The World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia today inscribed the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Tanzania) as a cultural property on the World Heritage List. The Committee made its decision because of the extraordinary record of human evolution at the site, which spans a vast area of land from the Serengeti National Park in the north-west of Tanzania to the eastern arm of the Great Rift Valley. The property had previously been inscribed on the List as a natural site.
Archaeological research in the area has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, collectively spanning almost four million years to the early modern era. This evidence includes the fossilized footprints at Laetoli, associated with the development of the human ability to walk upright; a sequence of diverse, evolving hominim species from Australopiths to Homo erectus and Homo sapiens; and remains that document the development of stone technology and the transition to the use of iron.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area also contains the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, which is the world’s largest caldera, and the Olduvai Gorge, one of the world’s most important pre-historic sites, where anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey made many of their greatest discoveries. The area has global importance for biodiversity conservation and was first inscribed on the World Heritage List as a natural site in 1979.
The World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia has inscribed sites in Saudi Arabia, Australia, India, Islamic Republic of Iran and, for the first time, a site in the Marshall Islands, as well as the Republic of Korea on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The latest sites inscribed include (in order of inscription):
At Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah (Saudi Arabia)
This property was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, in the heart of the Arabian Penisula, north-west of Riyadh. Founded in the 15th century, it bears witness to the Najdi architectural style, which is specific to the centre of the Arabian peninsula. In the 18th and early 19th century, its political and religious role increased, and the citadel at at-Turaif became the centre of the temporal power of the House of Saud and the spread of the Wahhabi reform inside the Muslim religion. The property includes the remains of many palaces and an urban ensemble built on the edge of the ad-Dir’iyah oasis.
Australian Convict Sites (Australia)
The property includes a selection of 11 penal sites, among the thousands established by the British Empire on Australian soil in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are located on the fertile coastal strip from which the Aboriginal peoples were then forced back, mainly around Sydney and in Tasmania, as well as on Norfolk Island and in Fremantle. They housed tens of thousands of men, women and children condemned by British justice to transportation to the convict colonies. Each of the sites had a specific purpose, in terms both of punitive imprisonment and of rehabilitation through forced labour to help build the colony. The property presents the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts.
Jantar Mantar (India)
The Jantar Mantar, in Jaipur, is an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century. It includes a set of some 20 main fixed instruments. They are monumental examples in masonry of known instruments but which in many cases have specific characteristics of their own. Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, they embody several architectural and instrumental innovations. This is the most significant, most comprehensive, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories. It is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period.
Sheikh Safi al-Din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble in Ardabil (Islamic Republic of Iran)
Built between the beginning of the 16th century and the end of the 18th century, this place of spiritual retreat in the Sufi tradition uses Iranian traditional architectural forms to maximize use of available space to accommodate a variety of functions (including a library, a mosque, a school, mausolea, a cistern, a hospital, kitchens, a bakery, and some offices). It incorporates a route to reach the shrine of the Sheikh divided into seven segments, which mirror the seven stages of Sufi mysticism, separated by eight gates, which represent the eight attitudes of Sufism. The ensemble includes well-preserved and richly ornamented facades and interiors, with a remarkable collection of antique artefacts. It constitutes a rare ensemble of elements of medieval Islamic architecture.
Tabriz has been a place of cultural exchange since antiquity and its historic bazaar complex is one of the most important commercial centres on the Silk Road. Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex consists of a series of interconnected, covered, brick structures, buildings, and enclosed spaces for different functions. Tabriz and its Bazaar were already prosperous and famous in the 13th century, when the town, in the province of Eastern Azerbaijan, became the capital city of the Safavid kingdom. The city lost its status as capital in the 16th century, but remained important as a commercial hub until the end of the 18th century, with the expansion of Ottoman power. It is one of the most complete examples of the traditional commercial and cultural system of Iran.
Bikini Atoll (Marshall Islands)
In the wake of World War II, in a move closely related to the beginnings of the Cold War, the United States of America decided to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall archipelago. After the displacement of the local inhabitants, 67 nuclear tests were carried out from 1946 to 1958, including the explosion of the first H-bomb (1952). Bikini Atoll has conserved direct tangible evidence that is highly significant in conveying the power of the nuclear tests, i.e. the sunken ships sent to the bottom of the lagoon by the tests in 1946 and the gigantic Bravo crater. Equivalent to 7,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb, the tests had major consequences on the geology and natural environment of Bikini Atoll and on the health of those who were exposed to radiation. Through its history, the atoll symbolises the dawn of the nuclear age, despite its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise. This is the first site from the Marshall Islands to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong (Republic of Korea)
Founded in the 14th-15th centuries, Hahoe and Yangdong are seen as the two most representative historic clan villages in the Republic of Korea. Their layout and location – sheltered by forested mountains and facing out onto a river and open agricultural fields – reflect the distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture of the early part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The villages were located to provide both physical and spiritual nourishment from their surrounding landscapes. They include residences of the head families, together with substantial timber framed houses of other clan members, also pavilions, study halls, Confucian academies for learning, and clusters of one story mud-walled, thatched-roofed houses, formerly for commoners. The landscapes of mountains, trees and water around the village, framed in views from pavilions and retreats, were celebrated for their beauty by 17th and 18th century poets.
