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Government promotes Unesco bid for Monte San Giorgio

The fossils of Monte San Giorgio throw a unique light on the Middle Triassic period Keystone Archive

The Swiss government is backing plans to have the fossil-rich region of Monte San Giorgio in canton Ticino declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Switzerland is putting forward an official application to Unesco headquarters in Paris.

Monte San Giorgio is renowned for its remarkably well-preserved fish and reptile fossils from the Middle Triassic period of prehistory – about 240 million years ago.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to protect the site because it really is unique in the whole world,” Heinz Furrer, curator of Zurich’s Palaeontological Institute told swissinfo. “The scientific importance, the landscape and the history of the area is so interesting.”

Unesco is expected to consider the proposal next year and make a decision in 2003.

If successful, Monte San Giorgio will join four other Swiss sites – the Benedictine convent of St John in Mustair, the St Gallen convent, the old city of Bern and the three castles of Bellinzona.

Outstanding universal value

Unesco is currently considering the candidacy of another Swiss applicant and Europe’s longest glacier, the Aletsch. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

Some 690 sites worldwide are on the Unesco list. To be included, natural and cultural sites must be of outstanding universal value.

In practice, a cultural site may be added if it is deemed to be a masterpiece of creative genius, to have exerted great architectural influence, is associated with beliefs of universal significance or is an outstanding example of a particular way of life.

Natural sites must exemplify major stages in the earth’s history, contain natural habitats of endangered creatures, or simply be a scene of exceptional beauty.

The most impressive fossils ever found at Monte San Giorgio are of a two and a half metre long reptile called the Ceresiosaurus, housed in the Palaeontological Museum at the University of Zurich, and a paddle-like limb of an ichthyosaur, discovered in 1919.

The fossils first came to light in the latter half of the 19th century when mines were dug on the Italian side of Monte San Giorgio to extract oil from bituminous shale to light the street lamps of Milan.

by Vincent Landon

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR