UNESCO officially designates Wales’ slate areas as World Heritage Site
UNESCO has officially designated the slate areas of Gwynedd as a World Heritage Site.
It has announced today that the area famed for its slate industry has joined Egypt’s pyramids, India’s Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon in being awarded the prestigious status.
The decision was made by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which has been meeting in Fuzhou, China, as well as virtually online.
It also considered bids from Bologna, Nice and the Ribeira Sacra wine district in Spain.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee said it was looking for a site of “outstanding universal value” which should be a “unique landmark” and has a “cultural, historical or physical significance”.
The origins of the slate industry Wales date back to the Roman period. It expanded rapidly in the 19th century with Penrhyn and Dinorwig becoming the two largest slate quarries in the world. The Oakeley mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog was the largest slate mine on the planet.
The successful bid, which was led by Gwynedd Council, was a partnership between a number of organisations. These included Snowdonia National Park, the National Trust, Bangor University, the Welsh Government, Cadw, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the National Museum.
The area includes the communities of Dyffryn Ogwen, Dinorwig, Dyffryn Nantlle, Cwmystradllyn and Cwm Pennant, Ffestiniog and Porthmadog, Abergynolwyn and Tywyn.
Sian Gwenllian, the Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Arfon, has reacted to the announcement.
She said: “I know local people, many of them direct descendants, as am I, of families that depended on the quarrying industry, will feel pride about this announcement.
“It is fitting that the area receives international recognition, as the area’s history is of international importance.
“We know very well that Arfon’s slate quarries were once an industrial epicentre of the world.
“Slates from Gwynedd were shipped across the world.
“Little did the local communities of Gwynedd see of the immense wealth generated, and I will be thinking of those generations today.
“As we reflect on the rich history of the area, we won’t just be thinking about the quarrymen, like my great grandfather, but also of their families.
“The strong women who without their contribution we wouldn’t be celebrating today. Our “resilient grandmothers” as the local poet Gwyn Thomas once said.”
The area will join existing World Heritage Sites in Wales; the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen, and the Castles of King Edward in Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Harlech and Conwy.
Commenting on the successful bid, First Minister Mark Drakeford said the “worldwide recognition” would go some way to helping preserve the area and its legacy.
“Today’s announcement recognises the significant contribution this part of North Wales has made to the cultural and industrial heritage not only of Wales, but of the wider world,” he said.
“Welsh slate can be found all over the world.
“The quarrying and mining of slate has left a unique legacy in Gwynedd, which the communities are rightly proud of.
“This worldwide recognition today by UNESCO, will help preserve that legacy and history in those communities for generations to come and help them with future regeneration.
“I’d like to thank and congratulate everyone who has worked so hard on this bid – it’s been a real team effort and today’s announcement is a credit to all those involved.”
David Anderson, director general at the Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales said the designation would allow Wales’ diverse heritage to be shared on a worldwide stage.
“Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is very proud to have been a key partner in this bid and is delighted at the successful designation of the slate landscape of northwest Wales as a World Heritage site,” he said.
“Its success will ensure that the impact of the culture and industrial heritage of the area – including the story of the slate industry which we tell at the National Slate Museum in Llanberis – is recognised throughout the world.
“We have a rich and diverse heritage in Wales and this is a great opportunity to celebrate and showcase our cultural heritage on an international stage and will help preserve the legacy and history in communities for generations to come.
“Congratulations to all those who have worked so hard on this bid – today’s announcement is a credit to all those involved.”
Shadow Minister for North Wales Darren Millar MS, said: “This is not just wonderful news for Gwynedd, but for the whole of North Wales too. The decision will help attract visitors, boost investment, and create jobs in the region and adds yet another feather to Wales’ cap as a significant cultural exporter on the world stage.
“The bid and its success also shows that the UK Government continues to have a significant and proven role in working directly with local councils in Wales, delivering benefits for communities across the nation.
“North Wales’ rich cultural heritage is something to celebrate and it is important that both the Welsh and UK Governments work together to promote and protect it.”