The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘heritage‘ as ‘property that is or may be inherited; an inheritance, ‘valued things such as historic buildings that have been passed down from previous generations, and ‘relating to things of historical or cultural value that are worthy of preservation. Apart from these tangible physical objects, heritage also consists of practices that are conserved and handed down through generations. Language and dialect, for example, are fundamental aspects when it comes to an understanding who we are. Such invisible or ‘intangible‘ practices of heritage are as important in shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world as intangible, physical objects. The United States of America has a complex legacy of plunder and ruin as well as development and advancement. This is reflected in the vast array of monuments from different periods scattered across the length and breadth of the massive landmass. The most important ones to get a cursory look at are discussed here.
Poverty Point is a prehistoric earthwork in present-day Louisana that has been described as ‘the largest and most complex Late Archaic earthwork occupation and ceremonial site found in North America.’
It consists of an integrated complex of earthen monuments constructed by indigenous people more than 3000 years ago. It consists of large mounds, ridges and a plaza with the ridges having an outer diameter of 1.14 km. Archaeologists’ explanations of the site’s function range from a trading centre to a ceremonial regional complex.
Mesa Verde is a national park in Colorado established in 1906 to preserve prehistoric cliff dwellings belonging to Pueblo Indian people built more than 1300 years ago. It has a remarkable concentration of ancient cliff dwellings built of sandstone and mortar, including the storied Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Square Tower House. Apart from this, there are also non-habitation sites like dams, field houses etc., spread over a total area of 210 sq km, making it an invaluable resource for studying and documenting the practices of the Pueblo Indians. Mesa Verde represents a significant and living link between the Puebloan Peoples’ past and their present way of life.
It is hard to overstate the importance of this brick structure with a wooden steeple in Philadelphia, where The Declaration of Independence was adopted, and the Constitution of America was framed, two events of seismic importance for America as well as the rest of the world. The founding principles of democracy and freedom established in these documents captured the imagination of politicians, philosophers and other members of the intelligentsia for years to come, some of whom even ascribe the emergence of the modern era of government to them. Designed by Andrew Hamilton and Edward Woolley, the building has since undergone many restorations before coming under the management of the National Park Service in the 50s.
La Fortaleza, along with the later fortifications of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal and San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo), and a large portion of the original San Juan City Wall, were built between the 16th and 20th centuries to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. They are examples of evolving methods of construction used in military instalments and buildings during this period as well as how European methodology and design philosophy was adapted according to the climatic and topographical conditions of Caribbean port cities.
As one of the first as well as one of the last of the numerous seats of power in Spain’s American empire, these structures are now potent symbols of the cultural ties that link the Hispanic world.
Monticello was the plantation home of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America and one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence. This home, along with his Academical Village situated about 8 km away, are notable for their unique planning and proportions and decor. The Academical Village, with its unique U-shaped plan, forms the central part of the University of Virginia. The house, with features such as the porticos supported by doric columns and the village, with its Rotunda modelled after the Pantheon and pavilions, each offering a glimpse of the different classical orders together invoke the ideals of ancient Rome and showcase Jefferson’s vision for the young republic he had played such a vital role in creating. Both works have drawn international attention from the time of their construction.
20th century architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright’s work influenced architecture, not only in America but throughout the world and even shaped the design philosophy and work of recognized pioneers of the Modern movement in Europe. The guiding principles of modern architecture, such as the open plan, implicit merger of the interior and exterior, unique applications of existing materials and manipulating the built environment in response to the external environment and setting, were encapsulated by Wright and groundbreaking in the development of modern architectural design.
The UNESCO property encompasses eight buildings located in different environments contributing different design characteristics and chalking out unique solutions to the needs of housing, worship, work, education and leisure. Taken together, they are physical manifestations of the basic principles of ‘organic architecture’ and are specifically recognized for their individual influence as well.
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty, holding the declaration of independence in her left hand and a torch in the other, stands at the entrance of New York City and has welcomed millions of immigrants who have come to America in search of a better life and pursue the American Dream. A hollow colossus composed of pounded copper sheets draped over a steel framework, it was gifted by France to the United States of America on the centenary of American Independence in 1876.
Designed by Frédéric Bartholdi in collaboration with Gustave Eiffel, standing upon a concrete pavilion designed by Richard Morris Hunt, it is a masterpiece of colossal statuary and a testament to the architectural, engineering and artistic prowess of the French and a symbol of the friendship between the United States and France.
The largest suspension bridge in the world at the time of construction, emblematic of the New York’s and, more broadly, America’s growth and development, the Brooklyn bridge is a marvel of modern engineering. It featured the first-of-its-kind use of steel cables using the French pneumatic caisson method and an ingenious method for hardening the deck. The stone towers complementing the steel catenaries and cable stays give way to one of the most iconic and famous landmarks of the city.
America has a complex legacy that, like any great nation that rose to become the pre-eminent superpower, has both light and dark patches. Recent events that have captured the national imagination have cast a new light on the importance of owning up to and accepting both lest risk a repeat of the dark periods of its history. Obfuscation and suppression of the unsavoury and incendiary parts of a nation’s legacy only lead to them coming to the surface in unpleasant and often violent ways. In order for a nation to move forward, it is necessary that it conduct a comprehensive and unbiased study of its past, the glories, as well as the injustices, for there are few forces more potent than the sense of lost glory and there is no shortage of actors willing to leverage this force in order to capture the power and set a nation back decades.
- Centre, U., 2022. Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1435/> [Accessed 23 August 2022].
- Centre, U., 2022. Mesa Verde National Park. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/27/> [Accessed 23 August 2022].
- Centre, U., 2022. Independence Hall. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/78/> [Accessed 23 August 2022].
- Centre, U., 2022. La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/266/> [Accessed 23 August 2022].
- Centre, U., 2022. Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/442/> [Accessed 23 August 2022].
- Centre, U., 2022. The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1496/> [Accessed 23 August 2022].
- Centre, U., 2022. Statue of Liberty. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/307/> [Accessed 23 August 2022].
- Centre, U., 2022. Brooklyn Bridge – UNESCO World Heritage Centre. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/6232/#:~:text=Description,boroughs%20of%20Manhattan%20and%20Brooklyn.> [Accessed 23 August 2022].