Of the five natural and 14 cultural sites inscribed on the World Heritage Committee list during the last two weeks of meetings in Phnom Penh, two of the most interesting are North Korea’s medieval city of Kaesong and Japan’s Mount Fuji.
A group of North Korean delegates to the UNESCO committee stood and clapped on Sunday as the decision was announced to inscribe Kaesong in North Korea, a site which includes royal tombs, fortress walls and a 700-year-old school. The North Korean delegates also thanked UNSECO for the listing and described it as a “joyful occasion”.
Founded in 919 as the capital of the Goryeo dynasty which lasted until 1392, the dynasty gave its name “Koryo” to what we now know as Korea and is credited with creating the first idea of Korean national unity.
Following the partition of the Korean Peninsula along the 38th parallel at the close of the Korean war, Kaesong was located in South Korea. Kaesong became the only city to change hands from South to North Korea as a result of the war. Today, Kaesong, hosts an industrial complex which had been used as a place of exchange between the two Koreas.
The 12 sites in the listing are located several kilometres from an industrial park that had been jointly run by the North and South Korea which closed in April following an escalation of tensions between the two.
UNESCO announced that the Korean monuments were not only of outstanding universal value, but also an “exceptional testimony to the unified Koryo civilisation as Buddhism gave way to neo-Confucianism in East Asia”.
Part of the site includes the ruins of the Manwoldae palace; a 1,000-year-old academic institution that includes a museum and relics as well as King Kongmin’s mausoleum.
“These valuable cultural relics are the pride of our nation, and they are precious cultural relics that show the long history of our nation,” Kim Jin Sok, a researcher at Kaesong City Management Office for Preserving National Heritage, told The Associated Press. “Also, these relics, some preserved for very long periods, are well known as relics with which we can stand proud in the eyes of the world.”
Another North Korean complex of ancient tombs from a previous kingdom received a World Heritage listing in 2004.
Hailing Kaesong’s “outstanding universal value”, UNESCO called the monuments “exceptional testimony to the unified Koryo civilisation as Buddhism gave way to neo-Confucianism in East Asia”.
Two of the world’s symbolic volcano-mountains were inscribed by the WHC in Phnom Penh, Japan’s Mount Fuji and Italy’s Mount Etna, located in Eastern Sicily.
Also known as Fujisan, UNESCO describes the volcanic mountain that remains present in the minds of nearly all Japanese citizens and many people around the world as a sacred place and source of artistic inspiration.
Mount Fuji has been present in Japanese art dating back to the 11th century. In the 19th century, wood block prints made of the mountain became recognised internationally. The inscription consists of 25 sites reflecting the essence of the area as a sacred landscape. During the 12th century, the mountain became a training site for ascetic Buddhism which included elements from the Japanese Shinto tradition. The inscription includes pilgrim routes and crater shrines around the mountain and at various levels as well as Oshi lodging houses, natural features, lakes, springs and waterfalls.
The other volcanic mountain inscribed was Italy’s Mount Etna, located on the eastern coast of Sicily, covering 19,237 hectares. The history of the Mount Etna volcano erupting can be traced back 500,000 years and at least 2,700 years of its more modern history has been documented.
In China, the Xinjiang Tianshan mountain system was inscribed, including a total of 606,833 hectares, which constitute part of the Tianshan mountain system with scenic mountains, pristine forests, rivers, canyons and extending into the Talimakan Desert.
Other listings include the 714,566-hectare El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Mexico for its dramatic landscape and lava flows from a dormant volcano as well as sand dunes and unique features of the Sonoran desert; the TajikNational Park (Mountains of the Pamirs of Tajikistan- covers more than 2.5 million hectares in the east of Tajikistan and consists of high plateaus and rugged peaks.
Cultural sites listed include the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station in Canada, a 16th century site at the northeastern tip of Canada founded in 1530 which still has artifacts present from that time. Another from China inscribed were the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces that cascade down the slopes of the towering Ailao Mountains to the banks of the Hong River; the Levuka Historical Port Town in Fiji, the Bergpark Wilhelmshole in Germany, with a giant statue of Hercules, waterfalls and rapids; the Hill Forts of Rajasthan in India that include six majestic forts in Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Sawai Madhopur, Jhalawar, Jaipur and Jaisalmer, and reflect the power of the Rajput princely states that flourished in the region from the 8th to the 18th centuries.
The Golestan Palace of Iran was also inscribed, as a masterpiece of the Qajar era, embodying the successful integration of earlier Persian crafts and architecture with Western influences, as well as the Historic Centre of Agadez in Niger, known as the gateway to the southern edge of the Sahara desert; the Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine consisting of wooden churches, built of horizontal logs between the 16th and 19th centuries by communities of the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic faiths; the University of Coimbra-Alta and Sofia in Portugal that includes 12th century buildings and cathedrals; the Al Zubarah Archaeological Site in Qatar, including a walled coastal town that flourished as a pearling and trading centre in the late 18th century and early 19th centuries.
Also inscribed was the Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora in Ukraine which contains the remains of a city founded by Dorian Greeks in the 5th century BC on the northern shores of the Black Sea.