It wasn’t until I picked up a book about the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that I realized how many of these fabulous sites we have actually been to.
UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has inscribed 1007 sites into its list since 1972, they are scattered amongst 161 countries and include 779 cultural, 197 natural, and 31 mixed sites. All of these are part of the World Heritage List thanks to their unique universal value; they all are a reflection of our cultures and are part of the history of our world; their impacts on the local population and that of the world, from the past through to today, is their common denominator.
Whilst UNESCO works to monitor, provide technical assistance and share knowledge, the conservation of any given site is the responsibility of the state it lies in. The World Heritage Center also works to educate the next generation on the importance of keeping this heritage preserved and through its volunteer programme gives young people an opportunity to get engaged from an early age onwards.
UNESCO’s mission is to encourage countries to sign up to the World Heritage Convention and for them to protect their cultural and natural heritage. UNESCO also provides emergency assistance for any World Heritage Sites that are in immediate danger. In general, UNESCO fosters dialogue between World Heritage Site countries, and helps in creating awareness of the sites. For a site to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site it has to meet at least one of ten criteria: human creative genius, interchange of values, testimony to cultural tradition, significance in human history, traditional human settlement, heritage associated with events of universal significance, natural phenomena or beauty, major stages of Earth’s history, significant ecological and biological processes, significant natural habitat for biodiversity. Other important considerations include protection, management, authenticity and integrity of the properties to be admitted.
The very first sites, 12 of them to be exact, were admitted in 1978, among them are the Galapagos Islands, Yellowstone National Park and the Aachen Cathedral in Germany.
Over the years I have been fortunate enough to visit some of these beautiful sites, and many of them were visited as part of school trips, during which most of us probably didn’t even realize the importance of what we visited and saw (and most likely weren’t even interested in it to be honest – oh the folly of youth!!).
It is impossible to choose a favourite from those, so here, in no particular order are the ones we have visited, some with photos that I took. Excuse the quality of some of these photos, as they were taken before photography entered my life, so beware the snapshots are here!
Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada
We are very lucky to be currently living in Alberta, which has a vast range of natural wonders; from the Rocky Mountains to the prairies and everything in between. This provincial park makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time, waaay back – all the way to when dinosaurs roamed the world. The park contains some of the most important fossil finds ever made. A total of 39 different dinosaur species, dating back from 79 million years, have so far been found here. I am always in awe when I look at the landscape here, which sit in the hear of Alberta’s Badlands.
Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump, Alberta, Canada
Another great site in Alberta; I had wanted to visit this site for quite some time and finally made it down there at the end of last summer. This site is unique in that here the Plains People would drive the buffalo herds towards this cliff, making them “jump” off thereby efficiently killing vast numbers of this animal to sustain them all the way through the coming winter. Nothing of this beautiful creature was wasted, everything from the meat to the bones got used, thereby treating this beast with the respect it deserved.
Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Alberta, Canada
Isn’t it amazing? It takes my breath away every time I visit or just look at photos of the Rocky Mountains. We truly are blessed with a great diversity of natural habitats here in Alberta. The Rocky Mountains are probably my favourite place to visit close to home. No matter what time of year you go, there is always lots to see even on just a drive on the highways. This park comprises 7 parks in total: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Mount Hamber Provincial Parks.
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, Alberta, Canada and Montana, USA
This park was formed by joining Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada with Glacier National Park in Montana, USA. This park celebrates the peace and goodwill existing along the world’s longest undefended border.
Colonial City of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
This is one of those photos where I wished I had already discovered the art of photography, but alas that was a few years off yet. The city of Santo Domingo is full of history, especially that connected to Christopher Columbus, who arrived here in 1492. Santo Domingo was the site of the first cathedral, hospital, customs house and university in the Americas. Ever wonder where the grid pattern of most North American cities stems from? Yes you guessed it, Santo Domingo! Its city was laid out in this fashion when it was founded in 1498 and this has served as the model for almost all town planners in the New World.
Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay, France
This impressive fortified island is known as the “Wonder of the West” and is dominated by the Benedictine Abbey. This little island sits in France between Normandy and Brittany and was built between the 11th and 16th centuries. Be warned, visiting this abbey takes some stamina, as it is a steep trek up cobbled narrow streets which can get extremely busy in the summer season, but it is so worth it.
