The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO maintains a list of significant cultural sites worldwide in its World Heritage List. While the purpose of this list is to “catalogue, name, and preserve sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humankind.”
The current issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine reviews the conditions of some of these sites, at least how they fare in respect to tourism.
Of particular note, Masada rates a 69/100 (minor difficulties):
“As a historic site away from an urban center, its cultural integrity has been preserved. The site is well-maintained, and the signage is adequate. It offers vistas of the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley rock formations of unprecedented beauty. The risk for commercial overdevelopment is high and needs to be addressed before it spoils the site.”
“Breathtaking and well worth the visit. Sunrises at Masada are especially beautiful. It benefits the local population both as an economic development tool and as a reminder of the population’s connection with its past.”
“Over the past decade management has improved enormously. The interpretation center and the parking areas at the base of the rock have now been rebuilt in a better style and relocated so as to be largely invisible from the top of the rock, whilst the cable car is now far less obtrusive.”
“Tourist volume and cable cars – which allow much greater access – are minor problems. The evaporation of the Dead Sea presents more major long-term concerns to the area.”
On the downside, “Jerusalem: Old city and its walls“1 does not hold up as well rating a score of 54/100 (In moderate trouble: all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives).
“Most beautiful light of any city, and a unique place. Building codes in new city requiring Jerusalem stone exterior was a great idea. Barrier fence and TV towers intrude on old city. Archaeology is amazing in the tunnel along the wall.”
“Confusing as to what is history and what is now a modern Israeli interpretation. Guides do not provide accurate historical information – highly politicized. Local community has little benefit other than employment and shop revenue.”
“The impact for any visitor is still strong, and restoration seems to be in good hands, but crowds are a nuisance and the high security is obtrusive.”
“Disastrous. A political football. The way the authorities are developing it is killing the multi-religious nature of the city as well as robbing it of meaning.”
“History is politics here, so hugely important Islamic heritage is not given sufficient emphasis (e.g., destruction of area around Wailing Wall to make piazza).”
The magazine’s singular focus on tourism is apparent in these comments, first by discounting any religious benefit Jerusalem might have to the local community. But what is most disingenuous is the predisposed cynicism to the Israeli government. No mention is made of which “authorities” are killing the multi-religious nature of the city, but I doubt they are including the controversial developments on the Temple Mount. And while Jerusalem is indeed highly politicized, the moderators could have just as easily toured through the Armenian, Christian, and Arab quarters to counter the “modern Israeli interpretation.” If they chose not to, then we could easily conclude that there might just be advantages to obtrusively high security.
Considering how much the Israeli economy depends on tourism dollars such a review in a prominent travelling magazine cannot be encouraging. However, Israel has larger concerns at the moment in maintaining its own security in both the short and long term. This of course includes making the country as safe as possible such that travel journalists are free to explore the country and return safely to write myopically critical reviews.
1. Notably, and not surprisingly, not listed as being in Israel.