Ancient city of Babylon heads list of new Unesco world heritage sites

UN also names national park in Iceland among sites protected for their value to humanity

The ancient city of Babylon and an Icelandic national park replete with glaciers, ice caves and volcanoes are among the sites that have been added to Unesco’s world heritage list.

More than 1,000 sites around the world – some cultural, some natural, some both – are protected by listing. Landmarks or areas are chosen for their value to humanity.

On Friday, the World Heritage Committee announced the addition of the first of this year’s batch. More sites will be named over the weekend.

Perhaps the most famous site to be added to the list is the city of Babylon in Iraq. The city was first mentioned in the 23rd century BC and may have been home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the Hanging Gardens.

But while Babylon has a history dazzling with palaces and temples, there is little to see of its oldest era and what is left has sustained substantial damage. Saddam Hussein built a replica palace there, while US-led military forces in the area during the Iraq war crushed ancient pavements with their vehicles and filled sandbags with material that included archeological fragments.

Paraty in Brazil
The popular tourist destination of Paraty in Brazil has been recognised for its natural and cultural significance. Photograph: Maria Swärd/Getty Images

Among the other sites listed are the Hyrcanian forests in Iran, an ancient metallurgy site in Burkina Faso, the French austral lands and seas, and the Ohrid region of Albania, which is cited for its natural and cultural heritage. Paraty and Ilha Grande in Brazil – popular destinations for tourists visiting Rio de Janeiro – are also recognised for both their natural and cultural significance.

The selections span countries all over the world. In Iceland, the Vatnajökull national park has been listed. Established in 2008, it covers 14% of the country and is largely spread over the south-eastern central highlands, encompassing the Vatnajökull ice cap. With volcanoes, earthquakes, melting glaciers, explosion craters and geothermal activity, the site is nothing if not dramatic: the nomination document for the site described the park as “an area of alarming natural conflict, but also enchanting harmony.”

A river flowing beneath a glacier in the Vatnajökull national park
A river flowing beneath a glacier in the Vatnajökull national park, described as ‘an area of of alarming natural conflict, but also enchanting harmony’. Photograph: Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images

China has also gained a listing: the migratory bird sanctuaries along the coast of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Gulf. A haven for migratory birds and the home of myriad species of fish and crustaceans, this shoreline boasts a rich ecosystem and is considered to be the largest intertidal mudflat system in the world.

The habitat depends on sediments: according to one report the Yellow River, which discharges into the Yellow Sea, carries an average of 24.7kg of sediment per cubic metre of water at its mouth. The area and the species it hosts, such as the spoon-billed sandpiper, have been under threat from land reclamation.


Nicola Davis

The GuardianTramp

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