2009 UNESCO’s World Heritage List – requests for the inscription of new sites

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The World Heritage Committee will consider requests for the inscription of new sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List when it meets for its 33rd session in Seville, Spain, from 22 to 30 June.

During this year’s session – to be chaired by María Jesús San Segundo, the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Spain to UNESCO – 35 States Parties to the World Heritage Convention will present properties for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Three of those countries – Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Kyrgyzstan – have no properties inscribed on the World Heritage List to date.

Thirty new properties in total were submitted for inscription on the World Heritage List this year: 4 natural, 23 cultural and 3 mixed (i.e. both natural and cultural) properties, including 4 transnational nominations. In addition, 7 extensions to properties already listed have been proposed (see list below).

NATURAL PROPERTIES SUBMITTED FOR INSCRIPTION TO THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST

  • The Wadden Sea (Germany and the Netherlands);
  • The Dolomites (Italy);
  • Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (extension to the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, the Philippines);
  • Korean Cretaceous Dinosaur Coast (Republic of Korea);
  • Lena Pillars Nature Park (Russian Federation).

CULTURAL PROPERTIES SUBMITTED FOR INSCRIPTION TO THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST

  • The Architectural and Urban Work of Le Corbusier (Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland);
  • City of Graz – Historic Centre and Schloss Eggenberg (Extension to the City of Graz Historic Centre, Austria);
  • Tangible Spiritual Heritage of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk (Belarus);
  • Stoclet House (Belgium);
  • Cultural property of the historic town of Jajce (Bosnia and Herzegovina);
  • Gold Route in Paraty and its Landscape (Brazil);
  • The Ruins of Loropéni (Burkina Faso);
  • Cidade Velha, Historic Centre of Ribeira Grande (Cape Verde);
  • Historic monuments of Mount Songshan (China);
  • Historic town of Grand-Bassam (Côte d’Ivoire);
  • Sites of Great Moravia: Slavonic Fortified Settlement at Mikulčice – Church of St Margaret of Antioch at Kopčany (Czech Republic and Slovakia);
  • The Causses and the Cévennes (France);
  • From the Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains to the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, the production of open-pan salt (Extension to the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, France);
  • Schwetzingen – A Prince Elector’s Summer Residence – Garden Design and Freemasonic Allusions (Germany);
  • Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System – Bridges, dams, canals, buildings and watermills from ancient time to present (Iran);
  • The Triple-arch Gate at Dan (Israel);
  • Italia Langobardorum. Places of power and worship (568-774 A.D., Italy);
  • Sulamain-Too Sacred Mountain (Kyrgyzstan);
  • The Mercury and Silver Binomial on the Intercontinental Camino Real. Almadén, Idrija and San Luis Potosí (Mexico, Slovenia and Spain);
  • Mehrgarh, Rehman Dheri and Harappa as an extension to the Indus Valley Civilization Sites (Extension to the Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro, Pakistan);
  • Sacred City of Caral-Supe (Peru);
  • Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty (Republic of Korea);
  • Church of the Resurrection of Suceviţa Monastery (Extension to the Churches of Moldavia, Romania);
  • Levoča and the Work of Master Paul in Spiš (Extension to Spišský Hrad and its Associated Cultural Monuments, Slovakia);
  • Tower of Hercules (Spain);
  • Seruwila Mangala Raja Maha Viharaya (Extension of the Sacred City of Kandy, Sri Lanka);
  • Farms and Villages in Hälsingland (Sweden);
  • La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle, Clock-making town planning (Switzerland);
  • Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal (United Kingdom).

MIXED PROPERTIES SUBMITTED FOR INSCRIPTION TO THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST

  • Mount Wutai (China);
  • Lonjsko Polje Nature Park – A Living Landscape and the Floodplain Ecosystem of the Central Sava Basin (Croatia);
  • The Cultural Landscape Orheuil Vechi (Republic of Moldova).

Please note that States Parties can withdraw a nomination request before the start of the Committee meeting.

