Heritage preservation is NOT in conflict with economic and community development (II)

Written by N. Ishwaran and J. Zammit-Lucia

This article is the second in a series of four pieces written by N. Ishwaran (Beijing) and J. Zammit-Lucia (Amsterdam). Mr. Natarajan Ishwaran is a Visiting Professor, International Centre for Space Technology Applications for Natural and Cultural Heritage, Beijing, China. During a 25-year (1987-2012) career in UNESCO he served as Chief, Natural Heritage Section, World Heritage Centre (1996-2004) and Secretary of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program and the Director of Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences (2004-2012), respectively. Dr. Joseph Zammit-Lucia is the President of Web of Life Foundation and also Fellow, Royal Society of Arts; Member, Dean’s Leadership Board, College of Arts and Sciences, Florida International University; Former Special Adviser to the Director General, International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Minerals, mines and mining are integral to evolution of civilizations. Human cultural evolution tracks itself through stone, bronze and iron ages. 19th and 20th century heritage conservation however, emerged as a critique of industrial scale resource extraction. Today, as we approach the mid-point of the second decade of a new millennium the relationship between mining and heritage conservation needs new approaches, within the context of global, national and local sustainable development agendas.


For Rosia Montana, archaeological research from 2000 onwards has exposed ancient vestiges of important Roman mining galleries in the proposed mining area. While important and deserving of investment for their preservation, we also recognize that the heritage value of these galleries is not unique. Several good examples of similar galleries exist in other parts of Romania and in the wider Balkans. In the case of the Carnic massif it is our understanding that Rosia Montana includes several other well-preserved and better conserved galleries in Catalina Monulesti, Paru Carpeni and Piatra Corbului. These have been preserved in part thanks to the financial assistance of Gabriel Resources, the Canadian mining company that has so far contributed US$30 million and committed an additional US$100 million to the preservation effort.

We also recognize that time is not on Rosia Montana’s side. The buildings and artifacts are deteriorating to the point beyond which they will no longer be able to be restored. Past actions taken during the cold war era have affected the integrity of the site and what is left is falling into decay without a much needed investment. Ancient vestiges are now in great danger of destruction from natural causes.

Given its current state, attempts to nominate Rosia Montana as a UNESCO World Heritage Site are premature. The first priority must be to embark on a major program to save and restore this heritage and to stabilize its conservation future in the local and national context. If saving the heritage of Rosia Montana is a priority, decisions cannot be delayed indefinitely and the approach chosen must be one that can deliver funds, expertise and capability relatively quickly and in an effective and sustainable manner.


Mining is an important part of the culture of Rosia Montana. The local area has been mined for centuries and the local people see mining as part of which they are and as part of their sense of place. There are many examples worldwide which confirm the importance that the international community places on preserving such local cultural integrity. From the Inuit to Norwegian fishermen, the preservation of local customs and cultural heritage as the local community perceives them to be are gaining greater international recognition. Even the World Heritage Convention, since 1992, recognizes the importance of living cultural landscapes. We believe that Rosia Montana’s centuries-old mining culture similarly deserves to be respected while being brought up to date in terms of heritage preservation techniques and technologies as well as environmental and safety standards. The vast majority of the local and regional community has spoken out strongly in favor of the preservation of its mining culture in parallel with heritage conservation.


Some have argued that heritage sites do not only belong to the local community but rather are the property of mankind as a whole. As a result, they argue that local communities should not have a privileged position in determining the outcome. While we understand this argument, we believe that any heritage must ultimately find its niche in the life of the community and it is important that local aspirations are given due respect and consideration.

In this context it is well worth recalling that Article 5 of the World Heritage Convention notes:

“To ensure that effective and active measures are taken for the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage situated on its territory, each State Party to this Convention shall endeavor, in so far as possible, and as appropriate for each country:

1.  to adopt a general policy which aims to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programs.”

The integration of cultural protection into the life of the community is thus given paramount importance as is the integration of that protection “into comprehensive planning programs.” Heritage preservation must therefore not be approached, or judged, as a stand-alone activity but rather as part of the wider program of sustainable development benefiting the community and the nation.

Further, we would caution against placing or allowing the perception to grow that heritage preservation is in conflict with economic and community development. In other words, those concerned with heritage preservation can only achieve their aims if they do not behave as ‘pro-conservation and anti-development’ or act as though they put the interests of buildings ahead of the interests of people or place the interests of the past ahead of the interests of the present and the future. Should that be the case, heritage conservation will be significantly weakened.