Of the 1,007 designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites (779 cultural, 197 natural) one may be pleased to hear that only 46 are in danger. However, that is 46 too many. Each of the sites is equally as unique and important, as they are special and breathtaking. The sites scatter the globe from hemisphere to hemisphere, time zone to time zone and north to South Pole. What makes each site great -besides its uniqueness, is the fact the sites do not have cultural bias, nor do they have opinions. They do not make arguments based on race, religion or political denomination, either. Every site stands and exists to simply be admired by the characteristics that make it amazing enough to be designated a world heritage site. A visual bucket list, here are 12 outstanding UNESCO World Heritage Sites that should be seen by anyone lucky enough to be in close enough proximity to have the opportunity to visit them.
12. Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls
Jerusalem has an amazing skyline that is unlike anything in the west. Marked as a holy city for Judaism, Christianity as well as Islam, Jerusalem serves significance for countless backgrounds and creeds. The Dome of the Rock is of particular significance and serves as a landmark that most would recognize in photos. The site of Abraham’s sacrifice is noticeable by its gold dome and colorful architecture.
A younger generation may notice that the Jerusalem setting is a popular landscape for many modern video games most notably Assassin’s Creed; where the user is able to scale to the top of buildings with ease and take in a virtual rendition of the historic city. The dome, which was built in the seventh century, serves as a focal point of the site deemed worthy of the list in 1981, not that being left off the list would have prevented millions from visiting the location every single year.
11. Palace and Park of Fontainebleau, France
This site, which received inscription in 1981, is a magical building straight out of a fairy tale. Set on the water surrounded by lush greenery, it’s a palace made for the set of a Disney movie. The greenery belongs to the vast forest in the Ile-de-France that was embellished and increased in size in the 16th century with the hopes of transforming it into the “New Rome” according to Francois I.
Its original use however, was intended for the royal hunting lodge of Fontainebleau especially for the French Kings during the 12th century that resided here. A combination of Renaissance and French traditions are the basis for the design, with the earliest buildings taking shape between 1528 and 1540. Construction was supervised by the master builder Gille le Breton, the same man responsible for the Cour Ovale that is part of the eastern section of the site standing atop ancient foundations.
10. Historic Centre of Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
This site’s castle strays from the traditional brown roofs of the surrounding area to stand out as the definitive focal point of the skyline, reaching most closely to the heavens. The site joined the list in 1992 and is parked picturesquely on the banks of the Vltava River. The surrounding town was erected around a 13th century Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque-styled castle.
The culture’s peaceful nature has allowed this small town to maintain its architectural integrity for hundreds of years, and hopefully hundreds more to come. The town looks typical of the Middle Ages, a circular-street layout emerging from a center square. Any visitors are sure to appreciate the mix of influences on the castle which was eventually turned into a chateau, a summer palace, a winter riding school and a theater all while having a flourishing garden to boot. An often overlooked tourist destination, this site showcases just some of the excellent architecture the Czech Republic has to offer.
9. Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn, Austria
The Palace and Gardens of Schonbrunn in Austria holds true to its phenomenally well-preserved Baroque ensembles of its kind. It stands as a symbol of the power the House of Habsburg held over a long stretch of history in Europe, from the 17th to 20th century.
No expense appears to be spared on the land as it is ripe with eye-pleasing gardens, walkways and monuments. Astonishingly enough, the site was completely rebuilt after its destruction in 1683 at the hands of a Turkish attack. The gardens and palace share an organic connection, which is an example of an art concept called Gesamtkunstwerk, which is essentially a combination of several different forms of art. The site was only marked significant in 1996 despite the Orangery on the east side being the longest in the world at a wondrous 186 meters long. The main structure itself was built in 1880 using technology developed in England.
8. Angkor, Cambodia
One of only two sites in Cambodia, Angkor holds very important significance for its region. Extending over 400 kilometers squared, it consists of temples, communications routes as well as hydraulic structures such as basins, dykes and canals. This was the center of the Khmer Kingdom for several centuries.
Angkor is able to showcase different types of requirements for a UNESCO site with its major cultural, religious and symbolic significance. This setting that is rich in rice cultivation and other agricultural practices may be recognized by some movie buffs as an important backdrop for cult 90’s movie Mortal Kombat. Frankly, one cannot think of a better background for a battle between gods and mortals. More than 100,000 inhabitants span 112 historic settlements on the site, who are consistently trying to expand their dwelling area. It is also very close to the town of Siem Reap, a neighboring tourism hub that sees plenty of visitors.
7. Venice and its Lagoon, Italy
A place that needs no introduction and is home to romance at its heart, Venice is a destination known worldwide for its winding rivers and old-world European charm. Situated in Northeast Italy, Venice was founded in the fifth century and is spread across 118 tiny islands. It became a masterpiece over time with famous artists such as Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto showcasing works on even the smallest of structures.