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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL Human Rights Report

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In its annual report released on Thursday, Amnesty International scolds China and the United States for human rights violations. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, AI head Irene Khan warns that the global economic crisis is leading Western governments to put the push for universal human rights on the back burner.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The past year has been totally dominated by the global recession. That’s even reflected in your annual report. How has it affected the human rights situation around the world?

Khan: We are seeing a catastrophe. After years of going down, the number of people in poverty is growing again. We saw social uprisings across Africa and China — and very harsh repression by governments that left many protesters dead. Food shortages allowed several governments, among others Zimbabwe and North Korea, to use food as a political weapon.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Could that have been prevented?

Khan: Leading governments have been distracted by the recession. Humanitarian crises, like in Darfur and Palestine, do not get the attention they deserve. The poorest are hardest hit by the economic crisis, but all the thought and investment goes to shore up the economy and the banking system in the West. Human rights are put on a backburner.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it surprising to you that Western politicians think of their own countries first?

Khan: The West is taking a big risk: If the fallout from the global recession is not managed well and more investment doesn’t go to the poorer countries, billions around the world will suffer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The recession has also sped up the creation of a new global body — the G-20. Your report shows that by including countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, the human rights record of the former G-8 has been severely tarnished. The G-20 is responsible for almost 80 percent of torture and executions worldwide. Was it a good idea to expand the G8?

Khan: The expansion was right, because the G-20 reflects the reality of political and economic power in the world. But it will not be a very effective group of leaders, if it does not develop a common vision of human rights. One of our goals is to bring the two top nations of the world, the United States and China, to develop a common basis. We want the US to sign up to the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and we want China to sign up to UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: A couple of signatures do not result in a common vision. Have you not lost an important ally in the old G-8? After all, the G-8 resolutions, notwithstanding all their imperfections, would uphold certain universal values, the values of Amnesty International. That is now over.

Khan: The question is whether the governments of the G-20 have to come down to the lowest common denominator. We campaign to make all member states commit to the universal canon of human rights, and there are some encouraging signs. China has signed its first action plan on human rights. Asean put in its charter an explicit commitment to human rights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Chinese action plan adopted in April promises, among other things, to control the death penalty and to let journalists and bloggers work freely. How credible is it?

Khan: There is a big gap between rhetoric and reality. Promises are not enough, we expect deeds. Before the Olympics last year, China opened up a bit. They unblocked some Web sites, including that of Amnesty, but that is now inaccessible again. Also, they have instituted an appeal in death penalty cases, but they remain by far the biggest executioner in the world.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to your annual report, China executed at least 1,700 people in the past year, followed by Iran with at least 346 executions.

Khan: The real numbers in both countries are significantly higher. These are only the cases that we have gleaned from the news and our country sources. There is no official government data on executions, and we do not get access to either country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the past seven years, the war on terror has played a very important role in your annual reports. It seems that it is becoming less important. Western governments that have been involved in torture or rendition are on the defensive, transparency is the new buzzword. Do you feel vindicated?

Khan: There is a very clear shift in political strategy around the world. We are very happy about the repeated promises of US President Barack Obama to close Guantanamo and other detention centers and to stop the use of torture. The US has led the war on terror, so this reversal amounts to a global climate change. What is still missing, though, is disclosure. There is an unfinished story of accountability both in the US and Europe. We will keep pushing for the full truth of rendition and torture.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Last week, President Obama announced the closure of Guantanamo. But he did not rule out the practice of preventive detention. Some prisoners might still be held indefinitely without a trial — only it would happen on US rather than Cuban soil.

Khan: This is very worrying. Obama has been alarmingly ambiguous on the issue, hinting at some new legislation. But incarceration without a trial can never be within the rule of law. We are asking the government in Washington to release all innocent prisoners from Guantanamo and to try the rest in a US court. The government should show some confidence in its own justice system.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to the Pentagon, up to 14 percent of former Guantanamo inmates have gone back to terrorist activities. Can the Obama administration afford to release prisoners who cannot be convicted of a crime, but are considered too dangerous to be free?

Khan: A liberal democracy has to run that risk. Only a court, not a government, can determine whether a person is dangerous or not. If someone cannot be found guilty, he should be set free.

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Culture wars – An Anti-Semite for UNESCO?

