PHNOM PENH – Italy’s Mount Etna, the hill forts of Rajasthan and the Namib Sand Sea were among the natural wonders and cultural jewels granted World Heritage status by UNESCO at its annual meeting on Friday.
Other entrants into the coveted list include the Mountains of the Pamirs in Tajikistan and China’s Tianshan range.
“From vast deserts in Namibia and Mexico to high mountain ranges in China and Tajikistan and a volcano in Italy, the new World Heritage Sites are a celebration of the beauty of nature and our joint commitment to conserve it for generations to come,” said Tim Badman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Mount Etna, at 3,300 meters the tallest active volcano on the European continent, has been written about for 2,700 years and has “one of the world’s longest documented records of historical volcanism,” UNESCO said.
According to local legend, on Etna there is a sweet chestnut tree that once sheltered hundreds of horsemen during a storm. The kingdom of Sicily issued an act of “public protection” for the tree in 1745 — one of the world’s first recorded environmental protection actions.
UNESCO also inscribed the Namib Sand Sea, “the world’s only coastal desert that includes extensive dune fields influenced by fog,” to the World Heritage list.
“It is an outstanding example of the scenic, geomorphological, ecological and evolutionary consequences of wind-driven processes interacting with geology and biology,” UNESCO said, highlighting the richness of flora and fauna in the desert.
The six hill forts in northwestern India were hailed as “the most authentic, best conserved and most representative sites of Rajput military architecture of Rajasthan region.”
Other sites that won heritage status included the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Mexico thanks to their “dramatic combination of desert landforms, comprising both volcanic and dune systems as dominant features.”
UNESCO also inscribed 16 wooden tserkvas (churches) in the Carpathian mountains of Poland and Ukraine, saying they were “outstanding examples of the once widespread Orthodox ecclesiastical timber building tradition in the Slavic countries that survives to this day.”
The Mountains of the Pamirs, home to the longest valley glacier outside the polar region as well as a number of threatened birds and mammals, are Tajikistan’s first natural World Heritage site.