Twenty-five sites were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List last month, including four which date from the Middle Ages. The 35th session of the World Heritage Committee was held last month in Paris, where 25 of the 35 proposed sites received final approval to be included on the List, which marks places that are particularly important for their natural or cultural significance.
The World Heritage List now numbers 936 properties: 183 natural sites; 725 cultural; and 28 mixed. The four new sites representing medieval history are:
The Longobards in Italy, Places of Power, 568 – 774 A.D. (Italy) comprises seven groups of important buildings (including fortresses, churches, and monasteries) throughout the Italian Peninsula. They testify to the high achievement of the Lombards, who migrated from northern Europe and developed their own specific culture in Italy where they ruled over vast territories in the 6th to 8th centuries. The Lombards synthesis of architectural styles marked the transition from Antiquity to the European Middle Ages, drawing on the heritage of Ancient Rome, Christian spirituality, Byzantine influence and Germanic northern Europe. The serial property testifies to the Lombards’ major role in the spiritual and cultural development of Medieval European Christianity, notably by bolstering the monastic movement.
Ancient villages of Northern Syria (Syria) – Some 40 villages grouped in eight parks situated in north-western Syria provide remarkable testimony to rural life in late Antiquity and during the Byzantine period. Abandoned in the 8th to 10th centuries, the villages, which date from the 1st to 7th centuries, feature a remarkably well preserved landscape and the architectural remains of dwellings, pagan temples, churches, cisterns, bathhouses etc. The relict cultural landscape of the villages also constitutes an important illustration of the transition from the ancient pagan world of the Roman Empire to Byzantine Christianity. Vestiges illustrating hydraulic techniques, protective walls and Roman agricultural plot plans furthermore offer testimony to the inhabitants’ mastery of agricultural production.
Selimiye Mosque and its Social Complex (Turkey) – The square Mosque with its single great dome and four slender minarets, dominates the skyline of the former Ottoman capital of Edirne. Sinan, the most famous of Ottoman architects in the 16th century, considered the complex, which includes madrasas (Islamic schools), a covered market, clock house, outer courtyard and library, to be his best work. The interior decoration using Iznik tiles from the peak period of their production testifies to an art form that remains unsurpassed in this material. The complex is considered to be the most harmonious expression ever achieved of the Ottoman külliye, a group of buildings constructed around a mosque and managed as a single institution.
Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (Vienam) – The 14th-century Ho Dynasty citadel, built according to the feng shui principles, testifies to the flowering of neo-Confucianism in late 14th century Viet Nam and its spread to other parts of east Asia. According to these principles it was sited in a landscape of great scenic beauty on an axis joining the Tuong Son and Don Son mountains in a plain between the Ma and Buoi rivers. The citadel buildings represent an outstanding example of a new style of south-east Asian imperial city.
“World Heritage sites can be tremendous vectors for dialogue, reconciliation, development and knowledge,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. She added, “As the number of World Heritage sites grows, so does their vulnerability. We must sharpen our focus on risk preparedness and long-term management at World Heritage sites.”
The World Heritage Committee also examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed sites and asks States Parties to take appropriate conservation and preservation measures when necessary. The Committee supervises the disbursement of over $4 million annually from the World Heritage Fund, aimed, among other purposes, at emergency action, training of experts and encouraging technical cooperation.