Farouk Hosni

Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni is a leading candidate to take over UNESCO in the fall. An alliance of intellectuals and Jewish groups from France, Germany and Israel are up in arms over the possibility due to remarks made by him perceived to be anti-Israeli.

It’ll soon be time for a new boss at UNESCO, the world’s pre-eminent cultural preservation organization. But German cultural and Jewish groups are worried about the candidate currently favored to win the top spot: Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni.

In a statement released on Monday, the German Culture Council — an umbrella organization of cultural organizations in Germany — expressed concern over Hosni’s candidacy due to his history of anti-Semitic statements.

“Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake,” said Olaf Zimmermann, head of the Culture Council. UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

Hosni, an artist by trade, has been Egypt’s Culture Minister since 1987. He is known for being a liberal voice in Egyptian politics, opposing the veil for Egyptian women for example. But he has also made anti-Israeli statements in the past. Last year, he said he would “burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.”

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in an interview on German radio that due to his “clearly anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements” Hosni should be “disqualified” for the position.

With the decision coming up in October, Hosni’s candidacy has become a hot issue in France, Germany and Israel. Last Friday, three Jewish intellectuals — including Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel — wrote an open letter questioning Hosni’s suitability for the position. “We must, without delay, appeal to everyone’s conscience to keep UNESCO from falling into the hands of a man who, when he hears the word ‘culture,’ responds with a book burning,” the letter read.

According to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, the issue got more complicated after news leaked that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to support Hosni’s candidacy in a secret deal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

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More on Nefertiti’s authenticity

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For decades, people have marvelled at the bust of Nefertiti. Now, some scholars say it’s a fake — made to hold a necklace. Museum scientists are eager to prove these theories wrong, but the mysterious statue might not be ready to reveal her secrets yet.

Of course they copied her. You can see it clear as day. At the Altes Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island, a brief film runs in a silent loop on a monitor. It shows laboratory workers handling a replica of the Nefertiti bust built to test a new portable base for it. The monitor is part of a current display at the museum, one which includes four work stations set up in a large, glass cubicle to show just how complex conserving great works of ancient art is.
Museum visitors can look over the shoulders of specialists to see how the secrets of these old artifacts are revealed using infrared spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence and microscopy. The Nefertiti bust itself is only a few steps away. The piece, which bears inventory tag number 21300, is one of the most famous pieces of art from ancient Egypt. And in recent weeks, its authenticity has been the subject of much debate.

A sign next to the lab workers reads “Questions Welcome.” And Henri Stierlin, a Geneva-based author, certainly does have a few questions. Stierlin is interested in the Nefertiti copy, and he’s not referring to the white model of the bust shown in the film flickering across the monitor. His suspicions run deeper.

In a recently published book, Stierlin claims that Berlin’s famous Nefertiti bust — one of the prides of the city’s world-class collection of museums — is actually a fake. Stierlin claims that Ludwig Borchardt, the leader of the excavation that found Nefertiti, had the sculptor Gerhard Marcks make the bust in 1912 to serve as a display piece for a necklace that had recently been unearthed. “Until then, one could only see Nefertiti as she was depicted on bas reliefs,” Stierlin told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “Borchardt wanted to see her in three dimensions.”

Stierlin’s theory sounds exciting — and it has proven adept at generating headlines. He says that when Johann Georg, a Saxon duke, visited the tomb in the Egyptian city of Amarna, they were immediately taken by the beauty of the bust. Borchardt, rather than exposing the naiveté of his royal guests, elected to keep the truth to himself.

Art historians have their doubts about this theory. “As to whether Nefertiti is a fake, I can’t say for sure,” says Ari Hartog, the curator of the Gerhard Marcks Haus, an art museum in Bremen devoted to the works of the famous 20th century German sculptor. Stierlin’s theory has been lent credence by the fact that Borchardt’s expedition included someone named Marcks. Hartog, though, says it was most likely the artist’s brother. If the Nefertiti bust is indeed fake, says Hartog, “it’s definitely not something made by Marcks.”

