by STIRworldAug 16, 2021
UNESCO added an impressive list of 42 cultural sites and natural landscapes to its World Heritage list this year. The organisation, which has been instrumental in advocating for the identification and protection of cultural and natural assets seeks to acknowledge 'masterpiece(s) of human creative genius,' or 'areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance' through this endeavour. The comprehensive list, which now includes more than 1100 sites, extends protection to what it recognises as heritage–legacies and sources of inspiration which we carry into our future. This year, representatives from 21 member states extended the recognition to the unique heritage of countries such as China, India, Tunisia, Iran, Germany, as well as the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank. The names on the list represent the stories we tell—our mark on the myriad landscapes of the world. Of the 42, here are 14 that underscore the strange, yet beautiful world we live in, starting with the cultural locations.
Cultural Landscape of Old Tea Forests of the Jingmai Mountain
The Blang and Dai people of China have had an intrinsic relationship with the Jingmai mountains for over 1000 years. Following practices that began in the 10th century CE, the people in the region cultivate tea. The property inscribed by the list is a tea production area comprising traditional villages within old tea groves surrounded by forests. The traditional cultivation methods of old tea trees respond to the particularities of the ecosystem and climate of the region. Many of the myths, beliefs, and cultural practices of the people are linked to the fauna and flora in the region. This intimate connection with nature and its impact on the cultural practices of the indigenous communities is a key element cited by the World Heritage list, and has a cultural facet that should be acknowledged as a heritage worth preserving.
Deer Stone Monuments and Related Bronze Age Sites
Stark stone structures set against the barren landscape of the Khangai Ridge in central Mongolia represent the ceremonial and funerary practices of the Eurasian Bronze Age nomads. These ‘deer stones’ are dated to be constructed from 1200 to 1600 BCE and stand up to four metres tall. Sometimes present in groups, these are set directly in the ground and are likely to have been located in complexes that include large burial mounds called khirgisüürs and sacrificial altars. The whirl-like engravings of stags on the stone are thought to represent the nomads’ beliefs and showcase the significance of art and spirituality that goes back almost 4,000 years.
The list has extended recognition to three monuments within the historic centre of Erfurt, namely the Old Synagogue, the Mikveh, and the Stone House. The structures illustrate the coexistence of the local Jewish community with the Christian majority during the Middle Ages. The architecture of the monuments is said to mark a significant peaceful stage of the Middle Ages between the end of the 11th and the mid-14th century.
Modernist Kaunas: Architecture of Optimism (1919-1939)
The interwar period between the two world wars was coloured with a sense of optimism about the future and the Great Depression. The optimism in particular accelerated the evolution of the provincial town of Kaunas into a modern city, becoming Lithuania’s provisional capital from 1920 to 1940. The community-driven transformation was manifested through the futuristic urban design—adapted from an earlier town layout—Naujamiestis (New Town) and Žaliakalnis (Green Hill) areas. The Modernist style that evolved during this period is reflected in the architecture of the city, which warrants protection because it illustrates an important chapter in human history.
West Bengal, India
In 1901, Rabindranath Tagore, a renowned Bengali poet and philosopher established a residential art school in rural Bengal (India). The school’s values were based on Tagore’s vision of human unity which transcended religious and cultural boundaries while its functional program drew on ancient Indian traditions. The school became a 'world university' in 1921, and the seedbed for fostering Modernist thought in Asia. The architecture of the complex, with a synthesis of elements from cultures ranging from the Buddhist to the Sultanate, is distinct from the prevailing colonial style adhering to European aesthetics, highlighting efforts towards creating a pan-Asian modernity.
Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor
The Silk Roads spanned the length and breadth of Asia, connecting various towns and settlements between China and Europe. The network of roads established to supply Europe with Chinese silk also fostered the exchange of ideas among different cultures. The Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor was a key section of the roads in Central Asia, connecting routes in all directions. The 866-kilometre corridor traversed rugged mountains, fertile river valleys, and uninhabitable desert following the Zarafshan River. Since it connected to other major routes, the settlements along the corridor invariably evolved into melting pots of culture, ethnicities, religions, and technologies. This fluid exchange of information would go on to give rise to innovations such as the compass and the proliferation of printing techniques that cemented why they were included in the list.
The Persian Caravanserai
The 54 Caravanserai included in the World Heritage list are only a small percentage of the innumerable roadside inns built along the ancient roads in Iran. These 54 inns, which provided shelter and sustenance to travellers are considered to be some of the best examples of caravanserai in Iran, manifested in myriad architectural styles and responsive towards local climatic conditions and materials. These intricately designed buildings span kilometres and centuries of history. The selected inns are representative of the evolution of Iranian architecture through time.
