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The 41st session of the World Heritage Committee is underway through tomorrow in Krakow, with numerous new UNESCO World Heritage Sites announced. New listings this year have not been without controversy, with the designation of the Old City of Hebron as a Palestinian World Heritage site drawing swift criticism from Israel. Hebron is located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and in response Israel has reduced its United Nations funding. The official recognition of the United Nations for a World Heritage Site is based on its historical, cultural, or other significance, and gives these sites protection through international treaties.
Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is the first modernist city to be listed as a World Heritage site. From its Fiat Tagliero garage, with streamlined wings that soar like an airplane, to an art deco bowling alley, Asmara has an incredible wealth of 1930s Italian futurist experimentation. (Curbed has a vibrant photo essay on its structures.) Angola also got its first listing, with the plateau town of Mbanza Kongo. UNESCO states that its historical structures, dating back to the 14th century, demonstrate “more than anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, the profound changes caused by the introduction of Christianity and the arrival of the Portuguese into Central Africa.”
Meanwhile, the 600-year-old walled city of Ahmedabad became the first to receive World Heritage City status in India. Founded in the 15th century by Sultan Ahmad Shah, its architectural complex is dense with old walls, gates, mosques, homes, and tombs. Other new listings celebrate more recent human innovation, such as the Tarnowskie Góry Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine in Poland, which has a 16th- to 19th-century underground water management system that “made it possible to use undesirable water from the mines to supply towns and industry.”
Other listings honor natural wonders, with the Lake District in the United Kingdom included for its Ice Age-sculpted topography, as well as its artistic influence. UNESCO notes that the region “was greatly appreciated from the 18th century onwards by the Picturesque and later Romantic movements, which celebrated it in paintings, drawings, and words,” and subsequently inspired “early efforts” to conserve such landscapes. Other new cultural designations include the extension of Bauhaus sites in Germany, an area inscribed in 1996, with new additions encompassing architecture built under director Hannes Meyer, who was Walter Gropius’s successor.
While global attention is partly a goal for these listings, not all of them are easily accessible to all. The island of Okinoshima in Japan, added to the Wold Heritage Site list on July 9, has archaeological sites that attest to an ancient history of rituals. However, the Guardian reports that the island does not allow women, and “male visitors must strip naked before going ashore,” part of a centuries-old ritual to cleanse the 200 permitted annual visitors of “impurities.”
Finally, these listings can be essential for precarious preservation situations, and UNESCO gave a World Heritage status to the Valongo Wharf archaeological site in Rio de Janeiro, stating that it is the “most important physical trace of the arrival of African slaves on the American continent.” These archaeological sites, which include mass graves for enslaved people who did not survive the voyage to the Americas, only recently got public notice when many were uncovered during construction ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.
CNN has a full list of the 21 sites added this year, raising the total of World Heritage Sites to 1,073.