World heritage panel weighs forests against mountains

Ancient German beech forests, rock carvings in Mongolia, Buddhist sites in Japan and the architectural works of the modernist genius Le Corbusier are among the nominations before Unesco this week as it debates which of the world’s cultural treasures to elevate to its world heritage list.

The 35th session of the world heritage committee will meet in Paris to discuss 42 nominations for the list, which for almost 40 years has aimed to define and cherish places of universal significance.

It will not be a serene process of looking at images of awe-inspiring ancient monuments and ravishing landscapes.

Although joining the list brings neither money nor even statutory protection, countries among the wealthiest and poorest on Earth are keen to be included, and the debates are often passionate.

Six countries are likely to have sites accepted for the first time: Democratic Republic of Congo, which has jointly nominated the Sangha forests with its African neighbours; Barbados, for the Bridgetown garrison; Jamaica, for the Blue and John Crow mountain ranges; Micronesia and Palau, which have jointly nominated the sites of the massive Yap stone money discs; and the United Arab Emirates, for the oases of Al Ain.

Arab Spring
The list already covers more than 900 castles, walled towns, derelict ironworks, ravines, bays and churches. Before deciding which places should be added, the committee must consider the knottier problem of dozens of places now in such trouble they risk being moved to the separate list of sites threatened by development, earthquakes, climate change or the shifting tides of international politics.

There has been concern for years over sites in Iran—although it was the devastating earthquake, not war, that brought the ancient city of Bam on to the endangered list—as well as Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The conference itself has been affected by the Arab Spring: it was originally due to be held in Bahrain, which has nominated its island pearl fishing tradition to join the list, but the political instability caused it to be moved to Unesco’s Paris headquarters.

Even nominating a site can be a political act. Jerusalem’s Old City and city walls have been officially regarded as under threat for almost 20 years, since Jordan proposed they be moved to the endangered list.

Bethlehem, one of the most famous places in the world, will not be among those considered this year.

Unesco rejected the nomination from the Palestinian authorities because Palestine is not recognised as a state.

Another site missing from the debate will be the home in Kent where Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species—together with the surrounding countryside.

Despite being turned down twice, the British government still hopes the property will join the list eventually—but it will not be this year.

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