Controversial Site Selections Made by UNESCO in 2017


Controversial Site Selections Made by UNESCO in 2017

by Amy Lignor


It is a fact that each year hundreds of sites – from towering castles to ancient ruins to recently discovered tombs – want to earn the badge of being a UNESCO world heritage site. Not only does the umbrella of UNESCO earn them pride, but it also earns them more money in tourist dollars as well as gives that site protection so that it can never be damaged or destroyed. It is not easy to get accepted by UNESCO – there are a number of rules that must be met and strict guidelines for the site when it comes to preservation. But, to most, earning the designation is worth the work.


For 2017, UNESCO has picked 21 new sites to protect, yet some of these sites come with controversy. There are even some that feel being a part of UNESCO will actually hinder them or put their site in jeopardy, citing the fact that tourists visiting them could cause them to suffer. Others, of course, are jumping for joy that UNESCO has decided to handpick them from an ever-growing list of locations, pointing them out to the world as being remarkable for their cultural significance as well as their natural beauty.


In India, the 15th century city of Ahmadabad has become a UNESCO site in 2017. This walled city, founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah, is what an archaeologist would call a thrilling experience. The architecture of the city is amazing, most notable is the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the city, and the large number of tombs and mosques that dot the landscape. Even after six centuries, this city continues to flourish.


However, when it comes to a highly controversial decision, it is the largest and highest plateau in the world, China’s Hoh Xil nature reserve that garnered headlines just a few weeks ago. Although Qinghai Province is now a UNESCO natural heritage site, pro-Tibet activists had been trying to halt that from happening. The Hoh Xil nature reserve, located on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is home to over 200 animal species. More than 20 of them are state-protected, including the Tibetan antelope. But the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) advocacy group warned that giving Hoh Xil heritage status could have consequences for Tibet that include tourists causing the rapid decline of these species. Even though they are state protected, the fear is that some could certainly switch to the endangered list at the hands of mankind. It is possible that security will have to be placed her, considering the many countries that are already fighting battles like these as they watch their unique species disappear because of poaching.


Another controversial selection is the island of Okinoshima, Japan. With this, UNESCO chose a sacred site that only 200 men can visit once a year, and only after purifying themselves with sea water. Women are completely prohibited from entering. The shrine that’s located here was established in the mid-17th century. Prior to the shrine’s establishment as a sacred natural site, the surroundings served as a location for the worship of the kami. Although the island gained UNESCO World Heritage site status just recently, local residents still express their fear about what that designation will bring. Tourism will increase which, according to the citizens, threatens the sacredness of the location. It has already been stated, by Takayuki Ashizu, the chief priest at Munakata Taisha, that being placed on the UNESCO cultural heritage list changes nothing – they will not open it to the public whatsoever.


One selection, however, that has made everyone happy occurred just this past week. An archaeological site that is going to make everyone’s travel bucket list in the future has become part of UNESCO. Yet another sacred zone, this one welcomes tourists as well as tourist dollars. Sambor Prei Kuk in Cambodia (AKA: “the temple in the richness of the forest”) is a remnant of the Chenla Empire that reigned supreme in the 6th and 7th centuries, making it one of Cambodia’s oldest temple cities. Even though tourists rarely ever came here, the UNESCO badge changes all of that, and boy is it stunning. A sprawling complex of one hundred temples scattered over nearly 1,400 hectares of forest, rice paddies and marshlands on the west bank of the Sen River, the unique architecture includes guardian lions and a whole lot more. Thousands celebrated the listing of Sambo Prei Kuk as a world heritage site on Monday, and with 5.5 million tourists expected to visit the country this year, this is one location that will soon thrive.


So the debate continues. UNESCO has certainly done wonders for the “wonders of the world” that were both famous and not so famous. Their work keeps these locations preserved and protected, as well as introduces them to the international map so that tourists can help the location as well as the citizens. However, there are those that wish their sites to remain undiscovered, without all the hype. It will be interesting to see how those controversial picks do in the coming years.


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