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International Day for Monuments and Sites 2013: The Heritage of Education

The heritage of education is the theme of this year’s International Day for Monuments and Sites, celebrated on April 18 and intended to draw attention to shared cultural heritage concerns across the globe. By focusing on the heritage of education, the day underscores how institutions for generating and sharing knowledge have shaped the built landscape of the past as well as the minds of new generations.

World Monuments Fund has recognized the important role educational institutions play in historic landscapes as well as cultural identities. Through the World Monuments Watch, WMF has highlighted the plight of many schools, libraries, and other places of learning, threatened by demolition or a lack of resources. Through renewed attention and collaborative support, WMF and the Watch have worked to preserve educational institutions spanning centuries of history.

The Franciscan Monastery Library in Dubrovnik, Croatia, dates to 1235 and was severely damaged by earthquakes and the civil war of 1991–92. Housing over 70,000 manuscripts, restoration of the building has enabled to library to remain an important resource for scholarly and religious communities. The Sultan Qa’itbay Complex in Cairo, Egypt, was established in 1477 and through its preservation has continuously served as a kuttab (boys’ Koranic school).

At the other end of the spectrum, WMF has drawn attention to mid-twentieth-century modern architecture and its often overlooked value as part of our cultural and educational legacy. Despite significant advocacy efforts, Paul Rudolph’s Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida, and the Phillis Wheatley School in New Orleans, Louisiana, were both lost to the wrecking ball. However, two libraries by Marcel Breuer—in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Atlanta, Georgia—have been protected and preserved, along with Alvar Aalto’s Viipuri Library in Vyborg, Russia.

Whether an ancient Koranic school or a marvel of modernism, these educational institutions form important benchmarks in the evolution of landscapes and civilizations. The influences of other lands and cultures can be seen in their architecture, reinforcing notions that we are all global citizens and shaping both individual and collective identities. Thus these physical vestiges are important reminders of the bodies of knowledge and values that we impart to future generations. Through heritage conservation, we underscore the educational processes that allow society to innovate and progress by using the lessons of the past to generate new ideas and opportunities for all.