Unesco title plants Singapore firmly on world map

PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The Botanic Gardens' joining the international league of Unesco World Heritage Sites is a feather in the cap for Singapore, said experts from across the fields of heritage, nature and tourism.

They described it as a significant endorsement from an independent, reputable body that raises the profile of the country's heritage and plants it firmly on the world map.

Cultural geographer Professor Lily Kong from the National University of Singapore called it a "fitting tribute" for Singapore in its 50th year of independence, while heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo said it is an "amazing achievement" for a small country.

The World Heritage Committee listed the 156-year-old Gardens as a Unesco site during its 39th session in Bonn, Germany yesterday.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites, a panel of experts appointed by Unesco to assess the site, said the Gardens demonstrates the evolution of a British tropical colonial garden into a modern and world-class botanic garden, scientific institution and place of conservation and education.

Congratulating Singapore for its well-prepared nomination dossier, Portugal ambassador and Unesco delegate Jose Filipe Mendes Moraes Cabral said: "With more than 150 years of history, the 74ha Gardens holds a unique and significant place in the history of Singapore and in the region, and has succeeded in encapsulating natural and cultural heritage over all these years."

Nature Society president Shawn Lum said the successful listing celebrates the vision of the Gardens' founders, the work of its directors, the research produced there, the work of grounds-keeping staff, and the economy.

Meanwhile, tourism experts reckon the title adds a new dimension to the Singapore experience, which is known for modern marvels and attractions such as the Singapore Zoo, Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay.

"It highlights to visitors that we have a well-preserved green space in Singapore despite its rapid development which tourists and even locals may not quite take notice of," said Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer in tourism, Dr Michael Chiam.

But the title should not be wielded as a promotional tool or gimmick, they said. Instead, it is about raising awareness among Singaporeans about the gem in their midst, encouraging them to visit the place and to learn more about its history.

It also serves as a reminder that much of what and who made Singapore and its history and heritage started before 1965, said Prof Kong. "The much deeper roots of our history and heritage deserve to be embraced and celebrated."

It is also important that Singaporeans "feel proud about this Unesco heritage emblem" and become "ambassadors for this achievement", added Mr Kevin Cheong, the chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions.

But the work does not stop there, said Singapore Heritage Society's honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua.

There is heavy responsibility on the part of the Government to give its commitment to maintain the site for posterity, he said. "When a site is inscribed, we are effectively telling the world that it not only holds significance to us, but the entire world," he said.

Mrs Katherine Oehlers, 67, who has been a volunteer guide at the Gardens for eight years, said foreigners she has taken on tours of Singapore have been very positive and impressed by the site.

"This, I would say, is the crowning glory for SG50. I feel a great sense of pride, I am overjoyed. I think it is a matter of national pride as well."


This article was first published on July 5, 2015.
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