathedral would rise again.

“I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral, even more beautifully” he vowed. “Notre Dame of Paris is our history, the epicenter of our lives. We won’t lose this history.”

Heeding to the rallying appeal of their president, France’s three wealthiest families are coming to the rescue of the national icon, spearheading a fundraising drive to rebuild Notre Dame that has topped $700 million. The billionaires behind luxury giants LVMH Group, Kering and L’Oreal last Tuesday pledged a combined €500 million ($565 million).

The weight of the symbolism is still not grasped, as mourners still seek the right ones to express the enormity of the loss, not just to Paris, the French and Catholics, but also to humankind. The destruction of so much history and beauty is unquantifiable.

Parisians and the French feel the loss most acutely. Notre Dame has always been part of their daily life and is, as have been documented, the heart of a city that has survived revolution and wars. But, just as Notre Dame has been a place of transcendence for those who have entered there, its splendor and meaning transcended boundaries of nationality and religion.

As the world grapples with the reality of Notre Dame, there are some incredible historical sites and monuments around the world that humans have failed to preserve every year due to globalization, war, vandalism, and neglect.

Syria is in the midst of one of the worst wars in history, and along with the horrific loss of human life, the war is stripping the country of some of the world’s most treasured historical sites. Damascus and Aleppo have endured continuous damage since the start of the war in Syria, and parts of both cities are now in ruins.

The ancient Aleppo Souk was destroyed by a fire in 2012, obliterating one of the most important historic Silk Road trading posts. Just a year later, the UNESCO-listed castle, Krak des Chevaliers, was hit by an airstrike. The war in Syria has also allowed professional tomb robbers to operate under the radar and loot invaluable sites such as Palmyra, an oasis in the Syrian Desert. In December 2014, the UN announced that 300 heritage sites across Syria had been either completely destroyed or partially damaged.

Another is the vandalism by American soldiers in Iraq. American soldiers have been present in Iraq since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. Some are responsible for vandalizing the ruins of ancient Babylon, which lay at the foot of Saddam Hussein’s former summer palace.

In 2007, it was confirmed that American armed forces had converted Nebuchadnezzar’s great city of Babylon into a 150-hectare camp for 2,000 troops. In the process, the Ishtar Gate was damaged by tanks, and the brick pavement leading up to the gate was destroyed. The rich soil of the city was bulldozed to fill sandbags, and Babylon is now considered to be archaeologically barren.

Monuments such as the Taj Mahal and the rock temples of Petra aren’t just beautiful, they teach the world about human history. But even the most beloved shrine isn’t impervious from destruction. The Great al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq dates to the 12th century, but it was blown up by ISIS in 2017 before they lost control of the city.

So many historical monuments, artefacts and sites in Iraq and Syria were ravaged by the Islamic State (IS) terror group when it was controlling large swathes of those countries between 2014 and 2017.

It would be recalled how the ancient Syrian site of Palmyra, – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – was brutalised by the extremists during their occupation.

The militants destroyed the Temple of Bel, the Temple of Baalshamin, the Arch of Triumph and parts of a second century Roman theatre. Statues in Palmyra’s museum were toppled while Khaled al-Asaad, the 82-year-old head of antiquities in Palmyra, was executed. Though there was worldwide media uproar of the atrocities then, but it was followed by little outpouring of help to save these millennia-old monuments.

Iraq too suffered a lot of damage under IS. The latter destroyed the 13th-century Assyrian city of Nimrud, the ruins at Hatra and Khorsabad and other ancient sites in northern Iraq. Restoring all of these will require huge efforts, massive technical expertise and plenty of funds. And yet there is no guarantee that everything will be back to the way they were, meaning a lot of artefacts and mankind’s physical history have been lost forever.

The Library of Alexandria in Egypt is another example of the disappearing world heritage. It was one of the largest and most famous libraries of the ancient world. It formed part of the Alexandrian Museum. Both the library and museum were founded by Ptolemy I Soter and were maintained by the Ptolemies in Egypt from the beginning of the third century BC.

The famous burning of the Library of Alexandria, and the loss of its invaluable ancient works, has become a symbol of the irretrievable loss of public knowledge. Myths about its demise have circulated for centuries, with suspected culprits including Julius Caesar, Theophilus of Alexandria, and Caliph Omar of Damascus.

Back home in Nigeria, illegal encroachment and a lack of maintenance has led to the destruction of the ancient Kano wall. That historic artefact is also disappearing with history. The Kano wall stood as a fortress during the time of the Fulani empire, hundreds of years before British colonisers set foot in Kano.