You Can Prove A Fake, But Not An Original

Dietrich Wildung, the curator of the Berlin’s Egyptian Museum — and a long-time friend of Stierlin — is even more emphatic in his dismissal of Stierlin’s ideas. “We would not put an even remotely questionable object on display for 700,000 visitors to see every year,” Wildung says.

Despite such doubts, Stierlin refuses to back down. “It’s dishonest to display this object when you know it’s not authentic,” Stierlin insists.

One might think that the debate is superfluous — that the matter could be settled simply by testing the bust’s age. Unfortunately it’s not so simple. And its further complicated by the fact that, the closer one considers the Nefertiti bust, the clearer it becomes that very little is known about it.

“You can prove a fake, but you can’t prove originals. That’s an epistemological problem,” Stefan Simon told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Simon is a material scientist who directs the Rathgen Research Laboratory, which belongs to the association of national museums in Berlin. As a scientist, Simon’s main allegiance is to the evidence. At the same time, though, his employers have a clear interest in disproving Stierlin’s theory.

That, though, is a difficult prospect. Radiocarbon (C-14) dating measures the decay of radioactive carbon isotopes, necessitating samples of organic material. Nefertiti, though, is largely free of such material. A bit of wax was allegedly found in Nefertiti’s right eye. When it was carbon-dated a few years back, scientists concluded that might be more than 3,300 years old.

Still, the wax sample’s path from the bust’s eye to the laboratory was long. It was obtained in 1920 by Friedrich Rathgen, the chemist who first directed the laboratory that now bears his name. For decades, Rathgen’s sample lay in a small specimen bag in the museum before finally being dated, opening the door to doubt.

Debating the Evidence

The paint used on the bust yields even fewer clues as to its age. The pigments are all made from minerals, meaning carbon dating cannot be used. Simon points to the network of fissures and cracks in the paint on the surface of the bust. “I cannot imagine that one could reproduce that artificially,” he says.
But Stierlin is unimpressed by such details. “People who know how to counterfeit paintings can also reproduce this craquelé effect,” he says, referring to an artistic technique that makes surfaces show very small breaks so as to seem old.

Simon also points out that the complicated painting technique used on the bust, leading him to believe that it much older than 100 years. Under a microscope, Simon has found at least five different layers of paint layered one upon the other: first a layer of white paint with blue undertones, then white, then yellow, then blue, then red.

“Everyone knows that Borchardt possessed large quantities of pigment,” Stierlin counters. He claims that Borchardt used the samples for experimentation.

The organic agent used to bind the paint is also not available in sufficient quantities to enable testing. The traces of straw in Nefertiti’s headdress could, in theory, also be used. But testing would have be refined such that only a very tiny amount of material is used to avoid harming the bust, Simon says.

And then there’s the matter of the left eye. According to Stierlin, Nefertiti never had a left eye. The right is made from quartz and beeswax darkened with soot. If there was a bit of telltale wax where the left eye once was, it could be tested. But up to now, no one has tried — perhaps out of fear of damaging the statue. Simon says that there are traces of paint of the same type used in the right eye.

The sculpture is composed of the so-called Amarna-mix, a blend of gypsum anhydride plaster applied on top of a limestone base. The material is named after Tel el-Amarna, a small city in central Egypt founded by Pharaoh Akhenaton in the 14th century B.C. That is also where the bust of his queen would be found in 1912.

“This special blend was unknown before 1912,” said Simon says, which would mean that Borchardt and his contemporaries could not have known its exact composition. Currently, researchers are comparing material used in the Nefertiti bust with that utilized in statues of her husband, Akhenaton, and other artifacts from the Amarna period. A model of her husband is also currently in Berlin — lying in storage in much worse condition.

The secrets held by Nefertiti seem almost endless, despite the bust having been an object of all manner of tests for years. Why, for example, was so much oripiment, a toxic arsenic sulfide, used in the yellow paint? And just how solid is the bust? In a recent examination using a remote sensing technique known as video holography, Simon and his colleagues found damaged areas around the statue’s headdress and upper chest. The scientists are particularly worried about the condition of the layered paint, bits of which have been flaking off for years.

