This week: World Heritage Sites

Liverpool waterfront. Image: Elliott Brown, Wikimedia Commons.

It was not, perhaps, our finest hour. On 21 July, UNESCO announced that its World Heritage Committee had voted to remove Liverpool from its List of World Heritage Sites, making Britain only the third country ever to suffer such an indignity.

To make matters worse, the UN-backed agency warned that Stonehenge – Britain’s most celebrated ancient monument and a World Heritage Site since 1986 – would also find its status in doubt if the government pressed ahead with controversial plans to build a £1.7bn road tunnel under the site.

According to Dr Mechtild Rössler, the director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, ‘ill-advised development’ was forcing the committee’s hand. Further sites, she added, could also be struck from the List unless UK ministers ‘do everything’ to protect the country’s national treasures from careless planning in future.

Such judgements dent national pride, of course. But they can also affect the bottom line: being included on the List of World Heritage Sites has been shown to increase visitor numbers, with potential benefits both to the local economy and to the chances of obtaining further funds for conservation.

So it came as little surprise on 28 July, just one week after Liverpool’s headline-grabbing demotion, to witness the elation of politicians in Cardiff and Westminster at the committee’s subsequent announcement that the Slate Landscape of North-west Wales had become the UK’s 33rd World Heritage Site – one of 34 new additions to the List from around the globe.

This week on The Past, we look in depth at both of these stories: in the latest edition of Current Archaeology, Chris Catling celebrates the unique slate landscape of North Wales and marvels at the human ingenuity that led to its creation; while the CA team analyses Liverpool’s removal from the List of World Heritage Sites and offers a guided tour to the status of other UNESCO-protected locations in the UK.

Also this week on The Past, we are delving into the archives of our sister magazines to bring you a deeper understanding of World Heritage Sites, both in the UK and further afield: we went to Orkney to uncover the archipelago’s Neolithic heart; we travelled to Turkey to explore the extraordinary early monuments at Göbekli Tepe; and we headed for Syria and Iraq to reveal the effect of conflict on those countries’ ancient treasures.

And finally this week, we continue the theme with our latest quiz, which is also designed to test your knowledge of World Heritage Sites. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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