Why are we asking this now?
A United Nations team is about to visit Bath to decide whether the city still deserves the accolade of a World Heritage Site. There are 28 such sites in Britain but Bath is the only entire city to be listed.
But the heritage police are worried. They originally called Bath "a city that is harmonious and logical, in concord with its natural environment and extremely beautiful". But now they fear this might be spoiled by a new development to which the city council's planning committee has given outline permission. It will add 2,200 houses with shops, a school and a park right next to the River Avon. Some of the buildings are nine storeys high.
Enthusiasts for the scheme attack those who would keep Bath as "a city in aspic" and worry that the whole project may be at risk if the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), which grants world heritage status, disapproves.
What kind of places are given the accolade?
Anything from a city to an individual building, monument, area, forest, mountain, desert or lake. There are currently 878 world heritage sites which include 678 listed for cultural reasons and 174 lauded as wonders of nature. These include the Great Barrier Reef, the Serengeti Desert, the Pyramids of Giza, the Statue of Liberty, the Great Wall of China, Mount Kenya, Edinburgh's Old and New Towns, Hadrian's Wall, Stonehenge, Memphis and its Necropolis, Persepolis, the Palace of Westminster, the centre of St Petersburg, the Banaue rice terraces in the Philippines and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station in Mumbai. The country with the biggest number of sites is Italy, which has 43.
How did the idea begin?
In 1954, the desert valley containing the twin Abu Simbel temples – which were carved out of a mountainside in southern Egypt in the 13th century BC on the orders of the Pharaoh Ramesses II – were about to be flooded by the building of the Aswan Dam. Frustrated by the Egyptian government's lack of action to protect the ancient buildings, Unesco launched a worldwide campaign that saved the temples by relocating them to higher ground at a cost of $80m, half of it collected from 50 countries.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
The Big Question: What is a World Heritage Site, and does the accolade make a difference?