x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Unesco adds 13 sites to World Heritage List

UN agency now rates 890 sites as offering "outstanding universal value" and obliges their host countries to fulfill stringent protection requirements.

NEW YORK // The mosques, caves and ancient carvings that dot the revered slopes of Sulamain-Too Sacred Mountain have won Kyrgyzstan its first listing in the UN's global collection of heritage sites. The landlocked country in Central Asia - along with Burkina Faso and Cape Verde - won its inaugural inscription during a meeting in Spain that has seen 11 cultural and two natural wonders added to the World Heritage List.

But delegates from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) also showed their teeth by revoking the listing for the Dresden Elbe Valley, in Germany, following the construction of a bridge on the landscape. "Unesco has added 13 new sites to its World Heritage List. Meanwhile, three sites have been added to the danger list in order to help raise international support for their preservation," Michele Montas, the UN's chief spokeswoman, said on Monday.

"This is the first time that three countries have had sites included in the World Heritage List - the sites are Burkina Faso's Ruins of Loropeni, Cape Verde's Cidade Velha and Kyrgyzstan's Sulamain-Too Sacred Mountain." The committee examined 27 potential sites and added three locations to the so-called "danger list". They included the barrier reef reserve system in Belize, in part because of excessive development, and Colombia's Los Katios National Park, which is threatened by deforestation.

Dominating the Fergana Valley, the peaks and slopes that form a backdrop to the Kyrgyz city of Osh stood at an intersection of key routes of the "silk roads" through Central Asia. They feature two reconstructed 16th-century mosques among many ancient rock carvings that demonstrate the site's importance for worshippers before and after the advent of Islam in the region. The ruined stone-wall fortress of Loropeni in Burkina Faso and the colonial historic centre of Ribeira Grande, in Cape Verde - renamed Cidade Velha in the 18th century - likewise earned these countries their first Unesco listings.

After this year's annual meeting in Seville, the UN agency now rates 890 sites as offering "outstanding universal value" and obliges their host countries to fulfil stringent protection requirements. The committee enforced such strictures on Germany and removed the Dresden Elbe Valley from the list in response to the building of a four-lane bridge deemed to have spoiled the site. The valley was put on the list in 2004.

It marks only the second time Unesco has removed a property from the World Heritage List, following the 2007 decision to drop Oman's Arabian oryx sanctuary after officials reduced the size of the protected area by 90 per cent. The only site from the Middle East added to the list this year was Iran's hydraulic system at Shushtar, which Unesco called "a masterpiece of creative genius" traced back to Darius the Great in the fifth century BC.

Britain's Pontcysyllte aqueduct and canal in north-eastern Wales joined after being described a "feat of civil engineering of the Industrial Revolution", as did the Dolomites in the Italian Alps for being "some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere". UAE heritage officials have suggested the archaeological ruins and date palm oases of Al Ain, together with the nearby mountain, Jebel Hafeet, become the country's first site on the Unesco list, but have yet to submit a complete application.

jreinl@thenational.ae