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Levuka Historical Port Town

Levuka Historical Port Town

The town and its low line of buildings set among coconut and mango trees along the beach front was the first colonial capital of Fiji, ceded to the British in 1874. It developed from the early 19th century as a centre of commercial activity by Americans and Europeans who built warehouses, stores, port facilities, residences, and religious, educational and social institutions around the villages of the South Pacific island’s indigenous population. It is a rare example of a late colonial port town that was influenced in its development by the indigenous community which continued to outnumber the European settlers. Thus the town, an outstanding example of late 19th century Pacific port settlements, reflects the integration of local building traditions by a supreme naval power, leading to the emergence of a unique landscape.

Ville portuaire historique de Levuka

La ville, avec sa ligne basse de bâtiments au milieu des cocotiers et des manguiers du bord de mer, a été la première capitale coloniale des Fidji, cédée aux Britanniques en 1874. Elle a prospéré à partir du début du XIXe siècle en tant que centre des activités commerciales de colons européens et américains qui ont construit entrepôts, édifices commerciaux, installations portuaires, résidences et institutions religieuses, éducatives et sociales autour des villages de la  population autochtone. C’est un exemple rare d’une ville portuaire tardive, dont le développement a été influencé par la communauté autochtone qui a toujours été plus importante en nombre que les colons européens. La ville, exemple remarquable d’installation portuaire coloniale dans le Pacifique, reflète l’intégration des traditions locales de construction par une superpuissance navale, ce qui a débouché sur un paysage unique.

Ciudad histórica portuaria de Levuka

source: UNESCO/ERI

Historische havenstad Levuka

Levuka met zijn laagbouw en gelegen tussen kokosnoot- en mangobomen, was de eerste koloniale hoofdstad van Fiji, afgestaan aan de Britten in 1874. Vanaf het begin van de 19e eeuw ontwikkelde de stad zich tot een commercieel centrum waar Amerikanen en Europeanen pakhuizen, winkels, havenfaciliteiten, residenties, religieuze, educatieve en maatschappelijke instellingen bouwden rond de dorpen van de inheemse bevolking van het Zuid-Pacifische eiland. Levuka is een zeldzaam voorbeeld van een laat-koloniale havenstad die in zijn ontwikkeling werd beïnvloed door de inheemse gemeenschap. De oorspronkelijke bevolking bleef de Europese kolonisten in aantal overtreffen waardoor de stad de integratie laat zien van lokale bouwtradities.

Source: unesco.nl

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Levuka Historical Port Town © Department of National Heritage
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Levuka Historical Port Town is set amongst coconut and mango trees along the beach front of Ovalau Island against the forested slopes of the island’s extinct volcano. From the 1820s onwards the port was developed as a centre of commercial activity by American and European colonisers and the town became the first colonial capital of Fiji, peacefully ceded to the British by Tui (King) Cakobau in 1874. A stone and concrete sea wall runs the length of Beach Street, from which other streets and lanes branch inland in a radial pattern following the contours of the land. Inland are the sites of two former indigenous villages Totoga (Vitoga) and Nasau located on one of the three creeks draining the slopes above the coastal plain. Copra sheds, warehouses, bond stores, port facilities and commercial buildings developed along Beach Street, and residences, religious, educational and social institutions grew up around the villages of the indigenous population. These are generally single or two storied corrugated iron or weatherboard clad timber buildings with hipped or gable roofs. Development continued beyond removal of the capital to Suva in 1882 as companies continued to establish bases at Levuka, reflecting all stages of colonial development in the South Pacific. Key elements include the former Totoga and Nasau village sites, the former Cakobau Parliament House site (now the European Memorial), Morris Hedstrom bond store, the Baba indentured labour settlement, the Hennings residence, Captain Robbie’s bungalow, Sacred Heart Cathedral and Presbytery dating from the 1860s, the Royal Hotel founded in the late 1860s, Deed of Cession site, former Government (Nasova) House site, Port Authority, Post and Customs buildings together with their remnant tram tracks to the wharf, former Methodist Church and mission, Levuka Public School, Town Hall, Masonic Lodge, Ovalau Club, Bowling Club, workers cottages and the shell button factory site.

