The United Nations World Heritage Committee has threatened to remove the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany, an outstanding complex of baroque buildings and natural landscape, from its list of humankind’s priceless cultural legacy if local authorities go ahead with plans to build a bridge over the river.
It would be the first time any site has been struck off the World Heritage List, which currently numbers 812 sites declared to be of outstanding universal value in terms of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1972 World Heritage Convention.
At its annual meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, the Committee put the 18-kilometres-long site on the List of World Heritage in Danger in an effort to avert Dresden municipality’s plans to build the bridge, which it said would have such a serious impact on the “integrity of property’s landscape” that it may no longer deserve to be on the World Heritage List.
It added that it would “consider, in a prudent manner, delisting the site from the World Heritage List in 2007 if the plans are carried through.”
The site is an outstanding cultural landscape that integrates the celebrated baroque setting and suburban garden city into an artistic whole within the river valley. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004.
At the same time, the Committee removed Cologne Cathedral in Germany, Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary in Senegal, the Group of Monuments at Hampi, India and Ichkeul National Park in Tunisia from the List of World Heritage in Danger thanks to improved conservation.
In the case of Cologne, municipal officials decided to scale down plans for new high rise buildings that threatened the dominant landmark position on the city skyline of the Cathedral, a masterpiece of German Gothic architecture begun in 1248 and completed in 1880.
In Djoudj, bio-control measures enabled managers to eradicate invasive plant species that threatened the wetland sanctuary for some 1.5 million birds. Reduced motor traffic and the decision to change the location of a planned shopping centre removed the threat to the Hampi complex of rich temples and palaces built in the 14th to 16th centuries, when it was the capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar.
And in Ichkeul, an end to using the lake’s water for agriculture cut the salinity of the last fresh water lake in a chain that once extended across North Africa and is now a sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.
The Committee, which meets until 16 July, will also pick new candidates to join the World Heritage List that already includes sites as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the baroque cathedrals of Latin America.