Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity drew a reported 2 million visitors in 2011. Photo: Chris Yunker
When the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meets later this month in St. Petersburg, Russia, its members will consider 36 sites nominated for inclusion on the prestigious list. One of the 28 cultural sites in the running is Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity — one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world, built atop a cave that traditionally marks the birthplace of Jesus Christ — which could make history as the first Palestinian World Heritage Site.
According to CNN, the nomination includes the church and surrounding route taken by religious pilgrims. Bethlehem is considered Palestine’s top tourism destination partly due to the religious significance of the church, which drew a reported 2 million visitors last year, a number that has been steadily climbing in recent years. Still, Palestinian heritage and tourism officials see even more potential for Bethlehem, where the majority of visitors are day-trippers.
“We are mainly seeking to extend the stay of the visitors, who usually drop (in) to Bethlehem for few hours to visit the church and leave without visiting the town,” said Nada Atrash, an architect and head of the research and training unit at Bethlehem’s Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation. “We hope that this inscription would contribute to both the promotion of the site and its protection.”
This is Palestine’s first year as a UNESCO member state, after last October’s controversial vote that saw the U.S. withdraw its support for the organization — about 22 percent of its annual budget. Since then, an Emergency Fund has received more than $30 million in contributions from a variety of member states, including Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Indonesia, East Timor, Iceland, Turkey, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, Belize, Chad, Namibia, Algeria, and others.
For the first time in the 40-year history of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, members of the public and the media will be able to follow the meetings (which take place June 24 to July 6) through live streaming on the internet. Below is a list of all 28 cultural sites (including GHF Completed Project site Çatalhöyük) to be considered by the committee.
- Bahrain, Pearling, testimony of an island economy;
- Belgium, Major Mining Sites of Wallonia;
- Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea;
- Canada, Landscape of Grand Pré;
- China, Site of Xanadu;
- Côte d’Ivoire, Historic Town of Grand-Bassam;
- Croatia, Sacral Complex on the remains of the Roman Forum in Zadar;
- France, Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin;
- France, the Chauvet – Pont d’Arc decorated cave;
- Germany, Margravial Opera House Bayreuth;
- Germany, Schwetzingen: A Prince Elector’s Summer Residence;
- India, Hill Forts of Rajasthan;
- Indonesia, Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: The Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy;
- Islamic Republic of Iran, Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan;
- Islamic Republic of Iran, Gonbad-e Qābus;
- Italy, Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato;
- Malaysia, Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley;
- Morocco, Rabat, modern capital and historic city: a shared heritage;
- Palestine, Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem;
- Portugal, Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications;
- Qatar, Al Zubarah Archaeological Site;
- Russian Federation, Russian Kremlins;
- Senegal, Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes;
- Slovenia and Spain; Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija;
- Sweden, Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland;
- The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Archaeo-Astronomical Site – Kokino;
- Turkey, Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük;
- Ukraine, Kyiv: Saint-Sophia Cathedral with related Monastic Buildings, St. Cyril’s and St. Andrew’s Churches (extension).