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Eritreans thrilled with UNESCO heritage tag for capital city

Pigeons fly outside the Nda Mariam Orthodox Cathedral in Eritrea's capital Asmara, February 16, 2016. Eritrea's capital city boasts one of the world's finest collections of early 20th century architecture. When Italy's colonial experiment in Eritrea ended in 1941, it left behind an array of Rationalist, Futurist, Art Deco and other styles of Modernism in Asmara, a city they nicknamed

Pigeons fly outside the Nda Mariam Orthodox Cathedral in Eritrea's capital Asmara, February 16, 2016. Eritrea's capital city boasts one of the world's finest collections of early 20th century architecture. When Italy's colonial experiment in Eritrea ended in 1941, it left behind an array of Rationalist, Futurist, Art Deco and other styles of Modernism in Asmara, a city they nicknamed "La Piccola Roma" or "Little Rome".   | Photo Credit: Reuters

The U.N. cultural body UNESCO has invited both bouquets and brickbats over its designation of heritage sites this year.

While the people of Eritrea, who have long said their capital Asmara is like no other city in Africa, welcomed UNESCO’s decision designating it a World Heritage site, independent activists in Tibet challenged the decision declaring the Hoh Xil nature reserve in China’s Qinghai Province a natural heritage site.

Unique architecture

UNESCO’s proclamation ends a long-running quest by Eritrean authorities to have the city’s unique architecture, which includes an art-deco bowling alley with coloured glass windows and a petrol station built to resemble a soaring aeroplane, recognised by the U.N. cultural body, UNESCO.

It’s also a rare example of positive world recognition for the Horn of Africa nation that is a major source of migrants fleeing across the Mediterranean to Europe due to the country’s repressive policies. “The city’s recognition as a heritage site of outstanding universal value fills us with tremendous pride and joy, but also with a profound sense of responsibility and duty,” said Hanna Simon, Eritrea’s permanent delegate to UNESCO.

A former Italian colony, most of the futuristic designs of the Eritrean capital date back to the rule of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini from 1936 to 1941.

Little Rome

Architects whose designs were unwelcome in conservative European cities found a place in Asmara at a time when about half of the city’s population was Italian and the city was known as ‘Piccola Roma’, or “Little Rome”.

While the modernist architecture of other Eritrean cities was destroyed during the decades-long war of liberation from Ethiopia, Asmara’s survived and was declared a national monument by the government in 2001, which refers to it as Africa’s “City of Dream”.

Eritreans thrilled with UNESCO heritage tag for capital city
 

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.

It is China’s largest world natural heritage site, covering an area of 45,000 square kilometres.

“Just inscribed as @UNESCO #WorldHeritage Site: Qinghai Hoh Xil, #China,” the U.N.’s cultural arm tweeted during its World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow.

A handful of pro-Tibet activists protested earlier this week while the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), an advocacy group, warned that giving Hoh Xil heritage status could have consequences for Tibet.

Extending control

“The Hoh Xil nature reserve on the Tibetan plateau... is in the middle of three major nature reserves that increasingly exclude normal Tibetan land use such as nomadic herding, situate the state as the sole agency of control, and encourage mass tourism,” the ICT said in a statement Thursday.

“The inscription of Hoh Xil without further detailed assessment would effectively signify endorsement from the international cultural heritage body of China’s ambitious policies including the displacement of Tibetan nomads from their land,” the group added.

China has invested billions of dollars into resettling Tibetan herders, who have for centuries led a nomadic life, moving regularly to seek fresh grazing for their animals.

Beijing says the policy is aimed at improving nomads’ living standards, creating markets for their livestock and the traditional herbal medicines they gather as well as curbing rampant environmental degradation on the roof of the world.

While some Tibetans welcome the changes, many worry about the disappearance of a lifestyle that has endured for hundreds of years, and see the resettlements as part of a broader erosion of Tibetan culture in China.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2020 2:43:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/eritreans-thrilled-with-unesco-heritage-tag-for-capital-city/article19240981.ece

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