by Engr. Ricardo Favis
What does Vigan have in common with the Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall of China, the Vatican, Paris and the Kremlin? Answer: all are World Heritage Sites.
Vigan City Crisologo Street photo by Joe Coyle
But five years ago, no one would have dared to compare our small town of Vigan with any of these famous monuments and sites. It would have been unthinkable to place Vigan side by side with the wonders of the world. Then came the news last 2 December 1999 that the UNESCO World Heritage Convention has inscribed the Historic Town of Vigan in the World Heritage List of Cultural Properties for its ‘exceptional’ and ‘universal’ value.
To be able to fully appreciate the distinct honor that has been accorded to our small town, let us travel together and explore some World Heritage Sites whose magnificence enriches each one of us, and whose disappearance would thus be an irreplaceable loss for all humanity.
Saint Paul Cathedral in Vigan by Gem Paula Lucero
Among the Seven Wonders of the World (which caught our endless fascination during our high school days), the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China are the only survivors. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse in Alexandria and other ancient wonders no longer exist, thus depriving us the opportunity to enjoy and to learn from them.
Great urban centers may exhibit important developments in architecture, town planning or landscape design. Several of them are Rome, Florence, Siena, Venice and Naples (Italy), Cairo (Egypt), Berne (Switzerland), Codoba, Caceres, Segovia and Toledo (Spain), Marrakesh (Morocco), Quebec (Canada), Havana (Cuba), Cracow and Warsaw (Poland), Budapest (Hungary), Lima (Peru), Paris, Avignon and Lyons (France), Mexico City, Prague (Czechoslovakia), St. Peterburg (Russia), Salzburg and Graz (Austria), Kathmandu (Nepal) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan).
Beautiful Street in Vigan City by Andy Nelson
Some archeological sites bear an exceptional testimony of a civilization which is living or has disappeared. This category includes Sukhothai and Ayutthaya (Thailand), Persepolis (Iran), Carthage (Tunisia), Petra (Jordan), Teotihuacan (Mexico), Machu Pichu (Peru), Troy (Turkey), Delphi and Mycenae (Greece), Damascus (Syria), and Jerusalem.
Some World Heritage Sites are associated with ideas or beliefs of outstanding universal significance, such as the case of Vatican City (Holy See), Temple and Cemetery of Confucius in Qufu (China), and the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha in Lumbini (Nepal).
There are also the castles and palaces that are magnets for tourists, like the Versailles (France), Alhambra and Escorial (Spain), Grand Palace of Brussels (Belgium), the Potala in Tibet, the summer Palace in Beijing and the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (China), and the Complex of Hue Monuments (Viet Nam).
Sana’a (Yemen), Timbuktu (Mali), Taos Indian Pueblo (USA), and the modern city of Brasilia (Brazil) are some cities with distinctive architecture.
The Office of the UNESCO Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific first introduced the concept of the World Heritage Convention at the community level in four small towns: Vigan (Philippines), Luang Prabang (Lao PDR), Lijiang (China) and Hoi An (Viet Nam). These towns which are pilot demonstration sites under a UNESCO Programme on Integrated Community Development and Heritage Site Preservation in Asia Pacific through Local Efforts or LEAP have all been inscribed in the World Heritage List.
Aside from the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids and Necropolis of Egypt, other famous landmarks include the Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae (Egypt), the Taj Mahal (India), the Statue of Liberty (USA), the Westminster Abbey and Palace (United Kingdom), and the Stonehenge (United Kingdom).
Religious structures and complexes include Acropolis (Greece), Borobudor (Indonesia), Angkor (Cambodia), Mont Saint Michel (France), Chartres Cathedral (France), Churches and Convents in Goa (India), the Four Baroque Churches (Philippines), Piazza del Duomo in Pisa (Italy), Cologne Cathedral (Germany), Monasteries in Mount Athos, Chios, Chora and Patmos Island (Greece), and the Jesuit missions of the Guarinis (Argentina and Brazil).
The Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci in the Church of Santa Maria delle Gracie (Italy) has been single out as a masterpiece of human creative genius. Other artistic works of outstanding universal value include the rock paintings in the Altamira Caves (Spain) and the rock carvings in Tanum (Sweden) and Alta (Norway).
Monuments that remind us of the horrors of war include Auschwitz Concentration Camp (Poland), the Defense Line of Amsterdam (Netherlands), and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Japan).
Archeological sites of scientific importance include the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian (China), the Fossil Hominid Sites (South Africa), and the Bronze Age Burial Site of Sammallahdenmaki (Finland).
The Wielickzka Salt Mine (Poland), Mines of Rammelsberg and the Volklinger Ironworks (Germany), and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (India) are sites that exhibit important developments in technology.
A site can also be a cultural landscape or an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement or land-use which is representative of a culture. An example of a cultural landscape is the Rice Terraces of the Philippines Cordilleras.
A natural site may be a geological wonder or it exemplifies a stage of the earth’s evolutionary processes, such as in the case of the Yellowstone, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Grand Canyon (USA). The Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) manifest biological evolution and rich biodiversity. Natural sites that contain the natural habitats of endangered animals include the Komodo National Park (Indonesia), the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino (Mexico), Iguazo National Park (Argentina) and the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary (Senegal).
Natural sites cited for their rich biodiversity and natural beauty include the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), the Everglades (USA), The Great Barrier Reef (Australia), Lake Baikal (Russian Federation), and the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park (Philippines) and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Philippines) for large numbers of animals include the Ngorongoro and Serengeti Reserves (Tanzania). A natural site may also be a scene of exceptional beauty or spectacular view, such as Mount Taishan (China), Los Glaciares and the Peninsula Valdes (Argentina), the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (Canada), the Redwood National Park(USA), and the New Zealand Sub- Antarctic Islands.