Decision : 38 COM 8B.14
Trang An Landscape Complex (Viet Nam)
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Documents WHC-14/38.COM/8B, WHC-14/38.COM/INF.8B1 and WHC-14/38.COM/INF.8B2,
- Inscribes the Trang An Landscape Complex, Viet Nam, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (v), (vii) and (viii);
- Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:
Located in Ninh Binh Province of North Vietnam, the Trang An Landscape Complex (Trang An) is a mixed cultural and natural property contained mostly within three protected areas, the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital and the Trang An-Tam Coc-Bich Dong Scenic Area, and the Hoa Lu Special-Use Primary Forest. The property covers 6,172 ha within the Trang An limestone massif, and is surrounded by a buffer zone of 6,079 ha, mostly comprising rice paddy fields. Trang An is administered by the Ninh Binh Provincial People’s Committee and managed by the Trang An Landscape Complex Management Board. There are 14,000 residents, mostly families of subsistence farmers, but much of the property is uninhabited and in a natural state. Trang An is of global significance as an outstanding humid tropical tower karst landscape in the final stages of geomorphic evolution. It is composed of a variety of classical karst cones and towers and a network of enclosed depressions inter-connected by an intricate system of subterranean waterways. The area is unique in having been invaded by the sea several times in the recent geological past but is now emergent on land. The blend of towering mountains draped in natural rain forest, with huge internal basins containing quietly flowing waters, creates an extraordinarily beautiful and tranquil landscape. Archaeological deposits in many caves reveal a regionally significant, continuous sequence of human occupation and utilization spanning more than 30,000 years. There is convincing evidence showing how early human groups adapted to changing landscapes in the massif, including some of the most extreme climatic and environmental changes in the planet’s recent history.
Criterion (v): Trang An is the most outstanding locale within Southeast Asia, and significant in the wider world for demonstrating the way early humans interacted with the natural landscape and adapted to major changes in environment over a period of more than 30,000 years. The long cultural history is closely associated with geological evolution of the Trang An limestone massif in late Pleistocene and Holocene times, when the inhabitants endured some of the most turbulent climatic and environmental changes in Earth history, including repeated submergence of the landscape due to oscillating sea levels. Within the one compact landscape there are multiple sites covering multiple periods and functions, comprising a unique early human settlement system.
Criterion (vii): The tower karst landscape of Trang An is among the most beautiful and awe-inspiring areas of its kind anywhere on Earth. Dominating the landscape is a spectacular array of forest- mantled, 200m-high limestone rock towers, linked in places by sharp ridges enclosing deep depressions filled by waterways that are inter-connected by a myriad of subterranean cave passages. Blending with the forests are extensive rice paddy fields bordering streams, with local farmers and fisher folk engaged in their traditional way of life. Visitors, conveyed in traditional sampans rowed by local guides, experience an intimate connection with the natural environment and a wonderful relaxing sense of security and serenity. The dramatic mountains, secretive caves and sacred places in Trang An have inspired people through countless generations. It is a place where culture encounters the wonder, mystery and magnificence of the natural world and is transformed by it.
Criterion (viii): Trang An is an exquisite geological property that displays more clearly than any other place on Earth the final stages of tower karst landscape evolution in a humid tropical environment. It is a superb model of its kind and outstanding at a global scale. Deep dissection of an uplifted limestone massif over a period of five million years has produced a series of classical karst landforms, including towers, cones, enclosed depressions (cockpits), interior-draining valleys (poljes), foot caves and subterranean cave passages with speleothems. Extremely significant is the presence of transitional forms between ‘fengcong’ karst with ridges connecting towers, and ‘fenglin’ karst where towers stand isolated on alluvial plains. During Pleistocene and Holocene times, the landscape was completely transformed by repeated marine transgression and regression. Former stands of sea level are revealed by an altitudinal series of erosion notches in cliffs, with associated caves, wave-cut platforms, beach deposits and marine shell layers.
