From the seaside towns of Europe to a desert that houses the world’s oldest mummies, 34 new sites are now on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Only twice in the program’s 43-year history have more new sites made it to the prestigious list in one year. While the number is not unprecedented, the way the World Heritage Committee deliberated this year is.
Last year, the committee’s annual meeting was postponed due to the global pandemic. Rather than push all nominations forward a year, the committee considered two years worth of site nominations — for 2020 and 2021 — when it met online last month.
It considered nearly 40 geographic and historical landmarks using a 10-point test to find sites of “excellent universal value.”
Of these, 34 sites were added to the list, more than 80% of which were in Europe and Asia.
Nearly half of the new UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in Europe.
Although the city of Bath has been a World Heritage Site since 1987, the attempt to create a transnational collection of the Great Spas of Europe on the list only started in 2012.
In 2021, 11 cities in seven European countries will be recognized, including Vichy in France, Baden Baden in Germany and Spa in Belgium.
According to UNESCO, the towns pay tribute to the European spa culture that emerged in the early 18th century, extracting natural mineral waters for practical, therapeutic and recreational use.
Another of the 16 European sites to make the list is Mathildenhohe Darmstadt, a former artists’ colony in Darmstadt, Germany. Established in 1897, the estate features 23 elements such as the Wedding Tower, a Russian Orthodox church, several gardens, and 13 houses and artist studios built for artists and exhibitions.
The slate landscape of North West Wales is the UK’s 33rd World Heritage Site. The area was once a thriving site for slate mining, transforming the region’s agricultural identity into an industrial one. The site is also home to historic settlements, gardens, ports, and a railway system.
The other newly registered sites in Europe are:
- Colonies of Benevolence, Belgium and the Netherlands
- Lighthouse of Cordouan, France
- The Danube Limes, Austria, Germany and Slovakia
- Padua’s 14th-century fresco series, Italy
- Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro, Spain
- Roșia Montana mining landscape, Romania
- Colchic Rainforests and Wetlands, Georgia
- The Low German Limes, Germany and the Netherlands
- Nice, France
- Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea, Russian Federation
- ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and Mainz, Germany
- The porches of Bologna, Italy
- The works of Joze Plecnik in Ljubljana, Slovenia
More than a third of the newly crowned UNESCO sites are in Asia.
Two sites in India have been designated a World Heritage Site this year, including the Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple. Located in the southern state of Telangana, the temple complex was built over a 40-year period in the early 13th century. The temple has intricately carved walls and pillars and is known for its stones that are said to be so light that they can float on water.
Fast forward to the 20th century for a sample of more modern engineering – the Trans-Iranian Railway. The train connects the Caspian Sea in northeastern Iran with the Persian Gulf in the southwest. The scenic railway crosses four distinct geographic features – mountain ranges, highlands, forests and plains – and was completed in 1938.
The 1,394 kilometers of track required the construction of 360 bridges and 224 tunnels, according to UNESCO. The railway played an important role in Iran’s economic, cultural and political development and became a symbol of development and modernism in the country.
The other newly registered sites in Asia are:
- Arslantepe Mound, Turkey
- Quanzhou, China
- Ḥima Cultural Area, Saudi Arabia
- Amami-Oshima, Tokunoshima, Okinawa and Iriomote Islands, Japan
- Getbol Tide Plates, Republic of Korea
- Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, Thailand
- As-Salt, Jordan
- Cultural Landscape of Hawraman/Uramanat, Iran
- Dholavira, India
- Prehistoric Sites of Jomon, Japan
The Chinchorro mummies are the oldest purposely preserved human remains in the world. At over 7,000 years old, they predate their better-known Egyptian counterparts by two millennia.
The mummification process was practiced by a settlement of fishermen and hunter-gatherers where the Atacama Desert meets the Pacific Ocean in what is now present-day Chile.
So far, archaeologists have found more than 300 mummies that pay tribute to the Chinchorro’s complex morgue practices. Unlike the Egyptian tradition where mummification was reserved for pharaohs and the rich, the Chinchorro preserved remains of people across the social spectrum. Bodies of men, women and even children were kept in bandages painted black or red.
The Church of Atlantis — along with its bell tower and underground baptistery — is a complex located 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.
Built in 1960 in an Italian Paleo-Christian style, the church is a symbol of Latin American spatial architectural achievement. The wave-shaped walls and ceilings are built in exposed brick and the ceiling features accents of colored glass. The most impressive part of the complex is the clock tower; the red brick spiral staircase blends with natural light to create a geometric illusion.
Other newly registered sites from South America are:
- Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex, Peru
- Roberto Burle Marx Site, Brazil
The Ivory Coast Sudanese Style Mosques are one of two sites from Africa on this year’s list.
The mosques’ distinctive architectural style pays tribute to the trans-Saharan trade that expanded Islamic culture on the continent. The use of traditional African materials along with Islamic features such as domes represents an amalgamation of the two cultures that has persisted since the first trade between them began in the 17th century.
Ivindo National Park is the second site of Gabon on the World Heritage List. The park is one of five “natural” sites added in 2020 and 2021, separate from the “cultural” sites on the list. Located on the equator, the rainforest is home to rapids, blackwater rivers, waterfalls, and wildlife such as elephants, gorillas, and pangolins.
No site in North America was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2020 or 2021. However, the World Heritage Committee voted this year to push the boundaries of a previously registered North American site – the Monasteries of Popocatepetl, Mexico.
Two 16th-century monasteries, built near Popocatepetl volcano in central Mexico, the country’s second-highest mountain, were designated a World Heritage Site in 1994. The redrawn lines now include a third monastery within its borders.
No locations in Australia or Antarctica have been named this year either.
In total, there are now 1,154 sites on the World Heritage List. About 52 of these are on the UNESCO “In Danger” list, including the Old City of Jerusalem and Everglades National Park in the United States.
The ‘Danger List’, as it is known, is the first step in removing these badges of honor. Liverpool’s Maritime Mercantile City was dropped from the list this year, becoming only the third site to suffer this fate since the World Heritage List began.