Mapping the Destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Caitlin Dempsey


With the growth of intentional destruction of heritage sites in the Middle East, tracking and finding ways to protect these sites is a critical goal.

The Washington, D.C.-based Antiquities Coalition recently launched its Culture Under Threat Map to highlight the massive amount of deliberate destruction happening to historical sites in the Middle East and North Africa. “In destroying treasured sites like St. Elijah’s, Palmyra, the Mosul Museum, and the Mosque of the Prophet Younus,” said Deborah Lehr, chair and founder of the Antiquities Coalition, “ISIS seeks to intimidate and erase the heritage of Iraq and Syria’s diverse communities — an effort that has targeted Muslims, Christians, and numerous ethnic minorities alike.”

The map only includes public data showing museums and sites designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in order to protect critical but lesser known locations.  The map highlights 700 heritage sites throughout the 22 states of the Arab League, of which 230 have been destroyed.  The mapping application includes a swiping tool to see the loss of heritage sites in the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 Arab Spring.   “Our hope is that this map will help raise awareness about the extent of the destruction that has been wrought by ISIS on our shared heritage,” Lehr said, “These attacks against culture are first and foremost attacks against the people of Iraq, Syria, and the entire region.”


Free weekly newsletter

Fill out your e-mail address to receive our newsletter!

Using Satellite Imagery to Assess and Protect UNESCO World Heritage sites

European Space Imaging (EUSI) along with researchers from the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) has also been working to assess the condition of heritage sites located in Hatra and Nimrud in Iran.  Using WorldView-2 40cm imagery, researchers were able to assess the situation at those sites and a case study of that effort is available.

See Also

Photo of author
About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.