Yes, Botanic Gardens is a World Heritage Site

The Botanic Gardens is the first such gardens in Asia to make it to the Unesco World Heritage list and only the third in the world. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH, MARK CHEONG
The Botanic Gardens is the first such gardens in Asia to make it to the Unesco World Heritage list and only the third in the world. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH, MARK CHEONG

156-year-old landmark gets resounding nod from all 21 members of Unesco committee

Singapore now has a Unesco World Heritage Site to call its own.

The 156-year-old Botanic Gardens received a resounding "yes" from the Unesco World Heritage Committee yesterday at its annual meeting, held in Bonn, Germany, this year.

Members of Singapore's delegation, including Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, received handshakes and hugs from the committee's 21 state members, in what was described as a rare outpouring of support.

Mr Wong called it an amazing moment. When the idea to nominate the Gardens was floated five years ago, sceptics wondered if the site was worthy of the accolade.

"We have seen the overwhelming support of international experts... It means we do have something of exceptional value in Singapore. I think it gives us a tremendous sense of pride that we have a site worthy of being a World Heritage Site."

Back home, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post that the accolade is "a great Jubilee year gift to Singaporeans", highlighting the Gardens' key role in making the country a Garden City.

The Gardens joins the likes of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Cambodia's Angkor with its magnificent temples and China's Great Wall on the world heritage list.

There are over 1,000 sites on the list, but the Gardens is its first botanic gardens in Asia and only the third in the world, besides the Orto botanico di Padova in Italy and England's Royal Botanic Gardens.

After Unesco's experts presented their evaluation of the Gardens' bid, the floor was open and all 21 members, including Japan, Turkey and Germany, announced their support. They lauded the Gardens' "vast botanical values" and "excellent landscape design".

Philippine ambassador and Unesco delegate Maria Theresa P. Lazaro praised not only the Gardens' plant collection, but also its approach to conservation, such as its digital inventories for both living and archival plants.

"This inspiring site reminds us that research is the ground of innovation, the past is the foundation of the future, and memories are the soil of imagination," she said.

At least 11 other sites made the prestigious list over the past two days, including Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains, China's Tusi sites and the Cultural Landscape of Maymand in Iran.

Jamaican delegate Vilma Kathleen McNish said she was delighted by the success of Singapore's bid, announced by the session's chair, Ms Ruchira Kamboj of India, in front of an audience at Bonn's International Conference Centre.

Ms McNish described the Gardens as an "oasis" in the heart of the city. "Like Jamaica, Singapore is inscribing its first site... It speaks well of the future of this list that (sites from) two small states are being inscribed at the same session of the committee."

In total, 36 sites were nominated this year.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore, said the Gardens' listing will not only make the world aware of the country's historical treasures, but also help open the eyes of Singaporeans.

"For those who think we compare poorly with Europe, or China or even our neighbours like Malaysia, I think they will start looking at Singapore's heritage with fresh eyes."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 05, 2015, with the headline 'Yes, Botanic Gardens is a World Heritage Site'. Print Edition | Subscribe