World Heritage Site newsletter #11

July 2006

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It’s the time of the year again, July, when the World Heritage Committee meets and deliberates on the future of the World Heritage List. All official documents can be found on the Unesco-website (http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2006/30com-en.htm). Below you can find the main results, and some thoughts on the 2006 inscriptions by two of the website’s most prominent reviewers.

New entries for 2006:

The following 18 sites were added to the World Heritage List during the meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Vilnius, bringing the total to 830 sites.

 

Sewell Mining Town Chile
Yin Xu China
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries China
Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary Colombia
Harar Jugol Ethiopia
Stone Circles of Senegambia Gambia Senegal
Old town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof Germany
Bisotun Iran
Genoa: Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli Italy
Chongoni Rock Art Area Malawi
Aapravasi Ghat Mauritius
Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila Mexico
The aflaj irrigation system Oman
Centennial Hall in Wroclaw Poland
Vizcaya Bridge Spain

Crac des Chevaliers Syria

Kondoa Rock Art Sites Tanzania
Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape UK

Also, Finland’s Kvarken Archipelago was added as an extension to Sweden’s High Coast, turning it into a transboundary site.

 

Thoughts on the 2006 inscriptions

I asked two of the regular contributors what they thought of the new inscriptions.

Paul Tanner (read his profile here) reports 6 visits and 2 near-misses among the 18. He already provided reviews on two of them, The aflaj irrigation system and Stone Circles of Senegambia . Here’s what he has to say: ‘UNESCO GETS TOUGH(ER)? But what does it do to the list?’

Each year, as the World Heritage Committee (WHC) meeting approaches, my “Google Alerts” begin to fill with trailed “leaks” about potential inscriptions. Although the list for consideration is supposed to be secret it is possible to get a fair idea of which sites which are “in the frame” – and excitement had been growing in the news services of Iran, China, France, India and Mauritius!

On July 4 a UNESCO spokesperson announced that 37 unnamed sites (27 cultural, 8 natural, 2 mixed and 3 trans-boundary) from 30 named countries would be considered between Jul 8 -16. Yet, on July 7, another announcement stated that fewer than half the 37 sites  had been provisionally approved for inclusion on the list, but refused to give any details:- “Our experts have recommended 14 sites to be included on the WH list, but this does not mean that only these sites will be included. Four countries have withdrawn their nominations." (“Withdrawal” is a common response when a country sees that its nomination has no chance!)

Now the jamboree is over we have a mere 18 new sites – so 12 of the 30 countries listed on July 4 are returning home disappointed! Furthermore only 2 Natural” sites (China/Columbia) plus 1 extension (Finland) were inscribed from the 8. On 12 July IUCN (which provides technical advice to the WHC on Natural sites) stated “The Committee also decided not to inscribe or to defer other nominated natural sites, either because they do not meet the Convention’s criteria of global significance, or because they do not currently meet the required standards of conservation. For example, following IUCN’s recommendation, the Committee decided to defer a decision on the tropical rainforest of Borneo until Indonesia and Malaysia have adequately addressed ongoing threats, such as illegal logging, and transboundary management challenges.”

In explanation the WHC Chairwoman stated “The tendency is to add fewer new sites every year. Last year we had 24 new entries; this year the figure is lower. Our main concern is preserving sites which are already on the list” (actually fewer than 18 sites have been added in previous years but the fact that she said it was interesting). Indeed much of the news was about current sites which were “endangered”. The WHC came under criticism by numerous environmental groups for not putting Everest onto the endangered list and, perhaps as a “sacrificial lamb”, Dresden was threatened with removal from the list by 2007 if it builds a planned bridge over the Elbe – a much more specific threat than in any previous year.  So the WHC was demonstrating “toughness” in 2 directions – with both new proposals and existing sites 

Yet, in some respects, little changed - 6 of the top 8 countries by number of sites received additions. Even the other 2, India and France, possibly only received a deferral for Majuli and Causses/Cevennes (we will need to see the minutes). Only 1 new country was added (Mauritius). Otherwise most prizes still seem to go to the best organised and to those who are capable of jumping through all UNESCO’s hoops! In UK the group preparing the “Lake District” nomination has stated “Experience from other World Heritage Site bids has led us to believe that we need to set aside a budget of £350,000 to cover the application over the next two years.”  UNESCO helps poorer countries but even then bureaucracy seems to take precedence over “value”. All 4 of the African sites inscribed this year were “deferred” in earlier years for not fully complying with UNESCO standards – were they really that much “better” this time? The whole process is full of “management-speak” and subject to pressure groups and international politics. Is “Inscription” a credible process when such a high percentage of the 37 sites can “fail” at the final hurdle for not having correctly prepared a submission or because, despite all the guidelines and investigations, they are suddenly not considered “of global significance”?

