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Volcano, trading cities and whaling town given UN World Heritage status

Fujisan, Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration (Japan).
Shizuoka Prefectural Tourism Association
Fujisan, Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration (Japan).

Volcano, trading cities and whaling town given UN World Heritage status

Mount Fuji was today recognized as a United Nation educational and cultural agency's World Heritage site, along with seven others on a list that for the first time includes sites in Fiji and Qatar.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee, meeting this month in Cambodia, is reviewing 32 proposed sites and reviewing several already on the list.

In selecting Fuijisan, as it is officially known, the Committee said the beauty of the solitary, often snow-capped, stratovolcano “rising above villages and tree-fringed sea and lakes has long inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimages.”

In the 12th century, Fujisan became the centre of training for ascetic Buddhism. The inscribed property consists of 25 sacred sites including Sengen-jinja shrines, Oshi lodging houses and waterfalls.

The Committee today also selected to honour Al Zubarah Archaeological Site in Qatar, country's first inscription. The walled coastal town of Al Zubarah in the Gulf flourished as a pearling and trading centre in the late 18th century and early 19th centuries, before it was destroyed and finally abandoned in the 1900s. Its remains, which include palaces, mosques, streets and fishermen's huts, were protected by a layer of sand blown from the desert.

UNESCO called the site “an outstanding testimony to an urban trading and pearl-diving tradition” which eventually led to the emergence of modern day Gulf States.

Also honoured for the first time today, Fiji's Levuka Historical Port Town has been added to the list.

The town and its low line of buildings set among coconut and mango trees along the beach front was the first colonial capital of Fiji, ceded to the British in 1874.

Noting its “unique landscape,” the UN agency said the site was a rare example of a late colonial port town that was influenced in its development by the indigenous community which continued to outnumber the European settlers.

In Portugal, the Committee honoured the University of Coimbra which over seven centuries became a reference in the development of other institutions of higher learning in the Portuguese-speaking world.

The UN agency also inscribed the Historic Centre of Agadez in Niger which is known as the gateway to the Sahara desert. Developed in the 15th and 16th centuries, the historic centre of the city was an important crossroads of the caravan trade. Its structures include a 27 meters high minaret made entirely of brick, the highest such structure in the world.

From Canada, UNESCO honoured the Red Bay Basque whaling station established by mariners in the 16th century and now provides “the earliest, most complete and best preserved testimony of the European whaling tradition.” The station was used for 70 years before the local whale population was depleted.

In a separate meeting, the UN Committee inscribed the Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in China. Created by the Hani people over the past 1,300 years, the terraces are a complex system of channels to bring water from the forested mountaintops. They are used by 82 villages for farming that involves buffalos, cattle, ducks, fish and eel, and supports the production of the area's primary crop, red rice.

The Committee also honoured Lesotho's Sehlabathebe National Park as an extension to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in South Africa, which is now to be named Maloti Drakensberg Tranboundary World Heritage Site. Members praised the “spectacularly beautiful watershed area” that hosts flora and fauna of scientific importance. It is also home to three endangered species, the Maloti Minnow, a species of fish found only in the Park, and the Cape and Bearded Vultures.

Also today, UNESCO held an inauguration ceremony at Vietnman's My Son Sanctuary which has been undergoing 16 years of excavation and restoration work. The tower temples and monuments were once part of the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom

Under steady rainfall, dancers and musicians lined the path leading through lush forest to the G Group of monuments, where a brief religious ceremony was held to consecrate the restored 16 structures.

UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova awarded certificates to these local workers in recognition of their contribution to help excavate, clean and document artefacts, and restore the brick structures using techniques specially developed for the purpose.

A World Heritage Site since 1999, the My Son Sanctuary, located in Quang Nam province amidst a hilly landscape, comprises eight groups of 71 monuments built throughout the 7th to 13th centuries.

The site is one of six, along with Preah Vihear pictured above, included in a sub-regional exhibit now on show in museums in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The project, which also includes pieces from Angkor, Vat Phou, the Ho Citadel and the Thang Long Citadel aims to highlight the interconnections of these sites and populations, in addition to the role of Southeast Asia in global history.

The exhibits consist of panels developed by the Preah Norodom Sihanouk-Angkor Museum centres around the theme of the historical context and discovery of the &#8220274 Buddhist statues from Banteay Kdei in Angkor”. They follow the common themes developed by UNESCO and experts on “Natural World” and “Trade and Exchange”.