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World Heritage Site

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Blog: WHS #638: Ice Age Art Caves

The Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura was a welcome addition to the WH List this year for those ticking off Western European WHS on weekend trips. Recent reviews of it by Hubert and Clyde have already paved the way regarding all practical details necessary for a worthwhile trip. The site lies some 620km from my home, and I visited it by car with a stop-over in Darmstadt. I decided to not visit all locations, but instead do some cherry picking among the inscribed caves and associated museums with a special focus on seeing the figurines.

Signs everywhere

My day of exploration started at the Archäopark Vogelherd. At the park entrance there is a small exhibition room, and that’s where I found my two first figurines: a mammoth and a cave lion. Both are tiny objects. They are on show in a display case each, and there’s nothing else in the room. The mammoth is easy to recognize as such and is in perfect shape. It has to be admired from the “front” though, as the other side is much more rough. This seems to suggest that it was a brooch or similar ornament worn on clothing or the body.

The other figure is said to represent a cave lion. With some imagination a tiger or a puma as we now know them can be seen in the object. “Cave lions” were widespread in the age of the early homo sapiens and could grow bigger than modern lions. They probably had no manes, hence the similarity with other big cats rather than male lions. They did not really live in caves (phew!) but did sometimes enter them to surprise a hibernating bear.

In this Lone River Valley area I also visited the Vogelherd and Hohlenstein Stadel caves. Both are fairly large, enough to provide a shelter to families during the harsh winter time.

A flute made out of bone of a griffon vulture

In the early afternoon I arrived near the other cluster of sites, in the Ach Valley. I started at the Urgeschichtliches Museum in Blaubeuren. This undoubtedly is THE museum to go and see when you want to learn more about the Ice Age Art of this region. It displays various attributes such as the raw materials (mammoth bones) and the tools that were used. Most objects that are shown were found at the nearby Hohle Fels Cave. In this museum I saw my first examples of the “earliest musical instruments”, one of the claims to fame of this WHS. The flowery description in the nomination file might suggest early pianos or harps, but these “instruments” are all flutes.

The museum also has a number of figurines. There is a diving bird (looks like a duck), a tiny lion man and the prize piece of the collection: the Venus of Hohle Fels, "the oldest undisputed example of a depiction of a human being yet discovered". This one even has a whole exhibition room to itself! The female figurine was only discovered as recent as 2008.

I ended my day at the Hohle Fels cave. This was a pleasant surprise as well. It really is a huge cave. A music group was performing inside, using “ancient” instruments.

Sediments from the Aurignacian and the Neandertaler periods

I always thought that when I really had money I would start collecting Netsuke – Japanese miniature sculptures. These small Ice Age figurines, mostly made out of mammoth bone, reminded me of them. There are so few left (about 50). But even in this day and age they can be admired as art objects.

Published 13 August 2017

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Blog: WHS #637: Røros

Røros wasn’t really what I expected it to be. While preparing for my short visit to this former copper mining town, I discovered that it sees one million visitors yearly. And indeed: upon arrival it resembled one large parking lot. I also had imagined a mountainous setting, showing the “harsh climatic conditions” the inhabitants had to deal with that form part of its OUV. At an altitude of 628m it’s not that extreme. Although it does get pretty cold in the winter time at this latitude of course.

Near the smelting house

I reached Røros by train from Trondheim: there is only one practical departure that allows you to visit it on a day trip (leaving at 9.45, returning at 16.30). Try to sit on the right side of the train, as it has the best views of rivers and lakes which are part of the so-called Circumference (the allotted area of privilege to the Røros Copper Works). From the train station I walked straight to the outskirts of the city, where the Røros Museum is located at the site of the old smelting house. Daily at 1 p.m. an English-language walking tour of the town starts from here. The museum area is the most industrial part that you’ll see in the city by the way: the actual mines are miles away and not reachable by public transport.

