This map shows 49 World Heritage sites located less than ten metres above sea level, with their Unesco number and name. The coloured lines represent the extreme levels that would occur in 2100 under the researchers’ “high-end” sea-level rise scenario. Map courtesy of Lena Reimann et al, Mediterranean Unesco World Heritage at risk from coastal flooding and erosion due to sea-level rise, published in Nature Communications 9, October 2018 ©Reimann et al (2018)

Arles, Roman and Romanesque monuments (164): The small city of Arles on the river Rhone in Provence, southern France, was once an ancient Roman colony. The arena and the Roman theatre date back to the first century BC, while the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of Alyscamps are evidence of a “second golden age” during the fourth century, according to Unesco. The Nature report estimates the sea level rise affecting the Camargue region around Arles at 1.6m to 1.8m by 2100. After major flooding in December 2003, local and regional authorities have attempted to strengthen the city’s defences under a scheme known as the Rhone Plan 2015-20. This €850m strategy was formulated in 2004 by a partnership including the Rhone-Mediterranean Basin Committee and three regional councils. As part of this flood prevention initiative, quays in Arles have been renovated. But asked about the risks faced over the next century, a spokesman for Arles city council says that climate change issues “tend to be a matter for central government—we would not deal with this at a local level”. The French ministry of the environment declined to say whether it would act on the findings of the new report. Gareth Harris ©PXHERE

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa (395): The Piazza del Duomo or Piazza dei Miracoli is the religious and monumental heart of Pisa. It includes the Duomo, with masterpieces by Cimabue and Giovanni Pisano, the Baptistery, the Camposanto cemetery and the famous Leaning Tower. This is the only site in Tuscany that is at potential flooding risk, but not until about 2060, when storm surges could reach nearly 1.9m. The non-profit organisation Opera della Primaziale Pisana has been investing large sums for more than two decades in monitoring monuments in the piazza, as well as the frescoes moved to the Camposanto after the Second World War, with sophisticated sensors to detect any changes in temperature and guard against condensation. However, according to Andrea Muzzi, the head of the superintendency for archaeology, fine arts and landscape for the provinces of Pisa and Livorno, the greatest risk is not rising sea levels but the encroaching souvenir stands. Laura Lombardi ©Sailko

Archaeological areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata (829): The administration of Pompeii has special autonomy under Italy’s ministry of culture and is responsible for a vast territory, including the Antiquarium of Boscoreale, the archaeological area of Villa Sora in Torre del Greco, the Castello di Lettere, the archaeological park of Longola in Poggiomarino, the royal Bourbon gunpowder factory in Scafati, the palace of Quisisana and Stabiae in Castellammare, the archaeological site of Oplontis in Torre Annunziata, and the Villa Regina in Boscoreale. According to the Nature report, the Unesco-listed archaeological areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata are at low to medium risk of erosion and are not at risk of flooding until the end of the century. Massimo Osanna, the director of the archaeological park of Pompeii was not aware of the report and declined to comment on a study “for which I do not know the criteria, and where the site was not visited in person”. However, he says: “I do not think the problem for Pompeii is erosion but the risk of earthquakes. We need to focus on concrete and immediate risks, not things that might happen 100 years from now.” Olga Scotto di Vettimo ©Aleksandr Zykov

Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica (1200): The Unesco site includes the nucleus of ancient Syracuse, founded by the Greeks in the eighth century BC, with the temple of Athena, the Greek theatre, the Roman amphitheatre, as well as the rocky necropolis of Pantalica 30km away, with its 5,000 tombs from the 13th to the seventh century BC. In 2000, it was at risk of storm surges of 0.23m, rising by 2100 to 1.75m. Coastal erosion is already causing concern. Aurelio Angelini, the head of the Unesco Heritage Foundation of Sicily and a lecturer in ecology, considers the Kiel University study “a conservative scenario”. He believes that the “outlook is much more serious”, with Palermo also among the Sicilian sites at risk. “In Italy, there is a widespread indifference,” Angelini says. “There is only a small paragraph on cultural heritage in the 2017 report by the ministry of the environment, and although there is a national plan for adaptation to climate change, it is a very general evaluation. In Sicily, nothing is planned to address such risks, and nobody in the regional or urban authorities knows about the national plan.” Giusi Diana ©Francesco Bandarin

Early Christian monuments of Ravenna (788): Ravenna is home to the greatest surviving complex of late Roman and Byzantine imperial buildings, including the mausoleums of Galla Placidia and Theoderic, the Neonian and Arian Baptisteries, the Archbishop’s Chapel and the basilicas of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, San Vitale and Sant’Apollinare in Classe, all erected between the fifth and sixth centuries. The report says that the site is already at the highest level of flooding risk and it may suffer storm surges of more than two metres by 2100. There is no real risk of coast erosion today, but by 2100 the situation will almost reach the highest level of risk. Giorgio Cozzolino, the superintendent for archaeology, fine arts and landscape for Ravenna, Forlì-Cesena and Rimini, says he is aware of the study, and that the local authorities “have been active since the 1950s in the study of the risks and the monitoring of the water movements and subsistence”. The Basilica di San Vitale, for example, “can only be visited today thanks to pumps that channel the water out”. Nevertheless, there is much work to be done. “There has already been funding for the protection and maintenance of individual monuments, but I believe that the solution cannot be local; it needs to be national and supranational.” Stefano Luppi The Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna © Yiannis Vacondios

