5 July 2015

World Heritage Committee inscribes new world heritage sites

The Singapore Botanic Gardens entrance from Botanic Gardens MRT station.

The World Heritage Committee has inscribed the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Bonn, Germany. The committee noted that the site "demonstrates the evolution of a British tropical colonial botanic garden that has become a modern world-class scientific institution used for both conservation and education", and that it has been an important centre for science, research and plant conservation, notably in connection with the cultivation of rubber plantations, in Southeast Asia since 1875.

According to the SBG, the gardens is the first and only tropical botanic garden on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It is the first in Asia and the third botanic gardens inscribed in the world following Orto botanico di Padova in Italy and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the UK.

The inscription bid process started in 2010 following a feasibility study commissioned by the then-Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, in consultation with experts, academics and other stakeholders. Singapore formally submitted the official Nomination Dossier for the bid in January 2014.

The World Heritage Committee also approved the inscription of the Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape in Turkey; China's Tusi SitesSusa and the Cultural Landscape of Maymand, both in Iran; the Baekje Historic Areas in Korea; the Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its surrounding sacred  landscape, in Mongolia; Bethany Beyond the Jordan; and the rock art in Hail in KSA.

Source: UNESCO World Heritage Committee nomination file. Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape, Hevsel Gardens and Kırklar Hill, copyright: © Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality - Site Management Unit, author: Zeynep Sıla Akıncı.

The Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape are on an escarpment of the Upper Tigres River Basin. The fortified Turkish city of Diyarbakir and the landscape around has been an important centre since the Hellenistic period, through the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman times to the present. The site encompasses the Amida Moundknown as İçkale (inner castle), the 5.8km-long city walls of Diyarbakir with their numerous towers, gates, buttresses, and 63 inscriptions from different periods, as well as Hevsel Gardens, a green link between the city and the Tigris that supplied the city with food and water.

Source: The Zunyi Huichuan District Party Committee Publicity Department. Snow-Covered Feifeng Pass. 

Located in the mountainous areas of southwest China, Tusi (土司) sites encompass remains of several tribal domains whose chiefs were appointed by the central government as ‘Tusi’, hereditary rulers from the 13th to the early 20th century. The Tusi system made the autonomous rule by minorities a reality, and facilitated the development of ethnic diversity, strengthened national unity, ensured borderland security, and promoted the peaceful coexistence of the central government and local minority regimes.

The sites of Laosicheng (老司城) in Yongshun County, Hunan; Tangya (唐崖) in Xianfeng County, Hubei; and Hailongtun Fortress (海龙屯城堡) in Zunyi, Guizhou that make up the site bear testimony to this form of governance, which derived from the civilisation of the Yuan and Ming periods.

Hailongtun fortress was built in 1257 CE. The Tusi arrangement was a collaboration between the central government of the Song dynasty and the Yang family, which built and owned the fortress. The family governed the area for more than 700 years, spanning Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties, from Yang Rui from the Liao ethnic group in 876 during the Tang dynasty, to Yang Yinglong, the last Tusi of Bozhou (present day Zunyi) and the 29th governor of the Yang family, died in 1600.

Being listed on the World Heritage List will promote studies on the Tusi culture and the history of Bozhou, according to the Office of the Application to World Heritage for Hailongtun, Huichuan District, Zunyi in China. The organisation noted that with Guizhou province's first cultural heritage site, it plans to strengthen the preservation and excavation of historical relics within the territory, and apply for more world cultural heritage listings.

Susa in southwest Iran, in the lower Zagros Mountains, consists of a group of archaeological mounds on the eastern side of the Shavur River, as well as Ardeshir’s palace, on the opposite bank of the river. Susa contains several layers of superimposed urban settlements in a continuous succession from the late 5th millennium BCE until the 13th century CE*. The site bears exceptional testimony to the Elamite, Persian and Parthian cultural traditions, which have largely disappeared.

Maymand is a self-contained, semi-arid area at the end of a valley at the southern extremity of Iran’s central mountains. The villagers are semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists. They raise their animals on mountain pastures, living in temporary settlements in spring and autumn. During the winter months they live lower down the valley in cave dwellings carved out of the soft rock (kamar), an unusual form of housing in a dry, desert environment.  This cultural landscape is an example of a system that appears to have been more widespread in the past and involves the movement of people rather than animals.