The tour led me and about 10 other tourists first to where the poorest people lived - near the smelting house and the slag heaps. Some huts were purchased by the museum to show their living conditions. Closer to the city center, the original timber houses are still inhabited. A couple of American tourists in our group viewed these as summer homes, but at selling prices of 3-4 million Norwegian kroner (300,000-400,000 EUR) the houses are serious investments. With their bright colors they look more modern than the wooden houses in the poor part of town. But some of these houses are even older than the bare ones. The current owners are obliged to keep their homes painted in the original colors.

Checking for the original paint colour

We also visited a house with a courtyard that was used as a “farm”. Part of the Røros story is that its people were both farmers and miners. Mining was much more important however, and the courtyard that we visited couldn’t hold more than one horse or a few chickens. But there were summer grazing pastures outside of town as well. This particular farm house had an odd history, as it had once been transplanted to an open air museum in Oslo. Only after the tourism potential of Røros itself became clear, the house was moved back to its original location.

The tour ended at the huge baroque stone church, the number one landmark of Røros – unfortunately it was closed to us because of a wedding. I went on to visit the museum at the ‘old’ smelting house. The smeltery isn’t original – only the foundations are, the rest has burned down so many times that nothing is left. At the exhibition the copper production process is explained via a series of wooden scale models. Worth a quick look – but at a steep price of 100 Norwegian kroner.

Houses of the poor

You’d be hard-pressed to spend more than 2 hours in Røros, although when you have the use of a car you could of course visit some of the outlying mines. When comparing the actual tangible remains with the written history in the nomination file, the Røros story seems to have been spiced up to make it similar to copper mining sites such as Falun or Rammelsberg & Goslar. And it isn’t even close to the global importance or dramatic impact as Potosí for example. I’d rate it as a site of regional interest only (the copper was shipped to Germany and Holland mostly), though Norway (not particularly full of interesting cultural sites anyway) got it placed on the World Heritage List as early as 1980.

Published 30 July 2017

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Blog: WHS #635: Pico Island

Out of the 9 main islands of the Azores, Pico Island may be the prettiest one. Its lush green flora strongly contrasts with the abundant black lava stone that is present along its coasts. Its iconic stratovolcano peak is a landmark in the Azores part of the Atlantic Ocean. And there’s a WHS as well: the Vineyard Landscape of Pico Island comprises two narrow strips of land along the coast, where grapes are grown on a bottom of solid lava. Within stone fences, grapes were traditionally grown between the rocks of the lava stone - without soil. This part of Pico was unsuitable for ordinary farming.

One of the vineyard plots

The northern part of this WHS lies right next to the airport of Pico, so it’s a really nice welcome when you fly in. The plots neatly divided by walls of basaltic blocks are a memorable sight. I stayed for 3 nights near the other stretch of vineyards though, at Madalena. There’s a great walk through the WHS landscape that you can do in that area. It starts in Porto Calhau. I did not rent a car on Pico (also not on Terceira), and got around easily by hiking, one-way taxi rides and the occasional public bus. To get to Porto Calhau I took a taxi. The driver was very much aware about the starting point of the hike, it’s very popular and well-signposted.

The walk starts on the paved road along the coast. It's a minor road, I encountered little traffic except for some day trippers who were not deterred by the sharp rocks to swim in the sea or lay down on the rocks sunbathing. The hiking route is 6.9 kilometres long and takes 2 hours. It is fairly flat (an uncommon pleasure at the Azores), only after a kilometre or so you have to do a half-loop around a hill where the road goes up and down. In this zone there is a lot of Azorean heather, and I noticed the first plants in lots separated by walls of loose stones. That way they suffer less from the influence of sea and wind.

Easy hiking route

After tackling the hill, one arrives at an enormous open plain. It is full of gray stonewalled fields (currais) in which the vines lie. There is no shelter here, at least not for hikers. Although there was a nice breeze, I felt the sun gradually starting to burn my face, arms and calves. I wonder how tough it will be when it is your job to pick the grapes here. Huts made of loose stone are available now and then to protect the farmers and the pickers. Unfortunately for the hikers, I found the entrance gates to them closed.