One Mysterious Lady

The debate about Nefertiti’s authenticity is not likely to go away any time soon. The emblematic character that makes her so attractive also makes her the perfect blank slate for theories like Stierlin’s. And he’s not alone, as the Berlin-based historian Erdogan Ercivan also maintains that the bust is a fake. And even if the evidence supporting such doubt is scant, the suspicion is difficult to explain away.

Simon dreams of one day hosting a colloquium of experts drawn from the world’s best museums, who would work together on unlocking some of the statue’s secrets. Perhaps they could come from London’s British Museum or the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where Simon used to work. Or maybe from the Louvre in Paris, whose lab employs 180 people.

Simon’s lab in Berlin, on the other hand, has 12. And the slow pace of the current work guarantees that, for the time being, the mysteries surrounding Nefertiti will remain just that.

For his part, Henri Stierlin says he can wait. “They know I’m right,” he says.

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Fossil Ida – the “missing link” found?

090519-missing-link-found_bigScientists have discovered an exquisitely preserved ancient primate fossil that they believe forms a crucial “missing link” between our own evolutionary branch of life and the rest of the animal kingdom.

The 47m-year-old primate – named Ida – has been hailed as the fossil equivalent of a “Rosetta Stone” for understanding the critical early stages of primate evolution.

The top-level international research team, who have studied her in secret for the past two years, believe she is the most complete and best preserved primate fossil ever uncovered. The skeleton is 95% complete and thanks to the unique location where she died, it is possible to see individual hairs covering her body and even the make-up of her final meal – a last vegetarian snack.

“This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of all the mammals; with cows and sheep, and elephants and anteaters,” said Sir David Attenborough who is narrating a BBC documentary on the find. “The more you look at Ida, the more you can see, as it were, the primate in embryo.”

“This will be the one pictured in the textbooks for the next hundred years,” said Dr Jørn Hurum, the palaeontologist from Oslo University’s Natural History Museum who assembled the scientific team to study the fossil. “It tells a part of our evolution that’s been hidden so far. It’s been hidden because the only [other] specimens are so incomplete and so broken there’s nothing almost to study.” The fossil has been formally named Darwinius masillae in honour of Darwin’s 200th birthday year.

It has been shipped across the Atlantic for an unveiling ceremony hosted by the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg today. There is even talk of Ida being the first non-living thing to feature on the front cover of People magazine.

She will then be transported back to Oslo, via a brief stop at the Natural History Museum in London on Tuesday, 26 May, when Attenborough will host a press conference.

Ida was originally discovered by an amateur fossil hunter in the summer of 1983 at Messel pit, a world renowned fossil site near Darmstadt in Germany. He kept it under wraps for over 20 years before deciding to sell it via a German fossil dealer called Thomas Perner. It was Perner who approached Hurum two years ago.

“My heart started beating extremely fast,” said Hurum, “I knew that the dealer had a world sensation in his hands. I could not sleep for 2 nights. I was just thinking about how to get this to an official museum so that it could be described and published for science.” Hurum would not reveal what the university museum paid for the fossil, but the original asking price was $1m. He did not see the fossil before buying it – just three photographs, representing a huge gamble.

But it appears to have paid off. “You need an icon or two in a museum to drag people in,” said Hurum, “this is our Mona Lisa and it will be our Mona Lisa for the next 100 years.”

Hurum chose Ida’s nickname because the diminutive creature is at the equivalent stage of development as his six-year-old daughter. Hurum said Ida is very excited about her namesake. “She says, ‘there are two Idas now, there’s me I’m living and then there’s the dead one.'”

“It’s caught at a really very interesting moment [in the animal’s life] when it fortunately has all its baby teeth and is in the process of forming all its permanent teeth,” said Dr Holly Smith, an expert in primate development at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who was part of the team. “So you have more information in it than almost any fossil you could think of.”

The fossil’s amazing preservation means that the scientific team has managed to glean a huge amount of information from it, although this required new X-ray techniques that had not previously been applied to any other specimens.

The researchers believe it comes from the time when the primate lineage, that diversified into monkeys, apes and ultimately humans, split from a separate group that went on to become lemurs and other less well known species.

