World Heritage Site status was given to Jewish cultural sites in Germany on Tuesday by UNESCO, the United Nations body for cultural preservation.
The designation was also awarded to the Roman Limes – the exterior portion of the Roman Empire’s border – along the Rhine River in Germany, reported Deutsche Welle.
At a UNESCO committee meeting in Fuzhou, China, the German cities of Mainz, Worms and Speyer, known in the Middle Ages as centers of Jewish culture and referred to as “Yerushalayim on the Rhine,” were given World Heritage Site status.
The three cities are known as ShUM sites – short for the first letters of their medieval names in Hebrew.
Much of the ancient Jewish history of the sites has been lost but artifacts from the period such as cemeteries, a synagogue and a mikvah are still standing.
The designation is the first time UNESCO has recognized Jewish culture in Germany.
The three cities were centers of Jewish influence that greatly contributed to religious studies, language and Jewish architectural styles.
The state of Rihneland-Palatinate, where they are located, had lobbied for over 15 years to have the cities declared World Heritage Sites. They were stymied in their efforts by the lack of remaining physical evidence after hundreds of years of looting and vandalism.
The committee ruled that cemeteries, a synagogue and a mikvah were enough to give the sites the UNESCO designation.
One of the sites, the Jewish cemetery in Worms – the Helligen Sand (“Hallowed Sand”) – is one of the oldest and largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe, dating back to the ninth century.
In Speyer, a Judenhof (“Jewish courtyard”) consisting of a synagogue and a mikvah was built when Jews settled in the area in the 11th century. The remains of the structure are still standing.
Worms Mayor Alfred Kessel said in a statement that the UNESCO designation will not only be good for tourism but will enable communities to safeguard the remaining Jewish historical sites in an area that was once a major center of Jewish culture and religion.