Turning off from the paved road, the trail continues on a gravel road first and later on a narrow stone path through the 'fields'. I did not meet any other hikers, nor farmers - I wonder what the right season is, but I did not find any grapes on the plants that I saw. At the end of the walk you will approach a bright red windmill, a fairly new construction built after a traditional model. After that it's only a short walk to the village of Madalena. Conveniently the trail ends at a seafood restaurant.

Wine producer's compound

At only 20 ‘ticks’ from our community members, this is still a quite obscure WHS at the same level of difficulty as Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi , Caral Supe or the Pyu Ancient Cities. I enjoyed my 3 days on Pico, although like the rest of the Azores it is a bit sedate and old-fashioned. Good if you’re looking for some quiet days, less so if you’re an avid traveller that wants to see and do something different every day.

Published 15 July 2017

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Blog: Mid-Atlantic Ridge

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR) has been part of the Tentative list of Portugal since this year. At this geographical location three tectonic plates have been moving away from each other and the void has been filled by magma from the inner earth. The MAR actually extends from the Antarctic to the Arctic, but this possible future nomination only comprises the Portuguese Azores section. It replaces the earlier single tentative sites Algar do Carvão and Furna do Enxofre, and now seems to incorporate all inhabited and uninhabited islands plus the terrestrial waters of the Plateau of the Azores.

Pico Volcano

It is not difficult to see or experience geological features of the MAR during a visit to the Azores. My stay at the three islands of Terceira, Pico and Faial provided numerous up-and-close views of results of volcanic events that took place here. One of the main tourist attractions of the island of Terceira for example is Algar do Carvão, a “volcanic chimney”. While I found tourism very low-key in general on the Azores and local costs only a fraction of those of the mainland, entrance to Algar do Carvão costs 10 EUR. For that sum you’ll have to descend a long flight of stairs, until the bottom of the volcano where there is a lake created by rainwater and stalactites/stalagmites on the walls. I did not find it very spectacular.

On the island of Faial the site of Capelinhos can be visited. The landscape here is the result of a submarine volcanic eruption that took place in 1957. It resulted in a bit of additional land for Faial island, and the coverage of part of the lighthouse and dwellings of local whalers under lava. The eruption was actually of a similar kind to the one that created Surtsey in Iceland 6 years later, but – the TWHS description concludes surly – volcanologists coined the term “surtseyan” instead of “capeliniana”. No trace of that legend is mentioned in the Surtsey AB evaluation by the way.

Underground lake at Algar do Carvão

Another feature typical of the Azores is connected to the MAR as well: the occurrence of high numbers of “migratory pelagic megafauna” (i.e.: whales). They seem to be attracted to the feeding opportunities at the chains of seamounts. Every respectable town on the islands has its whale & dolphin watching outfitter, taking tourists out to open sea in small boats for a couple of hours. I did such a trip from Madalena on Pico island.

Almost 10 years ago I had been on a similar trip from Peninsula Valdes in Argentina. The conclusion of both trips turned out the the same: it’s very hard to get good views of the whales, as they are submerged under water for most of the time. During this trip from Madalena the captain of the boat was quite good at predicting which side of the boat the beasts would pop up to breathe. But I still did not succeed in taking any good pictures. The dolphins proved to be more cooperative.

Capelinhos, Faial

As the MAR is a truly global phenomenon, we even already have a Connection about it featuring 4 WHS. It is weird that Portugal goes it alone in pursuing a nomination, although talks have been going on since 2007 about an international serial nomination. Iceland seems to be the obvious choice for a MAR nomination, this was even suggested at the evaluation of Surtsey.

Published 6 July 2017

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Blog: WHS #634: Angra do Heroismo

The Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores was a relatively early WHS (1983). As no nomination files of that period have been made public and the ICOMOS evaluations at the time were concise, the ‘Why’ of the nomination and inscription isn’t well-documented. The only thing that stands out is that Angra was an important port-of-call during the maritime explorations of the 15th and 16th centuries. How this is linked to tangible elements in Angra itself is rather unclear. Maybe just ‘being there’ half-way between Europe, Equatorial Africa and the West Indies was enough.

