New on UNESCO’s Heritage List: a national park, hunting grounds, an Arab city, Art Deco buildings

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MANAMA, BAHRAIN — Colombia’s massive Chiribiquete National Park has made UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the United Nations body announced Sunday at a meeting in the Bahraini capital Manama. It is one of several new places that have made the list over the weekend. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has been meeting in Manama since June 24.

With an area of ​​2.7 million hectares covering five Amazonian municipalities in the southern Guaviare and Caqueta regions, Colombia’s largest natural park has rich biodiversity and is a sacred place for indigenous people.

This is the ninth world heritage listing in Colombia, the second most biodiverse country in the world after Brazil.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that his government will expand the protected territory in the area. “Tomorrow we will be in the park to further expand and protect our biodiversity #World Heritage,” he wrote on Twitter.

The territory, which is considered a protected area since 1989, will be expanded by 1.5 million hectares on Monday, according to the presidency.

The area is home to creatures such as the Chiribiquete emerald hummingbird, seen as the only endemic species in the Colombian Amazon, as well as the jaguar, the big cat only found in the Americas that is threatened by the loss of its habitat due to deforestation.

TURKEY’S ANCIENT TEMPLE SITE
A Turkish ancient temple site in southeastern Anatolia was given UNESCO World Heritage status on Sunday.

Named Gobekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill), the site is the world’s oldest known megalithic structure located in Upper Mesopotamia and is some 11,000 years old.

The site, considered to be the world’s oldest temple, is in the present-day southeastern province of Sanliurfa and reopened to tourists earlier this year after restoration work was undertaken including a protective roof for the site.

The site contains “monumental circular and rectangular megalithic structures, interpreted as enclosures, which were erected by hunter-gatherers in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age between 9,600 and 8,200 BC,” UNESCO said in a statement.

“It is likely that these monuments were used in connection with rituals, probably of a funerary nature,” it added.

On the “distinctive” T-shaped large pillars, there are images of wild animals, which UNESCO said provided “insight into the way of life and beliefs of people living in Upper Mesopotamia about 11,500 years ago.”

The late German professor Klaus Schmidt led the excavations of Gobekli Tepe from 1995.

In March this year, his wife Cigdem Koksal-Schmidt warned of heavy machinery and concrete being used to build a path at the site with images she shared on social media.

The site had been on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List of Turkey since 2011 and the restoration work was part of efforts to attain World Heritage status. It has become Turkey’s 18th entry on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

ARAB CITY IN SPAIN
The remarkably well-preserved remains of the Caliphate city of Medina Azahara, a medieval Arab Muslim town near the Spanish city of Cordoba, was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites on Sunday.

The 10th-century Moorish site provides “in-depth knowledge of the now vanished Western Islamic civilisation of Al-Andalus, at the height of its splendor,” said UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

After prospering for several years, the magnificent palace-city, which was the de facto capital of al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain, “was laid to waste during the civil war that put an end to the Caliphate in 1009-10,” the committee said in a statement.

The city was built as a symbol of power to rival the caliphate of Baghdad, but lasted less than a century before it was destroyed in an uprising which ended the Cordoba caliphate at the beginning of the 11th century.

The remains of the city were forgotten for almost 1,000 years until their rediscovery in the early 20th century.

The site is a treasure trove for archaeologists, presenting “a complete urban ensemble” including roads, bridges, water systems, buildings, decorative elements and everyday objects, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said. A far more recent historical site was also added to UNESCO’s Heritage list on Sunday.

The Italian industrial city of Ivrea, which was developed in the 20th century as a testing ground for Olivetti, manufacturer of typewriters, mechanical calculators and office computers, was also rewarded.

UNESCO described the city as “a model social project” expressing “a modern vision of the relationship between industrial production and architecture.”

INUIT HUNTING GROUNDS
Inuit hunting grounds in the Arctic circle were given UNESCO World Heritage status on Saturday.

The Aasivissuit-Nipisat area, which lies at the heart of the largest ice-free area in Greenland, “is a cultural landscape which bears witness to its creators’ hunting of land and sea animals, seasonal migrations and a rich and well-preserved tangible and intangible cultural heritage linked to climate, navigation and medicine,” UNESCO said on its website.

The area “contains the remains of 4,200 years of human history,” it added.

According to the Danish historic monuments office, the area covers more than 4,000 square kilometers of fjords, lakes, rural land and ice caps.

It becomes Greenland’s third entry on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The UNESCO status is “a great international recognition of the natural beauty we have and the culture associated with it,” Greenland’s culture minister Vivian Motzfeldt said in a statement.

PRE-ISLAMIC IRANIAN SITES
UNESCO on Saturday added eight pre-Islamic Iranian archeological sites to the World Heritage List.

The sites collectively appear on the worldwide list as the “Sassanid Archaeological Landscape of Fars region (Islamic Republic of Iran).”

A province in modern-day Iran’s south, Fars was the cradle of the Sassanid dynasty, which appeared at the start of the 3rd century.

