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World Monuments Fund

The devastating earthquake that struck the Italian town of Assisi in the fall of '97 and the damage it did to the region's historic buildings reminded us of how vulnerable some of our greatest architectural treasures can be. Among the organizations that rushed to Assisi's aid was the American Express-backed World Monuments Fund, an international conservation group that helps to preserve sites of cultural significance worldwide. Each year World Monuments compiles a list of the world's 100 most endangered sites. The Savvy Traveler's Tom Verde had occasion to visit one or two, and has this report.

World Monuments Fund
by Tom Verde

Listen with RealAudio: World Monument Fund

Windmill It's hard to imagine the Spanish countryside, and not picture its windmills. These romantic structures with their conical roofs and canvas sails have been cultural icons ever since Miguel de Cervantes immortalized them in his epic novel, Don Quixote de La Mancha.

But while Don Quixote looked upon windmills and saw giants, Don Bernardo Rabasa sees them as a vanishing national treasure.

Rabasa is president of The Friends of the Windmills Association, an activist group dedicated to the restoration and preservation of antique windmills on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, 150 miles off the Spainsh mainland. Rabasa says that so far his group has identified and catalogued the remains of close to 900 molinos, or windmills, which were placed on the World Monuments Fund list of endangered sites a year ago.

Windmill Heavy chains inside the mills regulate the speed and direction of the sails which can move hard and fast enough to kill a man. There are two types of windmills on Mallorca: square buildings topped by pinwheels that pump water and classic flour mills, round stone towers, some dating back to the 14th century, with revolving roofs and six sails as opposed to the usual four, a unique feature of Mallorca's molinos. Lack of use, and therefore lack of maintenance have led to the deterioration of many of Mallorca's windmills. But in the past two years, Rabasa's group has managed to raise enough public and private funds to preserve some 50 water mills as well as four flour mills.

Windmill A $50,000 grant from the World Monuments Fund, says Rabasa, will be used to restore a prominent windmill overlooking the Bay of Palma, Mallorca's capital city. Another dream is to open a museum in one of the restored flour mills dedicated to the history of Mallorca's windmills. For that to happen, says Rabasa, the group will have to raise at least another $350,000. Yet should they succeed, many feel that the new breed of cultural tourists, those interested in more than Mallorca's famous sand and surf, could provide continued support.

Drawing crowds has never been a problem at Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado, another site on the World Monuments endangered list. Nearly three-quarters of a million tourists flock here every year to visit the park's 800-year-old Native American cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde is one of about a dozen U.S. monuments on the list. Others include San Franciso's Golden Gate Park and New York harbor's Ellis Island.

Ancient pueblo Indians used sandstone and mortar to create these impressive, apartment-like complexes in alcoves hundreds of feet above the canyon floor, for reasons that still elude historians. Some, like the 150-room Cliff Palace, resemble small cities, with towers, alleyways, courtyards, and ceremonial spaces.

Though not all of them inhabited the cliffs, a population of around 5000 people thrived here during what was the Middle Ages in western Europe, growing corn, beans and squash on the mesa tops and hunting for game in the canyons. Then, around A.D. 1300, they abandoned their cliffside homes, again for reasons that remain a mystery, although many theorize it was because of drought.They migrated south to the four corners region, where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet and where many of their descendents, the Hopi, Zuni and other tribes, still live today.

Stone Tower at Mesa Verde The cliff dwellings lay silent for 600 years, undisturbed by local Ute Indians who considered it bad medicine to go there. Then, one snowy December day in 1888, a couple of cowboys searching for lost cattle were amazed to stumble upon the ruins of Cliff Palace. Twenty years later, Mesa Verde was declared a national park. At 52,000 acres, it's the largest archeological preserve in the United States.

To reduce the impact of visitors, park officials have limited access to the dwellings in recent years. However, it's nature that poses a greater threat to Mesa Verde. Archaeologist Linda Towle is the park's chief of research.

