Seville is famed for its imposing cathedral and whitewashed streets, but the Spanish city could lose its UN World Heritage status because of a new 41-story skyscraper.
The 178m high, oval-shaped building, still under construction, will house the offices of savings bank Cajasol when completed next year.
It was designed by Argentine-US architect Cesar Pelli, who is responsible for some of the world’s tallest buildings, including the Petronas Towers which dominate the skyline of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Pelli’s office boasts the new skyscraper “will define the skyline of Seville.”
However, that is a prospect that dismays UNESCO, which since July has called in vain for work on the project to be stopped.
It is planning a visit to the city together with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to “determine if the skyscraper has a visual impact on the historic center of Seville, UNESCO spokeswoman Lucia Kuntz said.
ICOMOS, which works to protect cultural heritage sites around the world, advises the UN body on World Heritage sites, which include cultural landmarks such as the Great Wall of China and the leaning Tower of Pisa.
The building already rises up eight stories into the sky, just several hundred meters — and on the other side of the Guadalquivir River — from the historic center of Seville.
The city was awarded the title of World Heritage site in 1987 for its gothic cathedral which houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus held aloft by four statues of soldiers, and its old Jewish quarter, the barrio de Santa Cruz.
Among the city’s other landmarks is the Real Alcazar, a complex of palaces that has been used by Spanish royals for over six centuries and the Giralda, a bell tower of the cathedral that used to be the minaret of a Moorish mosque.
The report drawn up by UNESCO and ICOMOS inspectors on the impact of the skyscraper on the skyline will be analyzed at the next session of the World Heritage Committee in the summer of next year.
UNESCO has dropped two other sites as a World Heritage site in the past — Germany’s picturesque Dresden Elbe Valley in 2009 and Oman’s Arabian Oryx sanctuary two years earlier.
Dresden was dropped from the list for building a four-lane motorway bridge over the river that damaged the landscape while the sanctuary in Oman was de-listed because poaching and habitat degradation had led to a decline in the numbers of rare species there.
A protest group called “Tumbala,” which means “Knock it down” in Spanish, has staged regular protests in Seville to demand that the mayor Juan Ignacio Zoido, stop the project.
“This would avoid the damage that Seville would suffer by being dropped from the UNESCO World Heritage list and he could go down in history as the mayor who governed the city where this happened,” it said in a statement last week.
Zoido, a member of the conservative Popular Party who was elected for a first term in May, was still not in office when UNESCO demanded that work on the skyscraper be stopped.
“That has delayed the decision,” said a spokeswoman for the municipality, adding the city would do all it could to remain on the world heritage list.