The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has been made a World Heritage Site, together with three other sites in Israel, Indonesia and Morocco, UNESCO announced today 29 (June, 2012). With the 36th annual session of the World Heritage Committee still in progress in St Petersburg, ‘The Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route [...]
Celebrating World Heritage
This year marks the 40th birthday of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, which to-date protects almost 1,000 sites of outstanding cultural and natural importance. Among these are some of the world’s most spectacular archaeological sites, from Angkor Wat and Hadrian’s Wall to the Pyramids at Giza and the ruins of Pompeii.
We have featured many of these stunning monuments in the pages of Current World Archaeology ; scroll down or click on the map (below right) to read more about some of our favourites.
Celebrations were launched at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris in January and a range of events to mark the anniversary are scheduled throughout 2012, including conferences in Norway and China, a youth forum in Spain, and a commemorative ceremony in Germany.
Just last year, Global Heritage Fund launched the Global Heritage Network (GHN), an online early warning system that allows experts, archaeologists and travellers to track and monitor the state of the world's most endangered sites using satellite technology. Click here to find out more.
The history of the Convention
The need to have an international agreement on how to protect heritage sites sprang from global concern over the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt in 1959, which threatened to flood the world-famous temples at Abu Simbel. UNESCO launched an emergency campaign funded by donations from 50 countries, highlighting our shared responsibility to preserve historic monuments.
The success of this campaign prompted others at Venice, at the 4,500-year-old settlement at Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan, and at Indonesia’s Borobodur Temple. A paper on how to safeguard cultural sites was subsequently drafted, and by 1972 the text had been agreed by all parties concerned. The Convention Concerning the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage was formally adopted at the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972.
World Heritage Sites – the list
Six years after the Convention was signed, member states drew up a preliminary list of sites of universal cultural and natural value. The initial list numbered just a dozen sites – including the 13th-century rock cut churches at Lalibela in Ethiopia and the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada – but it has been added to every June at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee.
Some 936 sites in 153 countries currently fall under its protection, and these will doubtlessly be joined by more this summer.
This year marks the 40th birthday of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, which to-date protects almost 1,000 sites of outstanding cultural and natural importance.
In 1855, the young French archaeologist Léon Heuzey found the remains of a magnificent palace, concealed under a ruined chapel. The village nearby was called Palatitsia, a name that hints at its former regal glory. Could this be the palace of the ancient Macedonian kings? In issue #50 Andrew Selkirk told the story of how the tomb of Philip II of Macedon – father to Alexander the Great – was discovered here. Now, he returns to examine the rest of the site and shares its secrets with us.
Pompeii and its neighbour Herculaneum are among the oldest archaeological sites in the world, but today they risk destruction by exposure to the elements, tourist traffic, and time. Yet these are not new problems. As early as the 18th century, excavators applied varnish to wall-paintings in an attempt to prevent their decay; different types of conservation work have taken place on site ever since. The challenge now is to ensure the preservation of these sites while continuing investigations into the town, its inhabitants, and its history. How can we preserve Pompeii’s past for our future? And what more is there to learn?
The former capital of one of the greatest and wealthiest empires of the Indian subcontinent for 300 years until its destruction in 1565 is facing a new and very modern danger: bulldozers. Paul Woodfield visited the site.
The ancient temples of Angkor have endured nearly a millennium of conflict and warfare, but will this new visitor boom, asks Tom St John Gray, be the most deadly threat to their survival? The capital of a flourishing empire between the 9th and 15th centuries, Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South- east Asia. This year Cambodia invited visitors from around the world to enter the ‘Kingdom of Wonder’, and tourists responded in their millions.
Exactly 100 years ago, the explorer Hiram Bingham found Machu Picchu on the eastern slopes of Peru’s soaring Andes mountains. He was not the first to see it since the Incas left centuries before: local farmers were living on the land, and the site appeared on several maps – including that published in 1910 by Inca expert Sir Clements Markham. But he was the first to bring it to the attention of the world. Historian and author Christopher Heaney recounts the events of Hiram Bingham’s expedition that reclaimed Machu Picchu from the jungle.
