UNESCO-listed heritage enriches culture

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jan 2, 2013 - 20:18
  • Updated : Jan 2, 2013 - 20:19
The Korea Herald is publishing “Korea’s Cultural Pride,” a 10-part series on the country’s cultural and natural heritage. A total of nine tangible and 14 intangible examples of heritage have been designated UNESCO World Heritage for international preservation. This year 15 cultural properties are on the tentative list, awaiting designation. The series will explore some of those properties. ― Ed.

The year 2013 will be crucial for the management of cultural heritage as the central and local administrations prepare to add their cultural assets to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Currently, nine examples of Korean tangible heritage are on the UNESCO World Heritage list along with 14 intangible items, deemed worthy of protection for the whole world to enjoy. Another 15 sit on the tentative list awaiting designation within two years.

“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable, sources of life and inspiration. UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity,” UNESCO says on its website. 
Seoul City Wall (Yonhap News)

Cultural heritage on the list should represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; exhibit an important interchange of human values; bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or has disappeared, or to others that claim the asset to be unique to their way of life.

Listed items receive financial or technical support from the World Heritage Fund.

More local governments are planning to promote their properties to the world through the list.

“Inclusion on the UNESCO list is very important for the country as well as the local community,” said Professor Lee Sang-hae of Sungkyunkwan University. Lee, who heads the advisory group at the Cultural Heritage Administration that screens properties for submission to UNESCO, said that the enlistment is a great publicity opportunity for the local authorities and for local residents. It’s a chance to start a fresh campaign to preserve cultural assets. People can also expect economic benefits such as a boost in tourism to the area, he said.

For example, the number of tourists visiting the villages of Hahoe and Yandong in North Gyeongsang Province, which were listed for their preservation of the Confucian culture of the early Joseon (1392-1910) period, marked 770,000 in 2011, right after the designation was confirmed. The figure is expected to have exceeded 1 million by the end of 2012.

The bureau responsible for the village maintenance said that more than 197,000 visited the site after the news of its inclusion on the list.

“The tourists have been an economic boon to nearby areas. The Andong Hanjichon producing traditional paper; ‘hanwoo,’ or Korean beef, restaurants are seeing a flood of visitors while other neighboring tourist attractions are also seeing an increase of guests by around 20 percent,” the authorities said in a press release.

“It seems very natural that UNESCO World Heritage List could be another stepping stone for local tourism,” Lee said.

Tentative list

Currently, a total of 15 examples of heritage are on the tentative list, a sort of a candidacy for the actual list.

They represent the well-preserved cultural assets of Baekje (Gongju and Buyeo Historic Sites; Iksan Historic Areas); fortresses of the Joseon and previous eras (ancient mountain fortresses in central Korea, Seoul City Wall) or old buildings offering virtuous lessons (Confucian academies) as well as natural sites such as wetlands (Upo) or mountains (Mt. Soraksan Nature Reserve), among others.

The grouping is the result of the government drawing up an inventory of important heritage sites located within its boundaries with the participation of a wide variety of stakeholders including site managers, local and regional governments, local communities, NGOs and others. It provides a forecast of the properties that the government may decide to submit for inscription in the next five to 10 years and which may be updated at any time.

The government can then plan when to present a nomination file to the World Heritage Center. A nominated property is independently evaluated by two advisory bodies which respectively provide the World Heritage Committee with evaluations of the cultural and natural sites nominated.

Once a site has been nominated and evaluated, the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee should make the final decision on its designation.

“I assume 2013 will be a pivotal period since some local administrations are speeding up the remaining process for the designations. For example, the Namhansanseong Town Fortress and Village in Gyeonggi Province, and the Seoul City Wall in Seoul are likely to push ahead and some others are likely to follow suit,” Lee said.

North Korea

North Korea has six examples of heritage on the tentative list: caves in the Kujang; historical relics in Gaeseong; historical relics in Pyongyang; Mt. Chilbosan; Mt. Geumgangsan and the historical relics in and around the mountain; and Mt. Myohyangsan, as well as the relics in and around it.

According to UNESCO, all of them were registered on May 25, 2000 and have as of yet shown little movement toward being included on the list.

Additional assets

Buddhist groups recently announced that they would nominate seven of its temples ― Beopjusa, Magoksa, Bongjeongsa, Buseoksa, Tongdosa, Seonamsa and Daeheungsa ― for inclusion on the list. The Presidential Council on Nation Branding and the Cultural Heritage Foundation have been in talks with the religious groups over the matter.

“Buddhist temples in Korea are well preserved compared to those in Japan and China. Therefore, without any religious connotations, the temples should be appreciated for their historical and architectural values,” Lee said.

The office of South Gyeongsang Province said it is planning to nominate the historic sites of the Gaya Kingdom, which is assumed to have been founded before A.D. 0 and existed until around A.D. 560.

“An advisory body said that the ancient tomb of Gaya is worth international attention and interest. We are planning to take all necessary steps needed in the mean time,” an official said.

By Bae Ji-sook (