In Romania’s Apuseni Mountains, an archaeological treasure hides beneath picturesque crests and valleys. The ancient site, Roșia Montană Mining Landscape, is the most significant, extensive, and technically diverse underground ancient Roman gold mining complex. And for decades, the site — and the surrounding community — have been threatened by the return of modern-day mining operations.
During the 1990s, mining company Gabriel Resources announced plans to construct Europe’s largest open-pit gold mine in the region, which would level four mountains, destroy the archaeological site, displace thousands of people, and use hundreds of thousands of tons of cyanide. In the ensuing years, Alburnus Maior, a community organization based in Roşia Montană, and the people of Romania advocated to prevent the mine from being constructed in order to preserve the region and the site. Romanian defenders have faced harassment, libel cases, and criminal accusations in their efforts to protect their land, environment, and culture. Community members faced forced relocation attempts by the company. But they have remained steadfast.
CIEL has worked with local communities to protect the area since 2016. When the company filed suit against the Romanian government in a secretive investment tribunal, CIEL filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the communities to ensure their voices were heard in the case. Since 2010, environmental defenders in Romania have been pushing for Roșia Montană to be designated as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). When the process at UNESCO stalled under political pressure, CIEL collaborated with partners to identify an innovative new strategy to escalate the fight: seeking a specialized classification as a World Heritage site in danger.
This year, the community won both designations. In July, the Roșia Montană Mining Landscape was simultaneously inscribed into UNESCO’s World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger. The dual recognition is especially critical because it emphasizes not only the cultural significance of the site, but also the continued threats it faces.
This is a tremendous victory for the people of Romania, but we can’t let up yet. CIEL and partners are committed to ensuring that the World Heritage designation is respected and that plans for the future preservation of the area are carried out in consultation with local communities.