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Ancient sites are crumbling, and yet hordes of tourists still descend upon them. How can we save these man-made wonders?

Here’s a case for not getting your rub-on at an ancient holy site like Petra in Jordan:

Petra has two main enemies: people and water. Named one of the wonders of the natural world in 2007, it now attracts hordes of tourists, up to 800,000 a year by some estimates, who sit on the steps of the theater and rub up against the walls of the Siq (the narrow gorge leading to Petra’s most famous temple), eroding inscriptions carved by stone masons thousands of years ago.

Oh, and for the installation of indoor plumbing, too:

Without adequate toilet facilities at the site people have been known to wander off and use the tombs to do their business, producing problematic (and unseemly) chemical reactions with the stones.

Uh…not good. Why the rubbing? Well, the inscriptions are of deities from both from the Arab and Hellenic traditions, so I’m guessing people think it’s good luck or gets them closer to their God(s). I think the peeing speaks for itself.

Seems there are quite a few ancient sites throughout the world falling apart, according to an article in Newsweek. The list includes the Taj Mahal (affected by the pollution from traffic), Angkor (trees taking over and vendors cutting off face carvings to sell to tourists), and Machu Picchu (floods and more stone rubbing), among others.

This once again raises the question of whether or not tourism is actually a good thing for other cultures, or in this case, structures. I know that personally, I’d love to see all of these sites, that to be inside a place with so much history and energy changes a person. But is that view selfish? Isn’t the preservation of these works more important than hordes of tourists playing let-me-get-mine?

Isn’t the preservation of these works of art more important than hordes of tourists playing let-me-get-mine?

I also understand that to upkeep these places – and the livelihood of some of the locals – tourist dollars are necessary. Yet, from the look of things, some of these structures won’t survive but a few more years, and then they have to contend with creating a new income source at that point. Why not start now (and we can help by choosing lesser known destinations within the same area)?

I’m sure there is some balance here – a cap on tourists per year, more security to keep people’s hands to themselves. Problem is, many of these places can’t afford that kind of security, and when a poor vendor knows he can make a good buck from a tourist, he’s gonna do what he needs to do. Plus there’s that whole pesky car/bus/train/plane pollution issue…

What do you think should be done to preserve ancient holy sites? Share your thoughts below.

Community Connection

The question of travel goes beyond environmental issues and into issues of ethics, as Sarah Menkedick discusses in her piece, What is Ethical Travel?

Culture + Religion


About The Author

Christine Garvin

Christine Garvin is a certified Nutrition Educator and holds a MA in Holistic Health Education. She is the founder/editor of Living Holistically...with a sense of humor and co-founder of Confronting Love. When she is not out traveling the world, she is busy writing, doing yoga, and performing hip-hop and bhangra. She also likes to pretend living in her hippie town of Fairfax, CA is like being on vacation.

  • Stephanie

    It’s really heart breaking

  • VagaBen

    Interesting topic. It’s clear that some of the worlds greatest attractions are suffering from tourism. The problem is to find a way to fix it. The only solutions I can see would be increasing entrance prices, which would be extremelly unfair to the less fortunate, and not really do anything as most tourists still would pay up. The other solution would be to reduce opening hours and close for some parts of the year. I think this is the only way that it possibly can be done, but it will create complete chaos during the opened season. problems, problems, problems… The future helds too many f***** problems.

  • Darcy

    That’s actually really sad. I remember visiting Petra with my parents when I was younger, now I’m really interesting to go back and see how it’s changed…

  • Sophie

    Could do like Stonehenge perhaps? Only allowing a very limited number of people access within the circle each day and often at challenging hours. (like 5 am on a Sunday morning). The rest can still get close enough to see quite well. Making something exclusive means people would pay more, i.e. tourist euros.

  • Abbie

    It’s a difficult thing to deal with for me… I really want to see these sites, but I don’t want to contribute to the destruction of them. :(

  • Salud Linares

    Tough issue indeed. I first visited Petra as a student of Arabic in 1987 and have visited this precious place ten more times as a tour guide throughout ten years. I haven´t come back in the last thirteen years. So I can imagine how this site must have changed since then. Anyway I think that something could be done in order to prevent so much crumbling. The Hot potato in the hands of the local Tourism authorities as well as Jordan / foreign travel agencies themselves. It is in their power to take measures.They should get really involved in preserving the place by means of implementing maintenance programmes where EVERYONE, visitors aswell, should take part. Why not devoting 30 minuntes of the tour to show the visitors how the place is changing? (exhibition, videos, photos…) that way tourists and travel agencies would see what is happening. The fee entry should require some task on the part of the visitor. In those 30 min people could cooperate somehow: cleaning, doing some maintenance work…
    Jordanian citizen/students… could do volunteering/social work… And what about swapping a free entry for some work that has to be done?. As I see it is a question of being involved and set to work: every person who steps into Petra must get involved in its preservation, or is it?. Then we will play let-me-get-mine.

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