World Heritage Site for historic bridges

Rendsburg High Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany Photo taken by the author in April 2011

Historic Bridges and national recognition. Pending on which country your bridge is located in, bridges like this one in Germany, the Rendsburg High Bridge over the Baltic-North Sea Canal between Hamburg and Flensburg, are protected by federal preservation laws based on their structural integrity, cultural heritage, history in terms of engineering, technology, the connection to certain events, and other unique values. These laws protect the structures from any form of alteration which could potentially compromise the integrity of the structure. At the same time, bridges protected by preservation laws are eligible for grants to preserve them for future generations. This also includes relocating them if they are in the way of progress. Every country has its set of preservation laws covering places of interest on all levels. The Denkmalschutz Law in Germany, conceived by Hartwig Beseler in 1959 covers historic places on three levels (local, state and federal) and lists all artefacts in the heritage books based on significance in terms of the historical, cultural, technical and environmental context. The Rendsburg Bridge was nominated based on technical aspects.  In the United States, we have the National Register of Historic Places, which was created as part of the Historic Preservation Act in 1966 thanks to recommendations by then First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson. As many as 30,000 historic bridges are listed on the Register with triple the amount eligible based on four different criteria.

Yet a bridge being considered a World Heritage Site is the most exclusive of all rights given to a structure. Developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)in 1972, the World Heritage program is designated to areas around the world that are rich in its own heritage, whether it is cultural, environmental, technical or other aspects, and are one of a kind. UNESCO outlined the definition of a Cultural and National Heritage Site in its 1972 Convention which can be seen here.  There are two advantages of having a place be considered a historic site. First it can promote tourism in the area and through its international recognition provide municipalities with additional revenue to maintain the facility and protect it from encroachment by developers. And secondly, areas that are threatened receive funding through UNESCO’s World Heritage Fund, which is donated annually by the public and private sectors and dispersed to areas that need the assistance to find ways to protect the area. Like the National Register of Historic Places in the US, the World Heritage status of a site is put on the red list and removed should it be altered by any form of development that could harm the site permanently. This happened to the Elbe River Valley southeast of Dresden (Germany) in 2009, when the Waldschlösschen Bridge was built directly in the site, thus losing its World Heritage Status. This was the second time in its history that it happened, and the region is the only one in Europe that has been de-listed.

But the World Heritage site also applies to historic bridges as well, for as they were developed, engineers invented new bridge types and other mechanisms that made their construction easier and the structure itself sturdier and safer, while at the same time, keeping their aesthetics by making them fancier for tourists not to miss them when they cross them. Eric DeLony of the Historic American Engineer’s Record in a manuscript produced in 1996 for the The International Committee For The Conservation Of The Industrial Heritage (TICCIH) stated that historic bridges must also meet the requirements that have a universal, one of a kind value:

A World Heritage bridge, like other properties, must meet the test of authenticity in design, materials, workmanship, or setting (the Committee has stressed that reconstruction is only acceptable if carried out on the basis of complete and detailed documentation of the original artefact and to no extent on conjecture).

But because of their age and rarity, these structures, listed on the World Heritage, also require protection by the laws to ensure that their status is not threatened and that they can remain in its original form without being altered beyond recognition, as DeLony stated in his address to TICCIH:

Bridges nominated for World Heritage listing also must have legal protection and management mechanisms to ensure their conservation. The existence of protective legislation at the national, provincial, or municipal level is therefore essential and must be clearly stated in the nomination. Guidelines for nominations state that each property should be compared with properties of the same type dating from the same period, both within and outside the nominating State Party’s borders.

Unlike the tens of thousands of bridges that are listed as heritage sites on a national level, the number of historic bridges listed as World Heritage bridges are very few in number, with thousands of them waiting in line to receive their international status. This leads to the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Questions for the Forum:

1. Which bridges are listed on the World Heritage Site? Name them, the bridge type and their location.

2. Which bridge was just recently listed on the World Heritage Site? Why was this bridge so important enough to receive this recognition?

3. There is one bridge that is nominated for a World Heritage Site status for 2015. Name that bridge and decide if the bridge should receive such a status with your reasons for your argument.

4. Of the tens of thousands of bridges waiting to become a World Heritage Bridge, which bridges in your country should be listed and why?

The author will provide the answers and his own list of bridges that should be included on Thursday. In the meantime, you are free to post your arguments in the comment section in the Chronicles page here, as well as on facebook and LinkedIn and through James Baughn’s Bridgehunter website.  Happy Bridgehunting and research and loooking forward to your answers and statements.

2 thoughts on “World Heritage Site for historic bridges

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