Dresden keeps UNESCO heritage status – for now

Dresden keeps UNESCO heritage status – for now
Photo: DPA
UNESCO announced on Thursday night it will allow Dresden to keep its world heritage status, but said the eastern German city could lose the honour if it continues building a controversial bridge over the Elbe River.

The cultural arm of the United Nations decided to keep the panoramic view of Dresden’s famous skyline on its list of endangered heritage sites in 2009 during a conference in the Canadian province of Quebec. However, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee warned that if the city continued building the Waldschlößchen bridge over the Elbe River, the eastern German city would be crossed off the list.

In a statement, the committee said a reprieve was granted in hopes that the building of a four-lane bridge would cease, and that damage already caused by construction would be reversed.

UNESCO said it wanted to “give Dresden more time in view of legal proceedings underway in Germany” to stop construction. However, “if the work on the bridge continues and if the construction works already undertaken are not removed, then the committee at its 33rd session in 2009 will delete this property from the world heritage list,” committee chair Christina Cameron told a press conference.

In the interim, the site would remain on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s so-called danger list, she said.

The construction of the four-lane bridge began in November last year, after a court dismissed arguments by conservationists that it would pose a threat to rare horseshoe bats that live on the banks of the Elbe.

Residents of the city have mostly been supportive of the project because they believe it will ease traffic congestion. Thousands have also held weekly protests to try to preserve its beauty and save the city’s coveted heritage designation.

“It’s a victory for the citizens of Dresden who have been demonstrating every single Monday for the last year,” Dresden university architecture professor Ralf Weber told AFP. The Dresden Elbe Valley stretches some 18 kilometers from Ubigau Palace and Ostrahege fields in the northwest to Pillnitz Place and the Elbe River Island in the southeast.

The property, which was inscribed on the world heritage list in 2004 and marked “in danger” last year, features low meadows, and numerous monuments and parks from the 16th to 20th century.

If Dresden loses its status as a World Heritage site, it would be only the second site since a nature preserve in Oman was stripped of the honour in 2007.