The World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia has inscribed new cultural sites in Viet Nam, China, Tajikistan, France, the Netherlands, on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Committee also agreed to the extension of two cultural properties in Germany, Norway.
The latest cultural sites inscribed include (in order of inscription):
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi (Viet Nam)
The Thang Long Imperial Citadel has become the 900th site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Citadel was built in the 11th century by the Ly Viet Dynasty, marking the independence of the Dai Viet. It was constructed on the remains of a Chinese fortress dating from the 7th century, on drained land reclaimed from the Red River Delta in Hanoi. It was the centre of regional political power for almost 13 centuries without interruption. The Imperial Citadel buildings and the remains in the 18 Hoang Dieu Archaeological Site reflect a unique South-East Asian culture specific to the lower Red River Valley, at the crossroads between influences coming from China in the north and the ancient Kingdom of Champa in the south.
Historic monuments of Dengfeng, in the “Centre of Heaven and Earth” (China)
Mount Songshang is considered to be the central sacred mountain of China. At the foot of this 1500 metre high mountain, close to the city of Dengfeng in Henan province and spread over a 40 square-kilometre circle, stand eight clusters of buildings and sites, including three Han Que gates – remains of the oldest religious edifices in China -, temples, the Zhougong Sundial Platform and the Dengfeng Observatory. Constructed over the course of nine dynasties, these buildings are reflections of different ways of perceiving the centre of heaven and earth and the power of the mountain as a centre for religious devotion. The historical monuments of Dengfeng include some of the best examples of ancient Chinese buildings devoted to ritual, science, technology and education.
Sarazm, which means “where the land begins”, is an archaeological site bearing testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia, from the 4th millennium BCE to the end of the 3rd millennium BCE. The ruins demonstrate the early development of proto-urbanization in this region. This centre of settlement, one of the oldest in Central Asia, is situated between a mountainous region suitable for cattle rearing by nomadic pastoralists, and a large valley conducive to the development of agriculture and irrigation by the first settled populations in the region. Sarazm also demonstrates the existence of commercial and cultural exchanges and trade relations with peoples over an extensive geographical area, extending from the steppes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan, to the Iranian plateau, the Indus valley and as far as the Indian Ocean.
Episcopal city of Albi (France)
On the banks of the Tarn river in south-west France, the old city of Albi reflects the culmination of a medieval architectural and urban ensemble. Today the Old Bridge (Pont-Vieux), the Saint-Salvi quarter and its church are testimony to its initial development (10th -11th centuries). Following the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics (13th century) it became a powerful episcopal city. Built in a unique southern French Gothic style from local brick in characteristic red and orange colours, the lofty fortified Cathedral (late 13th century) dominates the city, demonstrating the power regained by the Roman Catholic clergy. Alongside the Cathedral is the vast bishop’s Palais de la Berbie, overlooking the river and surrounded by residential quarters that date back to the Middle Ages. The Episcopal City of Albi forms a coherent and homogeneous ensemble of monuments and quarters that has remained largely unchanged over the centuries.
The historic urban ensemble of the canal district of Amsterdam was a project for a new ‘port city’ built at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. It comprises a network of canals to the west and south of the historic old town and the medieval port that encircled the old town and was accompanied by the repositioning inland of the city’s fortified boundaries, the Singelgracht. This was a long-term programme that involved extending the city by draining the swampland, using a system of canals in concentric arcs and filling in the intermediate spaces. These spaces allowed the development of a homogeneous urban ensemble including gabled houses and numerous monuments. This urban extension was the largest and most homogeneous of its time. It was a model of large-scale town planning, and served as a reference throughout the world until the 19th century.
Upper Harz Water Management System (Germany) (extension of Mines to Rammelsberg and Historic Town of Goslar)
The Upper Harz mining water management system, which lies south of the Rammelsberg mines and the town of Goslar, has been developed over a period of some 800 years to assist in the process of extracting ore for the production of non-ferrous metals. Its construction was first undertaken in the Middle Ages by Cistercian monks, and it was then developed on a vast scale from the end of the 16th century until the 19th century. It is made up of an extremely complex but perfectly coherent system of artificial ponds, small channels, tunnels and underground drains. It enabled the development of water power for use in mining and metallurgical processes. It is a major site for mining innovation in the western world.