The lagoon covers 50,000 square kilometers and has been a significant area since the time when Venetians escaped barbarian raids by fleeing to the nearby sand-covered islands. These refugee spots would slowly become formal residences and eventually became a powerhouse of the fishing industry. Despite numerous attacks on their trade routes/markets by Arabs, Genoese and Ottoman Turks, Venice never stood down and would never lose its spot. Now, Venice is famous for its romance and beauty, making it a favorite of tourists to Italy.
6. Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape, Turkey
A rather new site receiving its designation in 2014, Pergamon rises high above its surroundings in the historic Aegean region of Turkey. It served as the capital of the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty and held its own as the major center of learning for centuries in the ancient world. Temples, theaters, a gymnasium and library are just some of the structures built upon the sloped terrain inside the ostensibly never-ending city wall.
Seemingly at the top of the globe when looking down, the acropolis is visible from another hill where the Kybele Sanctuary lies carved out of stone. The city would become the Roman capital of Asia and contains the burial mounds of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires from different points in time. For any war-historian, this a dream location to stand atop and soak in all the stories the land has to offer. The area itself measures 333 hectares and meets five different heritage listing criteria.
5. Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey, Germany
One of many sites in Germany (of nearly 40) the Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey were also added to the UNESCO list in 2014. These sites were erected in 822 and 855 respectively along the Weser River on the outskirts of Hoxter. As the only standing structure of the Carolingian era the structures are preserved in their rural setting despite some of the complex being only partially excavated and preserved.
The high archways and thick pillars express important architectural significance of their period in history, and showcase the territorial control of the Frankish empire. The remnants of Christian propagation and Carolingian culture/political order make the site of particular interest. However little excavated or kept, the site is still no strain on the eyes, with a structure style recognizable by many but identifiable by very few. The rare architecture is a testament to how much the area has endured throughout history.
4. Stevns Klint, Denmark
Stevns Klint in Denmark is significant in an entirely different way than the previous sites mentioned on this list. The history of the area is directly impacted by meteorite impacts made with Earth. The Chixulub meteorite crashed into the planet approximately 67 million years ago (the earth is about 4.45 billion years old) and is widely credited with ending the age of the dinosaurs.
With its high contribution to scientific study, Stevns Klint allows a larger audience/community to be exposed to what it has to offer by being placed on the UNESCO list in 2014. Adding to its scientific importance is the fact that the site is associated with a “radical” theory of asteroid-driven extinction thought up by Walter and Luis W Alvarez. The site can also be appreciated for its visuals, a rocky beach overlooked view-able from atop the overhanging cliffs that take residence above.
3. Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, United Kingdom
What can be said about Stonehenge that already hasn’t? Although known about for quite some time, the special kind of significance Stonehenge holds lies in the mystery of its true origins. The holy places and nearby Neolithic sites cannot be compared to other sites of prehistoric times.
What exactly is responsible for Stonehenge? Well, no one really knows. The circles of menhirs are arranged in a pattern that holds some sort of astronomical significance. Embodying a plethora of heritage, Stonehenge has been the center of mortuary practices for 2,000 years. Some believe the large rocks were put there by a physically larger race of humans of prehistoric times. Others think the arrangement holds extraterrestrial origins. The problem with all of this is, no one knows how or why they would be there and for what purpose. There is too much intelligence in the site for it to be accidental or to be done by primitive species, but one thing is for sure, this site in the South of England should not be missed.
2. Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat, India
This dug-out structure holds much cultural significance to the people of its region as a distinctive form of subterranean water architecture. Located on the banks of the Saraswati River in Patan it was built in the 11th century as a religious and functioning structure built inward. This was meant to show the sanctity of water.
It is a single-component water management system with seven levels of stairs. The panels are of such highly-artistic quality that many wonder how it has remained so well preserved. This is a testament to Indian culture that can often be revered for its fine respect of art work and historical/architectural/spiritual landmarks. The drop into the ancient reservoir is immediate from the flat land above, which only increases the aesthetic appeal of the site. Another site fresh on the minds of those that appreciate such history as it was named significant in 2014.
1. Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor, Various Nations
The Silk Roads are a term with many different connotations but they stem from the 5,000 km long property that crosses over the central capital of China (Chang’an/Luoyang) in the Han and Tang dynasties, the Zhetysu region of Asia. The roads also cross over into Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
After becoming established between the second century (BCE) and the first century, it maintained use through the 16th century because it linked far-reaching civilizations together for trade. Beliefs, scientific knowledge and technology were also exchanged along the Silk Roads. Various kingdoms, settlements, temples, beacon towers, tombs, fortresses and even the Great Wall are a part of the network that now has become a synonym used to define the illegal trading that takes place on the internet. While the name may take on different meanings these days, the Silks Roads are plenty significant enough to warrant #1 on this list due to the spread of the aforementioned resources.