Ferrara, city of the Renaissance and its Po Delta (733): This is a composite Unesco site: in 1995, the “city of the Renaissance” was designated a World Heritage site, including the Medieval and Renaissance parts, the walls, the urban park and 20th-century buildings. In 1999, the listing was extended to include the Delizie, the pleasure residences of the Dukes of Este in the Po River Delta. The latter are the most vulnerable: the data from the study show that the Po Delta is already at the highest risk of both flooding and coastal erosion. The Ferrara city councillor Roberta Fusari co-ordinates a management group for the site, with representatives from the province, the regional park of the delta, and the ministry of culture’s regional secretariat for Emilia Romagna. She says: “We have been dealing with these risks for years because half the province of Ferrara, and therefore the Po Delta, is below sea level”. Through an EU project, the group has been working on “an adaptation strategy for the site that will be included in the management plan, which has been operational since 2005”, Fusari says. “For 2019-20, we are also preparing two international EU co-operation projects for historic centres and climate change for Ferrara, where the risk is greatest.” Stefano Luppi Castello Estense in Ferrara © PIxabay

Old city of Dubrovnik (95): Known as the Republic of Ragusa for almost 500 years until 1808, Dubrovnik is one of the Mediterranean’s best-preserved fortified cities and has lately gained international fame thanks to a starring role in the TV series Game of Thrones. Compact and tightly packed with terracotta-roofed homes, the old city’s position on the Dalmatian coast means it is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. Dubrovnik is one of seven Unesco sites in Croatia that the report identifies as at risk from flooding, the second-highest national total after Italy. All the Croatian sites are also said to be at risk from coastal erosion. The flood risk in Dubrovnik is expected to reach a tipping point by 2050. In line with the report’s recommendation that countries with a large number of World Heritage sites at risk should devise adaptation measures at a national level, the Croatian government is developing a Climate Change Adjustment Strategy that will include potential scenarios in 2040 and 2070. While the ministry of environment and energy has overall responsibility for the strategy, the culture ministry is involved in drafting cultural heritage impact assessments. The culture ministry says that managing the risks of climate change will be an integral part of the management plan for Dubrovnik currently in preparation. Richard Unwin ©Francesco Bandarin

Butrint (570): Butrint in southern Albania, on low-lying ground surrounded by marshland and unspoilt landscape, was a Greek colony until 44BC, when Julius Caesar declared it a Roman colony, to reward soldiers who had fought with him against Pompey. Under the high-end scenario, Butrint is at moderate risk of both flooding and erosion, with 1.6m to 1.8m storm surges predicted by 2100. The archaeological site is surrounded by a national park and has benefited greatly from the support of the Butrint Foundation, set up in 1993 by Lord Rothschild and Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover. The foundation, together with the Albania-American Enterprise Foundation, is currently drawing up a new management plan for the government of Albania on how to manage the growing number of tourists. Richard Hodges, the foundation’s scientific director, says that it has taken note of the report and will prepare a mitigation strategy. He adds that a storm surge of 1.8m would cover nearly the entire ancient site, leaving only the acropolis in view. Anna Somers Cocks ©Anastasia Tzigounaki

Historic areas of Istanbul (356): Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine empire until the Muslim conquest in 1453, and then the capital of the Ottoman empire until the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne formally established the Republic of Turkey. Officially renamed Istanbul in 1930, the city’s most famous heritage sites include the Hagia Sophia, originally built as a church between AD532 and AD537 and later used as a mosque. According to the report, the Sea of Marmara, which connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, will rise by between 1.6m and 1.8m by 2100. Last year, officials from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality drew up a climate change action plan, including adaptation proposals for the megalopolis. This outlined how the city will be affected by environmental factors, such as an “increase in precipitation (maximum 59%) during heavy rainy days”. A spokesman for the authority declined to comment further on the plan. Orhan Sen, a professor in meteorological engineering at Istanbul Technical University, says that the combination of increasing rainfall and the disappearance of green spaces puts Istanbul “at risk of urban flooding”. The city government is “striving to strengthen buildings above ground to combat the risk of earthquakes”, he adds, but “this means it is not focusing on the overall infrastructure of the city”. Gareth Harris © PIxabay


Analysis: impact of sea-level rise on ten Unesco World Heritage sites around the Mediterranean

We asked officials at ten major sites how prepared they were—with alarming results

Ruins of a building in the Po Delta (2009) © Fulvio Varone

Ruins of a building in the Po Delta (2009) © Fulvio Varone

To read further reporting on this issue, click here.

The Art Newspaper asked officials in charge of key Unesco World Heritage sites in the Mediterranean, from Arles, across Italy, to Istanbul, whether they were aware of the climate-change risks highlighted by the recent report in the scientific journal Nature and how they plan to address them. The responses varied widely, from mitigation strategies in the pipeline to outright denial.