09 July 2007 (AFP, by way of the New Straits Times) – So the names of the “new” 7 wonders of the world were released over the weekend, with Angkor Wat not making it to the list. It’s a pity, but I’m not too unfazed by it. Voting patterns (geographic distribution, access to technology) surely skewed the results and the final list perhaps tells us more about the world that voted for the “new” 7 wonders more than the merit of the wonders themselves.
UNESCO slams seven ‘new’ wonders of the world list
The UN body for culture on Sunday blasted a private initiative that drew nearly 100 million Internet and telephone voters to choose seven “new” wonders of the world.
“This campaign responds to other criteria and objectives than that of UNESCO in the field of heritage,” said Sue Williams, the spokeswoman for UNESCO, the UN cultural body that designates world heritage sites.
“We have a much broader vision,” she told AFP.
Voters chose the Great Wall of China; India’s Taj Mahal; the centuries-old pink ruins of Petra in Jordan; the Colosseum in Rome; the statue of Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro; the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru; and the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico.
Christian Manhart, UNESCO’s press officer, criticised the ballot, saying it sent out a “negative message to countries whose sites have not been retained.”
“All of these wonders obviously deserve a place on the list, but what disturbs us is that the list is limited to just seven,” he said, pointing out that “seven were adequate in Antiquity because the Antique world was much smaller than today,” only comprising the area surrounding the Mediterranean.
Read more about UNESCO’s criticism to the New 7 Wonders list.
26 June 07 (New Straits Times) – Malaysia has previously pushed for an Asian version of UNESCO, and this call for an Asian chapter of UNESCO is now bolstered by backing from China. While I agree with the fact that the World Heritage sites seem skewed towards Europe and America, I can’t help but feel that this push by Malaysia and China (the latter not particularly known for actually treasuring their cultural heritage) is more keyed to economics and the tourist dollar rather that treasuring heritage for heritage’s sake.
China backs call for heritage chapter
The Chinese government supports Malaysiaâ€™s proposal for an Asian chapter of the Unesco World Cultural and Natural Heritage centre.
Chinese Minister of Culture Sun Jiazheng says his government agrees with Malaysia that Asia, which has its own distinct set of values and principles, deserves its own criteria for what constitutes a world heritage site.
Malaysia decided to propose an Asian version of the list in October 2006 because the government felt the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation is placing too much emphasis on Europe and the US, and not recognising enough heritage and historical sites in Asia.
“The Chinese government supports this proposal to Unesco and will continue to do so vocally in the international arena,” said Sun after a closed-door meeting with Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim at Kompleks Kraft yesterday.
Read about the proposed Asian Chapter of the Unesco World Cultural and Natural Heritage Centre.
24 April 2007 (Jakarta Post) – This news is related to the earlier post about the visual art exhibition on Borobudur in Jogjakarta. Here, the story also touches on the restoration work on the Buddhist monument.
Preserving Borobudur’s legacy beyond bricks and mortar
The world-famous and heritage-listed Borobudur Buddhist temple was over the weekend the subject of much discourse as experts argued around how best to preserve and maintain not just the temple building — but everything it represents, including religious expression, cultural heritage and art history.
“Long-term preservation must go further than just the recovery of the physical monument,” said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“After such a successful physical restoration, we must address the next challenges — to develop and undertake further studies and research; to restore the natural landscape around the complex; to involve surrounding communities; and to somehow balance all this with sustainable tourism.
“Only this comprehensive approach will lead to true sustainability in the long term,” he said.
Built between 750 and 850, the 40-meter high temple comprises two million huge stone blocks. The building was “lost” for many years and not rediscovered until 1814 during Dutch occupation.
The first restoration phase was conducted in the early 20th century (1905-1911) by Theo Van Erp and focused on improving drainage and structural restoration.
A second massive restoration program was then conducted by the Indonesian government between 1973 and 1983, with full support from UNESCO.
This giant effort bought together 27 countries and a range of private companies from around the world. The total cost was US$25 million.
– The Restoration of Borobudur (World Heritage Series)
– The Mysteries of Borobudur: Discover Indonesia Series by J. N. Miksic
The UNESCO World Heritage Centre has just published a book about the World Heritage charter and the challenges for the new millenium. It’s about 200-pages long and available in French and English and makes for good reading for anyone interested about the World Heritage Sites not just in Southeast Asia, but the world. The best of all? It’s a great resource that’s available for a free download.
This 200-page publication provides a comprehensive overview and analysis of more than three decades of the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and highlights a number of its successes and challenges. It includes a history of the 1972 Convention and its implementation, an analysis of the natural and cultural diversity of the world included on the World Heritage List, and a look at the state of conservation of World Heritage sites. Containing a wealth of information with over 100 photographs, 26 maps and numerous tables and graphs, it is intended for the general reader as well as university students and researchers, heritage conservation specialists and policy-makers.
Check out the publication and the website link here.
12 November 2006 (a Reuters story, seen on CNN) – The restoration of Bagan using modern tools and materials risk turning it into another “Disneyland”.
Bagan: beautified or sacrificed?
Restorations are not new to Bagan, a victim of many floods, fires and earthquakes over the centuries.
A severe 1975 quake destroyed or damaged scores of clay brick and mud buildings and stunning wall murals some say are Bagan’s greatest treasure.
The junta allowed UNESCO experts in to help, but it later ignored the U.N. culture agency’s recommendations for World Heritage status, which would have required a conservation plan and unwanted international scrutiny.
After UNESCO withdrew in the mid-1990s, the generals launched their own restoration drive and solicited donations from wealthy Burmese and merit-seeking Buddhists from across Asia in pursuit of their own temple for the next life.
“They just wanted it to look beautiful,” said Gustaaf Houtman, editor of UK-based magazine Anthropology Today, who believes it is part of a wider campaign to rewrite history.
“Generals sponsored the renovation of a pagoda as a merit-making exercise, as a way of demonstrating to the whole of Burma, and to the world, that they were in control,” he said.
A forthcoming study by Australian archaeologist Bob Hudson says 650 complete buildings have had major repairs — including new spires, roofs or corners — since 1996.
– Ancient Pagan by D. Stadtner
– Bagan by B. Broman
– Cultural Sites of Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia b. J. Dumarcay and M. Smithies
12 Sep 2006 (Bernama) – Malaysia is proposing the creation of a Asian version of UNESCO, but this push seems geared more towards promoting tourism, rather than heritage. The article mentions how a 110-metre rotating tower is planned for the historical city of Melaka…
M’sia Advocates Asian Unesco To Designate Asian Heritage Cities
Malaysia will advocate that Asia has its own organisation similar to Unesco to designate heritage cities in the continent, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said Tuesday.
He said Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) had been recognising cities only in Europe and America under its Heritage Cities programme.
“We in Asia should have a body resembling Unesco, and it could be named the “Asian Cultural and Economic Body”, which will determine how China, the Philippines, Malaysia, India and other countries can obtain such recognition (for their cities),” he told reporters after opening the seventh Malay World, Islamic World (DMDI) convention at the Melaka International Trade Centre (MITC), here.
Rais said the Unesco symbol was used in the tourism business and claimed that many heritage cities with tourism potential had been denied the recognition.