UNESCO convenes in St Petersburg to consider Heritage sites
Representatives of 21 nations convened in St Petersburg, Russia on June 24, 2012 to consider additional sites to be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, as well as to discuss measures for protection of 35 sites already listed. Since the founding convention in 1972, 935 sites located in 153 “state parties” (that is, countries that have signed and ratified the World Heritage Convention) have been included in the list. Of them, 725 are cultural sites, 183 are natural sites, and 28 are sites with mixed properties. Criteria for cultural heritage sites include “represent[ing] a masterpiece of human creative genius” and being “an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change”; natural sites are selected for being “superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance” (there are altogether ten selectional criteria for Heritage sites of all types). Inclusion on the World Heritage List entitles the nations where the sites are located to apply for assistance in protecting the land. Among the forms of assistance are scientific study, grants and low-interest loans.
The nations participating in this year’s annual meeting of the World Heritage Sites Committee are Algeria, Cambodia, Colombia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Germany, India, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, and United Arab Emirates. These countries are not necessarily the ones with the most Heritage sites, as can be seen from the map above. Italy has the most sites—47. Four other countries have more than 35 sites, three of them—Spain (43 sites), France (37 sites), and Germany (36 sites)—are in Western Europe; China with 41 site is the only non-European country in the top-5. (The area in northern South America colored in the darkest blue is French Guiana, part of France.) The top-10 list includes Mexico (31 site), India and United Kingdom (28 sites each), Russia (24 sites), and the United States (21 sites). The list of Heritage Sites in the U.S. includes Mount Vernon in Virginia (cultural) and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona (natural).
The meeting in St Petersburg will consider over 30 sites nominated for the inclusion in the list, including several sites in Russia, such as the Lena Pillars Natural Park in Yakutia (aka Sakha Republic; see image on the left) and Russia’s kremlins in several cities: Moscow, Astrakhan, Uglich, and Pskov. Some of the sites have been on the nomination list for quite some time: the Lena Pillars nomination was submitted in 2006, while Moscow Kremlin has been in the list for over 20 years). Another Russian nomination is called “Altai Golden Mountains” and includes several natural parks and… traditional throat singing! Additional sites to be considered are located in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Rabat (Morocco), and Grand-Bassam (Côte d’Ivoire). Also, this year’s list includes for the first time nominations in Qatar, Congo, Palau, Chad, and the Palestinian Authority (which as far as UNESCO is concerned, counts as a country). The Palestinian list of nominations includes several sites, such as the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, the Hisham Palace in Nablus, the city of Hebron, and even Qumran, which is under Israeli control. The Church of Nativity, a major tourist attraction in Palestinian Autonomy, was constructed by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325 CE over the cave where Jesus was supposedly born and is therefore widely considered to be one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world and the second-most important site in Christianity. The church has not been renovated in the past 50 years and needs repair work, which the inclusion in the World Heritage List could greatly help.
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