Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mount Fuji Has Cultural Value Now

The annual addition of sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List is at the very least underway and at the most has concluded at the 37th annual meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. And you may recognize a couple of the names that got on the list this year.

Most notably, you'll recognize the name Mount Fuji, which leads one to ask why it took so long to get on in the first place. Mount Etna in Italy is also getting on, as well as a North Korean site, only their second. They managed to list a collection of monuments and sites in Kaesong dating back to the 10th century. Fiji and Qatar got in for the first time; Fiji with the port town of Levuka, and Qatar with the archaeological site of Al Zubarah. I'm also noticing the center of Agadez, Niger; the villas and gardens of Tuscany's Medici family; and Rajahstan hill forts in India.

Also listed this year, not counting the three existing sites that got extensions:
Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (Canada)
Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (China)
Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe (Germany)
Golestan Palace (Iran)
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)
Namib Sand Sea (Namibia)
Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine (Poland / Ukraine)
University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (Portugal)
Tajik National Park (Tajikistan)
Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora (Ukraine)

On the flip side, all six of the sites in Syria have been listed as endangered because of that civil war you might have heard about, as well as the Solomon Islands' East Rennell, a coral atoll threatened by logging. One site is scheduled for removal, Bagrati Cathedral in Georgia, as recent renovations have removed too much authenticity for it to remain, but it will remain on the list for one more year as it's listed alongside another cathedral, Gelati, and Gelati will be given a chance to be listed separately.

In addition, a summer bobsled ride in Germany's Rhine Valley has been criticized for violating that site's authenticity; the committee has requested its dismantling. The bobsled ride's owner, Rainer Knecht, doesn't know what the hell's even going on, stating, "When I think that people in Phnom Penh are getting worked up over this, I just don't even know how to respond." It's not the first time Germany's taken hits for something like this; in 2009, the Elbe River Valley became only the second-ever World Heritage Site to be thrown off the list after the Waldschlösschen Bridge, bisecting the valley, was built. The threat of delisting is probably the most powerful tool that UNESCO has to force compliance; a World Heritage designation is great for tourism, and offers the promise of protection, but there's not enough money to go around to protect everything and UNESCO counts on the local governments to take care of the bulk of it. Putting a site down as endangered can easily serve only to increase tourism even more, as people rush to go see it before it's gone. Actually throwing the site off the list sends the message, 'Okay, tourists, you're too late, no point going anymore, they broke it'. Which is bad for business.

So if the bobsled ride gets the Rhine Valley thrown off the list, it'll be more than people in Phnom Penh that get worked up.

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