Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Unesco declares Antonine Wall a World Heritage Site

From The Times.

It consists of little more than mounds of earth, some ditches, and the occasional pile of rocks, but the Antonine Wall in Scotland has been awarded World Heritage status, elevating it to the same level of importance as renowned sites such as the Pyramids.

The 1,900-year-old landmark was officially recognised by Unesco's world heritage committee at a meeting in Quebec on Wednesday evening. It joins St Kilda, Edinburgh's Old and New Towns, New Lanark, and Neolithic Orkney as the fifth site in Scotland to gain world heritage status.

Built by the Roman army in around 140AD to keep troublesome Caledonian tribes at bay, the 40-mile wall stretches from Bo'ness, on the Firth of Forth, to Old Kilpatrick, on the banks of the River Clyde. The structure incorporated a 12ft turf rampart, fronted by a deep, wide ditch, but its once-mighty appearance has been partly destroyed by roads and railways. Despite the encroachment of modern development two thirds of the wall has survived and it is now considered one of the most significant Roman ruins in existence.

At the time of its occupation it was not only the Roman Empire's most northerly frontier but was also the most advanced construction of its kind, incorporating a clever drainage system that had not been used for previous frontiers.

The Scottish government yesterday staged a small ceremony at the remains of a Roman bath house near Bearsden, close to the route of the wall, to welcome the news officially.

Campaigners have been battling to win the Unesco title for five years. Despite being built 20 years after Hadrian's Wall, with more modern technology, the Scottish frontier has been overshadowed by its counterpart 100 miles to the south.

It is hoped that the site's new status will promote a greater awareness of Scotland's Roman history and boost visitor numbers. Hadrian's Wall attracts up to a million visitors annually.

Dr George Findlater, senior inspector of ancient monuments at Historic Scotland, said that he was delighted that the significance of the wall had at long last been acknowledged. “The frontier of the Roman Empire was the limit of its reach and the Antonine Wall is part of these very significant remains,” he said.

“It is also the most technologically advanced frontier, and because it was only occupied for a generation it provides a valuable snapshot of what the Roman army was doing in the middle of the 2nd century, when they were the most powerful people on earth.”

Linda Fabiani, the Scottish culture minister, said she hoped that the Unesco title would encourage more Scots to appreciate what was on their doorstep. “Having the status gives value and focus to recognising our own heritage, whether it is the industrial history of New Lanark, or the wilderness of St Kilda,” she said. “It lets people see how important our own Scottish culture is - we should enjoy it and celebrate it.”

Full story here.

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