The Forth Bridge, that majestic, russet-hued testament to Victorian engineering, has been confirmed by Unesco as Scotland’s sixth world heritage site.
The rail bridge, which is 2,529 metres (8,296ft) long and 100 metres high, was the largest cantilever span in the world when it opened in 1890. It joins international landmarks including the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis and the Taj Mahal on the list.
Welcoming the decision, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Forth Bridge’s inscription as a World Heritage Site is an honour, and true recognition of the Bridge’s unique place in Scotland’s history.”
Congratulating everyone involved in the bid, she added: “The Forth Bridge is an outstanding example of Scotland’s built heritage and its endurance is testament not only to the ingenuity of those who designed and built it but also to the generations of painters, engineers and maintenance crews who have looked after it through the years.”
The recommendation was approved at a meeting of the UN’s heritage committee in Bonn, Germany, on Sunday. The bridge, which crosses the Firth of Forth between the villages of South and North Queensferry, celebrated its 125th birthday in March. It follows the Scottish sites of St Kilda, New Lanark, neolithic Orkney, the Antonine Wall, and the old and new towns of Edinburgh on to the list.
Famously, the bridge requires constant repainting. When construction began in 1882, it used a new form of metal called mild steel, which is liable to corrode in the open air. The paint company which won the original tender, Craig and Rose, continued to provide the service until 2002, when a special three-layered coating was created that is expected to last for more than 20 years.
The bridge is a beloved national institution, featuring in novels and films. At the beginning of June, the former prime minister Gordon Brown revealed that he had written personally to the director-general of Unesco, Irina Bokova, “urging the organisation to make official what the Forth Bridge has always been to me: one of the great wonders of the world”.
But Unesco has recently been criticised for failing to protect existing heritage sites, and for accelerating destructive tourist tread to the very places it seeks to preserve.
The playwright David Greig, who lives in North Queensferry, described the “extraordinary privilege” of living in the shadow of the Forth Bridge. However, he also suggested that world heritage status would be met with some ambivalence by local people.
“Unesco status has an important tourist value in the way that people all over the world will hear about it,” he says, “but the actual practical effect is to prevent development.” Local people have raised concerns that a planned visitors’ centre will lead to heavy congestion on the one road through the village.
Still, the power of the structure is unarguable, Greig added. “I look at it every single morning from my kitchen window, and it feels like an extraordinary privilege to have it so close by. I’ve seen it in deep haar [sea fog], on moonlit nights and on bright sunny days. It’s one of those structures, like the best sculptures, that seems to respond to the weather, the light and sets off boats around it. It’s an amazing thing.”
This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland reporter, for theguardian.com on Sunday 5th July 2015 13.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010