Towle: The very bottom row of stones that is dark, dark red and white, that's where we have moisture seeping in, probably just from the back of the alcove. It's sort of a perennial problem. Once the stones are soft and the mortar starts to erode, and they're on the bottom, then the wall's gonna fall down.

Towle says it's a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the people who built these dwellings that they're still standing at all after 800 years, yet she's not surprised that they're deteriorating.

Towle: They were maintained by the occupants, the same way that you would fix your roof if it had a leak, the same way that you would fix your storm windows. They would go in regularly and replace the mortar and replace the plaster, and if a beam was rotting out they would put in a new beam.

Some attempts to stabilize the walls over the years have succeeded. Others have resulted in even more damage. The most recent campaign involves documenting of every square inch of the more prominent ruins and making repairs with plaster similar in composition to the original. But this program requires money and the park is short of funds and manpower. Fifty thousand dollars from the World Monuments Fund, together with grants from other sources, has provided some relief but park officials say ongoing support is needed to maintain the historic buildings here.

Windmill Yet short of sending a check, the World Monuments Fund recommends other ways tourists can help preserve Mesa Verde, Mallorca's windmills and the dozens of other architectural treasures on the list. Fewer visitors, of course, would help take some of the pressure off...and by making the effort to see less popular sites off the beaten path, so-called responsible tourists actually have the opportunity to see and do more on their vacations, while at the same time leaving less of a footprint behind.

At Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, I'm Tom Verde for The Savvy Traveler.

For More Information:

For more information on how to make individual contributions, becoming a member or corporate sponsor of The World Monuments Fund, and to see the list of 100 endangered places, visit their web site at http://www.worldmonuments.org/, or call or write them at:

World Monuments Fund
949 Park Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10028
(212) 517-9367
fax: (212) 517-9494
e-mail: wmf@wmf.org

Information on Mallorca:

For more information on Mallorca's windmills or to send donations, contact:

Bernardo Rabasa Oliver
Association de Amigos de los molinos de Mallorca
C/. San Jamie, no. 15
07012 Palma de Mallorca
tel: 34-71-715095
fax: 34-71-716073

World Monuments Fund in Spain:
Juan Carlos Fierro
World Monuments Fund España
Nuñez de Balboa, 83
Madrid, 28006
tel: 34-1-577-7042

For information on Mallorca and visiting Spain, contact the TOURIST OFFICE OF SPAIN at 1-888-OK SPAIN or visit their web page at http://www.okspain.org

Transatlantic and domestic air transportation courtesy of IBERIA AIRLINES. For tickets, reservations and information contact 1-800-772 4642 or visit their web page at http://www.iberia.com

Transportation on Mallorca courtesy of AUTO EUROPE, (800) 223-5555. Worldwide car rental services at competitive rates. Excellent customer service.

Information on Mesa Verde:

There are numerous web sites devoted to Mesa Verde. The park's official web address is http://www.mesaverde.org/. Here you can find information on vising the park as well as how to join the Mesa Verde Museum Association, a nonprofit organization that assists and supports various interpretive programs, research activities, and visitor services.

The Mesa Verde Foundation is another local organization dedicated to preserving the park's historic buildings, and it accepts contributions. Contact them at:

Mesa Verde Foundation
27601 U.S. Highway 160 East
Cortez, CO 81321

Information on Colorado:

For more information on visiting Colorado, visit the Colorado Tourism Board's official website at http://www.colorado.com/ or call 1-800-COLORADO (800-265-6723).

Air transportation to Colorado courtesy of FRONTIER AIRLINES. FRONTIER offers low fares to Denver and other western cities from more than a dozen major domestic hubs. For tickets, reservations and information contact 1-800-4321-FLY (359) or visit their web page at http://www.frontierairlines.com/.

AMERICAN AIRLINES also serves Durango, one of the nearest airports to Mesa Verde National Park, on board AMERICAN EAGLE. To make reservations, call American at 800-433-7300 or visit their web site at http://www.aa.com.


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