Two of the most sought-after municipalities on the southern coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro decided to unite their efforts to jointly obtain from Unesco the title of Mixed Universal Heritage of Humanity, an unprecedented recognition in Brazil.
It is Paraty, a small town famous for its cobbled streets and houses of colonial architecture still preserved, and Angra dos Reis, a spa surrounded by environmental reserves, located in the most preserved bay of the entire Brazilian coast and whose jurisdiction includes the paradisiacal island of Ilha Grande.
"The candidacy was presented in mid-2018 and Unesco technicians made a first visit in September in which they said surprised and that left us quite hopeful with the title," the president of the Angra Tourism Foundation told Efe Two Reis (TurisAngra), Joao Willy Seixas Peixoto.
The official added that the Unesco technicians will return in March for another visit and that, if all goes well, the title can be announced on July 10, 2019, when the Unesco World Heritage Committee will meet in Baku ( Azerbaijan).
"We are very excited and confident in the title, Paraty has already deserved the title of Cultural Heritage for many years and its historic value now adds one of the most preserved and beautiful natural areas of Brazil," he said.
The mixed bid includes the historic and protected Paraty center, the environmental reserves of Angra dos Reis and the extensive preserved area of Atlantic forest of the Serra da Bocaina, located between both municipalities.
The candidature also includes, as an intangible asset, the culture of the Caiçara (indigenous) and Quilombola (descendants of fugitive slaves) communities that are distributed throughout the region.
"It's about enhancing the way of life of these communities, their language and their crafts, and how they respect and relate to nature," said Seixas Peixoto.
In case Unesco approves the title, the whole will be recognized as World Cultural and Natural Heritage, that is to say Mixed, since it will recognize both the value of its biodiversity and that of its local living culture.
It is an unprecedented title for Brazil, one of the countries with the greatest biodiversity and cultural richness in the world and that has 21 world heritage recognized by Unesco, 14 of them cultural and 7 other natural, among which areas of the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Atlantic Forest, but none mixed.
Mixed assets are only 38 of the 1,072 Universal Heritage sites recognized by Unesco and Latin America has only six, including the historic sanctuary of Machu Pichu (Peru).
Paraty, a port from the colonial era whereby the Portuguese transported the gold extracted from Brazil, has a historical and cultural heritage as preserved as that of other Brazilian cities that have already been declared a World Heritage Site.
Angra, on the other hand, has rich and beautiful environmental reserves and paradisiacal beaches both on its coast and in Ilha Grande, where Lopes Mendes is located, which different surveys rank among the ten most beautiful beaches in the world.
The two neighboring municipalities, located between 100 and 150 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro, receive thousands of tourists annually and are among the main tourist destinations in Brazil.
Despite their individual values, both concluded that by pooling their efforts they could have more success with Unesco.
"Paraty had already tried the title of Cultural Heritage and did not succeed, so we decided to join together to aspire to Mixed Heritage and add to the candidacy the culture of the Caiçaras, the beauty and preservation of Ilha Grande Bay, and the rich biodiversity of the Serra de la Bocaina, and it seems that it will work ", affirmed the president of TurisAngra.
"One of the things that most attracted the attention of Unesco technicians was the degree of preservation of both Ilha Grande Bay and our environmental reserves." The creation of reserves prevented human occupation from having a strong environmental impact on the region, "he added.
For Seixas Peixoto, the approval of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (Icomos) and of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on their next visit will help preserve the region even more, since, As World Heritage sites, Angra and Paraty will take on even more commitments to protect their wealth.