Inca trails, ancient French cave vie for World Heritage status

Inca trails, ancient French cave vie for World Heritage status
Paintings on the rock walls of the Chauvet cave in southeastern France.

DOHA - Inca trails spanning six countries and a French cave with some of the earliest known paintings are among the sites expected to get World Heritage status at a UNESCO meeting that started Sunday in Doha.

Altogether, at least 30 natural and cultural sites, including the Erbil Citadel in Iraq's Kurdistan, are vying to get the United Nations cultural body's prestigious distinction and add their names to an already 981-strong list.

The June 15-25 World Heritage Committee gathering will also mull whether to put London's Westminster Palace on its list of endangered sites.

And in a first for a developed country, Australia is asking that large swathes of its Tasmanian Wilderness - one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world - be delisted to make way for loggers.

Inclusion on the list has significant economic implications as a World Heritage site is eligible for financial assistance towards preservation and the coveted status is also a powerful draw for tourists.

The listing of the Qhapaq Nan - a huge network of roads once used by the mighty Inca Empire that snake over perilously high snowy peaks over more than 30,000 kilometres (18,600 miles) - would benefit not one but six countries overall.

The trails go through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru - the last of which added the routes to its tentative list in 2001, and was later followed by the others.

Age-old cave paintings

Submitted by France, the Chauvet Cave, located in a limestone plateau of the meandering Ardeche River in southern France, contains some of the earliest known paintings, drawn more than 30,000 years ago.

The grotto has more than 1,000 pictures - many of which feature animals such as bison, mammoths and rhinos.

The cave was closed off by a rock fall around 20,000 years ago and remained sealed until its rediscovery in 1994. More drawings are expected to be found in remote parts of the grotto.

India, meanwhile, is hoping to have its Rani-ki-Vav stepwell on the banks of the Saraswati River in western Patan listed.

"Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water," it is divided into seven underground storeys of terraced walls with pavilions and buttresses, according to its official nomination document.

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