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Wales slate landscape granted World Heritage status

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The slate landscape of north-west Wales has joined the likes of the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon National Park and Machu Picchu to become a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The landscape, which runs through Gwynedd, was granted the prestigious listing at the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee on Wednesday.

It becomes the UK’s 32nd Unesco World Heritage Site and the fourth in Wales, following the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Blaenavon Industrial Landscape and the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.

The approval follows a decision last week to strip Liverpool of its World Heritage status after fears developments, including the new Everton FC stadium, posed a threat to its value.

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said: “Today’s announcement recognises the significant contribution this part of North Wales has made to the cultural and industrial heritage not only of Wales, but of the wider world. Welsh slate can be found all over the world.

“The quarrying and mining of slate has left a unique legacy in Gwynedd, which the communities are rightly proud of.

“This worldwide recognition today by Unesco, will help preserve that legacy and history in those communities for generations to come and help them with future regeneration.

“I’d like to thank and congratulate everyone who has worked so hard on this bid – it’s been a real team effort and today’s announcement is a credit to all those involved.”

North West Wales Slate Landscape gets heritage status
A steam train runs past the north-west Wales slate landscape following the announcement that it has been granted Unesco World Heritage Status (Peter Byrne/PA)

Speaking to Sky News later on Wednesday, Mr Drakeford said: “It’s important because it is a combination of the natural landscape and the impact of human endeavour on it.

“The slate quarrying of North Wales roofed the whole of the world during the 19th and into the early part of the 20th century.”

Referring to the sound of thunder rumbling in the background of Llanberis, the First Minister added: “The gods are celebrating what has been achieved here in North Wales.”

Slate has been quarried in the area for more than 1,800 years and had been used to build parts of the Roman fort in Segontium in Caernarfon and Edward I’s castle in Conwy.

But it was not until the industrial revolution that demand surged as cities across the world expanded, with slate from the mines at Gwynedd being widely used to roof workers’ homes, public buildings, places of worship and factories.

By the 1890s the Welsh slate industry employed approximately 17,000 workers and produced almost 500,000 tonnes of slate a year – around a third of all roofing slate used in the world in the late 19th century.

The industry had also had an impact on global architecture, with Welsh slate used on the likes of Westminster Hall in London’s Houses of Parliament, the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, Australia and Copenhagen City Hall, Denmark.

Northwest Wales slate landscape nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status
A view of slate works in Wales (PA)

Plaid Cymru’s culture spokeswoman Heledd Fychan said: “Achieving this prestigious status is a boost – a boost to pride in our Welsh heritage and a boost to Wales’ place on the international stage.

“This is about preserving and protecting our heritage so that it plays a role in Wales’s future.”

Heritage minister Caroline Dinenage said: “Unesco World Heritage Status is a huge achievement and testament to the importance this region played in the industrial revolution and Wales’ slate mining heritage.

“I welcome the prospect of increased investment, jobs and a better understanding of this stunning part of the UK.”

The City of Bath – originally inscribed on the Word Heritage List in 1987 – has also been awarded a dual designation as part of the Great Spas of Europe.

A transnational nomination, Bath, along with 11 other European spa towns including Baden-Baden in Germany and Vichy in France, has been added to the Unesco World Heritage List for the second time.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “We are pleased to see both the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales and the city of Bath being recognised in the Unesco World Heritage List.

“Beautiful Bath thoroughly deserves its rare double World Heritage Site listing. From its Roman remains to its stunning Georgian architecture, Bath is a city which has captivated residents and visitors for centuries.

“Being inscribed, along with ten other European Spa Towns, as a joint World Heritage Site demonstrates Bath’s importance as one of the earliest and most significant “Great Spas” and we are delighted to have worked alongside international colleagues to make Bath’s joint inscription a reality.”

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