UNESCO

World Heritage (1) Granada

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The castle of the Alhambra

Alhambra and Generalife are inscribed to the World Heritage List in 1984, and in 1994 UNESCO integrates in the same site the Albaicin neighborhood. The former two are the castle and royal residence and the associated gardens, which were the royal residence of the emirs of the XIIIth and XIVth century. The Albaicín presents itself as a neighborhood representing the traditional Muslim architecture of the moment.

The criteria to inscribe the Alhambra and the Generalife are their uniqueness, their influence over the entire Spanish history, their architectural values representing the Nasrid style, and their association to the history of the Islam in the western world. The Albaicín appears as a complementary universal value area that preceded the two former in chronological terms, representing the popular neighborhoods. A relevant element for the site is a geological condition: the buildings are on an earth conglomerate with a high bearing capacity, on which the cuts can be almost vertical without falls, so large changes in level are possible on some areas.

The site is delineated widely, and has a more reduced buffer zone to the south.

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The site and its buffer zone. The site is large as it has been defined taking into acount the landscape and functional relations of the gardens

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The palace of Charles V

In 2012 3.313.360 persons visited the Alhambra and the Generalife.  With the Albaicin, they are a really interesting visit, and even raise the issue of the internal coherence of the sites with the example of the Charles V palace, a wonderful renaissance architecture in itself but a contrast as related to the Nasrid architecture. I must reckon that this contrast is not a problem to me…

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The Lion’s court (when I took the photo some years ago the lions where being restored in a different location)

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A part of the Albaicín from Alhambra

Biblio (32) Case studies on climate change and World Heritage

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UNESCO manages the World Heritage List as a result of the 1972 Paris Convention. The list is based on the appraisal that the natural and cultural heritage are deteriorating, and set as a definition of the two concepts and the criteria that can certify that a site has universal exceptional values justifying its inscription on the list. Today (march 2013) there are 962 sites in 157 states.

The threats identified in 1972 by the Paris Convention have been increased in some cases by the climate change, which touches cities and regions, and subsequently the sites on them. The book to which this post is dedicated describes 26 sites grouped in five categories: glaciers, marine biodiversity, terrestrial biodiversity, archeological sites, and historical cities and settlements. For each category the essential problems are identified, and further elaborated for each case. The book is a good reading, not just due to its theme, but also due to the vision on truly exceptional sites, sometimes as mythical as the Kilimanjaro glaciers or Timbuktu. It is like a bucket list of things to see before death….

The chapter on cities mentions London, Venice, Cesky Krumlow and Prague, Timbuktu and the Sacred Valley in Lebanon. The description of each case is limited due to the extension of the book, but overall the main problems you can find in professional practice are present: how to integrate special measures for the sites on a wider urban area, who pays the costs, how to face incertitude… World Heritage is a very interesting issue, but also a really complex planning matter: you have outstanding element, but they have owners, dwellers, visitors, each with their own interests. The sites are even prone, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would put it, to “black swans”, i.e., unexpected events, as the discovery of archeological remains, man-made features, the mere evolution of the vision of the values of a site, or other, which can have what many would see as a disproportionate impact on sites on which the emotional (but also the mundane…) goes hand in hand with what many would see as redundant layers of red tape… and this also raises a problem, as until now the only way to ensure a legally binding protection regime is to establish a bureaucratic control.