The Value(s) of UNESCO

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Statue of Liberty © David Gill

One of the many roles for UNESCO has been the recognition of World Heritage Sites around the world. The news that both the US and the State of Israel will be withdrawing from the funding of UNESCO raises deep concerns.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property has had a major impact on the way that countries can protect their cultural property in the face of organised looting and damage. Over 300 items have been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections as a result of this benchmark for cultural property. (The value of this Convention is discussed on “Looting Matters“.)

Among the WHS locations in the USA is the Statue of Liberty that was inscribed on the list back in 1984. As UNESCO states, the statue “endures as a highly potent symbol – inspiring contemplation, debate, and protest – of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy, and opportunity”.

Nelson, Neptune and Britannia at Greenwich

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Greenwich, Nelson pediment © David Gill

The Nelson pediment at Greenwich is full of classical allusion. It was designed by Benjamin West and completed in 1812 (not the inscription below the central group).

At the centre is the body of Nelson presented to the helmeted Britannia by a Triton on behalf of Neptune (at the left). A winged victory presents Neptune’s trident to Britannia, indicating that Nelson’s victory has provided control of the sea. A British sailor is adjacent to Neptune with the announcement ‘Trafalgar’.

On the other wide are the personifications of the nation states of Great Britain: Scotland (with a thistle), England (with a rose), and Ireland (with a shamrock). (Note the absence of Wales.) Between these ‘kingdoms’ and Britannia is a winged figure (a ‘Naval Genius’) reminding the viewer of the victories at the Nile and Copenhagen. The lion holds a tablet reminding us of the 122 (CXXII) battles fought by Nelson.

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Greenwich, Nelson pediment © David Gill

The pediment forms part of the Nelson Trail in Greenwich.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Philippi

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The forum, Philippi © David Gill

The Roman colony of Philippi in Macedonia, northern Greece, has been designated as one of the latest additions to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites (“Philippi becomes UNESCO World Heritage site“, ekathimerini.com 15 July 2016). Excavations have revealed parts of the Roman city including a series of Byzantine churches.

The site is described as follows:
The remains of this walled city lie at the foot of an acropolis in north-eastern Greece, on the ancient route linking Europe and Asia, the Via Egnatia. Founded in 356 BC by the Macedonian King Philip II, the city developed as a “small Rome” with the establishment of the Roman Empire in the decades following the Battle of Philippi, in 42 BCE. The vibrant Hellenistic city of Philip II, of which the walls and their gates, the theatre and the funerary heroon (temple) are to be seen, was supplemented with Roman public buildings such as the Forum and a monumental terrace with temples to its north. Later the city became a centre of the Christian faith following the visit of the Apostle Paul in 49-50 CE. The remains of its basilicas constitute an exceptional testimony to the early establishment of Christianity.

The colony was the setting of the Apostle Paul’s mission to Macedonia as described in the Acts of the Apostles.

Tourism in Contemporary Cities

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Greenwich © David Gill

The International Tourism Studies Association (ITSA) Biennial Conference 2016 is taking place in Greenwich this week. One of the themes is ‘Heritage tourism in cities’, with an emphasis on UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

I will be presenting an analysis of visitor figures for UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece with a special emphasis on the period of austerity. One of my strands will be the city of Athens with the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Athenian Acropolis.

Traces of history and the Parthenon

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Parthenon, north-east corner © David Gill

It is important to remember that the Parthenon was in use over several centuries and that it was adapted through time. In this north-east corner of the pediment is the (replica) of one of the horses of Selene, and at the south-east corner Helios emerging.

Below the pediment is a series of metopes showing a gigantomachy. (This theme was developed by the later Attalid sculptures, dated after 200 BC, placed in front of the east end of the Parthenon.)

The north-east corner of the Parthenon was later obscured by the construction of the Attalid monument, surmounted by a bronze chariot, for Attalos II, c. 178 BC. His chariot made the visual connection with the chariot containing Selene.

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Parthenon, south-east corner © David Gill

On the architrave below each metope is a hole with the shadow of a circle. These are where the 14 gilded shields from Alexander the Great’s victory at Granikos (334 BC) were mounted. Thus Alexander was making the point that his victory over the Persians was as heroic as the gigantomachy.

Between each of the shields, and immediately below the triglyphs, are a series of holes. These are the traces of a bronze inscription that was pegged onto the architrave during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in AD 61/2. This text honoured Nero, and it was erected by Tiberius Claudius Novius. They may have reflected Nero’s campaigns against the ‘new’ Persians, in the areas of Armenia and Parthia. In this way the dedication picked up the original 5th century BC Athenian iconography that celebrated the Hellenic victories over the Persians at Salamis and Plataia.

The Parthenon Marbles: 200th Anniversary of the Parliamentary Vote

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The Parthenon pediment in the British Museum © David Gill

It is the 200th Anniversary of the Parliamentary Vote that led to the Parthenon Marbles forming part of the British Museum (see Looting Matters). The Parthenon forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Athenian Acropolis. Yet the architectural sculptures are displayed in London. Is it time to display the sculptures in sight of the temple for which they were created?

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The New Acropolis Museum © David Gill

Getty to return further head to Italy

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Terracotta head of Hades found near Morgantina. Source: MiBACT

The J. Paul Getty Museum is to hand over a terracotta head to Italian authorities tomorrow (details on Looting Matters). It will then be put on display in the museum at Aidone, alongside other objects returned from North American collections.

The head’s return raises wider questions about how the Getty acquired material from private collections in the 1980s in spite of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.