Djerba: Testimony to a settlement pattern in an island territory
The settlement that developed on the island of Djerba was a unique response to environmental, socio-cultural, and economic factors, and it demonstrates the human capacity for adaptation to peculiar conditions. The inscription of the property in the list includes the structures that came about around the ninth century CE amidst the island’s semi-dry and water-scarce environment. The clustered settlements were economically self-sustainable and connected to the religious structures and trading posts of the island through a complex road network.
The Eisinga Planetarium is a mechanical scaled representation of the solar system as it was understood in the 18th century. Conceived and built by an amateur astronomer Eise Eisinga between 1774 and 1781, the model positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the six known planets—Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, are more accurate than previous attempts. Powered by a single pendulum clock, the model shows planets revolving around the Sun in real-time. The planetarium was designed by the wool maker Eisinga and built into the ceiling and south wall of his bedroom. It serves as one of the earliest examples of the ceiling and projection planetariums of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Cosmological Axis of Yogyakarta and its Historic Landmarks
Established in the 18th century by Sultan Mangkubumi, the central axis of Yogyakarta demonstrates the inherently human connections between architecture, the cosmos, and local cultural beliefs. The six-kilometre north-south axis links Mount Merapi and the Indian Ocean, with key cultural monuments placed along it, including the Kraton (palace), which sits at the centre of this axis. It epitomises Javanese beliefs about the universe, marking the cycles of life, and continues to be a centre of government and placeholder for cultural traditions.
Wooden Hypostyle Mosques
The unusual structures for the wooden mosques built in Anatolia between the late 13th and mid-14th century CE showcase skillful wood carving. Representative of the handiwork of the region at the time, each of the five protected mosques combines an exterior masonry envelope with rows of wooden interior columns (“hypostyle”) that support a flat wooden roof. They were built during the little-known Beylik period before the Ottoman conquest of Anatolia divided the kingdom into individual fiefdoms.
Volcanoes and Forests of Mount Pelée and the Pitons
Northern Martinique, France
An eruption in 1902-1905 in one of the volcanoes in the Mount Pelée region is considered a key event in the history of volcanology, resulting in the massive loss of life. Moreover, the mountainous terrain and Pitons du Carbet represent astonishing volcanic features, materials, and processes. The landscape is also home to numerous globally threatened species such as the Martinique Volcano Frog (Allobates chalcopis), the Lacépède’s Ground Snake (Erythrolamprus cursor), and the endemic Martinique Oriole (Icterus bonana).
The region on the island of Anticosti in Canada that has been inscribed by the World Heritage list includes the best preserved palaeontological record of the first mass extinction of animal life, 447-437 million years ago. It also includes fossil records of marine life spanning 10 million years. The abundance of fossil records is unique and allows for explorative scientific studies.
Evaporitic Karst and Caves
Northern Apennines, Italy
These caves in Italy are examples of unusually well-preserved and extensive epigenetic gypsum karst terrains. The terrain has been studied since the 16th century and is the best-studied evaporitic karst in the world. The gypsum caves, some of the deepest in existence reach 265 metres below the earth’s surface.
Along with these sites, UNESCO also added other names to its expansive list further elaborated below. Each year, the World Heritage Committee picks a number of names from a submitted list, that must adhere to specific criteria. The different entries reveal the long history of human presence on the planet and that which connects us to one another, spanning time and space. The other UNESCO heritage sites added to the list this year include: the Gaya Tumuli from the Republic of Korea; the Gordion settlement; Koh Ker: Archaeological Site of Ancient Lingapura or Chok Gargyar, Cambodia; National Archaeological Park Tak’alik Ab’aj, Guatemala; Old town of Kuldīga, Latvia; Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic Menorca, Spain; The Gedeo Cultural Landscape, Ethiopia; Tr’ondëk-Klondike, Canada; Viking-Age Ring Fortresses, Denmark; Žatec and the Landscape of Saaz Hops, Czechia; Forest Massif of Odzala-Kokoua, Congo; Ancient Jericho/Tell es-Sultan, State of Palestine; Astronomical Observatories of Kazan Federal University, Russian Federation; Cultural Landscape of Khinalig People and “Köç Yolu” Transhumance Route, Azerbaijan; ESMA Museum and Site of Memory – Former Clandestine Center of Detention, Torture and Extermination, Argentina; Funerary and memory sites of the First World War (Western Front), Belgium and France; Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, United States of America; Jodensavanne Archaeological Site: Jodensavanne Settlement and Cassipora Creek Cemetery, Suriname; Memorial sites of the Genocide: Nyamata, Murambi, Gisozi and Bisesero, Rwanda; Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas, India; The Ancient Town of Si Thep and its Associated Dvaravati Monuments, Thailand; The Maison Carrée of Nîmes, France; Zagori Cultural Landscape, Greece; Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia; Cold Winter Deserts of Turan; Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda; Tugay forests of the Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve, Tajikistan; and ‘Uruq Bani Ma’arid, Saudi Arabia.