In 2005, the Unesco Committee meeting in Durban (South Africa) chose seven natural sites and seventeen cultural realisations: Le Havre joined World Heritage the same year as Syracusa (Italy), the rock cut necropolis of Pantalica (Sicily), the masterpieces of Antonio Gaudi in Spain, the belfries of Belgium and France, and also the Historic City Centre of Cienfuegos (Cuba).
A prestigious circle
- Around the world, over 1000 cultural, natural or mixed sites are classified, covering 161 countries. In France, in 2015, 39 sites belong to the World heritage List.
- Among the most famous are the Mont-Saint-Michel, Paris and the banks of the river Seine, the park and castle at Versailles. The Causses and the Cévennes, cultural landscape of Mediterranean agro-pastoralism or the Stanislas, de la Carrière and d’Alliance Squares in Nancy are also members of the prestigious circle.
- For the past ten years, belonging to the list has greatly contributed to greater cultural development and tourism.
- Several steps needed to be respected towards achieving the formidable goal of reaching World Heritage recognition.
What does World Heritage mean?
A cultural site must meet at least one of the ten criteria defined by Unesco, and prove of outstanding universal value.
In 1972, Unesco set up a convention for World Heritage. Its aim was to make an inventory and preserve all cultural and natural heritage of universal value. According to this convention, “cultural heritage” can be a monument, a group of buildings or a site of historical, aesthetic, archeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological value. The expression “natural heritage” refers to an exceptional physical, biological and geological characteristic, endangered fauna or flora, areas of value from a scientific, aesthetic or conservational point of view.
For Le Havre, 2 criteria were considered:
Criteria (2): An exchange of considerable influence, over a given period of time, concerning the development of architecture, urban planning or creation of landscape.
Because of the scale of the site and the extensive panel of architects who worked in Le Havre and followed the construction rules set by Perret, the reconstruction of the city offered a very large field for experiments on the conception of a modern city and technical methods for building it. Exchanges between the Perret School of architecture and young architects influenced by the theories of Le Corbusier gave birth to a unique urban fabric, presenting the attributes of both a classical and modern city.
Criteria (4): an edifying example of a construction type or an architectural scheme, or a landscape characteristic of a significant period of human history.
Thanks to the size of its reconstruction, as well as the great coherence of its urban plan, Le Havre became a symbol for all of the reconstructed European cities. The French State was determined it should be exemplary and therefore chose Auguste Perret as Chief Architect for the Reconstruction of Le Havre.
- 1995: the City Council takes the initiative of protecting the Perret reconstructed city centre, as well as its immediate vicinity, a 250 hectares area (ZPPAUP = Protection Zone)).
- 2001: Le Havre joins the French listing as Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (City of Art and History), thanks in particular to its contemporary architectural heritage.
- 2002: the international exhibition: “the Poetry of Concrete”, at the Malraux Museum, gets Perret international recognition for his masterpiece.
- Spring 2003: Le Havre gets added to the French list of applicants. The “Poetry of Concrete” exhibition is shown at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Turin.
- December 2003: Le Havre is nominated as candidate by the French State, chosen among a list of about 30 sites.
- January 2004: Le Havre sends its application file to Unesco (Centre of World Heritage). The “Poetry of Concrete” exhibition is shown at the Institut Français d’Architecture in Paris.
- March 2004: the application file is transferred to ICOMOS for scientific assessment. ICOMOS is a non-governmental international organization which works at conservation of monuments and sites the world over.
- August 2004: ICOMOS experts visit the site of Le Havre.
- May 2005: the ICOMOS assessment is handed over to the Unesco Centre of World Heritage
- 15th July 2005: The City of Le Havre joins the World Heritage List.
Extracts from the minutes of the 29th session of Unesco:
“The French Delegation (observer) first wishes to thank the Authorities of South Africa for hosting and organizing this session of the committee. The decision of the committee is greeted with joy and both the city of Le Havre and the whole of France will be happy and proud of the news. We wish to recall that Le Havre – studied as a model of urban reconstruction in architecture schools the world over- is the first example of French modern architecture to join the World Heritage List. We also recall the great personal involvement of many renowned specialists in the history of architecture when preparing this application. Finally, the Committee can rest assured as to the high quality level of restoration of the reinforced concrete in the main buildings of the city”.
The men behind this success
In 2005, obtaining the Listing came at the end of several years’work done by the then Mayor Antoine Rufenacht, by specialist of the history of architecture Joseph Abram, Professor of Architecture at Nancy School of Architecture and Geneva Institute of Architecture, eminent specialist of Perret’s works and by Architect Vincent Duteurtre, in charge of Urbanism and Prospective at Le Havre City Hall, working under the supervision of Dominique Dhervillez, assistant director of the Services Department for the city of Le Havre, in charge of major projects, urban planning and prospective, also an architect by training.