(Bangkok) The city of Si Thep, testimony to the coexistence of Buddhist and Hindu cultures in Thailand, has been included on the UNESCO world heritage list, the organization announced on Tuesday.
This is the fourth cultural site registered by the kingdom, the first since 1992.
The site “is a treasure […] for people across all generations,” responded Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, in a video statement broadcast to representatives of member states gathered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Thailand is torn between safeguarding heritage and developing tourism, a crucial sector which accounts for around 20% of its GDP.
The UNESCO list does not include some of the country’s iconic monuments, such as the Wat Arun temple in Bangkok or the old town of Chiang Mai, popular with millions of visitors each year.
Si Thep flourished as a cultural and commercial capital during the Dvaravati period, from the 6th to the 10th century, before declining in favor of the kingdom of Siam, the ancestor of present-day Thailand.
The city has developed a distinct artistic style, testimony to the coexistence of Buddhism and Hinduism, which has influenced other civilizations in Southeast Asia.
Decades of looting have emptied the archaeological park of some of its treasures. Thai authorities have identified at least eleven artifacts that belonged to Si Thep in American museums.
“It was one of the most looted sites in Thailand in the 1970s and 1980s,” Phacha Phanomvan, historian and archaeologist, told AFP.
“The work begins now,” she said, regarding the state of the infrastructure which, according to her, cannot accommodate more tourists.
Si Thep, located away from the country’s tourist circuits, welcomes on average 700 to 1,000 visitors per day, mainly Thai, the site director told AFP before the vote.
Thailand has welcomed more than 19 million foreign tourists since the start of the year.