I ask myself on what criteria these "Holy Places" could/should be assessed -
a. Significance to Bahai themselves?
Well of course - but how do we, acting presumably as impartial "non-believers", assess this? Most of the "major" (in terms of population) world religions have some of their "religiously significant" sites both inscribed and selected by us as potentially "top" sites. In most examples a case can be made out on "non believer" criteria such as historical/architectural significance - but, I would suggest that, there remains a residue of "This is important because it is important to a large/significant %age of the world's population"? But how far down the line do we/UNESCO go in assessing importance by "number of adherents?
On the other hand we have examples of religious sites which are important to only a very few adherents -one thinks of African or Austrasian Tribal (e.g Konso) religious sites. Presumably this can be justified on the basis that numbers of adherents to a specific set of beliefs becomes less important if some degree of "universality" can be established?
Which leads us to the second possible set of "assessment criteria
b. Significance to the "World" in general (ie. their "universal value")? This could be in terms of
i. Historic significance
ii. Architectural/artistic significance
iii Religious significance -not to believers buts as a general manifestation of "belief".
There are around 7-8 million Bahai around the World. Not insignificant - but then there are around 15 million "Mormons" and the Seventh Day Adventists claim some 18 million! Does every religion/sect/denomination get a look in with their "holy buildings"?
How important have the Bahai been in World/Modern history? Founded in the 19th C with Islamic/Persian roots, it has spread worldwide and its "message" certainly has a peaceful universality - but then (in theory!) don't all/most religions? The Bahai do perhaps "represent" religious repression given their treatment in some countries but this is not a reason to select their shrine. They also represent the human tendency for "pilgrimage" but this too is well represented on the List (and in our selections)
What about the "Architecture" of the site? Well some are historic buildings from the Ottoman era with no particular importance other than who lived/was imprisoned etc there. The Gardens and the "Arc" of administrative buildings are not, I would suggest particularly special in terms of garden or building design. The Terraces in Haifa have a degree of "wow" factor because of their view but the gardens at Akko are just pleasant well watered and manicured gardens IMO. I don't really see that they reperesent anything that innovative or speical in garden design
The Shrine of the Bab is late 19thC domed structure with fine materials but nothing innovative. The buildings in the Arc are "copies" of Greek style structures and were built reasonably recently (E.g The Universal House of Justice dates to 1983).
I have re-read the ICOMOS review and its conclusion, on the sole basis of which it proposed inscription was that they
"i. Provide an exceptional testimony to the strong traditions of Bahá'í pilgrimage which have grown up over the last century and draw large numbers of followers from around the world.
ii. Have a profound meaning and value for followers of the Bahá'í faith as sacred sites linked to the faith's two founders"
In fact ICOMOS came to even this conclusion VERY reluctantly also stating
"ICOMOS considers that not all buildings associated with a particular religion with a worldwide following can be said to be outstanding for that reason alone.
ICOMOS considers that the buildings of the nominated property do not demonstrate outstanding universal value
from an historical, artistic or scientific point of view"
I agree - the sites do not I feel justify inclusion on our list.