The UNESCO Hunt: 62-71
At this point, I can say that I’ve been to more than 70 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I’m chugging along in my UNESCO hunt — but I didn’t think it would take three months to visit the last ten!
Were there missed opportunities? In Japan, most certainly. I easily could have visited Nara for the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, or Nikko for the Shrines and Temples of Nikko. And while we went to Hakone with the intention of seeing Mount Fuji for Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration, the mountain was hidden behind clouds.
Beyond that, I could have visited a few more sites in Korea. And in Australia, I was so close to sites like the Blue Mountains and the Convict Sites of Australia — but in Australia especially, we were massively overbooked with lots of friends to see and things to do.
That being said…this group of 10 is an excellent crop of UNESCO sites. I’m well on my way to my goal of 101, which I think I’ll hit somewhere in the middle of next year.
Here are my latest 10 World Heritage Sites:
62. Megalithic Temples of Malta
UNESCO’s take: “The two temples of Ggantija on the island of Gozo are notable for their gigantic Bronze Age structures. On the island of Malta, the temples of Hagar Qin, Mnajdra and Tarxien are unique architectural masterpieces, given the limited resources available to their builders.”
My take: Mario is proud to say that Malta is home to some of the oldest freestanding buildings in the world, so he had to take me to see the Tarxien Temples. I appreciated them…but it’s hard for me to get excited for ruins, especially when they’re this old. Again, I appreciated them, and I was glad I got to see them and learn about Malta, but I won’t be nostalgically reminiscing about them for months on end.
63. National and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region, Macedonia
UNESCO’s take: “Built mainly between the 7th and 19th centuries, it has the oldest Slav monastery (St Pantelejmon) and more than 800 Byzantine-style icons dating from the 11th to the end of the 14th century. After those of the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow, this is considered to be the most important collection of icons in the world.”
My take: Ohrid was absolutely splendid — I loved the lake, the town, and the surrounding areas. I’ve never seen Byzantine churches like these before — perfect, tiny chapels built out of stone with vibrant, gilded frescoes. And it’s all set on a perfectly pale blue lake that blends into the sky. I love Macedonia and this was my favorite part.
64. Medieval Monuments of Kosovo
UNESCO’s take: “Early 14th-century frescoes in the church of the Holy Virgin of Ljevisa represent the appearance of the new so-called Palaiologian Renaissance style, combining the influences of the eastern Orthodox Byzantine and the Western Romanesque traditions. The style played a decisive role in subsequent Balkan art.”
My take: Now, this one was tricky. This site consists of four churches throughout the country and I only went to one — church of the Holy Virgin of Ljevisa — and it was fenced off with barbed wire. All I got to see was the outside. I would like to visit the others in the future when I have more time.
65. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, Japan
UNESCO’s take: “As the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto illustrates the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens, which has influenced landscape gardening the world over.”
My take: Kyoto is where you come to visit the temples — and 16 of them are World Heritage-listed. It’s very easy to get temple fatigue in this town — especially if you visit in the meltingly hot summer months, like we did — but they are so beautiful, so special, and so worth it. Also, some of my favorite temples and shrines were actually the ones that weren’t on the World Heritage list, like Yasaka Shrine.
66. Changdeokgung Palace Complex, South Korea
UNESCO’s take: “In the early 15th century, the King Taejong ordered the construction of a new palace at an auspicious site…The result is an exceptional example of Far Eastern palace architecture and design, blending harmoniously with the surrounding landscape.”
My take: I appreciated this palace, and enjoyed my introduction to Korean architecture, but I didn’t find this to be one of the more impressive World Heritage Sites. If you do go, be sure to see the palace’s Secret Garden as well. It can only be visited as part of a guided tour, but I found it to be the most beautiful and interesting part of the complex.
67. Kakadu National Park, Australia
UNESCO’s take: “The cave paintings, rock carvings and archaeological sites record the skills and way of life of the region’s inhabitants…It is a unique example of a complex of ecosystems, including tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands and plateaux, and provides a habitat for a wide range of rare or endemic species of plants and animals.”
My take: Kakadu was incredibly impressive, and I found it to be a very humbling experience. It looks so ancient, it’s hardly developed, and crocs could leap out of the water and get you at any time. This is what you’ll find in Australia that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
68. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
UNESCO’s take: “This park, formerly called Uluru (Ayers Rock – Mount Olga) National Park, features spectacular geological formations that dominate the vast red sandy plain of central Australia. Uluru, an immense monolith, and Kata Tjuta, the rock domes located west of Uluru, form part of the traditional belief system of one of the oldest human societies in the world.”
My take: WAY more than just a rock. I was impressed by the beauty of the landscape and the fact that people are able to survive in that harsh environment. And it’s a bit sad that Kata Tjuta gets the shaft, so to speak — nobody ever talks much about it, but it’s another geological structure near Uluru that is equally interesting and even more sacred to the locals.
69. Sydney Opera House, Australia
UNESCO’s take: “The Sydney Opera House is a great architectural work of the 20th century that brings together multiple strands of creativity and innovation in both architectural form and structural design. A great urban sculpture set in a remarkable waterscape, at the tip of a peninsula projecting into Sydney Harbour, the building has had an enduring influence on architecture. ”
My take: I had always dreamed of seeing the Sydney Opera House in real life — who hasn’t, really? — and it didn’t disappoint. You can’t deny that it’s one of the great architectural marvels of the world. I couldn’t stop photographing it from every angle, at every time of day, in every type of weather!
70. Cathedral, Torre Civica and Piazza Grande, Modena, Italy
UNESCO’s take: “The magnificent 12th-century cathedral at Modena, the work of two great artists (Lanfranco and Wiligelmus), is a supreme example of early Romanesque art. With its piazza and soaring tower, it testifies to the faith of its builders and the power of the Canossa dynasty who commissioned it.”
My take: It’s rare for an Italian church to blow me away — the last one was just 30 minutes from Modena in Parma, incidentally — but this cathedral was incredible, multi-tiered with a bright and colorful chapel hidden within an intimidating, dark expanse. Modena also has a lovely city center and I think I’d go so far as to name it my favorite small city in Emilia-Romagna.
71. Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna, Italy
UNESCO’s take: “[Ravenna] has a unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments. All eight buildings…were constructed in the 5th and 6th centuries. They show great artistic skill, including a wonderful blend of Graeco-Roman tradition, Christian iconography and oriental and Western styles.”
My take: These mosaics were incredible — well worth the day trip to Ravenna. They were built in the fifth and sixth centuries and looked like they were built a few years ago! They are so well cared for. Expect a full photo essay soon.
So — which ones were my favorites?
SO many of these sites were fantastic. But if we’re talking about the ones that impressed me the most, I think the Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna and Kakadu National Park deserve to top the list.
If we’re talking about the ones I enjoyed the most, Lake Ohrid and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park would definitely top the list.
It’s hard to say what will be next — I’m currently in Cambodia and our time here is so limited that I don’t plan to detour to Preah Vihear, and I’ve already visited Angkor. I actually haven’t visited any of the World Heritage Sites in Thailand yet, but I hope to get Ayutthaya and hopefully Khao Yai National Park as well. Perhaps Sukhothai.
Myanmar has no UNESCO World Heritage Sites, though not for lack of world heritage. The country is continuing to open to the world and I wouldn’t rule out at least Bagan and Inle Lake being added to the list in the next decade or so.
But in the Philippines, I definitely want to visit Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River Park in Palawan, and perhaps the Rice Terraces of the Cordillera as well. We shall see!