Bethlehem’s historic Moravia joins historic list


The US Department of the Interior has added Historic Moravian Bethlehem to the World Heritage List of Historic Moravian Religious Establishments in Europe and North America. The historic district could be added to the World Heritage List as early as 2024.

The Taj Mahal, Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza are among 1,121 World Heritage sites in 167 countries.

There are currently two World Heritage sites in Pennsylvania: Independence Hall, the building where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed, and Fallingwater, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

World Heritage sites are designated by UNESCO based on their cultural or historical significance.

At a Bethlehem City Council meeting on September 21, Charlene Donchez Mowers, Chair of Bethlehem Museums and Sites and of the Bethlehem World Heritage Committee, spoke about the process of recognizing Bethlehem on the World Heritage List.

“Bethlehem’s historic Moravia is our national historic district,” Mowers said. “It is made up of 14.7 acres of historic Moravian properties. It has 10 buildings, five ruins and a cemetery.

Historic Moravian Bethlehem is added to the World Heritage List of Historic Moravian Religious Establishments in Europe and North America by the US Department of the Interior. The district is expected to be a World Heritage Site within the next two years. (Han Jiang / black and white staff)

At present, while the space is passable, a place on the World Heritage List would increase national and international interest in the site, Mowers said.

She said if Bethlehem’s museums and sites welcome around 50,000 visitors each year, a place on the World Heritage List would bring that number to over 200,000 visitors. This increase in the number of visitors would stimulate the Bethlehem community and generate international business interest in Bethlehem.

Curtis H. “Hank” Barnette, President Emeritus of Bethlehem Steel and Philanthropist, spoke to the Board about the logistical process of recognizing Bethlehem as a World Heritage Site.

“The aim of World Heritage is to help recognize and preserve for present and future generations those cultural or natural sites around the world which provide – and these are the three key words – outstanding universal value”, said declared Barnette.

Historic Moravian Bethlehem is added to the World Heritage List of Historic Moravian Religious Establishments in Europe and North America by the US Department of the Interior. The district is expected to be a World Heritage Site within the next two years. (Han Jiang / black and white staff)

Barnette said that each country that will ratify the World Heritage Treaty can nominate sites to be designated as World Heritage sites, which helps them move forward in their respective recognition processes.

This nomination is reviewed by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, an international group that visits the sites of each nomination.

Barnette said this council would ideally come to Bethlehem, where he could recommend its findings to the World Heritage Committee, made up of representatives from 21 countries.

Bethlehem City Councilor Michael Colón spoke with Brown and white about this project which he says started in 2002.

“It takes time to gather information,” Colón said. “We work with other cities around the world, and because of how everything lines up for review, it will take this time to properly put the case together and get it before the agency decides to award or no. “

The Germanic-style bell tower was built in 1745. It is an old Moravian seminary whose bell is still in use. (Han Jiang / black and white staff)

Colón said the process is competitive and there is no guarantee of obtaining heritage status.

After receiving the award, each site is closely monitored to ensure its integrity.

The process of recognition as a World Heritage site and the maintenance of this status is rigorous, which, according to Colón, is necessary for sites of such historical importance.

He said the Moravian buildings in Bethlehem had never been reused. They stand as they were in the 1700s, without any drastic change in their function.

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