Put mitigation measures in place at historical landmarks

Natalie Wing, Staff Reporter

Imagine you are in Italy admiring the beautiful history of Pompeii, only to see immense damage. 

Tourism has been a growing problem for historical sites like Pompeii for decades. Many people who visit them have been careless, have vandalized or have stolen from the sites. Erosion has been a common issue, too, as people walk, climb or hike on top of them. This leads to the question, then: Should tourism be allowed at major historical sites? 

Some might argue no because we need to do whatever it takes to preserve historical sites. Many people bring up the fact that we do not deserve to view these sites due to the damage we cause to them. 

Additionally, new technology is becoming more readily available for many individuals. For example, the use of virtual reality is becoming more and more popular, and this technology can be used to see and interact with sites without actually visiting them. 

But actually being able to see something from the past with one’s own eyes is life-changing. Being able to submerge oneself into history will help with understanding, respecting, and fully comprehending everything that has come before us. 

The Global Heritage Fund who has done numerous research and current projects on tourism said, “Cultural heritage tourism has a number of important benefits. Exposure to other cultures and communities can expand worldviews and increase intercultural understanding. Cultural tourism helps build bridges between vastly different communities. Tourism can also introduce people to new cultures, build understanding and forge connections— impacts we sorely need in today’s increasingly divisive world.”

When I visited Tulum, Mexico, for example, I was able to walk near the ruins there. It was beautiful. I was able to learn so much about the history through the guide that my family had. What I appreciated the most, though, were the barricades around each structure. This ensured the site’s safety. It also allowed animals, such as iguanas, to roam the grounds undisturbed. 

Nicole Stocker, who is a museum educator with the Lake County Forest Preserves and its Dunn Museum, also said she thinks tourism is important for a better experience with history.

 “I think tourism has the potential for a positive impact on growing interest in learning more about history,” Stocker said. “A key piece of that is visitor experience through interpretation and interaction with staff at those sites.”

Despite the issues tourism may present, it’s also vital to the education of younger generations and to the economy of the place where the site is located. Because we still need tourism, then, we should be putting certain mitigations in place in order to preserve them for our future. An example of this could be having certain places where people can walk or putting barriers in places that keep tourists from touching certain parts of the sites.

For example, Maya Bay in Thailand and Iceland’s Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon are among the many landmarks with restrictions for its visitors; fewer tourists will be able to visit and certain swimming restrictions will be put in place. 

As Thomas Kuhn, social studies teacher, pointed out, once sites are ruined, it’s hard to recover history from that.

“You destroy the beauty of it, and you destroy the structure… I would want to be able to preserve rather than rebuild because seeing it is enough,” Kuhn said. “I don’t think you need to stand in a Civil War trench or walk across Abe Lincoln’s floor to be able to get that connection.”

Seeing a historical site and just being in its presence is still enough of an experience for tourists. The phrase, “You can look, but you can’t touch,” becomes the solution here.  

An example of this concept has been implemented at the historical site of  Chichén–Itza. This tall pyramid from the Mayan civilization has stairs that many tourists were once able to climb. Now, visitors are unable to do so to preserve the site after numerous years of erosion. 

Tourism opportunities at sites like this one do and should continue. We can submerge ourselves in the past to look at how that will affect our future. But, so future generations can have the same opportunity, we need to preserve and protect these amazing sites, too. Being in the presence of them is enough. We don’t need to touch, vandalize or steal from future generations of tourists trying to learn about our history.