After the fall of the Parthian empire, the Sassanids ruled territory that, at its peak, stretched from the west of Afghanistan to Egypt, before falling to the Arab conquest under the Umayyad caliphate in the middle of the 7th century.

“These fortified structures, palaces and city plans date back to the earliest and latest times of the Sassanian Empire,” UNESCO said.

With the latest addition, Iran now has 24 sites on the heritage list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

MUMBAI’S ART DECO BUILDINGS
Mumbai’s Art Deco buildings — believed to be the world’s second largest collection after Miami — were added on Saturday to UNESCO’s World Heritage List alongside the city’s better-known Victorian Gothic architecture.

A not-for-profit team of enthusiasts are in the process of documenting every single one of Mumbai’s Art Deco treasures but they estimate there may be more than 200 across India’s bustling financial capital. The majority of them, built on reclaimed land between the early 1930s and early 1950s, are clustered together in the south of the coastal city where they stand in stark contrast to Victorian Gothic structures.

“The Victorian ensemble includes Indian elements suited to the climate, including balconies and verandas,” UNESCO said in a press statement announcing the decision. “The Art Deco edifices… blend Indian design with Art Deco imagery, creating a unique style that has been described as Indo-Deco,” it added.

The two vastly different architectural traditions face off against each other across the popular Oval Maidan playing field, where enthusiastic young cricketers hone their skills.

On one side lie imposing and rather austere 19th century buildings housing the Bombay High Court and Mumbai University, with their spires and lancet windows. On the other side stand sleeker buildings boasting curved corners and balconies, vertical lines and exotic motifs.

They were built by wealthy Indians who sent their architects to Europe to come up with modern designs different to those of their colonial rulers.

“Mumbai’s Art Deco buildings have always lived in the shadow of the Victorian Gothic structures built by the British but this recognition by UNESCO today helps elevate Art Deco to its rightful place,” Atul Kumar, the founder of Art Deco Mumbai, told AFP.

KOREAN MOUNTAIN TEMPLES
Seven ancient Korean mountain temples, which typify the way Buddhism in the country has merged with indigenous beliefs and styles, were listed on Saturday.

The seven mountain temples — Seonamsa, Daeheungsa, Beopjusa, Magoksa, Tongdosa, Bongjeongsa, Buseoksa — were all established during the Three Kingdoms period that lasted until the 7th century AD.

UNESCO made the announcement at a meeting in the Bahraini capital Manama.

“These mountain monasteries are sacred places, which have survived as living centers of faith and daily religious practice to the present,” UNESCO said in a press statement.

Buddhism was imported to the Korean peninsula in the 4th century and accepted by the ancient kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla, establishing it as the national religion for more than 1,000 years.

During the religion’s heyday in the 5th and 6th centuries many houses of worship were built under strong state patronage, accelerating the importation of Buddhist culture, architecture and style.

Buildings were constructed in supposedly auspicious locations and many temples set up in hilly areas, in line with the traditional Korean reverence for mountains and the Zen focus on meditation in a calm environment.

Temples were built on high positions protected by hills and commanding an open view over other mountains.

But Buddhism’s influence began to wane after the Chosun dynasty, which took over in the 14th century, adopted Confucianism as its ideology and launched an extensive and enduring crackdown on the religion.

It forced many urban temples to close, leaving only those in remote hills to survive.

JAPAN CHRISTIAN SITES
A dozen Christian locations in parts of southern Japan where members of the faith were once brutally persecuted were selected for inclusion on the list on Saturday.

The 12 sites include 10 villages, Hara Castle, and Oura Cathedral, a Catholic church in Nagasaki that is dedicated to 26 Christians who were executed for their beliefs over four centuries ago.

In a press statement UNESCO said that the 12 sites “bear unique testimony to a cultural tradition nurtured by hidden Christians in the Nagasaki region who secretly transmitted their faith.”

Christianity in Japan dates back to 1549, when European Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in the country with two companions and the religion began spreading in western Japan. As more missionaries arrived and the faith spread, Japanese military leaders became increasingly suspicious of its growing influence and a crackdown against Christians began from 1589.

The Christians commemorated at Oura — 20 Japanese and six foreigners — were executed in Nagasaki in 1597 as the persecution intensified.

For Japanese converts, hiding their religion became a matter of life and death for the next 250 years, with Christianity banned and Japan closed to the outside world. As they practised their faith but tried to blend in, the Christians created a blended religion that incorporated elements of Buddhism.

It wasn’t until 1865 that these “hidden Christians” or Kakure Kirishtan became known outside of their communities.

Gothic-style Oura, which was built in 1864 by French priests and was known by locals as the “French temple,” is the oldest Christian-related building in Japan. It was designated a national treasure by the government in 1933, but was partly damaged by the atomic bomb dropped by the US on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima.

The other sites added to the list include Sakitsu village in Amakusa, in southwestern Kumamoto, where Christians practiced their faith in secret in the Edo period. — AFP