Criterion (ii): Levuka Historical Port Town exhibits the important interchange of human values and cultural contact that took place as part of the process of European maritime expansion over the 19th century in the geo-cultural region of the Pacific Islands. It is a rare example of a late colonial port town, which illustrates the cultural hybridity of non-settler communities in the Pacific, with an urban plan that merges local settlement traditions with colonial standards. As such, the town exhibits the processes of the late, industrialized stage of colonization, which was based on maritime extraction and export processes.

Criterion (iv): The urban typology of Levuka Historical Port Town reflects the global characteristics and institutions of European colonization in the 19th century. As a specific type of Pacific port settlement, which reflects the late 19th century stages of maritime colonization, Levuka provides insights to the adaptation of European naval powers to a specific oceanic social, cultural and topographic environment. The combination of colonial settlement typologies with the local building tradition has created a special type of Pacific port town landscape.

Integrity

All of the elements necessary to express the full range of relevant themes and values in terms of Levuka’s Outstanding Universal Value are included in the property. The buildings are remarkably intact, largely due to the attention paid to the town’s historic values since these were first recognised in 1973. Some commercial buildings are vulnerable to underuse, lack of maintenance and lack of fire protection. The setting of the property depends on strict protection of the cliff terrain behind the town, which is vulnerable to storm damage and tourism development.

Authenticity

The ensemble of heritage elements of Levuka Historical Port Town in its setting possesses an inherently high authenticity as a primary source of information in terms of materials, form, layout and function. This is supported by documentary and photographic data in Fijian and overseas archives. The main street and the lanes, bridges, footpaths, and steps follow the topography, and have remained substantially unchanged since they were first laid out. Established building uses generally persist.

Management and protection requirements

Levuka Historical Port Town will be protected under the Fiji World Heritage Decree 2013, approved by Cabinet in April 2013 and subsequently implemented. The Decree will be administered by the Fiji World Heritage Council in conjunction with the Town Council and the Director of Town and Country Planning. The National Trust of Fiji has no regulatory power but is compiling the National Heritage Register, which includes Levuka Historical Port Town and is required to be consulted by the Town Councils, the Department of Town and Country Planning, and the Department of Environment in the administration of their regulatory responsibilities. The Levuka Town Planning Scheme under the Fijian Town Planning Act is the primary mechanism for regulating the development of new buildings and the alteration of existing buildings within the Levuka town boundary and requires that any exterior changes, demolition, or new construction shall be considered by a review body comprising the Levuka Town Council, the Levuka Historical and Cultural Society, the Director of Town and Country Planning, and the National Trust of Fiji, and approval of a development proposal may be subject to conditions based on recommendations from the National Trust of Fiji or the Fiji Museum, such as requiring an archaeological management plan or a prior archaeological investigation. Tourism developments constitute a major risk for potential negative impact on the property and have to be strictly regulated, and where approved carefully designed and evaluated by Heritage Impact Assessments following the ICOMOS Guidance for world cultural heritage properties (2011). The Environment Act regulates activities which would be likely to alter the land or water in Levuka Historical Port Town or in the surrounding marine or terrestrial areas, including those which may harm cultural or historic resources. The Preservation of Objects of Archaeological and Palaeontological Interest Act empowers the Fiji Museum to declare any area of land in which any objects of archaeological interest are believed to exist as a monument. Revision of the Act is now being considered to also encompass Maritime Heritage and provide the necessary protection mechanism.

Under the Fiji World Heritage Decree, a World Heritage Council comprising 13 members representing relevant government, statutory, and non-governmental organisations, and chaired by the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Education, National Heritage, and Culture & Arts oversees a Core Group of the Levuka and Ovalau Management Forum which comprises representatives of the National Trust of Fiji; Department of National Heritage, Culture and the Arts; Fiji Museum; Levuka Town Council; Lomaiviti Provincial Council; Levuka Heritage Society; Levuka and Ovalau Tourism Association and other groups as required. The role of the Core Group is to implement the Management Plan, and report to the Fiji World Heritage Council. A Management Plan was prepared for the historic town of Levuka and the island of Ovalau between November 2009 and July 2010, amended in February 2013 with the involvement of stakeholders and has been approved by the Minister for Education, National Heritage, Culture and Arts.