Historic North Korean city joins UNESCO list

A dozen Renaissance villas built by Italy`s powerful Medici family and monuments from North Korea`s medieval city of Kaesong were granted World Heritage status by UNESCO on Sunday.

Constructed outside Florence, the villas and their gardens were commissioned by the Medicis, a Tuscan banking dynasty instrumental in the politics and culture of Renaissance-era Italy.

"The economic, financial and political fortunes of the Medicis were behind extensive patronage that had a decisive effect on the cultural and artistic history of modern Europe," UNESCO said in documents prepared ahead of their annual meeting being held in Phnom Penh.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization committee session also listed twelve monuments -- including tombs, fortress walls and a 700-year-old school -- at Kaesong as World Heritage sites.

The monuments "embody" the Koryo dynasty which unified the Korean peninsula for the first time, and its "political, cultural, philosophical and spiritual values" of the kingdom, UNESCO said.

The Kaesong monuments -- including sections of defensive walls -- have survived repeated assaults on the city, which served as the seat of the Koryo kings who ruled from 918-1392.

They are located several kilometres from an industrial park jointly run by the divided North and South which has been closed since April after tensions between the bitter enemies reached boiling point.

Hailing Kaesong`s "outstanding universal value" UNESCO said the monuments "are exceptional testimony to the unified Koryo civilization as Buddhism gave way to neo-Confucianism in East Asia".

As the decision was announced, several black-suited North Korean delegates stood and applauded, with one unfurling a national flag.

Thanking UNESCO for the listing, one of the North Koreans hailed the "joyful occasion" in a brief statement to the auditorium.

Kaesong was established in 919 as the capital of the Koryo dynasty, which gave its name to the modern state of Korea.

The dynasty is credited with creating a unified national identity for the first time.

When the Korean peninsula was partitioned along the 38th parallel after World War II, Kaesong was in South Korea.

During the 1950-53 Korean War, it came under North Korean control and remained so until the end of the conflict, thus becoming the only city to change from South to North control as a result of the war.

UNESCO has this week granted World Heritage status to more than a dozen of natural wonders and cultural gems, including two volcanoes -- Japan`s Mount Fuji, known for its perfect cone-shape, and Italy`s Mount Etna -- as well as the Hill Forts of Rajasthan and the Namib Sand Sea.

On Sunday it also afforded heritage status to the ruins of an ancient city constructed by Dorian Greeks in the Ukraine and the Hercules monument and water features in Germany.