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The British world heritage sites

Every year, UNESCO selects several places of outstanding cultural and natural importance from around the world and includes them in a prestigious World Heritage List. This year a new, unusual British site was selected, one that highlights the importance of Britain as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution that transformed the world.
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“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.” These are the words of UNESCO, a UN organization that promotes the protection of places of outstanding cultural and natural importance around the world. Yearly since 1978, UNESCO has selected a number of such places and included them in a World Heritage List. Each site on this prestigious List must respect certain criteria. There are 6 for cultural sites (such as “to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius”) and 4 for natural ones (such as “to contain […] areas of exceptional natural beauty”). Cultural sites can be a single monument, like the Taj Mahal in India, or an entire arts city, like Florence in Italy. Natural sites can be very vast areas, like the Grand Canyon in the United States.  

The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales

Britain has several sites on the List. Some are world famous and iconic such as the Tower of London, the Palace of Westminster and Stonehenge. This year a new British site was added, and, although not as famous as the ones just mentioned, it too deserves a place on the List. The site is the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales. Slate is a rock widely used for roofing, and Welsh slate was in great demand in the 19th century. It was sold all over the world, from North America to Australia, from Germany to Africa. The Welsh proudly claim that “Welsh slate roofed the world”. The UNESCO site includes not just the mines and quarries, but also the towns where the miners lived, the railways that transported the slate and the harbours from where it was shipped abroad. The site represents the whole process of mining during a very specific historical period, that of the Industrial Revolution.

Sites of the Industrial Revolution

It is interesting that an additional 8 of the 28 British cultural World Heritage Sites are related to the Industrial Revolution. One is another mining landscape and three are early industrial areas. Two more are structures made possible by the new building techniques of the industrial age: one is an aqueduct, and the other is an iron bridge that is considered a symbol of Scotland: Forth Bridge. The last two industrial sites – New Lanark and Saltaire – are particularly interesting. It must be remembered that 19th century factory workers lived hard lives: they did dangerous jobs, worked long hours, earned little, and often lived in slums. It was not so in New Lanark and Saltaire. These were model industrial towns: the factories owners there built decent housing, hospitals, schools, gymnasiums, and libraries for their workers. They represent the first attempts to reconcile the new factory life with decent, humane conditions. In sum, all these sites highlight the importance of Britain as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution that transformed the world.

A Lost Site

If there was much celebration in Britain for the new British site included on the UNESCO List, there was also dismay for one that was removed: the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City. This is a rare occurrence, but it can happen if the site is damaged by war, natural disasters, pollution, or uncontrolled urbanization. It is the latter which is responsible for the loss of the British site’s designation. Liverpool was a major port in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the city and its docks still maintained the traces of that age. (Again, we can see the connection to the Industrial Revolution.) According to UNESCO, the site is being damaged by the construction, right next to the historical harbour, of skyscrapers, shopping centres and a football stadium. These developments, says UNESCO, ruin the “outstanding universal value” and “authenticity and integrity” of the site. A reminder that our heritage is not just something that needs to be celebrated, but also protected for future generations.
USEFUL LINKS 1) Here is the official United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO webpage for the Slate Landscape of Northern Wales: 2) Read about Saltaire and New Lanark here: 3) Find out more about the other British World Heritage Sites here: 4) Why was Liverpool stripped of its World Heritage status? Read about it in this article: 5) Would you like to read about World Heritage Sites of other countries? Here is the complete list:
COMPREHENSION 1 1) Read the article and cross out the WRONG alternative (two answers are correct and one is incorrect). 1. According to UNESCO, the sites on the World Heritage List are all
  1. sources of life and inspiration.
  2. masterpieces of human creative genius.
  3. of outstanding importance.
2. The World Heritage List
  1. is growing longer every year.
  2. includes both natural and cultural sites.
  3. was completed in 1978.
3. UNESCO included The Slate Landscape of Northern Wales on its List
  1. in 2021.
  2. because ‘Welsh slate roofed the world.’
  3. because of the importance of Welsh mining in the 19th century.
4. The Slate Landscape of Northern Wales includes
  1. areas of exceptional natural beauty.
  2. many different places associated with 19th century mining.
  3. more than just the mines and quarries.
5. Many British World Heritage Sites are connected to the Industrial Revolution because
  1. Britain was the first industrial nation in the world.
  2. British factories were all model industrial towns.
  3. industrialization produced new, groundbreaking landmarks, such as iron bridges.
6. New Lanark and Saltaire were places where
  1. living conditions were very different from normal industrial towns.
  2. the factory owners cared for their workers.
  3. workers worked long hours and lived in slums.
7. Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City is no longer a World Heritage Site because of
  1. pollution and natural disasters.
  2. uncontrolled urbanization.
  3. modern buildings spoiling the historical harbour.
8. This year, Britain 
  1. did not increase the number of its World Heritage Sites.
  2. increased the number of its World Heritage Sites.
  3. was shocked by UNESCO’s decision on Liverpool’s World Heritage Site status.
  COMPREHENSION 2 2) Watch the video “World Heritage explained” and cross out the WRONG alternative (two answers are correct and one is incorrect). 1. In 1945 UNESCO was founded
  1. to promote peace.
  2. to promote education, science and culture.
  3. to protect world heritage sites.
2. The Temples of Abu Simbel were
  1. threatened by the construction of a dam.
  2. built in the 1960s.
  3. saved by an international rescue mission.
3. The successful relocation of the temples of Abu Simbel
  1. led to the creation of the World Heritage.
  2. made Abu Simbel the first World Heritage site.
  3. taught the importance of preserving places of outstanding value.
4. For a site to be included in the World Heritage List
  1. it must be nominated by the World Heritage Committee.
  2. it must pass the examination of international experts.
  3. it must pass the vote of the World Heritage Committee.
5. The UNESCO World Heritage programme helps
  1. to protect World Heritage sites.
  2. to promote cultural exchange.
  3. tourists visit its World Heritage sites.
  VOCABULARY 3) Complete the sentences with the following words. Put the verbs and nouns in the right form, if necessary. heritage *  irreplaceable  *  outstanding  *  masterpiece  *  quarry  *  slum  *  humane  *  to highlight  *  dismay  *  dock 1. I’m surprised and disillusioned – In a word: I’m ____________. 2. A country’s ____________ is not just its important buildings and natural habitats, but also immaterial things such as its literature and traditions. 3. Animals should always be treated in a ____________ way, with kindness and compassion. 4. She’s an ____________ student: she is getting straight As in all her subjects. 5. You can extract rocks in a mine, which is usually a series of underground tunnels, or in a ____________ which is usually a large hole in the ground open to the air. 6. A ____________ is a part of a harbour: it’s the place where ships load and unload their cargo. 7. This portrait is my ____________: it’s the best thing I ever painted.  8. Unfortunately, on the outskirts of many big cities there are ____________, places where poor people live in crowded, run-down homes, often without running water or electricity. 9. We are all ____________: we’re unique and special in our own ways. 10. UNESCO wants ____________ the importance of promoting culture to preserve peace.    GRAMMAR – Past simple and present perfect 4) Complete the sentences using the verbs provided. In one instance use the past simple, in the other the present perfect. 1. UNESCO ______________ (to found, passive form) in 1945. So far, 193 countries _____________ (to become) members. 2. In 1972, the first member states of UNESCO ______________ (to sign) the World Heritage Convention. Since then, UNESCO _____________ (to work) hard to preserve places of cultural and natural importance. 3. Stonehenge ______________ (to be) one of the first British Sites entered in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1986. Since then, UNESCO _____________ (to include) many more British sites on its prestigious List. 4. For decades, Stonehenge ______________ (to be) one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK. In ancient times, it ______________ (to be) probably used for religious ceremonies. 5. I ______________ visited (to visit) Stonehenge last year. John ____________ (to be) there twice this year. 6. UNESCO ____________ (to select) the first World Heritage sites in 1978. The List ______________ (to increase) to include more than 1100 sites. 7. The Tower of London _____________ (to become) a World Heritage site in 1988. That means it ______________ (to be) on the list for more than 30 years. 8. For many years now, Italy ______________ (to be) the country with the most World Heritage sites. The Rock Drawings in Valcamonica ______________ (to be) the first Italian site included on the List in 1979. 9. I ______________ (to think) that the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales was not an important site, but since reading about it I ______________ (to change) my mind. 10. Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City ______________ (to remove, passive form) from the World Heritage List in 2021. So far, only three sites ______________ (to remove, passive form) from the List.   SHORT ESSAY 5) Look at the World Heritage List ( Is there a site on the list that you have visited? Write about your visit and about your impressions of this particular place. (60-80 words) 6) Pick a site that you think is of outstanding cultural and natural importance (maybe a monument in your city, or a special natural area close to where you live). Imagine writing a letter to UNESCO explaining why this particular site should be included in their World Heritage List. (60-80 words)


DEBATE 7) Pair up with one of your classmates and look at the proposition below; one of you will argue in favour of it and one of you against it. Proposition: Cultural Sites are more important than Natural Sites.

___ (Carlo Dellonte) (Image credits: Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons)

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