A total of seven new sites were given World Heritage status by the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee during its two-day meeting held from June 28-29, 2007 in Christchurch, New Zealand. In separate Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP) news releases, it was reported that the seven new World Heritage Sites are each situated in the countries of India, Australia, Japan, Turkmenistan, Serbia, Azerbaijan, and Mexico.
The Central University City Campus of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, built from 1949 to 1952 by more than 60 architects, engineers, and artists, is Mexico’s second of only two World Heritage Sites.
But seven other places in Mexico, with unique historical and cultural values of their own, may each deserve a similar recognition in future deliberations of the World Heritage Committee. Records from the World Heritage Convention of 1972 list these seven historical and cultural sites in Mexico:
1. Cacahuamilpa Caverns. In a huge limestone formation near Taxco, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of Mexico City, underground streams and rivers have dissolved calcium carbonate from the rocks to form a series of caverns. The grandest of these is Cacahuamilpa. The main gallery here is 4,528 feet (1,380 meters) long, 325 feet (99 meters) wide and as much as 230 feet (70 meters) high. Slowly dripping water has embellished the cavern walls with fantastic mineral formations, and stalagmites rise from the floor to a height of 130 feet (40 meters).
2. Chichen Itza. The ancient Maya/Toltec city of Chichen Itza is situated 77 miles (123 kilometers) southeast of Merida. It was established by the Maya around AD 600 and was a major center of the Toltecs in 1000-1200, after the decline of the Maya. The main complex covers an area of 1-1/4 miles (2 kilometers) and includes a large ball court, temple, pyramids, and a causeway 900 feet (275 kilometers) long. This leads to the cenote, or well, into which human sacrifices and jade and gold ornaments were thrown to appease the rain-cloud god, Chac. The reasons for the city’s collapse in the 13th century are not known.
3. El Tajin. The city of El Tajin, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, flourished from AD 600 to 900 but was abandoned in the 13th century. Its most famous constructions are 12 ball courts, more than at any other Central American site, and the Pyramid of the Niches. In its external walls are 365 alcoves, each of which reputedly held an idol – perhaps one for every day of the year. The Totonac people, who lived in the area at the time of the Spanish conquest, claimed to have built El Tajin, but there is no clear evidence that this was the case.
4. Monte Alban. Around 600 BC, a huge complex of ceremonial buildings was built on a steep hill known today as Monte Alban, in Mexico’s Oaxaca state. On the site, south of the great ancient city of Teotihuacan, is one of the most oddly shaped structures of the ancient world. No two sides or angles of the building are the same, and slabs on the outside are inscribed with symbols and hieroglyphs that even now cannot be fully deciphered. Was this particular building used for astronomical purposes? Why was it constructed in such an odd way? Both questions remain to challenge future scholars.
5. Parque La Venta. The ceremonial city of La Venta, perhaps the greatest Olmec site, was a complex of platforms, plazas, mounds of earth and clay and a great pyramid 112 feet (34 meters) high. From 900 to 400 BC, it was the most important city in Central America. Parque La Venta, in Tabasco province, stands near the site of this ancient city, and contains some of the relics and artefacts revealed during archaeological excavations at La Venta, which has recently been destroyed by oil operations. Among the priceless antiquities are colossal stone heads, carved stone pillars and figurines of jade, basalt, and serpentine.
6. Tula. An ancient American city, Tula lies 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Mexico City. Founded around AD 750, and destroyed in 1168, it was the most important of the Toltec centers, from which they ruled central Mexico in 900-1150. The population has been estimated at 30,000 to 40,000, living in an area of 5-1/2 sq. miles (14 sq. kilometers). The ruins occur in two sites at opposite ends of a low ridge and comprise two civic centers. The main center includes a large plaza, a palace complex, ball courts, pyramids and a five-tiered temple, topped by a two-roomed temple and decorated with paintings and sculptures.
7. Uxmal. Abandoned in 1450, the ancient Maya city of Uxmal is the most important example of the Puuc architectural style of the late Classic Period (AD 600-900). The principal buildings that remain are the Nunnery Quadrangle, the Temple of the Magician, four rectangular buildings divided into many small rooms, the Governor’s Palace and the House of Turtles, whose name derives from its sculptured frieze. The main part of the city covers more than 160 acres (64 hectares) with a great deal more land given over to residential dwellings.
Puebla, the first site in Mexico to be given a World Heritage status, is a city in south-central Mexico whose full name is Puebla de Zaragoza, although it was founded as Puebla de los Angeles in 1532. The city center is famous for its architecture and for the glazed tiles on the domes of many of its 60 churches. Among the most notable are the 17th-century cathedral, embellished with marble, onyx and gold, and the Church of Santo Domingo (1659), housing the Chapel of the Rosary, which is decorated with gold leaf. Other fine buildings include the 16th-century archbishop’s palace, the 17th-century Casa del Alfenique, now a museum, and the Teatro Principal, built in 1790.