Home >
Statement of Prof. Dr. Hans d' Orville to the Photo and Video Exhibition on the Central Axis of Beijing
2021-12-31 ICCSD

Photo and Video Exhibition on the Central Axis of Beijing was organised by Beijing's Dongcheng Cultural Development Research Center 30 December 2021.

Prof. Dr. Hans d' Orville

Former UNESCO Assistant Director-General;

Chairman, Advisory Committee of the International Center for Creativity and Sustainable Development (ICCSD), Beijing


UNESCO's World Heritage List contains humanity's foremost tangible cultural heritage considered to be of outstanding universal value – physical relics, tombs, walls, palaces, architectural sites. Historical parts of many major cities have been inscribed such as from Vienna, Havana, Prague, Cairo, Rome, Moscow, London, Rio and St. Petersburg. Other cities on the list have been built along bends and stretches of rivers, like Paris or Budapest, and many are endowed with magnificent squares, again Paris and Moscow come to mind.  

Brazil's capital, Brasilia, with its modernistic buildings, is laid out along an East-West axis. But a central axis as the mainstay of the entire heritage of a capital city? That is a novelty only Beijing can offer. Once approved, it will establish among the tangible sites a unique new category on its own.

Since more than 10 years, Beijing is preparing to apply for UNESCO World Heritage recognition for the city's Central Axis. It was included in UNESCO's Tentative List for World Cultural Heritage nominations in 2013. Since then the processing of its designation is somehow slumbering awaiting the completion of works to renovate designated areas under cultural protection. Through the eventual inscription in the World Heritage List, Beijing seeks to increase its historical and cultural appeal, to inherit and carry forward traditional culture and to restore past glory.

The Central Axis is the best preserved core area of the old city of Beijing, which has an 800 year history of urban development. It is a whopping 7.8 kilometers long, an ancient line that marked key routes through the capital and divided the city, starting in the south at Yongding Gate, then running across Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City before ending at the Drum and Bell Towers in the north. The Central Axis passes through a myriad of ancient buildings, traditional alleyways and traditional hutongs. It reflects Chinese traditional aesthetics, is a witness of past lifestyle and contains a view of Chinese traditional culture and values.

A central axis was a typical design among ancient capital cities of China, as can still be seen in Xi'an or Nanjing. The Central Axis of Beijing however is the largest and has exerted profound and long-lasting influence in Beijing's urban evolution, conveying ancient urban planning philosophy and providing spiritual and emotional authenticity. Beijing's Central Axis is a result of constant supplementation, accumulation and transformation of urban landscapes throughout eight centuries. The age, size and form of the Axis captures the ancient Chinese urban planning concept to social order.

As a whole, the Central Axis has been fundamental for the historical evolution of Beijing's urban pattern and planning. As such, the Axis possesses time and spatial integrity. Any reconstruction of vital components was undertaken strictly pursuant to historical documents, pictures and surveying drawings. Accordingly, all elements of the Axis convey an Outstanding Universal Value required for inscription in UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The Central Axis encompasses a total of 14 individual sites, like the Forbidden City, which over the years have become World Heritage sites in their own right. 11 of these sites are located in Dongcheng District, which thus has a special responsibility for their preservation. The designation of the Central Axis would be the icing on the cake, as it were, making the whole city a hub of cultural display, preservation and communication.

The promotion of the Beijing Central Axis as a World Heritage Site is a major task of Beijing's Dongcheng district government between 2021 and 2025. The authorities are engaged in strengthening the protection of historic buildings, urban water systems and traditional courtyard houses. The Central Axis showcases the unique hierarchy and symmetry of ancient Chinese urban planning, the efforts to harmonize with natural surroundings, and the distinctive ritual system and the "harmony between man and nature" philosophy of Chinese culture.

The Photo and Video Exhibition on the Central Axis of Beijing, organised by Beijing's Dongcheng Cultural Development Research Center, will enable the visitor to trace the evolution of the Central Axis as a key feature, backbone and lifeline of the capital city and as major carrier of Chinese civilization. The multidimensional exhibit will focus on historical and cultural meanings of the Central Axis and its impact on city construction, in Dongcheng District in particular. On the whole, it will demonstrate the cultural attraction of the Central Axis from a variety of perspectives.

I wish this exhibit much success and wide attention!