World Heritage list swells with overlooked treasures

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The Independent Travel

The list of World Heritage sites, which brings an endorsement that can boost tourism and environmental protection for those on it, has swelled with 21 additions decided at a UNESCO meeting in recent days.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which wraps up its deliberations in Brasilia on Tuesday after 10 days of work, awarded its seal to a few already well-visited attractions, such as Amsterdam's canal belt and France's historic town of Albi.

But most of the sites - for instance the Bikini Atoll where US atomic bomb tests confirmed our nuclear era, or Sri Lanka's highlands - were further off the beaten path.

Indeed, there was a concerted effort during the UNESCO committee's meeting to redress a perceived bias towards Europe's well-documented cultural hotspots and recognize unique areas in developing countries hitherto overlooked.

"There is a sort of imbalance that means the cultural assets of Africa, Latin America and part of Asia are not as well represented" as European culture, said Brazilian Culture Minister Juca Ferreira, who chaired the meeting.

UNESCO's assistant director general for culture, Francesco Bandarin, said that during the Brasilia gathering, "the countries from the south were very present" during the deliberations.

As of late Monday, the committee had added 21 sites to the heritage list, expanding it to 911 entries considered unique on cultural or environmental merits.

An imperial palace in Vietnam, temples and rugged red terrain in China, an Australian penal colony, a historic bazaar in Iran, archipelagos off Hawaii and in the South Pacific, national park in France's Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and in Tanzania, 14th-century villages in South Korea and an 18th-century astronomical observatory in India were all inscribed.

Three countries - Tajikistan, the Marshall Islands and the South Pacific nation of Kiribati - earned their first World Heritage tags.

A few polemics dogged the work of the committee, however.

In Australia, Aboriginal activists condemned the inclusion of Australian convict-era monuments, saying no more "white Australian" sites should be added while the country's indigenous heritage is in danger of extinction.

A longstanding stalemate over Palestinian cultural sites, technically stateless, continued.

"We are trying to promote discussions between Israel and the Palestinian representatives," Bandarin said, explaining that the current impasse meant Jericho City and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem could not benefit from heritage status.

In parallel with the nominations of the new sites, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee discussed restoring important sites in Haiti, which was devastated by an earthquake in January.

The panel also returned Florida's Everglades to a special list of 31 sites considered in danger.

It removed the Galapagos Islands from the danger list to recognize efforts by the Ecuadorian government, despite protests from its consulting body on heritage matters that the archipelago was still under threat.

The full list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites can be found at: whc.unesco.org/en/list

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