The Baekje (백제) Historic Areas, in the mountainous midwestern region of the Republic of Korea, comprise eight archaeological sites dating from 475 to 660 AD, including the Gongsanseong fortress and royal tombs at Songsan-ri related to the capital, Ungjin (present day Gongju), the Busosanseong Fortress and Gwanbuk-ri administrative buildings, and the Naseong city wall related to the capital, Sabi (now Buyeo), the royal palace at Wanggung-ri and the Mireuksa Temple in Iksan related to the secondary Sabi capital.

Together, these sites represent the later period of the Baekje Kingdom – one of the three earliest kingdoms on the Korean peninsula (18 BCE to 660 CE) –during which time they were at the crossroads of considerable technological, religious (Buddhist), cultural and artistic exchanges between the ancient East Asian kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan.

The Great Burkhan Khaldun (Бурхан Халдун) Mountain and its surrounding sacred landscape is in northeast Mongolia in the central part of the Khentii mountain chain. Burkhan Khaldun is associated with mountain worship. The site is also believed to be the place of Genghis Khan’s birth and burial.

The baptism site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas, المغطس) is on the east bank of the River Jordan, and consists of two distinct areas: Tell Al-Kharrar (تَل الخرّار), also known as Jabal Mar-Elias (Elijah’s Hill, جبل مار إلياس) and the area of the churches of Saint John the Baptist near the river. The site is believed to be the location where Jesus of Nazareth was baptised by John the Baptist. It features Roman and Byzantine remains.

Rock art in the Hail (حائل) region of Saudi Arabia includes both Jabel Umm Sinman at Jubbah (جبة) and the Jabal al-Manjor and Raat at Shuwaymis (ال شوويمس). The ancestors of today’s Arab populations have left traces of their passages in petroglyphs and inscriptions on the rock face, covering 10,000 years of history.

The Committee has additionally extended Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (Kẻ Bàng) in Vietnam, a natural site inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2003. The extension ensures a more coherent ecosystem while providing additional protection to the catchment areas that are of vital importance for the integrity of limestone landscapes.

The site originally covered 85,754 hectares and now covers a total surface area of 126,236 hectares (a 46% increase). The Park’s landscape is formed by limestone plateaux and tropical forests. It features great geological diversity and offers spectacular phenomena, including a large number of caves and underground rivers.

Other developments during the World Heritage Committee discussions include inscribing a number of World Heritage sites  on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to damage inflicted to the property by armed groups. These include Hatra in Iraq and the Yemeni cities of Sana’a and Shibam.

Hatra was a fortified city which grew under the influence of the Parthian Empire and was the capital of the first Arab kingdom. It withstood Roman invasions in 116 and 198 AD thanks to its walls, which are reinforced by towers.

World Heritage Committee members have declared their willingness to help Iraq as soon as the situation on the ground will allow them to do so. The Committee stressed that the danger listing of Hatra was a way to rally the support of the international community for the country’s heritage.

Two other Iraqi sites are also on the World Heritage List in Danger: Ashur (inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2003) and Samara Archaeological City (inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2007).

The World Heritage Committee has voiced concerns about the damage to the old city of Sana’a (سناء) due to armed conflict in Yemen. Situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,200 m, Sana’a has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years. Its religious and political heritage can be seen in 103 mosques, 14 hammams and over 6,000 houses, all built before the 11th century. The neighbourhood of al Qasimi and the 12th century al-Mahdi Mosque have been affected.

The Committee also noted that the Old Walled City of Shibam (شِبَام) in Yemen is under potential threat from the armed conflict, which compounds safeguarding and management problems already observed at the site. The Committee decided that adding it to the List of World Heritage in Danger could help reinforce international mobilisation for the safeguarding of the site.

Surrounded by a fortified wall, the 16th-century city of Shibam is one of the oldest and best examples of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction. 

The 39th session of the World Heritage Committee started on 28 June and will continue till 8 July under the chair of Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the German Federal Foreign Office and member of the Bundestag. The inscription of sites will continue through 5 July.

*BCE stands for 'before common era', corresponding to BC, and CE for common era, corresponding to AD.