Crucially though, Ida is not on the lemur line because she lacks two key characteristics shared by lemurs – a grooming claw on her second toe and a fused set of teeth called a tooth comb. Also, a bone in her ankle called the talus is shaped like members of our branch of the primates. So the researchers believe she may be on our evolutionary line dating from just after the split with the lemurs.

According to the team’s published description of the skeleton in the journal PLoS ONE, Ida was 53cm long and a juvenile around six to nine months old. The team can be sure Ida is a girl because she does not have a penis bone.

“She was at this vulnerable age where you are no longer right with your mother,” said Smith, “Just as you leave weaning you are not full grown, but you are on your own.”

The unprecedented preservation of Ida meant working out how she died was more like a modern day crime scene investigation than the informed guess-work that palaeontologists usually make do with. The team noticed that she had a broken wrist that had begun to partially heal. The injury did not kill her, but they speculate that it contributed to her premature demise.

“It might be that her mother dropped her once or that she fell down from a tree earlier in her life,” Smith said. She survived the accident, but her climbing abilities would have been impaired. Unable to drink from water trapped by tree leaves, she would have had to venture down to the lake to drink. This would have proved to be a fateful decision.

The huge range of magnificently preserved fossils at Messel suggest that the volcanic lake was a death trap. Scientists believe that it sporadically let forth giant belches of poisonous volcanic gases that would have immediately suffocated anything in, around and even over the water. Ida would then have fallen into the water and been preserved in the sediment deep at the bottom.

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Bridge Plan Threatens Mythic Rhine Valley UNESCO’s World Heritage Site

new bridge proposal

From SPIEGEL:

First it was a Dresden bridge that threatened the UNESCO status of a German site. Now, a planned structure over the Rhine River near the mythic Lorelei rock may result in the location being delisted.

The Lorelei Valley, one of the most storied swerves of the Rhine River, is the latest corner of the German landscape to lurch into controversy because of a planned bridge. Now that an architect has been selected for the project near the Lorelei Rock, an important conservation group has called the bridge an assault on the region — foreshadowing a showdown between the bridge planners and UNESCO over the valley’s World Heritage status.

Winning plans for the bridge by Dublin-based Heneghan Peng Architects were announced in late April and presented in Berlin on Tuesday. The president of the German chapter of ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, promptly released a statement condemning the project. The €40 million bridge would try to blend into the landscape with a sleek and flowing S-curve, but Michael Petzet, president of ICOMOS Deutschland, insisted this week that it would “further harm the already battered valley with additional traffic,” and amount to an “assassination attempt” on the UNESCO-protected Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

The exchange of fire hints at the stakes involved. Politicians in Rhineland-Palatinate have long wanted a bridge between the towns of St. Goar and Sankt Goarshausen to cut down on long detours from one side of the state to another. But the site is thick with Geman lore and tradition. The Lorelei is a mythical river siren who sang from her rock and lured sailors to their doom in this shallow stretch of the Rhine, and the valley’s landscape has enjoyed UNESCO World Heritage status since 2002.

The design by Heneghan Peng is deliberately low-key. Computer renderings show a modern bluish bridge winding over the river in a 150-meter S-curve. “The site will always be the star here,” Shih-Fu Peng said when the project was announced in late April, according to the Irish Times. “The initial impact is transparence but as you move through the bridge you begin to understand its finesse and the nuances that make it almost invisible. Our design is about letting the valley slip through undisturbed.”

A UNESCO committee will meet in Seville in June to determine whether the plans will threaten the World Heritage status of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. “It is intimately associated with history and legend,” reads a description of the valley on the UNESCO Web site, “and for centuries has exercised a powerful influence on writers, artists and composers,” including Richard Wagner in his famous Ring cycle.

A similar debate over a bridge in Dresden has simmered for years because its construction would threaten the Elbe River Valley’s UNESCO World Heritage status. The worry for the Rhine bridge planners is that ICOMOS advises UNESCO on threats to landscapes and monuments. The planners were hoping to meet UNESCO’s criteria with the Peng design and avoid a showdown like the one in Dresden. But the current right now seems to be running against them.

An alternative project, as in Dresden, is a tunnel under the river — which in the Rhine Valley’s case would cost about €30 million more.

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