Open Access (free)
World Heritage and modernity
Author: Jes Wienberg

Heritopia explores the multiple meanings of the past in the present, using the famous temples of Abu Simbel and other World Heritage sites as points of departure. It employs three perspectives in its attempt to understand and explain both past and present the truth of knowledge, the beauties of narrative, and ethical demands. Crisis theories are rejected as nostalgic expressions of contemporary social criticism. Modernity is viewed as a collection of contradictory narratives and reinterpreted as a combination of technological progress and recently evolved ideas. The book argues that while heritage is expanding, it is not to be found everywhere, and its expansion does not constitute a problem. It investigates the World Heritage Convention as an innovation, demonstrating that the definition of a World Heritage site succeeds in creating a tenable category of outstanding and exclusive heritage. The book introduces the term “Heritopia” in order to conceptualise the utopian expectations associated with World Heritage. Finally, it points to the possibilities of using the past creatively when meeting present-day and future challenges.

Open Access (free)
Jes Wienberg

? The cliff temples of Abu Simbel were erected at the initiative of Pharaoh Ramses II, whose mummy is now exhibited in Cairo. The temples were carved directly out of the cliffs in the years around 1260 BCE . The great temple fronted by the four gigantic statues of Ramses II was a homage to the pharaoh himself as divine, a homage to the gods Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, a memorial of the Battle of Kadesh, and a marker of Egyptian mastery of the Nubian border region. Twice a year, the rays of the rising sun would penetrate to the statues in the furthest depths of

in Heritopia
Jes Wienberg

threatened by impermanence, but they may be preserved for posterity in archives and libraries. Memory is threatened by oblivion when new generations grow up, unless it is passed on by means of narration or documented. And heritage is threatened by decay and destruction and needs to be safeguarded. The cliff temples of Abu Simbel were threatened by flooding, but salvaged by being moved. New times mean new threats, which must be countered by new methods. Moreover, the whole field of humanities with history, memory, and heritage is seen as threatened by inner decay, which

in Heritopia
Jes Wienberg

Heritopia UNESCO’s salvage campaign in Nubia, with the temples of Abu Simbel as its main attraction, was described as a great success both at the time and afterwards. The Aswan High Dam’s threats to the ancient monuments could be averted. The temples of Pharaoh Ramses II were saved from the rising water level of the Nile by being cut up, moved, and reassembled in a new and safer place. Heritage had been threatened by Egypt’s modernisation, but it was salvaged in an international campaign that employed the rational organisation, finances, knowledge, and

in Heritopia
Jes Wienberg

World Heritage Convention The focus of the inquiry will now shift to World Heritage and to the temples of Abu Simbel and other sites. Focusing on World Heritage means that the inquiry’s questions about the past and its history, memory, and heritage will now be given precise coordinates: why, then, identify, examine, document, protect, preserve, mediate, and also develop World Heritage? Is it not a Sisyphean – an absurd or meaningless – task to try to protect and preserve World Heritage for the unlimited future? So, why even bother to define a special category

in Heritopia
Open Access (free)
Jes Wienberg

archaeologist Brian M. Fagan also used Egyptology as his starting point, directing harsh criticism against the colonial looting of the past in The Rape of the Nile (Fagan 1975 ). But despite his criticism, Fagan’s main interest seems to have been the telling of the fascinating story of the exploration of the pharaohs’ Egypt, from Napoleon’s expedition in 1798 to Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb – to a great extent a race between the colonial powers France and the UK. The temples of Abu Simbel are a well-known tourist destination in Egypt along with the Museum of

in Heritopia
Open Access (free)
Jes Wienberg

considered worth telling about, remembering, or preserving for the future, while other things are consigned to silence, oblivion, or destruction (Assmann 1992 (German): 87ff, 167ff; 2011 (English): 70ff, 147ff). The temples of Abu Simbel represent a monumental canon that communicates an arranged image of Pharaoh Ramses II and the Battle of Kadesh. Canonical lists are written down in a deliberate attempt to create and maintain hierarchies of values, in which something is considered more valuable than something else. They are written down when there is a need to do so

in Heritopia
Open Access (free)
Jes Wienberg

; but they are, at the same time, an expression of permanence; that is, something that has survived the renewal. Abu Simbel is one such expression of the paradoxical duality of time. As temple ruins from the Egypt of the pharaohs, Abu Simbel was first made redundant by developments and forgotten in the sand dunes when dynasties fell and religious faiths changed. Later, though, it was rediscovered and drawn into a Western discourse about the Orient. Then, when the temples of Abu Simbel stood in the way of progress, their permanence was ensured through a radical

in Heritopia