View from Memorial Hill

Angra is located on the island of Terceira, one of the 9 islands of the Azores. To get there I used the weekly direct flight by charter company TUI from Amsterdam to Terceira. My fellow passengers on the full flight were mostly Dutch senior citizens. The flight to Terceira airport took only 3 hours and 40 minutes, and afterwards I immediately hired a taxi to take me to Angra where I was to stay for 3 nights. My first impression of the town was that it seems colourful and festive (possibly related to the weeklong Sao Jao festival), and not overly touristy.

It was still way too early to check-in to my hotel, so I decided to start with the 1.5 hour walking tour of the town center that is described in the Bradt travel guide. It connects several churches and other points of (low) interest such as an embroidery museum. Walking Angra’s streets is exhausting, as the town is plastered on to a hill with steep ascents. Among the town’s main features are its brightly painted buildings in various colours. It resembles the baroque towns of Brazil, but here in Angra it all seems brand new. And in a way it is – some 70% of the buildings in the historic center were demolished in a big earthquake in 1980. Since then they have all been reconstructed.

Palácio dos Capitães-Generais

Besides the pretty facades most of the buildings aren’t very spectacular on the inside (or aren’t accessible at all). The one that I enjoyed the most was the Convento de Sao Francisco, which now houses the City Museum. The convent’s church and the tableaux of azulejos on the second floor are just great. Another aspect not to miss is the walk through the Duke of Terceira’s Garden up to Memorial Hill – from there you will have the great views and photo opportunities of the bay of Angra and the remains of the two fortresses that once guarded it.

I stayed overnight in the Posada de Sao Sebastiao, located in one of the two main fortresses around Angra harbour and thus an essential part of the WHS. It still looks impressive when you walk up there. It is a bit of an empty shell however. Directly behind the gate the modern hotel starts, which isn’t really worth the considerable sum they charge per night.

Azulejos in the Convento de Sao Francisco

One of the ‘issues’ with Angra is that it isn’t a real port anymore. Sure there is a small marina for private yachts, but the lively atmosphere of an active port is totally lacking. It was a safe harbour during the Age of Exploration, the island of Terceira being protected by dozens of fortresses. Many churches and a hospital were built to take care of the sailors passing by that were in need of a rest. Pirates hovered around to try to capture a booty. Ship wrecks and anchors still can be found in Angra’s former harbour. Nowadays there’s even an underwater archaeology park where divers can have a look at those.

Published 1 July 2017

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Blog: Wooden tserkva of Zhovkva

The Wooden Tserkvas in the Polish part of the Carpathians have already been well-covered by the reviewers active on this website. I visited 6 of them myself in 2015. However, 8 of the inscribed tserkvas (churches) lie just across the border in Ukraine. Noone wrote a report on one of those yet. As I had half a day to spare after visiting L’viv, I hired a taxi to take me to the wooden Holy Trinity Church in Zhovkva – part of the Later Halych Group of the inscribed Ukrainian tserkvas.

Holy Trinity Church in Zhovkva

Zhovkva is a town of 13,000 inhabitants, about 30km northwest of L’viv. The drive takes just half an hour and doesn’t bring very remarkable scenery. The roads out of L’viv are potholed, many of the streets leading from the main streets into villages are still unpaved. Inspired by the Polish churches which lie in sometimes idyllic rural settings, I hoped to get a glimpse of the Ukrainian countryside by going to Zhovkva. It didn’t turn out to be that way however.

The Holy Trinity Church lies beside the main road that leads from L’viv to Zhovkva city center. I had brought a print with me including the name of the church in Ukrainian and a picture of it, just to be sure. But it cannot be overlooked, and is even signposted in English with the same type of bilingual signs that point to the various sights in L’viv. It looks a bit out of place in its suburban setting, but the specific type of wooden construction and good state of conservation made me glad that I had taken this sidetrip. The church dates from 1720.

