With its largely pedestrianised centre, cobbled streets and Habsburg architecture, Vienna is usually high on the list for city breaks packing a historical punch.
But Unesco has added the Austrian capital to its “World Heritage in Danger” list, citing new building works that will impact on the city skyline.
At the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee – which began on 2 July and finishes on Wednesday – Unesco ruled that new developments will “impact adversely the outstanding universal value of the [Historic Centre of Vienna].”
The committee singled out the project that is expanding the Vienna Ice-Skating Club, renovating the Vienna Konzerthaus and rebuilding an InterContinental hotel complete with events space near the iconic Ringstrasse. Construction is due to begin in 2019.
The project has already had to rethink its plans, reducing the planned height of the main tower by three storeys, making the building “more elegant” than originally projected, and demolishing the existing InterContinental hotel and rebuilding it to a smaller scale.
But Unesco stated that it “regrets” that the project “fails to comply fully with previous Committee decisions, notably concerning the height of new constructions, which will impact adversely the outstanding universal value of the site.”
The List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to be both a warning and an encouragement to take corrective action. Unesco states that: “Typical threats that lead to danger listing include armed conflict, natural disaster, unplanned urban developments, poaching and pollution.”
Vienna’s city centre, or Innere Stadt, traces its history back to Roman and Celtic times. Parts of its medieval fortifications are still visible, though it’s the Baroque architecture from its time as the centre of the Austro-Hungarian empire that the city is best known for today.
Looped by the famous Ringstrasse boulevard, the historic centre was inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List in 2001. It now joins 54 other sites on the endangered list, including Afghanistan's Minaret of Jam and Aleppo and Damascus.
A spokesperson for the Vienna Tourist Board told The Independent: “While we regret that Vienna has been added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger, we do not expect repercussions in regards to tourism. Vienna remains one of the most beautiful and attractive tourist destinations worldwide, not least due to the fact that the city has always placed significant emphasis on the value of its historical heritage while simultaneously transforming into a modern metropolis. Nothing will change in this respect in the future.”