UNESCO strips Dresden of World Heritage site title

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s picturesque Dresden Elbe Valley was formally dropped as a U.N. World Heritage site Thursday, making it only the second landmark ever to be removed from the prestigious list.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said it de-listed Dresden after a three-year battle -- for ignoring objections and building a four-lane motorway bridge over the river that would irreversibly damage the landscape.

"Every time we fail to preserve a site we share the pain," said Maria Jesus San Segundo, chair of the session of the World Heritage Committee that met in Seville, Spain, in a statement on its website (

Dresden was awarded the title of World Heritage site in 2004 for its valley of 18th and 19th century landscape that extends 18 km (11 miles) along the Elbe. It includes central Dresden, baroque palaces and gardens.

“We’ve got to accept this decision with regret,” said Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz.

The city, once dubbed the Florence of northern Europe for its architectural jewels, was reduced to ruins by Allied bombing raids near the end of World War Two.

Since the restoration of many monuments to their former glory, including the landmark Frauenkirche in 2005, the capital of Saxony has drawn visitors from far and wide.

UNESCO warned German authorities in 2006 it would de-list Dresden Elbe Valley unless plans to build the bridge in the middle of the heritage zone were scrapped.

The German government even intervened, offering Dresden federal aid to build a tunnel under the river to avoid the threatened de-listing.

“It’s more than regrettable that the two sides weren’t able to find a compromise,” said German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann. “The federal government did everything it could to find a solution.”

But local authorities, backed by strong local support in a referendum, allowed work to go ahead on the Waldschloesschen Bridge at the end of 2007. The bridge is now half finished and expected to be completed by 2010.

UNESCO has only removed one other site -- a wildlife sanctuary in Oman -- from the World Heritage List, which includes cultural landmarks such as the Great Wall of China and the leaning Tower of Pisa.

Editing by Jon Hemming