Palace and Park of Versailles, France (see my previous post on this impressive palace)
Palace and Park of Fontainebleau, France
If you cannot make it to Versailles, or you don’t want to because the hordes of tourists put you off, Fontainebleau is a great alternative. This palace was once a hunting lodge and is situated in a vast forest in the Ile-de-France and although not quite as pompous as Versailles, it is a great example of all the same styles. We actually visited Fontainebleau many years before we ever dared to go to Versailles.
Paris, Banks of the Seine, France
Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne, France
If you are ever anywhere close to Carcassonne, please make the trip to visit this fabulous example of a medieval fortified town. A fortified town has existed on this spot here in Southern France since Roman times. This is truly a spectacular town and again, I wished photography had already entered my life when we visited this spot so many years ago! However, this gives me a good reason to revisit this.
Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion (see my previous post on this great wine region)
Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square, Germany
Hanseatic City of Lübeck, Germany
Historic Town of Goslar, Germany
Cologne Cathedral, Germany
Cologne is usually on most European’s trip list for the Christmas markets, which is a great, but busy time to visit this Cathedral city. The Cathedral was built over 6 centuries and is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. It seems that these days scaffolding is as much a part of its look as the Gothic towers, a testament to Cologne’s drive to keep this Cathedral preserved.
Town Hall and Roland on the Market Place in the town of Bremen, Germany
As you can see from the photo below, I visited this city in my youth, and in my defence, at the time it had not been enlisted into UNESCO’s World Heritage List, so it was more important to us to have ourselves properly photographed than worrying about the fact that poor Roland’s head would be chopped off! The city of Bremen is best known for the Brother Grimm’s fairytale the Bremen Town Musicians, but it is actually the Roland and the Town Hall that brought Bremen into UNESCO. The Roland is a legendary figure in medieval Europe, he is made of stone and stands 5.5 meters tall. Having originally been erected in 1404, he replaced an earlier wooden statue. This Roland is the oldest still standing such statue in Germany and symbolizes the rights and privileges of the free and imperial city of Bremen.
Wadden Sea, Germany
Acropolis Athens, Greece
This famous Greek symbol is known the world over. It has been the subject of books and films alike and I hope to be writing something more in-depth in one of my future posts – so look out for it!
Many years ago, when we were first married, my husband and I did some Greek Island hopping and one of the places we visited was the island of Delos. It is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece. Delos was a holy sanctuary for a whole millennium before Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Due to the island’s sacred importance, and in order to preserve its neutrality in commerce, it was decreed in the 6th century that nobody was allowed to die or give birth on the island, thereby ensuring that no one could claim ownership through inheritance.
Vatican City (read all about the seat of the Holy See in a my previous post)
Historic Center of Rome, Italy (again, a previous post on the Colosseum gives some insights)
Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp, Poland
Although I don’t have any photos I feel the need to address this particular site, especially in the light of the 70th anniversary of its liberation this past week. As part of a school trip I had previously visited the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany where Anne Frank died, so this should have prepared me for my visit to one of the most notorious camps of Nazi Germany as part of a school exchange trip to East Germany in the 1980s. How wrong I was. I will never forget the story of our female guide who had initially helped to prepare Auschwitz as a place of remembrance. She showed us a large glass case which housed a huge pile of little tiny children’s shoes and told us how she and another woman had collected them from all around the camp to display here. Even after all these years it still made her cry when she told us of this task; needless to say we all cried with her. It is a place of horror and as a German I am deeply ashamed of this part of our country’s history, but at the same time it is a place of remembrance and teaching and we should never ever forget what happened here and why it was allowed to happen. I for one am glad that I got the opportunity to visit Auschwitz Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, as hard as it was to see these places, they have taught me a lot.
Amphitheater of El Jem, Tunisia
This is the largest colosseum in North Africa and is located 60 km south of Sousse in Tunisia. It was actually never fully completed due to political rivalries, but it did also function as the last Berber bastion against Arab invaders.
Ironbridge Gorge, UK
Stonehenge, UK (see my previous post on the stones)
Palace of Westminster, UK (again, a previous post on this palace will give you more information)
Tower of London, UK (probably my most favourite place to visit in London, read my previous post to find out more)
Cornwall is famous for its beautiful beaches and lovely little seaside towns and attracts thousands of tourists every year. If I had to live in the UK this would probably the area I would choose.
Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia
In total that makes 30 UNESCO sites I have been to, only another 977 to go!
To find out more about all the sites and the work done by the organization please visit the UNESCO World Heritage website.
So the question is, how many World Heritage sites have you been to?