Røros Mining Town and the Circumference (Norway) (extension of “Røros Mining Town”)
The history of the town of Røros is linked to the copper mines. Established in the 17th century, they were exploited for 333 years until 1977. Completely rebuilt after its destruction by Swedish troops in 1679, Røros contains some 80 wooden one- and two-storey houses and a smelting house. Many of these buildings have preserved their blackened wooden façades, giving the town a medieval appearance. The site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1980. The extension is a serial site and comprises the Town and its industrial-rural cultural landscapes; Femundshytta, a smelter with its associated area; and the Winter Transport Route. Surrounded by a buffer zone, coincident with the area of privileges (the Circumference) granted to the mining enterprise by the Danish-Norwegian Crown (1646), the property illustrates the establishment and flourishing of a lasting culture based on copper mining in a remote region with a harsh climate.
The cultural sites:
Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Mexico)
Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was the Royal Inland Road, also known as the Silver Route. The inscribed property consists of 55 sites and five existing World Heritage sites lying along a 1400 km section of this 2600 km route, that extends north from Mexico City to Texas and New Mexico, United States of America. The route was actively used as a trade route for 300 years, from the mid-16th to the 19th centuries, mainly for transporting silver extracted from the mines of Zacatecas, Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí, and mercury imported from Europe. Although it is a route that was motivated and consolidated by the mining industry, it also fostered the creation of social, cultural and religious links in particular between Spanish and Amerindian cultures.
This property lies on the northern slopes of the Tlacolula valley in subtropical central Oaxaca and consists of two pre-Hispanic archaeological complexes and a series of pre-historic caves and rock shelters. Some of these shelters provide archaeological and rock-art evidence for the progress of nomadic hunter-gathers to incipient farmers. Ten thousand-year-old Cucurbitaceae seeds in one cave, Guilá Naquitz, are considered to be the earliest known evidence of domesticated plants in the continent, while corn cob fragments from the same cave are said to be the earliest documented evidence for the domestication of maize. The cultural landscape of the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla demonstrates the link between man and nature that gave origin to the domestication of plants in North America, thus allowing the rise of Mesoamerican civilizations.
São Francisco Square, in the town of São Cristovão, is a quadrilateral open space surrounded by substantial early buildings such as São Francisco Church and convent, the Church and Santa Casa da Misericórdia, the Provincial Palace and the associated houses of different historical periods surrounding the Square. This monumental ensemble, together with the surrounding 18th– and 19th– century houses, creates an urban landscape which reflects the history of the town since its origin. The Franciscan complex is an example of the typical architecture of the religious order developed in north-eastern Brazil.
The natural sites inscribed:
China Danxia is the name given in China to landscapes developed on continental red terrigenous sedimentary beds influenced by endogenous forces (including uplift) and exogenous forces (including weathering and erosion). The inscribed site comprises six areas found in the sub-tropical zone of south-west China. They are characterized by spectacular red cliffs and a range of erosional landforms, including dramatic natural pillars, towers, ravines, valleys and waterfalls. These rugged landscapes have helped to conserve sub-tropical broad-leaved evergreen forests, and host many species of flora and fauna, about 400 of which are considered rare or threatened.
Phoenix Islands Protected Area (Kiribati)
The Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA) is a 408,250 sq.km expanse of marine and terrestrial habitats in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The property encompasses the Phoenix Island Group, one of three island groups in Kiribati, and is the largest designated Marine Protected Area in the world. PIPA conserves one of the world’s largest intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, together with 14 known underwater sea mounts (presumed to be extinct volcanoes) and other deep-sea habitats. The area contains approximately 800 known species of fauna, including about 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals and 44 bird species. The structure and functioning of PIPA’s ecosystems illustrates its pristine nature and importance as a migration route and reservoir. This is the first site in Kiribati to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
The Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island site coincides with the core zone of La Réunion National Park. The property covers more than 100,000 ha or 40 % of La Réunion, an island comprising two adjoining volcanic massifs located in the south-west of the Indian Ocean. Dominated by two towering volcanic peaks, massive walls and three cliff-rimmed cirques, the property includes a great variety of rugged terrain and impressive escarpments, forested gorges and basins creating a visually striking landscape. It is the natural habitat for a wide diversity of plants, presenting a high level of endemism. There are subtropical rainforests, cloud forests and heaths creating a remarkable and visually appealing mosaic of ecosystems and landscape features.
Pirin National Park (Bulgaria) (extension)
Spread over an area of over 27,000 ha, at an altitude between 1008 and 2914 m in the Pirin Mountains, southwest Bulgaria, the site comprises diverse limestone mountain landscapes with glacial lakes, waterfalls, caves and predominantly coniferous forests. It was added to the World Heritage List in 1983. The extension now covers an area of around 40,000 ha in the Pirin Mountains, and overlaps with the Pirin National Park, except for two areas developed for tourism (skiing). The dominant part of the extension is high mountain territory over 2000m in altitude, and covered mostly by alpine meadows, rocky screes and summits.