The Colonies as World Heritage?!

Why might the Colonies of Benevolence be unique in the world? On what grounds are the Colonies being proposed as World Heritage? And what does the trajectory of such a nomination look like? On this page you can read more about it.

Cultural landscape

The Colonies of Benevolence are being nominated as a cultural landscape that is transnational and serial:

  • Cultural landscape: the landscape of the Colonies was created by humans;
  • Transnational: the seven colonies are located in the Netherlands and Belgium;
  • Serial: each of the seven Colonies reinforces the heritage value of the whole.

Exceptional universal value

Being unique and irreplaceable, and having an exceptional universal value: that's where it all begins. But how do you determine that? UNESCO uses ten criteria. The heritage nominated must meet at least one out of ten.

The seven Colonies are being nominated on the basis of three criteria:

  • (iii) The heritage is an extraordinary, or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or civilisation that still survives or has disappeared. The seven Colonies of Benevolence are the result of an exceptional and large-scale, early-19th-century experiment in social engineering (1818-1825). It was meant for the education of poor and needy citizens through agriculture and discipline, and hence for the control and eradication of poverty throughout the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (today's Belgium and the Netherlands).
  • (v) The heritage is an exceptional example of a traditional human settlement, use of land or sea that represents a culture (or cultures), or the way in which humans interact with their environment, especially when that environment has become vulnerable as a result of irreversible changes.The Colonies of Benevolence are an exceptional series of utopian cultural landscapes: rugged heaths were transformed into ordered agricultural landscapes. These were founded by humans, developed, and built and embellished in a characteristic manner. Their aim was, in addition to the formation of citizens who fit into the society of the time, innovation in agricultural production. The series forms a coherent set of Colonies, each with its own characteristics.
  • (vi) The heritage is directly or indirectly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas or beliefs, with artistic and literary works of exceptional or universal significance.

As a social initiative of the bourgeois elite and the government, the nationally organised experiment in poverty reduction in the Colonies of Benevolence was rooted in the Enlightenment. Points of departure included emancipation, makeability, self-reliance, the 'contract' between individuals and the state, freedom of religion ... The experiment had considerable influence on ideas about improving the condition of the people, social advancement, and the role and responsibility of the state in 19th- and 20th-century Europe. It received a great deal of international attention and was followed closely at home and abroad. At the same time, the model ran up against limitations, and had its darker aspects (e.g., loss of individual freedom) and developed differently than originally intended. The story of the Colonies is still very much alive today.

Authenticity and/or integrity

If a site is convinced of its exceptional universal value, this should also be reflected in the attributes: design, materials, workmanship, setting, social and cultural aspects. Are the attributes authentic? In other words: is there a connection with the exceptional universal value? Are they complete and intact?

The current landscape of the seven Colonies of Benevolence still shows their original goal: the disciplining and elevation of large groups of people. This was done by working the land, modern (agricultural) education and moral instruction. The Colonies form a coherent series and at the same time differ from each other. There were originally free and unfree Colonies. The free Colonies have a pattern of long 'ribbons' of small farms; the unfree feature a central institution surrounded by large farms.

The landscape has orthogonal structures, planted avenues, fields, meadows and woods, with central facilities and farms. Despite two centuries of adaptation to modern conceptions of poor relief, agriculture, mental health care and punishment, the structure of the landscape and many of the buildings have remained.

The most important attributes are therefore:
  • the basic typology of the landscape of free and unfree Colonies of Benevolence;
  • the structure of roads, planting and water structures, the measurement system that was used, and the building pattern;
  • the building and planting that is representative of the experiment in poverty reduction and disciplining.

Management plan

A management plan was also added to the dossier. This management plan is a guarantee that the various partners will provide the Colonies of Benevolence with sufficient protection. This ensures that the uniqueness, authenticity and integrity of the areas can be preserved.

In the management plan , the various partners explain how they will manage the Colonies of Benevolence in the future. The management plan will be adjusted every six years.