It may seem that the world is queuing to get sites inscribed for reasons of national pride, tourist revenues etc but there is another side. The Dresden “naming and shaming” will probably succeed in getting the bridge cancelled/moved but, in some countries at least, this too may have an effect of dissuading new proposals. Lake District residents in UK are concerned about yet another “interfering body” and perhaps it should be no surprise that the USA hasn’t had a new site inscribed since 1995. Its culture seems unlikely to take kindly to un-elected bodies and experts, many from countries whose own records are pretty weak, telling it what it can and can’t do. So, whilst USA has numerous world class (but uninscribed!) bridges and twentieth century buildings (often privately owned however – another negative in UNESCO’s eyes), this year’s additions include a querky bridge from Spain and an interesting but non-iconic twentieth century concrete building from Poland. As UNESCO “gets tough” the list is in danger of becoming less a genuine statement of the “best” and more a reflection of which countries have governments which see benefit in making a “Faustian Pact” with UNESCO and which can successfully negotiate the labyrinthine procedures and political deals required.

Ian Cade (read his profile here) hasn’t visited any of the newly inscribed sites, but nevertheless has his thoughts to share.

The site I am happiest to see inscribed is Bisotoun, I have a real interest in Iran and the bass relief hear is a very important monument and is a key aspect of our current understanding of the ancient Persian civilisation due to it being the key to the translation of cuneiform, Dan Cruickshank refers to it as being like a Rosetta Stone in-situ.

A third of the sites inscribed are European, and I wonder if another European town, another set of mines and another group of Palaces are really what the list needs in order to correct the bias in the list, at least there was not another Cathedral! I should reserve judgment until I have had a chance to visit, perhaps a trip down to Cornwall is due in the next few weeks (I have technically been in the site but I am not counting it as a visit yet).

Reading the brief synopsis of the sites it seems that the Western European countries are able to compile nomination dossiers that tick all of the relevant political boxes and it is surprising how many new sites have ‘influenced the development of other sites through out the world’.

Two of the European inscriptions are of interest for being architecturally esoteric inscriptions, now I have read a fair bit about the Centenary Hall in Wroclaw but I have not heard of the Vizcaya Bridge (a first Basque site!). I wonder how far down the line we can go before every movement in modern architecture gets its inscription, although it is important to preserve architectural heritage I wonder if each is of ‘outstanding universal value’

I am interested in Tequila inscription, maybe this paves the way for the nomination of some sites associated with beer production, Plzen/ Belgian abbeys?

I must say though that some of the strength of the list lies in its ability to incorporate many aspects of heritage and is not just an exclusive list of famous monuments, and I look forward to some of these inscriptions turning up hidden treasures like last year, I just wish that the sites were spread a little more evenly.

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New visited sites

While Unesco’s World Heritage Committee was deliberating the inclusions for 2006, I stayed in Greenland for a week. There I visited Ilulissat Icefjord, one of the most prominent new entries over the last few years (2004). It’s a great site to visit for a few days, it’s very large.

‘My first real good look at the Icefjord was during a walking tour through the Sermermiut Valley. The day had started out sunny, but the closer we got to the ice the more foggy and cloudy it became. Finally, at the edge of the glacier, I could only see the smaller pieces of ice floating near the coast. Also quite interesting to see because of their different sizes, colours and shapes. We were leaving (with the idea to come here again on a brighter day), when one of our group looked over her shoulder and called out that the fog started to dissipate. A memorable spectacle unfolded before our eyes: one by one the large icebergs protruded from the fog and showed themselves.’ A memorable visit to a worthy WHS!