The Forth Bridge, which has loomed over the Firth of Forth since it opened in 1890, will become an official World Heritage Site within the next 18 months if the application, backed by both Westminster and Holyrood governments, proves successful.
It is the only site chosen from an 11-strong shortlist across the UK – and was considered the most likely to be accepted for an elite list of attractions, which already includes Egypt’s pyramids, the Taj Mahal in India and the Great Wall of China.
Among the other bids were the Lake District, Charles Darwin’s “landscape laboratory” in London, and the historic Chatham Dockyard and related defences in Kent.
Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The Forth Bridge is an iconic symbol of technical creativity and engineering excellence.
“As one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks, the bridge not only connects communities in a practical sense, but also connects those who admire its design with Scotland’s proud industrial and cultural heritage.”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael added: “Inscription as a world heritage site is an important accolade, so achieving this recognition will be tremendous news for Scotland and a fitting tribute to all of the people who have contributed to the building, maintenance and restoration of the bridge.”
It is hoped the rail bridge will be opened to the public by the time a decision on its status is made by world heritage body Unesco next summer.
Two visitor centres – one on either side of the bridge – are planned to open within the next 18 months in an £18 million project. Visitors will get the chance to take a guided walk from South Queensferry through the cantilever structure to the top of the bridge.
From North Queensferry, tourists would be taken from a new visitor centre by a brand new lift to a viewing platform around 360ft above sea level.
The 8,300ft-long bridge, which took around seven years to complete and weighs about 53,000 tons, carries up to 200 trains a day and more than three million passengers a year.
The campaign to elevate the structure, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year, to world heritage status has been four years in the planning, led by Historic Scotland and backed by Transport Scotland and Network Rail, which is responsible for its upkeep. If approved next year by Unesco, the bridge would become Scotland’s sixth gold-standard attraction, along with Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns, the Antonine Wall, Orkney’s neolithic heritage, New Lanark and the island of St Kilda. The UK has 28 world heritage sites, including England’s Stonehenge and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.