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13 January 2014

Saving Belgium s Treasures  

Three sites in Belgium have been singled out for special protection under a United Nations program designed to preserve priceless examples of the world’s cultural legacy.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated nearly a thousand World Heritage Sites with “outstanding universal value,” in the hope of motivating nations and people to protect them for future generations.

Last December, UNESCO’s Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict granted "enhanced protection" status to three World Heritage Sites in Belgium, a designation backed by sanctions and other penalties for states that fail to preserve cultural treasures in wartime.

Modern-day Belgium may seem far removed from the threat of conflict, but it’s barely 70 years since armies last battled on its territory in the final months of World War II. For much of the past millennium the country was fought over by European powers because of religious differences, imperial ambitions and the wealth of the region, a result of global trading.

The oldest of the sites is the Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes, Belgium. The mines were dug more than 6,000 years ago when humans were abandoning hunting and gathering and starting to develop sophisticated tools that would help them create the earliest civilizations.

The Plantin-Moretus Museum is a printing plant and publishing house in Antwerp dating from the Renaissance period, while the four town houses designed by architect Victor Horta in Brussels celebrate the development of Art Nouveau, one of the pivotal modernist architectural styles of the late 19th and early 20th century.