UNESCO Expands its List of Classified World Heritage Sites

Nélida Nassar  06.30.2013

The 37th annual session of the World Heritage Committee is being held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and it has expanded its list of UNESCO cultural sites by selecting Mount Fuji as a world heritage site,  along with the Honghe rice terraces (China), the Nigerien city of Agadez, and the Red Bay whaling station in Canada.

“Fujisan (Mount Fuji), a solitary volcanic cone, often snow-capped, rising above villages, sea, and tree-lined lakes, has inspired poets and artists and has been the subject of pilgrimage for centuries,” notes UNESCO in the document  prepared for this meeting, adding that “The respect and fear inspired by Mount Fuji’s majestic form and its intermittent volcanic activity gave rise to religious practices that combine Shintoism and Buddhism.” The report further states: “The almost perfect conical shape of the snow-capped Mount Fuji has inspired artists since the early nineteenth century. It has engendered images that transcend cultures”  and whose wide dissemination “had a profound influence on the development of Western art.”

UNESCO-listed several parts of the mountain, starting with the top and including seven shrines located on its slopes all the way to its foot, as well as several inns welcoming pilgrims, and a group of “revered natural phenomena” (springs, a waterfall, pines, and trees impressed into the lava). The volcano, about 100 miles southwest of Tokyo, rises
to 3,776 meters, and its southern slopes spread down all the way to the shores of
Suruga Bay.

Mount Fuji is the 17th Japanese site listed by UNESCO, joining the historical monuments of ancient Kyoto, the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, the shrines and temples of Nikko city, the monuments of the ancient capital of Nara, and the famous Shinto shrine of Itsukushima, with its “tori” (red porch) rising from the water.

Rice Terraces
UNESCO has also selected the Honghe Hani’s rice-terrace landscape located in China’s Yunnan Province. This site consists of 16,603 hectares of terraces which rise on Mount Ailao’s steep slopes and descend to the south bank of the Red River. For 1,300 years, the Hani people have developed a complex system of canals and integrated farming that combines cattle breeding and production of the staple of their diet, red rice.

“This land management system is sustainable and reflects an extraordinary harmony both visually and ecologically between the people and their environment. It is based on ancient social and religious structures,” observes UNESCO.

The UN agency also added to its list the historic center of the city of Agadez, a crossroads of caravan trade in Niger. It includes a mosque with its imposing minaret as well as the sultan’s palace, both dating back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Its abode style architecture is made of unfired clay bricks dried in the sun. « Since the fifteenth century, » Agadez, “gateway to the desert” has been an exceptional center of the caravan trade. It is  typical of the regions’s historical towns, and it is a major trans-Saharan cultural exchange center,” states Unesco.

The World Heritage Committee also awarded an overdue nomination to the Canadian Red Bay whaling station, where Basque sailors were operating as early as the sixteenth century.

A total of 31 potential new natural and cultural sites are being considered for World Heritage status; before this session there were 962 such sites located in 157 countries. The newly selected sites also include Mount Etna in Italy, the Rajasthan hill forts in India, and Erg Namib in Namibia. Among the candidates still seeking to be recognized in this session for their “outstanding universal value” are Italy’s Medici villas.

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