Mijas Pueblo is full of traditional whitewashed houses.
The Mayor of Mijas, Ángel Nozal, has this week set in motion the process for Mijas Pueblo to potentially be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in order to protect the whitewashed village’s “future image and its traditional Andalusian architecture.”
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites are places that are listed by the international organisation as being “of special cultural or physical significance.”
Nozal has instructed various different council departments to initiate the request with UNESCO. Simultaneously, the regional government, the Junta de Andalucía, has been asked to propose to the Ministry of Culture in Madrid to include Mijas Pueblo on its list that it sends to UNESCO annually for consideration.
The process to be awarded the World Heritage Site distinction is notoriously lengthy, unless the site in question is an under-threat landmark or destination – which, of course, Mijas is not. Therefore, it is likely that UNESCO’s committee will take a minimum of two years, and probably longer still, to decide whether this popular mountainside village deserves the badge of honour and protection.
Of the bid, a Town Hall spokesperson says that Mijas Pueblo “has been able to maintain the typical architecture of the Andalusian culture, and possesses a number of ethnographic clues on how man interacted with the surroundings of the Costa del Sol, which has suffered from the irreversible impact of excessive urban growth over recent decades.”
Highlighted too were Mijas’ “picturesque streets and squares, the simple whitewashed buildings, with balconies bursting with flowers” and its location that affords views to the “pine-covered mountains and wonderful views down to the sea and the large tourist centres of Torreblanca and Fuengirola.”
These statements would seem to appeal specifically to one of the main criteria set out by UNESCO in order to be considered as a World Heritage Site. One of the “universally exceptional” values established in the 1972 Paris Convention stipulates that a nomination site could be an “outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.”
Mijas would, say proponents of this measure, also fulfil the criteria that states a bid could represent “an outstanding example of a type of architecture or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history”, and also demands that it should be “tangibly associated with events or living traditions.”
Mijas Pueblo was recognised as an ‘Area of Historical and Artistic Importance’ in 1969 and this is something the Councillor of Tourism believes stands the village in good stead with UNESCO.
Santiago Martín comments: “If we embellish the characteristics that led Mijas to be declared an Area of Historical and Artistic Importance’, then we stand a better chance of being declared a World Heritage Site.”
The starting of the process to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site follows a multifaceted gentrification programme in the village. This has included the installation of traditional, brightly coloured wall-mounted flower pots in the streets, the removal of overhead cabling, plus the removal of unsightly external air-conditioning units and television aerials.
Mijas residents have welcomed the bid process started this week, with one, Dutch-born Harry Leeuwen, commenting: “Anything that can add another layer of protection to this beautiful village and its surroundings is a good thing for those who live here and those who come and enjoy it on holiday. It is a treasure and should be valued so. The UNESCO award will help all this be passed on to future generations.”
Besides the man-made and natural landmarks such as the Pyramids of Egypt and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, currently there are 254 cities, towns and villages which are World Heritage Sites. 17 of these are in Spain, and three - Granada, Cordoba, and Úbeda y Baeza- in Andalucía.