Helping Save the World’s Almost-Lost Treasures
October 23, 2017
As president of the American Express Foundation, I’ve had the pleasure of working with World Monuments Fund (WMF) for many years, and also visiting some of the world’s most important historic and cultural places.
I’ve marveled at the engineering of the Corinthian and Ionic columns of the Temples of Hercules and Portunus in Rome; been welcomed by the community of the historic machiya, residences that include storefronts for small businesses along the canal in Sawara just north of Tokyo; and been challenged by the complex twists and turns of the museums and historic monuments enclosed by the massive red sandstone walls of the Red Fort, which served as the main residence of the Mughal emperors in Old Delhi.
Historic preservation has long been the hallmark of American Express’ involvement in the community. We recognize the importance of cultural sites and monuments as symbols of national and local identity and the role that their preservation can play in attracting visitors and revitalizing neighborhoods.
We also know how fragile these treasures are. Every two years, WMF identifies a selection of cultural heritage sites at risk from the forces of nature or the impact of social, political, and economic change to its World Monuments Watch. The latest Watch was announced on October 16.
Citizens, nonprofits and businesses can come together to bring these sites back from the brink. To-date, American Express has provided more than $60 million to preserve more than 500 historic places globally, including many Watch sites. I am proud to say a number of these sites are thriving today. In addition to the three sites I mentioned above, below are two former Watch sites which American Express helped preserve for the future. If you are visiting Vietnam or Italy, I hope you see these places and take a moment to appreciate their beauty, deep cultural roots and what was almost lost to history.
Photo: Bernard Gagnon
My Son Temple District, Vietnam
Included in the Watch in 1996, 1998 and 2000, My Son was the spiritual and political capital of the Champa Kingdom. The site consists of Hindu temple-towers built between the 4th and 13th centuries. Among the dozens of partially surviving temples, 31 stone slabs were discovered decorated with Sanskrit and Cham carvings, which provide insight into the development of the site from religious origins in the Indian subcontinent. In 2002, through funding from American Express, WMF organized surveys of the site, which provided considerable new information on the significance of My Son and helped a local group take measures to protect the site against flooding and landslides.
Farnese Aviaries, Italy
The Farnese Aviaries, included in the 2014 Watch, are located on the Palatine Hill, once the heart of ancient Rome. The Farnese gardens began in the sixteenth century, when leading Roman families controlled the land on the Palatine. The aviaries are twin square pavilions, arranged at an angle to each other, and originally decorated using sgraffito, a technique employing different layers of plaster. The Aviaries represent the best-preserved Renaissance remains on the Palatine Hill, and are one of the few spaces suitable for public interpretation and programming relating to this period of the hill’s history. Due to prolonged lack of maintenance, the architectural surfaces at the site had deteriorated. With help from American Express and several foundations, the Aviaries’ façade and interiors have been restored.
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