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In recent developments at the 45th session of the Unesco World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, the prehistoric site of Tell al-Sultan near Jericho in the occupied West Bank has been added to the World Heritage List, marking a significant acknowledgment of Palestinian history and heritage. In the same session, Unesco also recognized 56 Iranian caravanserais, ancient roadside inns, highlighting Iran’s deep historical connections to transcontinental trade routes, including the famed Silk Road. Both inscriptions illuminate the rich tapestries of human history in the respective regions, offering glimpses into early urban planning and historic trade pathway architectures.

In a move recognizing the historical depth of Palestinian heritage, Unesco has officially added the prehistoric site of Tell al-Sultan, situated near the Palestinian city of Jericho in the occupied West Bank, to its esteemed World Heritage List. This monumental accolade was achieved during the 45th World Heritage Committee assembly in Riyadh, as stated in an announcement released on X.

Tell al-Sultan – Photo by Hazem Bader / AFP

Nestled in the Jordan Valley, the oval-shaped mound predates Egypt’s pyramids and showcases the earliest inklings of human civilizational endeavors, bearing witness to settlements dating back to the 8th millennium BC. This continuous habitation, facilitated by the oasis’s fertile soil and ready access to water, renders it the oldest fortified city globally, with it being arguably the oldest continuously inhabited settlement on Earth.

Commenting on this significant development, Unesco’s Assistant Director-General Ernesto Ottone remarked, “The property proposed for nomination is the prehistoric archaeological site of Tell al-Sultan, located outside the antique site of Jericho.”

Despite Israel’s withdrawal from Unesco in 2019 citing an alleged anti-Israel bias, they sent a delegation to the 2023 assembly. Israeli representation noted the absence of Jewish or Christian remains at the site, emphasizing its prehistoric nature. This three-year candidacy encountered no objections from any state party during the deliberations, according to a diplomat who requested anonymity.

Tell al-Sultan – Photo by Hazem Bader / AFP

Palestinian authorities heralded this development as a significant affirmation of Palestinian history and a testament to their ancestral connections to the land. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas deemed it a momentous occasion, highlighting it as “evidence of the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people.” He assured continued preservation efforts to maintain this historically rich site for all of humanity.

Rula Maayah, the Palestinian Tourism Minister, attending the meeting, echoed the president’s sentiments, asserting that the decision underlined the “diverse Palestinian heritage of exceptional human value.” She lauded the site’s recognition, which echoes its remarkable historical significance, pledging to foster its upkeep rigorously.

Over a century of archaeological excavations at Tell al-Sultan have unearthed a wealth of information, providing glimpses into early urban planning and cultic practices of its Neolithic inhabitants, including intriguing findings such as skulls and statues. The site now proudly stands as the fourth Palestinian location on the Unesco World Heritage List, joining the ranks of the Church of the Nativity and the Old City of Hebron.

Tell al-Sultan – Photo by Hazem Bader / AFP

Iran’s Ancient Caravanserais listed too

Unesco has expanded its World Heritage List to include 56 of Iran’s ancient caravanserais, a decision announced at its 45th session in Riyadh. These historical roadside inns, which facilitated travelers with necessities such as food and shelter, are located along Iran’s historical trade pathways including the renowned Silk Road. Characterized by a rich variety of architectural styles and built with adaptive materials over many centuries, these caravanserais reflect Iran’s deep historical roots in facilitating transcontinental trade. This inscription elevates the number of Iranian sites recognized by Unesco to 27, with noted examples being Qasr-e Bahram, Deyr-e Gachin, and Anjireh Sangi.

With AFP