- Later this month, it will be decided whether Burkina Faso and Cape Verde get their first-ever cultural monuments inscribed in UNESCO's prestigious World Heritage List. The submitted proposals include Cape Verde's ancient capital, founded in 1462, and the 11th century stone ruins in Loropéni, Burkina Faso.
The UN's cultural agency, which manages the World Heritage List, is to decide on the inscription on a 22 to 30 June meeting in Seville, Spain. 30 new sites and seven extensions of existing sites have been proposed for the List at this year's meeting.
Again, Africa is strongly underrepresented when it comes to proposed world heritage proposals. This year, only three African sites are proposed, including the historic town of Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire in addition to the Cape Verdean and Burkinabe sites.
The archipelago of Cape Verde, despite its volcanic beauty and long historic settlement imperative to trans-Atlantic trade, until now has no site inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, a list which draws many tourist arrivals.
Cape Verdean authorities now have proposed the inscription of Cidade Velha ("Old City"), the old capital which formerly was named Ribeira Grande. The town was founded in 1462, shortly after the archipelago was discovered by Portuguese colonisers.
It soon developed into a wealthy city, playing a key role in Portugal's important trans-Atlantic trade and connecting Brazil to Europe. But Ribeira Grande also has its dark history, becoming an important trans-shipment point for slaves hunted in Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, transported to Cape Verde and Brazil.
After an attack by French pirates in 1712, it became clear that Ribeira Grande had become difficult to defend. In 1770, the capital was moved to its current location, Praia, and the old town lost importance. Since the late 1990s, Ribeira Grande is uninhabited, but its well-preserved ruins - including a colonial church constructed in 1495 and the 16th century São Filipe fort - make it a popular destinations for Cape Verdeans and tourists, located only 15 kilometres outside Praia.
Given the site's well-documented history and its functional conservation plan, Cape Verdean authorities are optimistic their old capital will make it on the World Heritage List. Government hopes this will prove yet another argument for the growing number of tourists visiting Cape Verde.
In the case of Burkina Faso's Loropéni stone ruins, Ouagadougou authorities already in 1994 made a first attempt to hit the prestigious List. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee however turned down the bid, asking for better documentation about the historic site.
In fact, Burkinabe authorities and historians are facing much trouble to unveil the mysteries behind the impressing and unique stone architecture found at Loropéni.
The running theory is that the buildings represent a major 11th century town of an ancient culture that dominated a larger area in what is now Burkina Faso, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. But this ancient culture did not leave historians with any written texts, thus making further documentation difficult.
According to Burkinabe theories, the ancient culture building Loropéni were the ancestors of today's Lobi people. However, most Western historians agree that the Lobi people only started migrating into southern Burkina Faso in the 1770s. Also, modern Lobi architecture consists of mud constructions, not stone buildings.
The impressive but mysterious Loropéni ruins of Burkina Faso therefore again could face rejection by the World Heritage Committee, leaving the culturally rich Sahelian country without any World Heritage site.
Côte d'Ivoire, on the other side, stands a better chance with the historic town of Grand-Bassam, which also has played an important part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and as a European colonial site, thus having a well-documented history.
Côte d'Ivoire already has three natural heritage sites inscribed on UNESCO's list - the Comoé, the Mount Nimba and Taï national parks. Four Ivorian attempts to see national sites of great cultural value inscribed on the UNESCO list have failed, including an attempt to register Grand-Bassam in 2006.
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