Global Destinations Compete for UNESCO Recognition in Riyadh While Venice Faces Potential Downgrading

Ukraine has been striving to safeguard its landmarks from potential Russian attacks, like the statue located in Lviv.

Over 50 global sites are vying for a coveted spot on the UN’s heritage list during a meeting commencing in Riyadh on Sunday. Meanwhile, some current entrants, such as Venice and Kyiv, face the prospect of being downgraded.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ organization dedicated to education, science, and culture, curates the world heritage list, which it views as a reflection of our planet’s cultural and natural diversity. The agency convenes annually to update this list, a coveted status that many nations consider essential for attracting tourism and securing funding for site preservation. Conversely, countries are eager to avoid removal from the list, as exemplified by Australia’s recent efforts to prevent the exclusion of the Great Barrier Reef due to the government’s inadequacies in protecting it from climate change and tourism impact.

During the meeting in Saudi Arabia, well-established sites like Venice and Kyiv will be closely scrutinized for a possible “at-risk” classification, marking the first step toward removal from the list, which currently comprises 1,157 sites, including 900 cultural, 218 natural, and 39 mixed sites. Six sites may be designated as “in danger” at the Riyadh meeting, joining the 55 already on the watchlist. Venice faces threats from rising sea levels linked to climate change and excessive tourism, as highlighted by Lazare Eloundou Assomo, UNESCO’s Director of World Heritage.

In the case of Ukrainian sites Kyiv and Lviv, they are under threat due to the ongoing war with Russia, making their fate uncertain.

Venice, with its challenges of overcrowding and rising water levels, may experience a downgrade on the heritage list.

This year’s list of applicants seeking inclusion on the list, numbering 53, includes some lesser-known locations, including Koh Ker, a remote site in the northern Cambodian jungle housing archaeological sites dating back to the Khmer empire. Turkey seeks recognition for its medieval mosques with wooden structures, while France proposes the Maison Carrée (Square House) in Nimes, a remarkably preserved ancient Roman temple. Tunisia aims for recognition of the island of Djerba, not for its mass tourism but for its “cultural landscape.”

Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have jointly applied for the Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor, a 900-kilometer (600-mile) stretch along the ancient Silk Road.

Inclusion on the heritage list signifies the acknowledgment that these countries possess sites of importance that contribute to the development of human heritage, as emphasized by Eloundou Assomo.

This year’s applications reflect a growing trend toward memorial sites, including Rwanda’s application for four sites commemorating the genocide of the country’s Tutsi population. Argentina is proposing a site to commemorate the victims of the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, while France and Belgium are suggesting sites related to World War I remembrance.

The World Heritage Committee meeting is scheduled to conclude on September 25th.

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