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10 Bits of Trivia about the WHS of 2020/2021

The first fully online WHC meeting, officially hosted by China in Fuzhou, went about quite smoothly. Even the logistical hurdle of a secret ballot had been foreseen: a representative of each WHC member state had come to the UNESCO office in Paris in person at a certain time to vote. The voting papers would only be handed out on the spot. Two secret ballots were held (on the delisting of Liverpool and the inscription of the Danube Limes). Members succeeded in handing in invalid votes anyway.

34 new sites were selected in this extended session that covered both the nominations of 2020 (postponed due to Covid) and 2021. Find below some aspects that warrant a closer look.

The prize WHS for the host: Quanzhou

1. Missing WHS

From our Missing List, we only saw the inscription of the Scrovegni Chapel as part of the Padua’s fourteenth-century fresco cycles and Korea’s Tidal Flats.

2. The third delisting in history

For the first time since the axing of Dresden in 2009, another site has been removed from the World Heritage List. Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City was the victim, due to “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes conveying the OUV of the property along with significant loss to its authenticity and integrity, that the process of further deterioration is irreversible,..,” resulting from the ‘Liverpool Waters’ development scheme. Selous NP just managed to evade the same fate during this WHC session. 

3. Go to Kamchatka and Turkestan before it is too late

I listened in closely to the discussion of the State of Conservation reports about the properties already enlisted. Two WHS seem to be better visited now than later due to large scale construction plans. In Turkestan they plan to increase the city from 163,000 inhabitants to 500,000 in 2050. It may not particularly harm the structure of the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, but its setting will be totally different. Kamchatka will get a port for large cruise ships and a resort plus ski slopes.

4. (Almost) No Gorillas

Flagship species are popular distinguishing factors among the natural sites. The selected species however are not always as iconic as a mountain gorilla or giant panda. This year we saw the spotlight put on the Spoonbilled sandpiper (Getbol), the Siamese Crocodile (Kaeng Krachan Forest), and a sturgeon (Colchic Rainforests and Wetlands). However, Ivindo NP at the end brought in more gorillas/chimps/forest elephants.

The Jomon are known for their goggle eyed figurines

5. Name changes

At a certain moment during the WHC meeting, the Brazilian representative lashed out at ICOMOS to stop forcing name changes upon properties. “Let the State Parties decide how they name their sites!” Indeed, this year we saw numerous name changes suggested by ICOMOS and even more changes during the phase between TWHS and final nomination. Especially the more flowery Epic Subtitles seem to be discouraged nowadays and replaced by more factual descriptions. In the process we lost a Glorious Kakatiya temple and also Padova Urbs Picta.

6. A single criterion only

Another remarkable trend is the number of sites that have been inscribed on basis of a single criterion only. Up and until 2019, 163 of the 1121 WHS had only one criterion. This represents 15%. During this meeting, 12 of the 34 were sustained by only one criterion – that’s 35%. Does this substantiate the general feeling that more and more niche sites get inscribed?

7. Fewer masterpieces

Something similar is going on with rewarding criterion i: “A masterpiece of human creative genius”. This is the ultimate cultural site. In the past, 30% were awarded with criterion i. At this session there were only 3 out of 28: Chankillo Solar Observatory, Cordouan Lighthouse and the Ramappa Temple. You’d expect Padua there as well, but this was turned down by ICOMOS because the site extends to more than Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel and the other locations do not fit this criterion.

8. Promising South American sites

Among the continents, the South American batch of this year may be the most worthwhile. Its 4 new inscriptions add another interesting site (Chankillo) to Northern Peru, an area where sites such as Kuelap and the Huaca de Luna/Huaca del Sol also lie in waiting. It gave a first to the Atacama Desert with the thusfar unreviewed Chinchorro mummy sites. The Sitio Roberto Burle Marx and the Atlantida Church make repeat visits to Rio and Uruguay appealing.

Reconstruction at the Lower German Limes in Xanten

9. More starchitects

Keeping up with the trend in recent years, 3 contemporary architects had a site inscribed with their name attached to it: Jože Plečnik, Roberto Burle Marx and Eladio Dieste.

10. Starts with an uncommon letter

After the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape and Þingvellir National Park, we now have a third site (and thus a connection!) for WHS which names start with a letter not in the 26 letter modern English alphabet: Ḥimā Cultural Area. The '' is an H with the addition of a dot diacritic.

Els - 1 August 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (vantcj1) 6 August 2021

Excellent summary of these year's inscriptions. As discussed on the forum, a point is that one gets the impression that overruling advisory bodies' recommendations has not only become the standard, but that it is getting worse. 2 additional points: 2 countries have left the "only 1 WHS" group: North Macedonia and Gabon; and 1 new site in a national capital.

Jay T 6 August 2021

Thanks for the rundown on the WHS class of 2020/21; lots of interesting aspects to the new sites — I particularly appreciated your new connection for sites starting with an unusual letter. I’m glad to see some new sites in Africa and South America, even as I am concerned at how quick these recent committees have been to inscribe first and then try to address ICOMOS or IUCN concerns. Hopefully Norway can find some company on the committee in future years.

Els Slots 1 August 2021

It could be done, but I don't think the host country and the representatives will let go of a jubilant get together and side trips.

Michael Ayers 1 August 2021

Do you think that the session went "smoothly" enough that in future years it will continue to be held as Online-only?