One of Germany's most iconic buildings, the historic Cologne Cathedral, has been put on the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) List of World Heritage in Danger.
The organization admitted concerns during its annual meeting that the construction of several highrise buildings on the bank of the Rhine River opposite the Cathedral would damage the visual impact of one of Europe's masterpieces of Gothic architecture.
The Cathedral, built between 1248 and 1880 and placed on the on the World Heritage List in 1996, is one of Germany's top tourist attractions but its integrity is being threatened by the increasing number of skyscrapers being built and planned for the Rhineland city, according to a statement released during the annual meeting of the 21 member World Heritage Committee in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou.
"The Cologne Cathedral and its urban landscape are the city's only outstanding cultural heritage elements to have survived World War II," Francesco Bandarin, director of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre, said in the statement. "I sincerely hope that Cologne will not lose an important component of its historical legacy." The Cathedral, or Dom, is the only site in Europe to be included on the 32 site list, which is generally considered a source of shame for the countries involved.
Birgitte Ringbeck, from the German delegation at the meeting, denied the integrity of the Cathedral was endangered, but recognised that the new construction might have a harmful visual impact, the statement said.
Cologne's Christian Democrat mayor Fritz Schramma rejected UNESCO's decision on Monday. "It cannot be that because a town has a cathedral, it may not develop," he said. "Of course this must continue and this development will stand in harmony with the cathedral." Nevertheless, there are obviously people who would have an aversion against a building more than 100 meters in height, added Schramma.
Cologne Cathedral joined other sites considered in danger, such as the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal and the ancient desert city of Timbuktu in Mali, which have been threatened by industry or mining, pollution, looting, war or uncontrolled tourism. Another site has been added to the list -- the rich archaeological remains of the Iranian city of Bam (photo), devastated by an earthquake last year.
So far, three sites have been taken off the danger list during the on-going meeting: Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple complex, the Bahla Fort of Oman and the Rwenzori Mountains National Park of Uganda.