Then, the second most populous city in West Africa, was surrounded by a brown-mud wall standing 3.5-metres high and 1.5-metres thick to protect it from outside invasion. The fortification covered an area of 24km and all entry and exit to the city, which at the time was home to an estimated 50,000 people, was through one of 13 giant gates manned by security guards.

The city was a centre for Islamic studies and a thriving trading hub with abundant water and rich iron deposits. The massive barrier protected the inhabitants inside, but that was the old days. Things are very different today. Large parts of the barricade, which is more than 1,000 years old, is either destroyed or in a bad state of disrepair.

Abbas Yushau, 35, is a campaigner who wants to preserve the barrier’s glorious past. He said: “The wall is our culture. That wall stands for us. When people think of Kano they think of the wall. It is our symbol. We need to preserve and maintain our ancient culture, not destroy or watch it go into ruins.”

The Walls of Benin is the story of a lost medieval city. Benin City was once the capital of a pre-colonial African empire – the Benin empire – dating back to the 11th century. The Guinness Book of Records (1974 edition) described the walls of Benin City and its surrounding kingdom as the world’s largest earthworks carried out prior to the mechanical era.

According to estimates by the New Scientist’s Fred Pearce, Benin City’s walls were at one point “four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops”.

Situated on a plain, Benin City was enclosed by massive walls in the south and deep ditches in the north. Beyond the city walls, numerous further walls were erected that separated the surroundings of the capital into around 500 distinct villages.

Pearce writes that these walls “extended for some 16,000km in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They covered 6,500sq km and were all dug by the Edo people. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.” Barely any trace of these walls exist today.

Sungbo Eredo, situated off the main road in Ogun State, has been claimed to be Africa’s largest single ancient monument. It is a 100-mile-long wall and moat, whose construction is believed to have begun a millennium ago. The Eredo, which encloses an area of about 25 miles from south to north and 22 miles from west to east, was erected around a kingdom of the Yoruba and surrounds many towns and villages.

According to local legends, the Eredo was built by Sungbo, a wealthy, childless widow who wanted to be remembered by ordering a great monument.

The Eredo, which was probably constructed over three centuries, served less as a physical barrier than as a spiritual one. Sungbo Eredo vertical sided ditches of hardened laterite (natural soil mixture of clay and iron-oxides) show how the ditch profiles were originally dug.

Together with the bank of spoil heaped up on the inner side, the combined height can be as much as 20 metres. Trees above this gigantic ditch help protect its sides from the forces of nature. Today, these trees have fallen or been cut down.

Unfortunately, criminal neglect has been the lot of many of Nigeria’s monuments and tourist sites. Many of these tourist sites lack a maintenance culture and the pilfering of the little income they generate has been a common phenomenon.

The Goodluck Jonathan administration had a Ministry of Culture and Tourism, to at least salvage a little of these disappearing monuments, but the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government scrapped this important ministry when it came on board in 2015.

The existing parastatals such as National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation and National Council of Arts and Culture, have been rendered ineffective due to poor funding.

For instance, while the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM)’s counterpart in neighbouring Ghana, Ghana Museums and Monuments last Thursday marked the International Day for Monuments and Sites, there was no such activity or a statement released by NCMM.

The Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Museums and Monuments, Kingsley Ofosu Ntiamoah, in a statement to mark the day, said his outfit is in the process of updating and compiling a National Heritage Register of Sites and will include mapping of Rural Landscapes for incorporation into the National Heritage Register.

The Acting Director General, NCMM, Alhaji Abdulkarim Oshioke Kadiri, has since his appointment about two years ago only been able to host the management staff and curators of the commission from across the country to a brainstorming session in Nasarawa State.

At the session, he hinted that the commission would soon commence the digitalization of NCMM objects/artifacts, monuments and heritage site to create a museum without walls, adding that through visual reality, NCMM will market and sell Nigeria via online access.

He said: “We want to see how we can put Nigerian museums on a top pedestal in Africa. Our museums, artifacts, monuments and heritage sites are very rich and among the most valued and respected all over the world. What we have been lacking is adequate publicity. Our funding is dwindling, which is why we are brainstorming to see how we can create the awareness of Nigerians on what we have so it can be appreciated.

“After that, we intend to produce in commercial quantity products we are producing under our arts and craft village to sell and raise funds. People think of the museum as a dead place but I have been working at the museum for the past 13 years and as a chartered accountant, I know that a lot of products the museum produces can be marketed to increase the GDP of this country.

“We are partnering with a private company that is going round to all our museums in the 36 states of the federation to take digital images of our artifacts and monuments in all the museums and natural heritage sites and be able to showcase them on vitual image platforms on the internet where people can log into, pay a fee and learn to appreciate our culture. This victual reality platform will create a museum without walls where you can sit at the comfort of your house and visit our museums and monuments all over the country”.

