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How Much Money Should be Spent on Historic Buildings?


Flames rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Par
How Much Money Should be Spent on Historic Buildings?
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The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has raised questions about the condition of thousands of other cathedrals and historic structures across Europe. It also raises questions about whether European governments are doing enough to keep up and care for such buildings.

Critics suggest that a culture of indifference to aging, world famous buildings could undermine a shared history and Europe’s tourism industry.

Tibor Navracsics is the European Union’s top culture official. He told The Associated Press that "we are so used to our outstanding cultural heritage in Europe that we tend to forget that it needs constant care and attention."

Some people say the fire last week was a wake-up call, not just for Europe, but the whole world.

Sneska Quaedvlieg-Mihailovicis heads the heritage group Europa Nostra. She said it was “as if Notre Dame decided to set itself on fire to ring the alarm bell. As if she wanted to sacrifice herself for the cause.”

Large fires have long robbed humanity of knowledge, art and treasures. One example is the fire at the famous library of Alexandria in northern Egypt.

Didier Rykner works for the French magazine La Tribune de l'Art. Rykner knows of no actual list of historic buildings destroyed by fire. But he added that France sees "several fires every year in historic buildings, which is already way too much."

In 2015, the German engineering company Siemens found that Scotland had about 10 damaging fires a year, while England lost at least a dozen listed buildings a year. In Germany, 70 historic buildings have been destroyed since 2000.

And all too often, fires happen while old structures are being repaired.

Firefighters attend to a blaze at the Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art for the second time in four years, Glasgow, Scotland, June 16, 2018.
Firefighters attend to a blaze at the Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art for the second time in four years, Glasgow, Scotland, June 16, 2018.

The Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building, for example, was heavily damaged by fire last year. It was the second large fire in four years as workers neared the end of a multimillion dollar restoration project.

Experts say that what is needed is continuous attention and maintenance. These steps, if taken, could help avoid the need for major restoration work.

But regular attention and maintenance costs money.

Part of the problem comes from austerity budgets approved by governments after the 2008 financial crisis and Europe's subsequent debt crisis.

The EU itself set aside $5.28 billion for restorations in the 2014-2020 financial budget. Individual EU states also spend money on repairs.

But as state financing dries up, governments are increasingly looking for private donors to keep up historic structures.

Workers clean the inside of the Trevi Fountain during a one-day routine maintenance, in Rome, July 10, 2017.
Workers clean the inside of the Trevi Fountain during a one-day routine maintenance, in Rome, July 10, 2017.

In recent years, Tod’s luxury shoes provided money for repairs at Italy’s Coliseum. Fendi fashion house helped the Trevi Fountain in Rome, and Diesel backed improvements for the Rialto bridge in Venice.

“We do need to invest more, but this is a shared responsibility for governments, businesses and citizens across Europe,” said the EU’s Tibor Navracsics.

Some say world-renowned monuments like Notre Dame are the driving force behind tourism and should get more respect.

Quaedvlieg-Mihailovicis noted the importance of such respect. “Cultural heritage is a gold mine. You cannot exploit it and then just leave the mine and go to another one. It is something you really have to cherish,” she said.

I'm John Russell.

And I'm Alice Bryant.

Raf Casert reported this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

undermine – v. to lessen the effectiveness or ability of someone or something

tourism – adj. of or relating to businesses and operations of vacations and places of interest

heritage – n. valued objects and qualities, such as historic buildings

bell – n. a musical instrument, usually made of metal

library – n. a building containing a collection of books and sometimes videos, for people to read or borrow

dozen – n. a group of 12

restoration n. the act of returning something to its former place or condition

maintenance – n. the act or process of keeping something in good condition

austerity – n. economic conditions designed to reduce a budget deficit

cherish – v. to feel or show great love for (someone or something)

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