by Jorge Otero-Pailos

The monuments of the world are beyond their carrying capacity. But the number of visitors increases by the day. In 2007, twenty-five million people visited the Memorial Parks of Washington DC. That is more than forty-two times the resident population of the city. Between 30,000 and 50,000 people walk into Notre Dame de Paris every day, which is only 48,000 square meters. The Great Wall of China is the eleventh most-visited tourist attraction in the world, drawing ten million visitors per year. The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nation World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals have increased in volume by more than thirty-two times since 1950, and they are expected to reach 1.6 billion in 2020. Visitation damages monuments, sometimes irreparably. The most innocent acts, like breathing, can alter the humidity ratio in delicate environments and destroy them when multiplied by thousands. For instance, the amount of exhalations is a serious concern in the prehistoric caves of Altamira, Spain, which must limit visitation to 8,500 people per year. In 2000, the Spanish Ministry of Culture built a replica of the cave right next to the original, to accommodate excess visitors. Another older replica of the caves also exists in Madrid’s National Archeological Museum. Historic preservation is undergoing a fundamental transformation in order to manage the crises caused by mass tourism, turning from the public sector to private enterprise. Specifically, by recognizing that thanks to mass tourism, the great monuments of the world now have larger audiences than some television shows and incorporate advertising. Private companies are vying to use the most-visited sites as media to broadcast their brands within the meaningful, experiential context of memorable vacations. Take for instance the facade of Milan’s Duomo, which is currently partially hidden behind a huge billboard for companies like Camper Shoes and Vagary Watches. American Express awards yearly preservation grants to historic places around the United States and abroad. In exchange for their sponsorship, it receives the right to present its logo at sponsored sites. By encouraging private companies to usurp the preservation of national monuments, the state’s power to endure—and preserve itself—appears symbolically weakened. As an instrument of this weakening effect, historic preservation reveals itself to be part of the greater process of globalization, which is a collective dream of the demise of the nation-state. We are perhaps not far from wish fulfillment.





















Bootleg Edition Urban China (C-Lab)