Protection Sought for Vast and Ancient Incan Road

The Qhapaq _an, or _great road,_ has long connected the peoples of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile as it winds for thousands of miles down the Pacific Coast of South America, through snow-capped Andean peaks, tropical rain forests and desert.

Linking Cuzco, the Incan capital in present-day Peru, to the furthest outposts of the Incan empire, it carried traders, soldiers and runners, and later the horses of the conquistadors. Now, in a 12-year cooperative effort that is its own delicate feat of engineering, the six long-squabbling countries that are home to the Incan road have banded together to ask the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to designate the network a World Heritage site this week. The road is one of 12 natural and cultural attractions recommended for recognition by the Unesco World Heritage Committee, which is meeting in Doha, Qatar. The application is by far the most elaborate on the list, and drew from reports by hundreds of experts who studied particular snippets of the road network or associated monuments in the various countries.

_It_s the most expansive piece of infrastructure relating to transportation in the New World,_ said Gary Urton, professor of pre-Columbian studies and chairman of the anthropology department at Harvard University.

A designation marks a site as a place of central significance, one worthy of special measures to protect it. Countries submitting sites pledge they will follow strict conservation protocols in hopes of gaining prestige, a tourism bump and sometimes financial support.

Jeffrey Quilter, director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard and an expert on Peru who just returned from a university excursion there, said placement on the heritage list clearly helps promote sites as important travel destinations. _Machu Picchu and the Gal__pagos are on everybody_s bucket list,_ he said.

The biggest threats to the road network today are encroachment from farms, particularly tractor plowing, as well as communication towers and transmission lines, urban development and mining, according to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a professional group that evaluates submissions to the heritage committee.

_Parts of it have been adapted to modern means of transport and have been asphalted or even converted to motorway,_ the evaluation said. _Larger sections remain in their original materials of the Incan era and are used by pedestrians and with riding animals, in particular horses, donkeys and mules._

Although the selection of the road as a site is expected, the decision is not final until the 21-member committee votes, and political jockeying is not unknown. The panel recently removed from the list an emergency nomination from Palestinian officials: the cultural landscape of Battir in Southern Jerusalem. The committee said that upon reconsideration it did not consider the site _unquestionably of outstanding universal value_ and did not agree that it faced an emergency requiring immediate safeguarding.

Sites remaining on the list for designation include sections of the Silk Roads in China; Judean caves in Israel; a French cave with prehistoric art in the Ard__che; and the Rani-ki-Vav, or Queen_s Stepwell, from the 11th and 12th centuries in Gujarat, India. Of the sites up for consideration, the road is the only one for which so many countries have made a concerted effort to protect a shared legacy. The six countries have a history of border wars in the 19th century, and violent conflict between Peru and Ecuador continued well into the 20th century.

Since the 1972 World Heritage Convention, 981 sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List. Past projects called success stories by the committee include the Giza pyramids of Egypt, Delphi in Greece, Angkor in Cambodia, and Dubrovnik in Croatia. Earlier Unesco efforts helped salvage the temples of Abu Simbel, Egypt, and flood-threatened Venice.

The New York Times | By RALPH BLUMENTHAL

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