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UNESCO adds World Heritage Sites from Angola, Eritrea and South Africa

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The Enda Mariam Orthodox Church in Asmara, Eritrea.  The belfry of the Roman Catholic Our Lady of the Rosary is visible on the left, while the minaret of the al-Khulafa al-Rashidun Mosque is visible on the right.

The Enda Mariam Orthodox Church in Asmara, Eritrea. The belfry of the Roman Catholic Our Lady of the Rosary is visible on the left, while the minaret of the al-Khulafa al-Rashidun Mosque is visible on the right.

The World Heritage Committee, currently meeting in Krakow, Poland, has added 3 African locations of cultural significance to the World Heritage List.

The first site to be added was Mbanza Kongo, a town in Angola’s northwestern Zaire Province; centuries ago, it was the thriving capital of the Kongo Empire, which is said to have been founded in 1390. The empire reigned over territories that are now incorporated into the modern-day states of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Gabon.

The Portuguese made contact with the Empire in 1482, and less than a decade later, Nzinga a Nkuwu, the Manikongo (the emperor), had converted to Christianity and renamed himself Joao.

Its World Heritage inscription describes it thus:

“Mbanza Kongo illustrates, more than anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, the profound changes caused by the introduction of Christianity and the arrival of the Portuguese into Central Africa.”

The second site to be added was Asmara, the Eritrean capital, for its predominantly modernist architecture.

The city’s modernist design comes from its period of colonization by Italy, which poured considerable resources into Asmara after successfully occupying neighboring Ethiopia. A four decade-long war of independence against Ethiopia, which had annexed the territory after Italy lost it in WW2, prevented the development of Asmara, thus preserving the modernist buildings of the capital.

With these entries, Eritrea and Angola have finally debuted on the World Heritage Site list.

The third site to be added was the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape in the Republic of South Africa, a vast arid that “contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present and is associated with the culture of the nomadic ǂKhomani San people and the strategies that allowed them to adapt to harsh desert conditions.”

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