A member of the House of Representatives, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, has decried the neglect of the culture and tourism sector of the economy, which according to him makes a mockery of the quest by government to diversify the economy.

Ogbeide-Ihama, who is the chairman of the House committee on Culture and Tourism, stated that the situation was worsened due to the poor funding of the sector over the years. He argued that government stand to make immediate gains from the sector since it could strengthen the unity among Nigerians.

The lawmaker, who represents Oredo Federal Constituency of Edo State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), argued that the development of the sector could provide employment opportunities to the unemployed and earn the country monies from exports of locally-made cultural materials.

In 2018, about 121,000 people visited the Osun-Osogbo Grove for the annual festival. This was disclosed by Mr. Makinde Williams, the Deputy Director (Research) at NCMM. Williams, who is also the Curator of Osun-Osogbo Groove, said Nigerians and tourists from all over the world visited the groove during the annual festival in September last year.

He added that the groove also hosted students, tourists, traditional worshippers and knowledge-seekers for excursion, site-seeing and other businesses. He said the Federal Government, through the NCMM, was generating revenue from the groove and also spending money to preserve its ancient structures.

“The Osun-Osogbo groove is 100 per cent funded by the Federal Government through the Ministry of Information, Arts and Culture and that is why it is in good shape. The Federal Government makes sure that the tourist site is well preserved and in return, the revenue generated from the groove is kept in the government’s account.”

As impressive as this figure may sound, it is a far cry from what developed nations eke out of their tourist sites and monuments. The famed Paris Notre Dame cathedral, which was engulfed in flames last Monday, is Europe’s most-visited historic monument and emblem of France, pulling in some 12 to 14 million visitors each year, an average of more than 30,000 per day. A favourite spot for tourists, Notre Dame also attracted many couples hoping to tie the knot under its famed Gothic arches.

Egypt is the hottest destination billionaires are traveling to this year, according to luxury travel agency, Original Travel, which plans trips for high-net-worth individuals. The African country came in first in the ranking of top destinations where billionaires are headed in 2019, which it determined by looking at the number of bookings and performance. Their 2019 bookings for Egypt are set to triple last year’s bookings, Amelia Stewart, brand ambassador for Original Travel, told Business Insider.

You don’t have to look far to see Egypt’s appeal: It has a rich Pharaonic history and plenty of iconic landmarks, not to mention Greek, Roman, and Islamic influences to explore. In October 2018, United States First Lady, Melania Trump, visited four African nations as part of her first solo international trip.

She started off in Ghana then to Malawi, Kenya and wound up her trip in Egypt where she met with President Al-Sisi and his wife, and also visited the Great Pyramids before flying back home. At the time, Trump tweeted twice about Melania. First, that Melania and Africa were loving each other beautifully, then summarizing the tour later, he said his wife had represented America very well with her engagements.

Six months later, Trump made a strong case for Egyptian tourism stressing the hope that people troop to visit the structure because of how great and wonderful it was. According to him, Melania – “as hard to impress as she is, was very impressed by her trip to the Pyramids.”

Melania Trump and the billionaires are only part of the numbers that make up the 14.7 million visitors per year to the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Perhaps the most famous of all historical sites in the world, the Pyramids of Egypt are considered by many to be seen once in a lifetime. The three great pyramids are the most iconic; Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, and serve as tombs of pharaohs.

Other high grossing historical sites that make up the world’s top three destinations besides Egypt’s pyramids are: the Taj Mahal white mausoleum built in India, grossing an average of eight million visitors every year and the Great Wall of China, grossing 10.7 million visitors every year.

If the Federal Government would envision a Nigeria beyond oil, then tourism must be given a front-burner attention while supporting infrastructure must be activated to boost revenues from its myriads of monuments and historic sites.

Insecurity, a present bane in the country, would also have to be frontally addressed to inspire and instill confidence among potential visitors and tourists. Only at the weekend, a British aid worker identified as Faye Mooney, was confirmed dead after she was shot by kidnappers in Kaduna State. Mooney was employed in Nigeria as a communication specialist for the non-governmental organization, Mercy Corps.

The woman was among the two people shot dead as kidnappers stormed a party at a holiday resort late on Friday.

The armed gang also killed a Nigerian man and kidnapped three others after gaining entry to the Kajuru Castle Resort in Kaduna.

Kajuru Castle is a luxury villa, built between 1981 and 1989, at Kajuru village. It was built by a German expatriate in Nigeria, living in Kaduna at the time. The castle is located at about 45km from Kaduna on a mountaintop in Kajuru village.

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