The sprawling city at Angkor covered, at its peak, an astonishing 1,000km², and formed the heart of a Khmer Empire which spread across present day Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Banteay Chhmar is one of the crowning glories of King Jayavarman VII’s reign (AD 1181-c.1219). But this magnificent Khmer temple, an architectural tour de force, lies crumbling in forest near the Cambodian border. John Sanday and the Global Heritage Fund must overcome more than just neglect to save this site for posterity.
The sheer scale of Rome’s German frontier is overwhelming. Running for almost 550km, and boasting at least 60 forts, 80 fortlets and over 900 towers, it is the longest archaeological monument in Central Europe. The frontier’s circuitous and occasionally bewildering path carries it from mountain ridges to river pastures, sometimes heeding the limits of fertile farmland, others simply ploughing an arbitrary line across the landscape. This complex barrier is more than just an extended display of Imperial might, it is a physical testament to the way terrain forced the military’s hand.
Fieldwork led by researchers at University College London (UCL) and the University of Manchester has shown that stone figures lying on their backs and faces beside the roads of Easter Island (Rapanui) were not abandoned by clumsy construction workers who dropped and broke the carvings en-route to the coast journey. Instead, each of the fallen statues is associated with a stone platform from which it has toppled with the passage of time. In other words, the roads themselves were not built and used exclusively for the transportation of the figures.
When we asked our readers if they had a favourite World Heritage Site, Mycenae was mentioned again and again. Featured in CWA 28, it was once one of the greatest cities of the Mycenaean civilisation, dominating the eastern Mediterranean from the 15th-12th centuries BC. Today the site boasts remarkable architectural features, such as the famous Lion Gate, as well as royal graves where spectacular artefacts including the gold ‘death mask of Agamemnon’ were found in the 19th century. Andrew Selkirk takes us on a tour of Agamemnon’s capital.
Visitors to the Great Wall of China normally only see one small stretch of the wall – the Badaling section – a showpiece near Beijing. But what is the Great Wall really like? Recently, Paul Woodfield had the opportunity to spend nine days walking the wall. The opportunity was afforded by the Parkinson’s Disease Society who arranged a walk along the wall to raise funds for their Society. So what did he find, and how does the ‘real wall’ compare with the small, carefully conserved section offered to the usual tourist visitor?
One of the original 12 sites to be added to the World Heritage list, Lalibela is one of the most important pilgrimage places of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and famed for its 11 Medieval churches, all of which are hewn into the rock. These exceptional buildings are said to have been built during the 25 year reign of King Lalibela – with more than a little help from the angels. But archaeologists question miracles; and here, David Phillipson, Professor of African Archaeology at Cambridge, introduces us to the wonders of Lalibela and offers a new interpretation of its chronology and creation.
One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Pyramids have fascinated and baffled visitors for centuries, the difficulty of their construction seemingly at odds with their great age. Now the former Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, shares his memories of working with these magnificent monuments when he was the Director General of the Giza Pyramids, Saqqara, Heliopolis, and the Bahariya Oasis for 15 eventful years between 1987 and 2002.
One of South-East Asia’s most celebrated archaeological sites and one of the great marvels of the world, Angkor Wat appeared in the very first issue of CWA, as well as in #5 and, most recently, #50. Stretching over 400km², the surrounding archaeological park includes the various capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th-15th century, as well as the famous temple of Angkor Thom. But when exploration began in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was quickly obvious that there was strong Indian influence. What can new research tell us about Angkor’s origins?
Coming soon in Current World Archaeology #53: the earliest-known temple. Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia predates even the first farming communities. But what came first, religion or civilisation? Find out in the next issue of CWA.
The Tairona, a little-known but hugely sophisticated society, thrived in the Santa Marta mountains – until the devastating arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Forgotten for centuries, the city lay hidden in the rainforest until just 25 years ago. What has recent research uncovered about Colombia’s ‘Lost City’? Find out in the next issue of CWA.