As the modern answer to the Seven Wonders of the World, UNESCO’s World Heritage programme has been a longterm force for conservation for both natural and cultural sites around the world. Recently, twenty-five new sites joined those already listed, bringing the total to 936 properties. Some of the highlights from the newbies are:
1. Selimiye Mosque and its Social Complex – A stunning square Mosque in the former Ottoman capital of Edirne, with a complex including madrasas, a covered market, clock house, outer courtyard and library. Sinan, one of the most renown architects of the 16th century, considered his work on this Mosque to be his best.
2. Hiraizumi – This site encompasses temples, gardens, archaeological sites and the sacred Mount Kinkeisan as well as government offices from the 11th and 12th centuries when the region was the administrative centre of North Japan. The ground in particular are a fine representation of Pure Land Buddhism, a quintessentially Japanese style of planting and gardening that was brought over with Buddhism in the 8th century.
3. Persian Gardens – Nine of Iran’s historic tiered gardens, representing centuries of horticultural and architectural development that can be traced all the way back to Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC, have finally made it onto the list. The Garden of Eden-inspired layoutof the Persian Garden has been a huge influence on garden design from India to Spain.
4. Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley – Including 13 threatened bird species, this area has one of the highest diversities of bird species in the world. Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Elementaita make up the 32,034 hectare property.
5. Pile Dwellings around the Alps – The 111 individual sites represented in this property, spanning from Switzerland to Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia, play host to prehistoric pile-dwelling stilt settlements found along the edges of lakes, rivers and wetlands. These areas (representing 5000 to 500 BC) haven’t even been fully excavated yet, so we should be expecting some interesting discoveries yet to come.
6. Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison – Yes, entire sections of cities can be considered World Heritage Sites. Case in point: the capital of Barbados with British colonial architecture straight from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The layout of the historic part of town is also of note as it’s in a British-style serpentine pattern rather than the straight grid lines of the Dutch and Spanish colonial towns.
7. Fagus Factory – An unusual choice for the list this year, as this building in Alfeld, Germany was built in 1910, making it the youngest built property. The site covers a factory complex of 10 buildings designed by Walter Gropius, who would go on to found the iconic Bauhaus School. If you have an interest in the history of modern architecture, this is a must see.
Sparking any ideas for upcoming vacations yet? You don’t even have to go far afield to check out what UNESCO’s roster has to offer; there are already plenty of stunning World Heritage Sites to visit even within the UK. Covering everything from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to the industrial era Ironbridge Gorge to the Neolithic sites of Orkney. The faraway island of St. Kilda in particular is one of the rare 28 sites in the world to be listed in both natural science and culture categories, and it’s perfectly accessible for the slightly more adventurous!