Within a few days, Barbados should know if it has received that enviable nod to have Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison inscribed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
A decision is expected to be taken at UNESCO’s 35th World Heritage Committee Meeting, scheduled for June 19 to 29 in Paris, France.
Local officials remain quietly optimistic that the country will receive the designation. Indeed, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart was quoted earlier as saying that this initiative "is very important" to government and promised it would be pursued "with all the vigour at our command".
Officials believe there are numerous benefits to be derived from Barbados being designated a World Heritage Site, especially in the area of tourism.
Permanent Secretary in the Division of Culture and Sports, Shirley Farnum, said: "Research has shown that countries which are listed as World Heritage Sites have seen an overall increase in visitors in the region of 30 to 40 per cent. So, this area serves as another plank on which to promote the country and encourage tourists.
"This designation, therefore, while giving Barbados prestige and status all across the world and international recognition as a country committed to the protection and preservation of the world’s shared cultural heritage, would add significantly to the island’s tourism product, making it a more diverse and attractive destination for visitors."
Ms. Farnum expressed the view that European visitors especially might be attracted to Barbados because of its role in the development of the powerful British Empire.
Underscoring the importance of the UNESCO inscription, she said it would offer greater access to international financial aid for the conservation of the country’s tangible and intangible cultural and natural heritage. "It is expected that Barbados would become eligible for financial and technical assistance from the World Heritage Committee for the preservation of sites and for developing related educational material," she explained.
In addition, she surmised that the nomination should also revitalise cultural activity in Bridgetown and suggested that it would lead to more people socialising in the city after hours, thereby increasing commercial activity there.
Ms. Farnum pointed out that there was an acute shortage of persons here who were trained in preserving stone, wood and metal works. "Such technical skills are critical to the preservation of listed buildings and monuments. This designation would assist in the creation of jobs and training opportunities in the non-traditional sector of heritage conservation," she gave the assurance.
The World Heritage List provides for the protection of a select number of cultural and natural properties considered by the World Heritage Committee to be of exceptional universal value. Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is said to be of "outstanding universal value" and at one time it was seen as the most important city of all the British possessions in the "New World" and the "jewel in the British Crown".
In addition to this rich historical legacy, Bridgetown contains several historical sites and spaces, including the Parliament Buildings, Trafalgar Square, the Jewish Synagogue, the Old Mutual Building, the Carnegie Library and the Charles Duncan O’Neal and Chamberlain bridges. The Garrison, on the other hand, is said to be the most "complete" remaining colonial fortification of its kind anywhere in the world. Approximately 100 structures have survived and most of them are "essentially unaltered and in well preserved conditions".
There are approximately 890 heritage sites across the world. Those located in this region are the Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica; the National History Park in Haiti; Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, St. Kitts; Pitons Management Area, St. Lucia; Barrier Reef Reserve System in Belize and Old Havana and its fortifications in Cuba.
Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison site was considered for nomination after Barbados became signatory to the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention in 2002. Barbados submitted the nomination dossier to UNESCO World Heritage Centre on February 1, 2009, and that was among 45 proposals which were examined by the World Heritage Committee in June 2010.
The Ministry was later notified that the dossier had "met all the technical requirements outlined in the Operational Guidelines" and was accepted for evaluation at the upcoming annual meeting.
Less than four months ago, the island submitted the Management Plan for the area, which was developed in consultation with several stakeholders. The document encompasses the current plans and legislative measures that are in place to manage and preserve the site.
So, as Barbadians wait with bated breath for the announcement, we are confident that our beautiful Bridgetown with its Garrison has a rich history and various attractions which should ???wow’ visitors and deserves to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.