After last week’s lecture on UNESCO I found myself involved in a compelling conversation about the concept of world heritage. At some point, the Mexican site of Chichén-Itzá was mentioned to depict a situation that I consider worth to be discussed in this post. Listed by UNESCO since 1988, the Pre-Hispanic City of Chichén-Itzá was the shelter of two important settlements: the Maya and the Toltec warriors which date from the 5th and 10th century, respectively. The contact between these two cultural societies developed into a unique architectonic and artistic style. Such precious heritage site met three of UNESCO’s List of World Heritage criteria: genius masterpiece, place of interchange of human values and exceptional cultural testimony.
Notwithstanding, the reality differed from UNESCO’s initial perspectives as the Pre-Hispanic city was never treated as a heritage site. According to the study “Tourism and Political Choices of Indigenous Populations in Yucatán”, the Mexican government conceived the site as a tourist package based on the concept of the “indigenous experience”. Within this context, vendors fiercely negotiated with the Mexican government until they were allowed to flood Chichén-Itzá with indigenous handicraft and clothing sell. As the number of visitors was gradually growing so it was the presence of street vending. The aesthetic impact of such commerce, combined with the lack of personnel to control accesses and number of visitors, have recently questioned the future of the heritage site within the UNESCO.
As the organisation claims, better management and planning should be designed in order to prevent erosion and to control street vending. Within the next few years, Chichén-Itzá could be removed from UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Not only this serves as an example of heritage preservation crisis but also as a different picture of the organisation: one fairly concerned about having to leave this magnificent heritage site at the mercy of local organisations.
Centre, U. (2016). Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen-Itza. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/483 [Accessed 27 Sep. 2016].
Hawn, H. and Tison, J. (2015). Tourism and Political Choices of Indigenous Populations in Yucatan. Latin American Perspectives, 42(5), pp.234-247.