Part of the impressive iconostasis

I would have been reasonably content admiring the tripartite church from the outside, but the icing on the cake of course would be to get in. Just as with the Polish churches, I found a phone number attached to the front door to call for someone with the key. Fortunately I did not have to ask my hesitantly German-speaking driver to make the phone call for me in Ukrainian: the door was open and two men were already inside – probably cleaning away after Sunday’s service. The building is nowadays used by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church.

The lay-out of the church is quite similar to that of the other tserkvas: one enters via the narthex (featuring a bunch of brochures and what may be a baptismal font), reaches the nave annex choir and it all ends at the iconostasis. There isn’t space for many churchgoers: five rows of benches are placed on each side. However, this tserkva has a choir loft worthy of a much larger church. This is all decorated with many icons, paintings and the lovely iconostasis - “The interior furnishings survive intact, offering the best example of the integral interior design of an 18th-century tserkva”, according to the nomination file. Odd addition to this wooden structure is the white brick sacristy, which also dates from the 18th century.

Baptismal font?

After a while the priest, who had been working in the sacristy behind the iconostasis, came to greet me. He asked whether I was Polish – most tourists that come here are. Unfortunately he didn’t speak more than a word or two in English and German, but he was obviously proud of his little church. The written Unesco inscription certificate has been prominently nailed to one of the walls, amidst the paintings of saints.

Published 10 June 2017

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Responses to Wooden tserkva of Zhovkva
nan (10 June 2017)

Went there, too, and also was able to enter. They open before services.

There are frequent busses from Lviv, so no need for a driver. The town itself was also nice.


Blog: WHS #633: L'viv

The Historic Centre of L’viv presents an eclectic mix of architectural and artistic highlights of both Eastern European and Western origin. I stayed there for 2 nights during the long Pentecost weekend. The city is very popular with Polish tourists – the border is only an hour away – and has a lively atmosphere with cafés, terraces and street performers. Cost levels are very low, they are comparable to those in Belarus which I visited last year and a fraction (25-30%) of those in Western Europe. It is easy to navigate in L’viv as signs around town are in English as well: a souvenir from the Euro 2012 football championships.

Merchants' house at Rynok Square

L'viv has traditionally been a trading city, and has been part of the Kingdom of Poland (until 1772) and Austria-Hungary (until 1918). It attracted different populations that lived in their own communities - from Armenians to Jews, and from Ukrainians to Germans and Hungarians. Reminders of this multicultural history can still be found, though most of them have only been revived since post-Soviet times. Much of the buildings that one sees nowadays around town date back to ca. 1900, and subsequently there is a lot of Art Nouveau.

The city has no exceptional highlights that would warrant a WH listing on their own and it lacks a certain prettiness that for example attracts the tourist masses to a town like Cesky Krumlov, but there is a bunch of sights that are worth seeing anyway. The Armenian Cathedral for example should not be missed. Its multicolour interior is vastly different from the usually sober Armenian churches that I have seen around the world. The facial expressions on the wall paintings (also dating from around 1900?) are odd to say the least.

Interior of the Armenian Cathedral

Further to the north lies the Opera, a neo-renaissance building from 1901 that could be at home in Paris. Nearby is the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum. It still seems to adhere to the communist manual for museums (an elderly lady is present in every room), but the collection should not be overlooked. It mostly consists of late medieval and 16th-17th century icons that were removed from churches in the L'viv region. Even a few full iconostases are present. The quality of the icons is exquisite, and there are explanations in English.

The main square (Rysnok Square) has a number of interesting 17th century merchants' houses. In one of them lies "the Italian courtyard" - the city's most romantic place, where photographers were busy capturing bridal couples when I visited. In the southeast of the center lies the former synagogue (only some ruins are left) and the Greek-Catholic Bernardine church with its fortifications.

The Italian Courtyard

The L’viv WHS consists of two locations: besides the city center as described above, there’s also St. George Cathedral which lies some 2 km to the west. It is the main church of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The yellow baroque and rococo style building lies on a hill. It was busy when I arrived: a wedding ceremony was going on. Apparently Sunday is a popular day to marry in Ukraine, because the next couple was already waiting outside. I was able to get inside anyway via a side entrance. Like the other churches that I visited in L'viv, there are many banners depicting saints and the Ukrainian national colours. St. George, killing the dragon, seems to be the most popular saint of the city.

