The U.S. Department of Interior has added Historic Moravian Bethlehem to the World Heritage List of Historic Moravian Church Settlements in Europe and North America. The historic district may be added to the World Heritage List as early as 2024.
The Taj Mahal, Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza are among the 1,121 World Heritage Sites across 167 countries.
There are two World Heritage Sites in Pennsylvania currently: Independence Hall, the building where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed, and Fallingwater, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO based on their cultural or historical significance.
During a Sept. 21 Bethlehem City Council meeting, Charlene Donchez Mowers, president of Bethlehem Museums and Sites and the Bethlehem World Heritage Committee, spoke about the process of having Bethlehem recognized on the World Heritage List.
“Historic Moravian Bethlehem is our national historic landmark district,” Mowers said. “It is composed of 14.7 acres of the historic Moravian properties. It has 10 buildings, five ruins and a cemetery.”
Right now, while the space is walkable, a spot on the World Heritage List would increase national and international interest in the site, Mowers said.
She said that while Bethlehem Museums and Sites has around 50,000 visitors each year, a spot on the World Heritage List would boost that number to over 200,000 visitors. This increase in visitors would boost Bethlehem’s community and raise interest in Bethlehem from international corporations.
Curtis H. “Hank” Barnette, chairman emeritus of Bethlehem Steel and philanthropist, spoke to the council about the logistical process of Bethlehem being recognized as a World Heritage Site.
“The purpose of World Heritage is to help recognize and preserve for the present and for future generations cultural or natural sites throughout the world that provide—and these are the three key words—outstanding universal value,” Barnette said.
Barnette said each country to ratify the World Heritage treaty can nominate landmarks to be designated as World Heritage Sites, which helps them move forward in their respective processes of recognition.
This nomination is reviewed by The International Council of Monuments and Sites, an international group that visits the sites of each nomination.
Barnette said this council will ideally come to Bethlehem, where it may recommend its findings to the World Heritage Committee, which is composed of representatives from 21 countries.
Bethlehem City Councilman Michael Colón spoke to The Brown and White about this project, which he said began in 2002.
“It takes time to gather information,” Colón said. “We’re collaborating with other cities around the world, and the way it all lines up for review, it’ll take that time to appropriately put the dossier together and get it before whatever body decides whether to award or not.”
Colón said the process is competitive and there are no guarantees of being awarded heritage status.
After receiving the award, each site is monitored closely to ensure its integrity.
Both the process of being recognized as a World Heritage Site and maintaining that status are rigorous, which Colón said is necessary for sites of such historical significance.
He said the Moravian buildings in Bethlehem have never been repurposed. They stand as they did in the 1700s, without any drastic changes to their function.