The slate landscape of north Wales has become the UK’s latest Unesco site.
The area, which is throughout Gwynedd, now joins places like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon National Park as being internationally recognised.
It is the UK’s 32nd Unesco World Heritage Site and Wales’ fourth along with Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, the 13th Century castles and town walls built in Gwynedd by King Edward I and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Work has been ongoing on the bid for 15 years.
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The northwest of Wales became the world leader for the production and export of slate in the 1800s. Slate has been quarried in the area for over 1,800 years and had been used to build parts of the Roman fort in Segontium in Caernarfon and Edward I’s castle in Conwy.
The industrial revolution saw demand surge and slate from the mines at Gwynedd being widely used to roof workers’ homes, public buildings, places of worship and factories.
Shells of workers cottages, iron tram lines, mills and engine houses litter the hillsides and are all that are left of the centuries-old production lines in Gwynedd
(Image: Ian Lilley/WALES NEWS SERVICE)
By the 1890s the Welsh slate industry employed approximately 17,000 workers and produced almost 500,000 tonnes of slate a year, around a third of all roofing slate used in the world in the late 19th century.
Welsh slate was used on buildings across the globe including Westminster Hall in London’s Houses of Parliament, the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Australia and Copenhagen City Hall, Denmark. In 1830, half the buildings in New York had roofs made of Welsh slate.
Centuries of mining in the area transformed the landscape on a monumental scale.
Christopher Catling, secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, whose staff helped to compile the nomination document, said: “Human muscle and ingenuity have left us with a remarkable landscape combining natural and man-made features that are fully worthy of being included in the top tier of all heritage sites in the world.
“Here you can see the evidence for the entire slate production process, from hillside quarry and cavernous underground mines to the engine houses, wheelhouses and mills powered by ingenious water systems needed to work the slate; the inclines and aerial ropeways used to carry raw and worked slate from remote hills to tramways, and the narrow-gauge railways capable of negotiating mountainous terrain carrying slate to the harbours at Port Penrhyn and Porthmadog for shipment to all parts of the world.”
The announcement was made today by UK Government which has responsibility for meeting the requirements of the World Heritage Convention within the UK.
UK Government Heritage Minister Caroline Dinenage said: “UNESCO World Heritage Status is a huge achievement and testament to the importance this region played in the industrial revolution and Wales’ slate mining heritage. I welcome the prospect of increased investment, jobs and a better understanding of this stunning part of the UK.”
Signs of history are all around
(Image: Ian Lilley/WALES NEWS SERVICE)
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Today’s announcement recognises the significant contribution this part of North Wales has made to the cultural and industrial heritage not only of Wales, but of the wider world. Welsh slate can be found all over the world.
“The quarrying and mining of slate has left a unique legacy in Gwynedd, which the communities are rightly proud of. This worldwide recognition today by Unesco, will help preserve that legacy and history in those communities for generations to come and help them with future regeneration.
“I’d like to thank and congratulate everyone who has worked so hard on this bid – it’s been a real team effort and today’s announcement is a credit to all those involved.”