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Heritage site plans on hold

PLANS to recognise a huge swathe of Bahrain as a World Heritage Site remain on hold while the government negotiates to buy the land from its owners.

The area includes 11 locations worth millions of dinars, but the heritage department can't meet the asking price.

Bahrain's archaeology experts fear that delays in securing the land could result in the destruction of important historical sites.

Culture Ministry Under-Secretary Dr Isa Ameen said he was aware of damage to some archaeological locations, but admitted authorities could do little to protect them until they had been properly acquired from their owners.

He also admitted there were weaknesses in enforcing Bahrain's laws designed to protect artefacts and historic locations.

"There are a lot of violations and we can't stop them all, despite trying our best to do so, and there are cases where we have managed to prevent major destruction of sites - especially on privately-owned lands," he told the GDN.

"But I am sure that violations will continue and, in future, we will have more and more trouble getting them solved - but we are hopeful we will get these sites intact, rehabilitate them and get them listed (as a World Heritage Site).

"People don't want to learn about history from pictures or literature, they want to be able to witness real locations with proper museums."

The ministry has drawn up plans for the chain of historic locations, which include remains of temples and the A'ali burial mounds - described by archaeologists as a world wonder.

Also included are sites in Abu Janadal and Wadi Al Sail, in the Southern Governorate, three locations in Hamad Town and one each in Janabiya, Saar, Al Qadam, Shakoora and Janusan. The A'ali section of the chain would also include burial mounds in Buri and the A'ali pottery area, along with ancient palace remains there.

Heritage chiefs hope to get 11 sites protected, with each having its own information centre and museum.

These plans include a museum for Dilmun relics, dating back 4,000 years, near the burial mounds and a pottery culture village.

"The (4,000-year-old) Saar settlement would have a museum too, as well as the offices of the World Heritage regional centre for Arab countries - which would move from its current temporary location in the old Al Sawani restaurant.

"We already have the plans and want them to go ahead, but there are obstacles and unless they are overcome, we can't protect those locations."

The 11 sites were suggested for World Heritage Site status to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) World Heritage Committee in May last year.

However, that won't be granted until Bahrain shows it can protect them, which is impossible until all the land is acquired by the government and fenced off.

Some of the land is privately owned, which means it would have to be bought from its current owners.

The rest belongs to different government bodies, but Dr Ameen said they would have to be compensated with land elsewhere before they would agree to hand it over.

"We prepared plans for the 11 sites more than a year ago, but have been unsuccessful in acquiring land from owners - whether private or from other government bodies," he explained.

"Land owners want high compensation, which we can't provide from our tightly-calculated budget, while other government bodies, especially the municipalities, want replacements.

"Unless we manage to get the deeds to the land and have them fenced, the committee won't accept our bid to have them listed. We are trying and had been trying even before suggesting the sites to the committee last year and the matter is on its way to seeing some solution, thanks to the leadership's intervention, but it is still a long way for us to achieve what we have planned."

Bahrain Fort, otherwise known as Qalat Al Bahrain, became the country's first World Heritage Site in 2006. The ministry announced last year that it was working on protecting 12,000 out of Bahrain's 75,000 remaining burial mounds.

alaali@gdn.com.bh



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