Knowledge of the outstanding universal cultural value of the property is primarily based on archaeological evidence from intensive research on cave sites, which are still largely in their original condition – a rarity in Southeast Asia. The rich archaeological resources are predominantly midden accumulations containing shells, animal bones, stone tools, hearths, corded-ware pottery and occasionally human remains. The sites are yielding vivid palaeo-environmental records from analysis of pollen, seeds and plant tissue, and fauna, and from geomorphic evidence of ancient shorelines. These studies are supported by sophisticated modern techniques such as geo-chemical analysis of plant carbon isotopes and lipids, and shell oxygen isotopes, and the pioneering use in Southeast Asia of LiDAR (Light Distancing and Ranging) to create millimetre-accurate images of cave sites. All data are professionally mapped, collected, catalogued and analysed. The results of studies have been communicated through an impressive portfolio of published scientific papers, and are also reported in a definitive monograph on human adapation in the Asian Palaeolithic, whose author has conducted seven years’ research in Trang An.
The property is of sufficient size and scope to encompass the entire limestone massif, with a full range of classical karst landforms and associated geomorphic processes. All caves and other sites of archaeological significance are included. There are no structures that obstruct the scenery or detract from the aesthetic appeal of the area. The very rugged topography has isolated the property from occupation and utilization, and most of it remains in a natural state. A large buffer zone completely surrounds the property, protecting it from any external disruption. Occupied areas are largely small traditional villages and associated rice paddy fields tended by subsistence farmers. The greater part of the property is enclosed within three officially designated and secure protected areas, and the property boundary is endorsed by all Government authorities.
Management and protection requirements
Trang An has been accorded the highest legal status for protection available in Viet Nam. The property is owned by the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam and controlled by the Ninh Binh Provincial People’s Committee. Most of it is secured within three statutory protected areas. Six primary national laws and a series of Government decrees provide for: protection of cultural heritage and archaeological resources; biodiversity conservation; environmental protection; eco-tourism and other commercial activities; and administration and management. The property is managed by the Trang An Landscape Complex Management Board an independent agency with extensive decision-making powers, responsibilities and resources, and with close functional links to Government ministries, research institutes, and commercial and community stakeholders. Management is guided by a comprehensive Government-approved and legally binding management plan, prepared with wide public consultation and support. The plan, which is modeled on the highest international standards, addresses all important factors affecting the property, and is effectively implemented by professional, well-resourced staff. Future management priorities include: completion of an archaeological research and site conservation plan, implementation of a tourism management sub-plan and ongoing education, training and awareness-raising.
- Commends the State Party for:
- ensuring application of the highest legal protection available in the country, including designation of three protected areas of national status within the property,
- commencing revision of the Management Plan and Zoning Plan, that recognise the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and ensure that the protection is aligned and integrated into provincial planning,
- preparing, as part of the Management Plan, an effective, well enforced, and adequately resourced tourism management section specifying regulations that ensure full protection of the natural features of the site, and that establish daily, seasonal and annual limits to visitor numbers based on ecologically sustainable use criteria as well as a social carrying capacity based on quiet enjoyment of the site,
- publishing a substantial body of work that demonstrates the way that Trang An has to be seen as an exemplar site related to the way communities adapt to changing climatic conditions,
- nominating the site within a boundary that clearly considers the archaeological record,
- providing national protection for the archaeological sites and their essential setting,
- ensuring adequate conservation of excavated and unexcavated archaeological sites, and
- putting in place strong management arrangements to ensure the protection and appropriate presentation of the archaeological sites and appropriate visitor management arrangements;
- Requests the State Party to submit a revised management plan and zoning plan to the World Heritage Centre, which includes a tourism management plan;
- Requests the State Party to:
- Provide continued support for ongoing archaeological research and publication,
- Update the archaeological management plan as new information becomes available,
- Ensure effective implementation of the tourism section of the management plan including its measures for preventing overcrowding and environmental impacts,
- Revise the property management plan to incorporate the archaeological and tourism sections and updates it as necessary,
- Modify the boundary of the property to better reflect the areas and attributes of Outstanding Universal Value and ensure an appropriate surrounding buffer zone;
- Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2015, a copy of the gazetted property management plan including its section on tourism, and a report on progress made in the undertaking of the recommended work, including a one-page executive summary, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 40th session in 2016.