Unesco adds India's ancient Nalanda University to World Heritage list

The ruins of the Nalanda University in Bihar, India.
The ruins of the Nalanda University in Bihar, India.PHOTO: INDIA TOURISM

ISTANBUL (AFP) - The UN's cultural agency on Friday (July 15) added four new sites in Iran, India, China and Micronesia to its World Heritage list.

The sites named by Unesco include the so-called qanat water systems in Iran, the Zuojiang Huashan rock art cultural landscape in China and the archaeological site of Nalanda Mahavihara in India.

Nalanda was a Buddhist institution set up in the early 5th century and burnt down by marauding invaders in 1193. As India's first residential university, it attracted scholars from as far away as China, Persia and Turkey and housed some 10,000 students and faculty members in its heyday.

 

It has in recent years been revived, with Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo leading the Republic's diplomatic effort in getting backing for the project from the East Asia Summit, a regional grouping of 18 nations that includes Asean, in 2007. 

The university began its first academic session in September 2014 with 15 students from India, Bhutan and Japan and 11 faculty members in the School of Historical Studies and the School of Ecology and Environment Studies in a temporary campus in Rajgir.

Mr Yeo was last year appointed to a three-year term as the university's chancellor. He said then that construction on a new campus would start soon in the town of Rajgir, some 12 km away from the ruins of the ancient university.

Among the other heritage sites named on Friday, the landscape in China is all that remains today of the bronze age culture - known as "bronze drum" after its most characteristic artifacts - once prevalent across the country's south, Unesco said in a statement.

The site in Iran is an example of an ancient water-supply system - known as qanat - suited for the most arid areas.

The fourth site is Nan Madol - a ceremonial centre of eastern Micronesia in the Federated States of Micronesia containing mediaeval palaces and tombs.

The Micronesian site is a series of 99 artificial islets built with walls of basalt and coral boulders.

It was, however, immediately placed on Unesco's list of heritage-in-danger.

The UN agency warned threats to the site were notably the construction of navigation channels which was leading to the uncontrolled growth of the mangrove, making the historic edifices more fragile.

The heritage-in-danger list is intended to highlight the risks facing world heritage sites that need protection and allows the committee to allocate immediate support from the World Heritage Fund.

Unesco named the old towns of Djenne in Mali and Shakhrisyabz in Uzbekistan on Wednesday on its heritage-in-danger list during its 40th meeting of its World Heritage Committee in Istanbul.

All five of Libya's World Heritage sites were named on Thursday by the agency as at risk of damage from the civil war that continues to rage in the country.

Meanwhile, the complex of churches and holy sites in the Georgian town of Mtskheta was removed from the in-danger list, where it had been listed since 2009.

The meeting will end on July 20.