UNESCO World Heritage Site #163: Dresden Elbe Valley

UNESCO World Heritage Site #163: Dresden Elbe Valley
UNESCO World Heritage Site #163: Dresden Elbe Valley

From the World Heritage inscription:

The 18th- and 19th-century cultural landscape of Dresden Elbe Valley extends some 18 km along the river from Übigau Palace and Ostragehege fields in the north-west to the Pillnitz Palace and the Elbe River Island in the south-east. It features low meadows, and is crowned by the Pillnitz Palace and the centre of Dresden with its numerous monuments and parks from the 16th to 20th centuries. The landscape also features 19th- and 20th-century suburban villas and gardens and valuable natural features. Some terraced slopes along the river are still used for viticulture and some old villages have retained their historic structure and elements from the industrial revolution, notably the 147-m Blue Wonder steel bridge (1891–93), the single-rail suspension cable railway (1898–1901), and the funicular (1894–95). The passenger steamships (the oldest from 1879) and shipyard (c. 1900) are still in use.

This site is going to require more explanation than most World Heritage sites that I have visited…

Technically speaking, the Dresden Elbe Valley is no longer a World Heritage site. It was removed from the list by UNESCO in 2009 after being put on the list 2004.

The entire episode is an example of the downside to having world heritage status and something which I’ve heard from different cities around the world.

As I make it a point to visit UNESCO World Heritage sites, I paid attention to the Dresden incident when it happened back in 2009. It all had to do with a bridge which was being built across the Elbe river. As I had never been to Dresden at the time, I reserved judgment about what was happening. When I had the opportunity to visit Dresden as part of my Eurail trip through Germany, I jumped at the chance to see it for myself.

The entire controversy surrounds a bridge. The people of Dresden decided in 2005 in a referendum to build a bridge across the Elbe. A bridge in that location had actually been discussed as far back as 1876, but it was never built. There is even an avenue which was built on one side of the river in the 1920’s which leads up to where the bridge would have been built. Plans for the bridge were in the works before the vote by UNESCO to put Dresden on the list in 2004 and UNESCO was told that one more bridge would be built before they had the vote.

Local opponents of the bridge used UNESCO as their tool to stop construction after they lost the 2005 referendum. They claimed that the bridge would destroy the river valley, block views and ruin the aesthetic of the region.

They were wrong.

Having seen the bridge (which was mostly completed at the time of my visit in November 2011) I can state the following:

1) The bridge is not visible from the historic center of Dresden. If you go to the edge of the area, you might be able to see it. You can however, see an ugly communist era bridge that was built in the 1960s.

2) The bridge is barely visible from some of the historic palaces further up the river from Dresden. Here is a photo where you can see the bridge, as seen from the Albrechtsberg Palace.

3) It only blocks the view of the city center if you happen to put yourself in a position where it will block your view. By that logic, anything can block your view.

4) Nothing historic was destroyed to build the bridge. It wasn’t as if they tore something down to create this. It was built where there never was a bridge.

There was one other UNESCO site which has been delisted, and that was the The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman. That was delisted at the request of Oman because 90% of the sanctuary was destroyed after oil was found there. A totally different set of circumstances than what was in Dresden.

UNESCO was trying to strong arm Dresden to get them to do what they wanted. I’ve heard similar stories in Cologne, Liverpool and other cities. Preservation of history isn’t enough, they also want to block development, even if that development is done in such a way as to fit in with the history of a place.

Having visited Dresden and seen the bridge with my own eyes, I don’t agree with their decision to delist Dresden.

For that reason, I’d decided to keep it on my personal list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

This was the eighth stop on my November 2011 Eurail trip to European UNESCO sites.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.