Looking back at the many small and larger churches that I visited in L’viv they are mostly Catholic in some kind of denomination (I did not enter a Orthodox church, although 32% of the population belongs to that faith). The proximity to Poland and the long shared history with the Polish people will be the cause of that. The popular Polish pope John Paul II is revered here very much as well.

Published 4 June 2017

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Blog: WHS #632: Telc

I think the WHS of Telč will defeat me – can I really write 500 words about this over-commercialized market place?

The historic center of Telč consists of a castle and a triangular marketplace, both of which originate from the Renaissance. Most striking is the series of original houses at the square, built in stone at the end of the 16th century after a fire had destroyed their wooden predecessors. In the 17th century, baroque facades and gables were added to several of them.

One of the nicest façade-gable combinations, with sgraffito

Not a lot of people from the general travel audience will have heard from Telč. But tourists do come here in large numbers: upon entering the town by car you will be directed to one of the major parking lots around the old center. There are ample parking spaces for buses, and the parking has to be paid for.

From the parking it is only a few minutes walk to the city's main attraction: the market square. It is a very elongated square, approximately triangular in shape. On all three sides there is a row of colourful buildings with arcades. They are all in different colours and with various types of gables. The square itself isn’t especially pretty, unlike for example the Grand Place in Brussels or the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Maybe because it isn’t fully enclosed – it opens out to 5 roads.

Adam at Telc castle

In almost every review of the Telc market square on this website or at Tripadvisor you will read about the eyesore of the place: the center of the square is literally filled with parked cars and larger vehicles, blocking close views of the surrounding buildings. Parking actually has been allowed here only since 10 years or so, one wonders why they have made that decision. It also seems totally unnecessary given the many adjoining streets and parking lots. The view was even more obscured this Saturday by a bunch of haphazardly positioned market stalls, sporting commercial logos. It amazes me that so far no remark about this issue has been made in the State of Conservation reports concerning this WHS.

In a far corner of the square lies the “chateau”. This is not a medieval type castle such as in Cesky Krumlov, but a more palatial one dating from the Renaissance and designed under supervision of Italian artists. I wasn’t in the mood for a tour with a tour guide and a large group again (which is the only way to get inside). But the building itself, the courtyard and the garden can be admired for free and are well worth it.

Plague column at the market of Telc

The verdict (5/10):

I spent about 2 hours in Telč, including time for consuming a hearty and cheap lunch with the locals at the Švejk restaurant. The facades of the buildings aligning the square are indeed beautiful, but I couldn’t really enjoy them because of the obstructed views and the lack of information on display on site. This website has some more background on their origins.

Word count = 500

Published 20 May 2017

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Responses to WHS #632: Telc
Philip Wharmby, Bury GB (29 June 2017)

I was there in 1997, a charming place the. We wondered why there were so few tourists at such an architectural gem


Blog: WHS #631: Cesky Krumlov

During my quick dash into South Czechia last week (3 WHS in 2 days) I stayed overnight in Cesky Krumlov. It’s perfect for that, as everyone seems to rent out rooms and there are restaurants to every taste. I arrived around 1 pm on Friday afternoon and left again at 10 am on Saturday morning. By that time I had seen most of the small historic center.

Castle Tower

As it was raining on Friday, I decided to go to the town’s museums first. The Egon Schiele Art Centrum is an exhibition centre dedicated to modern art, named after the expressionist Egon Schiele who lived in Cesky Krumlov at the beginning of the 20th century. I knew of Schiele from my Art History study at the Open University, where his distorted portraits adorn the "Expressionism" handbook (a course that I failed twice, and gave up on).

Schiele was eventually chased out of Cesky Krumlov because he would let young girls pose naked for him. There is not much of his work on display here (it has very high value), most of it is in the Leopold Museum in Vienna. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful art exhibition centre. I enjoyed the current exhibition of the works of the Czech Pavel Brazda especially.

