Unesco adds sites in India, Iran and Spain to its World Heritage List

Madrid's Paseo del Prado boulevard and El Retiro Park, as well as Telangana's Ramappa Temple and the Trans-Iranian Railway have been inscribed

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Unesco added Madrid's historic Paseo del Prado boulevard and El Retiro Park, as well as the Trans-Iranian Railway and the Ramappa Temple in Telangana, South India, to its list of World Heritage sites on Sunday.

The tree-lined Paseo del Prado, in the centre of the Spanish capital, is home to the Prado Museum, while the adjoining El Retiro Park is one of the city's most visited attractions.

Scroll through the gallery above for some of the latest sites to be added to the Unesco World Heritage List in 2021.

Spain's main attractions

El Retiro (The Retreat), an urban green space with a boating lake enjoyed by locals and tourists, was originally a palace and gardens built for the personal use of King Felipe IV in the 17th century.

Located at the urban heart of Madrid, the 200-hectare cultural landscape has evolved since the creation of the tree-lined Paseo del Prado avenue, a prototype of the Hispanic alameda or promenade, in the 16th century, Unesco said.

"The avenue features major fountains, notably the Fuente de Cibeles and the Fuente de Neptuno, and the Plaza de Cibeles, an iconic symbol of the city, surrounded by prestigious buildings. The site embodies a new idea of urban space and development from the enlightened absolutist period of the 18th century," the organisation said.

"Buildings dedicated to the arts and sciences join others in the site that are devoted to industry, health care and research. Collectively, they illustrate the aspiration for a utopian society during the height of the Spanish Empire."

The Paseo del Prado "was one of the first boulevards inside the city limits of all European cities and capitals... where all citizens, without distinction of class, could enjoy leisure and a stroll", said Spain's Foreign Ministry.

People enjoy boat rides on a lake at El Retiro Park in Madrid. Reuters

It said the accolade was "especially symbolic" in the current context of the pandemic, as the space had "fully fulfilled the function for which it was originally created".

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was quick to celebrate the news, writing in a tweet: "Deserved recognition for a space in the capital that enhances our historic, artistic and cultural legacy."

Meanwhile, Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida tweeted: "Proud of our city, and happy for Spain and the legacy of its capital."

What is the Trans-Iranian Railway?

The Trans-Iranian Railway, which connects the Caspian Sea in the north-east with the Arabian Gulf in the south-west, crossing two mountain ranges as well as rivers, highlands, forests and plains, and four different climatic areas, is also now a World Heritage site.

"Started in 1927 and completed in 1938, the 1,394-kilometre-long railway was designed and executed in a successful collaboration between the Iranian government and 43 construction contractors from many countries," Unesco explained. "The railway is notable for its scale and the engineering works it required to overcome steep routes and other difficulties.

"Its construction involved extensive mountain cutting in some areas, while the rugged terrain in others dictated the construction of 174 large bridges, 186 small bridges and 224 tunnels, including 11 spiral tunnels. Unlike most early railway projects, construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway was funded by national taxes to avoid foreign investment and control."

Inside the Rudreshwara Temple

Another newly inscribed site is the Rudreshwara Temple, popularly known as Ramappa Temple, in the south-central state of Telangana, India. It is located in the village of Palampet, about 200km north-east of Hyderabad city.

Ramappa Temple is the main Shiva temple in a walled complex built during the Kakatiyan period (1123-1323 CE) under rulers Rudradeva and Recharla Rudra, according to Unesco. Construction of the sandstone temple began in 1213 CE and is believed to have continued over 40 years.

"The temple’s sculptures of high artistic quality illustrate regional dance customs and Kakatiyan culture. Located at the foothills of a forested area and amidst agricultural fields, close to the shores of the Ramappa Cheruvu, a Kakatiya-built water reservoir, the choice of setting for the edifice followed the ideology and practice sanctioned in dharmic texts that temples are to be constructed to form an integral part of a natural setting, including hills, forests, springs, streams, lakes, catchment areas and agricultural lands," Unesco said.

The World Heritage Committee is hosting its two-week session in Fuzhou, China, where the body is assessing the condition and management of more than 1,100 existing sites, as well as accepting nominations from countries for new World Heritage Sites.

This year, 39 nominations proposed in 2020 and 2021 are being examined, split between cultural, natural and mixed sites.

On Saturday, a total of five sites were inscribed, including Saudi Arabia's Hima Cultural Area, as well as four European properties, such as the Great Spa Towns of Europe, Cordouan Lighthouse in France and Mathildenhohe Darmstadt in Germany.

China's ancient port of Quanzhou was also added to the list on Sunday, making it the country's 56th Unesco World Heritage Site, with others including Lushan National Park (1996), Site of Xanadu (2012) and The Great Wall (1987).

Last week, Liverpool's waterfront was removed from Unesco's list after concerns about overdevelopment, including plans for a new football stadium. Liverpool had been on Unesco's "in danger" list since 2012 owing to development in the city's north docks.

– Additional reporting by Reuters

Updated: July 26, 2021, 6:42 AM