Funerary and memory sites from the Western Front, in France and Belgium, of the First World War have just been added to UNSESCO’s World Heritage List. The World Heritage Committee is currently meeting in Riyadh and several announcements have been made daily since the Extended 45th Session started.
This latest addition encompasses 139 funeral and memorial sites of the First World War, spanning across Belgian provinces of West Flanders, Hainaut, Namur, Luxembourg and Liège, on the one hand, and the French regions of Hauts-de-France, Ile-de-France and the Grand-Est, on the other.
The component parts of the property vary in scale from large necropolises, holding the remains of tens of thousands of soldiers of several nationalities, to tiny and simpler cemeteries and single memorials. The sites include different military cemeteries, battlefield burial grounds, and hospital cemeteries, often combined with memorials.
The sites, submitted for registration to UNESCO by Belgium and France about a decade ago, have been listed as World Heritage for revealing “an entirely new relationship to the death of soldiers in battle”. “These soldiers are in fact seen for the first time as civilians mobilised en masse, from all social classes in all countries. The unheard-of levels of human casualties, due to the industrial scale and totality of World War I, has profoundly changed funeral rites”, the sites’ listing reads.
Only a new style of veneration of the dead, whose individual identity is recognised by everyone for the first time, can bring a universal human response to the inhumanity of war.UNESCO
“This new memento mori is expressed by cemeteries consisting of individual graves repeating in vast numbers. Their uniformity reflects the equality of men in the face of death above all other considerations, while respecting people’s personal beliefs”, the description adds.
Additionally, UNESCO says, the sites reflect the international nature of the conflict, whether they are cemeteries or memorials explicitly associated with one of the warring parties or honouring soldiers from around the world. Ranging from simple headstones to commemorative monuments and major national memorials, the sites testify to a completely new architectural movement, specific to each warring party, which continues today. “This funerary cult is therefore more than a veneration of the fighting man, it is a civil and humanist cult that invites contemplation and then, gradually, reconciliation and peace.”
So far, the Committee has added 42 new sites, 33 cultural and 9 natural, on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, bringing the total to 1,199 (993 cultural, 227 natural, 39 mixed). Five already inscribed sites have also been extended. The 45th session of the Committee ends 25 September, the list of new World Heritage sites potentially increasing until then.