The Williamsburg area could soon join an exclusive club that includes the Acropolis, the Taj Mahal and Mount Kilimanjaro.
The Historic Triangle, which comprises the City of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown, has begun a campaign to be recognized as one of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Sites. There are currently 911 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
To qualify, the Historic Triangle would have to be deemed to fall under one of the ten criteria for acceptance. Six of those are for cultural landmarks, whereas the other four are for natural landmarks.
“We believe that the Historic Triangle fits criteria ii: to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design,” James Horn, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president for research and historical interpretation and the Director of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, said. “[Criteria V, it needs] to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use or sea-use which is representative of a culture or cultures, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.”
Horn also said it would fit into criteria VI as the Historic Triangle is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.
In Colonial Williamsburg, many original buildings remain, dating from 1690 to 1780. In Jamestown, the original 1607 fort was discovered in 1994. Recently, the first English Church in North America, established in 1608, was discovered and excavated.
There are 21 American landmarks that are currently designated as World Heritage Sites, including the Statue of Liberty and Yosemite National Park.
There are 13 landmarks that are on the WHC’s tentative list. Items on the tentative list are submitted by countries to encourage them for review at a later date.
The first step for recognition is to be placed on this list by the Department of the Interior.
“We haven’t begun the application yet, we are aiming for completion by 2012,” Horn said.
After the national selection process, the tentative list is given to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee for approval.
“This step in the process could take five years or longer,” Horn said. “It is certainly not a quick turnover, but we are in it for the long haul.”
World Heritage sites are eligible for funding from the World Heritage Fund for conservation and protection.
“If we are approved, we can label ourselves a World Heritage site, which helps visitors understand that this is not just nationally significant, but internationally significant,” Horn said. “We are not looking for the designation as a World Heritage Site to contribute to revenue from federal or international funding.”
The Jamestown Settlement is a state-sponsored park, while Colonial Williamsburg is owned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.