A couple of weeks ago, we received some rather good news… the Langhe, or large swathes of it at least, has been named Italy’s 50th UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Now, I say it’s good news, but in all honesty I don’t actually know what it means. So, I did some actual research and thought I’d share with you my findings…
UNESCO stands for The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It’s a big old organisation (that’s organisation with an ‘s’, they may be happy with American spelling but I’d rather preserve my cultural heritage thanks very much) with its fingers in many pies, the biggest of which is the World Heritage List – a list of sites which for one reason or another, need to be preserved for future generations.
In its own words, “UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.”
To be inscribed on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of ten criteria, which I won’t list as they’re really long (click here if you really want to know what they are…).
Right now, there are some 1,007 places on the list; buildings, towns, cities, forests, mountains, islands, regions, even nuclear test sites. And Italy has more of these places within its borders than any other country.
There’s an ‘in danger’ list too, for sites that are under threat and, in exceptional circumstances, a site can even be deleted. Only two sites have ever been cut, Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary and Dresden. The German city lost out because they built a four-lane bridge right through the heart of the city, while the Oryx Sanctuary was deleted because poaching and habitat degradation had reduced the Oryx population from over 400 to just 65.
The Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe, Roero and Monferrato (to give it its correct title) is one of a batch of recent inscriptions. It includes six separate areas – five distinct wine growing zones and the Castello di Grinzane Cavour.
The area was chosen because it is an “An exceptional living testimony to the historical tradition of grape growing, winemaking processes, a rural economy and a social context based on the culture of wine… it encompasses the whole range of technical and economic processes relating to the winegrowing and wine making that has characterized the region for centuries. Vine pollen has been found in the area dating from the 5th century BC, when Piedmont was a place of contact and trade between the Etruscans and the Celts; Etruscan and Celtic words, particularly wine-related ones, are still found in the local dialect. During the Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder mentions the Piedmont region as being one of the most favourable for growing vines in ancient Italy.”
The six listed zones are:
- The Langa of Barolo
- Grinzane Cavour Castle
- Hills of Barbaresco
- Nizza Monferrato and Barbera
- Canelli and Asti Spumante
- Monferrato of the Inferot
What happens next is somewhat more vague. Once a site is on the list it has to be preserved, but quite how this happens is anyone’s guess. Obviously, building a four-lane highway through the middle of it counts as a black mark so I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that one, but everything else is down to interpretation.
We’ve already seen some positive evidence of it in the Langhe as the plans for our house had to be approved by a preservation committee which was set up because of the area’s nomination. You can’t just build any old house in the Langhe you know (although it seems you could in the ’70s…).
But I also read a fascinating blog by local winemaker Enrico Rivetti which, as well as asking some very pertinent questions, bemoans the fact that chemical weedkillers are used alongside the main road into the area so as to kill the grass rather than having to cut it. I’m pretty sure they didn’t do that in the 5th century BC, and I’m also pretty sure UNESCO wouldn’t approve…
Still, there’s no doubt that a World Heritage listing brings an area to the attention of the media, governments and, of course, tourists, which is definitely a good thing. And anything that works towards preserving the area’s history, culture and outstanding landscape is fine by me.