QUEBEC CITY, July 8 – UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee added a whopping 27 new sites to its World Heritage List at its 32nd session this week, including The Mijikenda Kaya Forests in Kenya and French fortifications.
Nineteen cultural sites and eight natural sites were inscribed, said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization panel, meeting in this oldest of Canadian cities.
The total number of World Heritage sites now reaches 878 sites in 145 countries, it said.
In this latest bout, four countries — Papua New Guinea, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, and Vanuatu — entered the list for the first time.
The ancient Ottoman town of Berat in central Albania was added to a listing for Gjirokastra, inscribed in 2005, illustrating the "coexistence of various religious and cultural communities," the committee said in a statement.
It features a 13th century castle, many Byzantine churches and mosques built under Turkish occupation, as well as houses used by various religious communities — notably some used by Sufi brotherhoods in the 18th century.
The heritage committee also approved the extension of the Mountain Railways of India with the inscription of the Kalka Shimla Railway, a 96-kilometer (60-mile) long, single track working rail link built in the mid-19th century to provide a service to the highland town of Shimla.
Ten new sites from Europe made the prestigious list of architectural and natural wonders this year, including French fortifications that represent the "finest examples" of the work of Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban, a military engineer of King Louis XIV.
Vauban’s designs were said to have played a "major role" in the history of fortification in Europe and as far away as the American continent, Russia and East Asia.
At the other end of history, German early 20th century low-income housing, which inspired modern apartment living around the world, also entered the list.
At the same time, the committee warned that the eastern German city of Dresden risked being de-listed next year if construction of a bridge across its Elbe Valley is not halted.
Several sites in Asia were honored too, including two historic Malaysian trading towns and an early agricultural site in Papua New Guinea.
None, however, were more controversial than the listing of the Preah Vihear temple perched on a mountaintop on the Thai-Cambodia border.
Last week, Cambodia deployed riot police to protect the Thai embassy and Thai-owned businesses in the capital Phnom Penh for fear that a border dispute over the Hindu temple could spark violent protests.
In 1962, the World Court ruled the 11th-century temple belonged to Cambodia, however the main entrance lies at the foot of a mountain in Thailand.
On Tuesday, the Thai government’s backing of Cambodia’s bid to grant the temple World Heritage status was ruled unconstitutional and now poses a political threat to Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s government, which is already facing mass protests in the streets.
The UN agency also named as a heritage site 15,000 square kilometers of the New Caledonia lagoon, the world’s second largest continuous coral reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier reef, as well as China’s Mount Sanqingshan National Park and earthen houses of Fujian Tulou.
The Middle East garnered four new listings: Yemen’s Scocotra Archipelago, Saudi Arabia’s Archaeological Site of Al-Hijr, Israel’s Baha’i Holy Places in Haifa and Western Galilee, and Armenian Monastic Ensembles in Iran.
Canada’s Joggins Fossil Cliffs on its Atlantic coast was enumerated for being the most complete known fossil record of terrestrial life from 354 million to 290 million years ago, as was the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, about 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City, for its "outstanding universal value."
Nearly one billion butterflies from Canada and the United States return to the site every autumn and cluster in the forest, coloring its trees orange and literally bending their branches under their collective weight.