The World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated a group of five Spanish colonial missions in the San Antonio area – including most of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the Alamo – as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee agreed to inscribe the missions on the World Heritage List at its 39th session in Bonn, Germany, in July.
The San Antonio Missions include Espada, San Juan, Concepcion, Valero, and the Alamo. Also on the list is Rancho de las Cabras, a ranch outpost of Mission Espada. The missions were built in the 18th century in and around the present day city of San Antonio to convert indigenous people to Catholicism and make them Spanish subjects. The missions and the land around them became San Antonio Missions NHP in 1983, and all except the Alamo are still used as Catholic parishes.
The group of former missions includes churches, farmlands, living quarters, granaries, workshops, kilns, wells, perimeter walls, a cattle ranch, and irrigation systems (acequias) that are still functioning after hundreds of years. These achievements were possible through the combined efforts of the Spanish and indigenous peoples living in the missions. Disease reduced the native population, accelerating the missions’ decline.
The Department of the Interior undertook the nomination of the San Antonio Missions with the cooperation and support of all the property owners within the boundaries of the nominated area, including the NPS, the State of Texas, the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, the San Antonio River Authority, the Espada Ditch Company, the San Juan Ditch Water Supply Corporation, and Los Compadres de San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Officials hope the designation of the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S. will boost tourism, already responsible for one in eight jobs in San Antonio.
The site is the 23rd World Heritage Site in the United States out of more than a thousand inscribed worldwide. The Interior Department’s National Park Service (NPS) manages all or part of 18 of the U.S. World Heritage Sites. The NPS is also the principal government agency responsible for implementing the World Heritage Convention in cooperation with the Department of State.
Inclusion of a site in the World Heritage List does not affect U.S. sovereignty or management of the sites, which remain subject only to U.S., state and local laws. Detailed information on the World Heritage Program and the process for the selection of U.S. sites can be found at http://whc.unesco.org/
Article by Jessica Kershaw