Quebec City: A Hindu temple in Cambodia, two historic Malaysian trading towns and an early agricultural site from Papua New Guinea were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List on Monday.
Honoured were the 11th century Preah Vihear temple site, perched on a mountaintop on the Thai-Cambodia border; the cities of the Straits of Malacca, Melaka and George Town in Malaysia, and the Kuk Early Agricultural Site in Papua New Guinea, marking the country’s first entry on the list.
The UNESCO committee has been meeting in this oldest of Canadian cities since Wednesday to consider adding to its coveted list of protected architectural and natural wonders.
A total of 45 new sites are vying for inclusion on the list this year but few are more controversial than the Preah Vihear temple. Last week, Cambodia deployed riot police to protect the Thai embassy for fear that a border dispute over the temple could spark violent protests.
The move came after Thailand suspended its endorsement of Cambodia’s bid for the UN cultural agency UNESCO to grant the long-disputed Preah Vihear temple World Heritage status.
Ambassador Francesco Caruso, special advisor to the director general of UNESCO, told AFP the listing was not meant to prejudice the ongoing dispute. Rather, it was hoped it might be amended in the future to a bi-national listing of the temple and its contested landscape.
The ruins of the Hindu temple are the most important example of ancient Khmer architecture outside of Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat, and have weathered centuries of wars and duelling territorial claims with Thailand.
Built to honour the Hindu god Shiva, Preah Vihear stretches dramatically up to a cliff-top in the Dangrek mountain range. UNESCO deemed the site exceptional for its location on a plateau with sheer cliffs overlooking a vast plain and mountain range; its rare architecture and the religious function of the temple; and its carved stone ornamentation.
Cambodia began seeking World Heritage status for the temple nearly six years ago. To date, 862 sites in more than 140 countries have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Other sites added to the UNESCO list include Slovakian wooden churches, German early 20th century low-income housing, the Renaissance towns of Mantua and Sabbioneta in Italy, and the Stari Grad Plain on the Adriatic island of Hvar, farmed for 2,400 years.