Main body of the castle, as seen from one of the bridges

Due to the still pouring rain I hurried on to the castle, where I bought a ticket for the first available guided tour. Unfortunately I did not really pay attention: there are several kinds of tickets for sale, and I really wanted to go to the castle theater which apparently is very beautiful. However, together with around 40 other tourists, I ended up in the palace quarters. Rarely interesting, and no exception here - only the many stuffed bears used as carpets are remarkable. The castle owners have always kept bears in the castle moat. Two supposedly still are there, but they were not "on show" when I visited probably because of the cold.

The most beautiful hall of the tour lies at the end: the Masquerade Hall, with painted masked party guests on all walls. No pictures are allowed inside the castle unfortunately - the reason given here is that the tours would take too long if everyone had to snap his or her perfect shot!

The next morning the sun was shining at last, and I toured the town with my camera. From the various bridges there are beautiful views of the castle. The castle is so overwhelming that it looks too big for the small town centre. I did a full loop in an hour "uphill", through all the courtyards of the castle, across the white-blue mantel bridge and past the gardens. You eventually end up at a bridge at the other end of the town. This is a nice walk in the early morning, though I certainly was not the only one to enjoy it.

Historic town centre

Cesky Krumlov is really flooded by mainly Asian tourists, in the middle of summer it has to be terrible. Its medieval street plan does not accommodate such high numbers of people. Although it has kept its atmosphere well and it is a friendly place in general with some nice small cafees, it could do without tourist traps such as the Wax Museum, the Torture Museum and the Shanghai Restaurant.

Published 13 May 2017

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Blog: WHS #630: Holasovice

Holašovice Historic Village is a tiny WHS in the south of Czechia. Six previous reviewers on this website have already tried to capture its Outstanding Universal Value - often in vain. Its value lies in its architecture (the fusion of two vernacular building traditions into "South Bohemian Folk Baroque") and being an authentic representation of a Central European rural settlement. It also has been considered as a continuing cultural landscape, but that part seems to have been disregarded at inscription.

Two of the facades

Less than a week after I was in Egypt, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius in Abu Simbel, I found myself at a completely different scene. Holašovice lies in a hilly area full of farm villages. There was still snow on the ground. The closer I got to Holašovice the snow cover got thicker and it started raining as well. I had some trouble finding the town actually – I had to navigate via my smartphone, as there is no signposting. On the way I passed at least two village centers similar to Holašovice, with a pond and a row of colourful houses.

Despite its unassuming surroundings, Holašovice is ready to receive tourists. At the edge of town there’s a parking lot large enough for a tour bus or 2. They also have an information center and a museum. And a monument celebrating the inscription on the World Heritage List. A minibus with some Asian tourists was just leaving when I arrived – the last passengers were running around to have some quick final shots of the village.

Museum exhibits

One of the characteristic spots in the village is the large pond in the center, but I could hardly see it because of the snow. All I could do was to take a brisk walk round the elongated square. Although the façades of the buildings that surround it have nice colours, they give away nothing about what lies behind their gates. None of the protected buildings except for the museum are open to the public. Which is understandable as people still live there. But it makes it hard to understand what exactly is so special about these farmhouses. If you want to prepare your visit in depth: more background info is available in this pocket guide.

Farmhouse number 6 holds the small "museum" - perhaps one could better say that the farmer exhibits his old items in a barn to earn something extra. Its opening hours may be erratic, but I was let in after ringing the bell. The owner of the house proceeded to give me an extensive explanation in English about each object. Later we talked about the weather ("this is not normal") and about the Netherlands (good country, he had been there a few years before). The biggest advantage of visiting this museum is that you can see how the traditional farmhouses are set up: through the gate you arrive at a courtyard, with to the left the house and behind it the stables and sheds.

Water pump

In front of nearly every house stands a wooden pump, which was used to pump water by hand through pipes into the building. There might be some interesting piece of local history connected with the pumps, but I did not get to the bottom of it. Overall I lasted 25 minutes in town, my visit cut short because of the cold.

Published 6 May 2017

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