Of “Outstanding Universal Value”
UNESCO adds 21 World Heritage sites to its list.
by Ben Guarino
© 2016, THE WASHINGTON POST
The annual meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage committee—the 40th in its history— came to an early conclusion. But not before the attendees swiftly pushed through 21 new sites to the World Heritage list.
The yardstick by which the committee measures potential sites is simply that the locations offer “outstanding universal value” to humanity, according to the UNESCO treaty adopted in 1972. In practice, this means that World Heritage sites are tremendously diverse in origin and composition.
Among the nearly two dozen new sites inscribed on the list are Canada’s Mistaken Point, rough Newfoundland cliffs studded with some of the oldest evidence of complex organisms—fossils of spindly living things that date back 565 million years.
Included as a single “site,” too, are 17 works by renowned Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. The listed buildings dot the globe from the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille—the French housing complex credited with influencing the Brutalist style of architecture—to Tokyo’s National Museum of Western Art, the first site in the center of the Japanese city.
UNESCO called the structures “works of creative genius,” which “attest to the internationalization of architectural practice across the planet.”
The announcements came with celebrations concentrated in pockets around the globe. A group gathered in the fishing village of Portugal Cove South, in Newfoundland, to await the decision regarding Mistaken Point.
When news came through, the crowd went “crackers,” said Richard Thomas, a geologist who led the effort to get the seaside cliffs listed, to the Canadian Press. “I was just sitting there dazed . . . I thought this day would never come.”
A few highlights from the latest additions:
• One new site is made up of 30 tombstone locations, covered in an ancient Bosnian scrawl, which date back to the 12th century. Carved from limestone, the 70,000 graveyard markers—known as stecci—are found in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, and combine both pagan and Christian motifs.
• The Revillagigedo Archipelago is a group of islands in the Pacific, off of Mexico, where volcanic peaks thrust up from the sea floor. The isles are uninhabited and home to an array of sharks, rays, dolphins and other marine life. Seen from above, the islands sweep clouds into whimsical curls—as NASA spotted in 2004.
• Gibraltar Neanderthal Caves, also known as Gorham’s Cave, sit beneath the European continent’s southernmost tip. In 2014, researchers announced in the journal PNAS they found Neanderthal artwork carved into the rock. The find, study author and Gibraltar Museum’s Clive Finlayson told the BBC, “brings the Neanderthals closer to us, yet again.”
• The ancient city of Ani, which sits in Turkey along the Armenian border, was once a bustling Silk Road metropolis known as “the city of a thousand and one churches,” writes the Atlantic. Today, the shell of Saint Gregory church is one of the remaining buildings from the 1,600-year-old burg.