Blog: WHS #653: Robben Island
Robben Island was the penitentiary island where the South African apartheid regime kept its political prisoners between 1962 and 1991. Almost all of the past and current elite of the ANC was imprisoned here, but the cells also held members from the more radical Pan Africanist Congress and the Namibian independence movement SWAPO. The island, which lies in viewing distance from Cape Town, has been in use since the times of the Dutch East India Company (mid-17th century).
One nowadays can only visit Robben Island on a tightly organized tour. Beforehand I had heard and read a lot about those tours: not a minute of free time to walk around for yourself, unintelligible guides who tell muddled stories, even ferries that get into trouble on the short crossing (60 people had to be rescued from sea in September 2017). But my experience was entirely different: maybe they have taken improvement measures or I caught them on a good day, but the staff on the ferry was very polite, engaging and safety conscious. The personal story of the former prisoner that acted as our guide I found very moving and added value beyond just looking at a bunch of stone prison buildings.
The boat tours depart four times a day from the most touristic part of the port of Cape Town. There, between the expensive restaurants and shops of the V&A Waterfront, lies the ‘Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island’. It is an exhibition space (unfortunately closed when I visited), souvenir shop and mooring for ferries. In the store they really sell everything with the image of Mandela on it, even packets of rooibos tea.
The ferry ride takes only half an hour, and from the top deck (be early on board to secure a place there!) you have formidable views of Cape Town with the Table Mountains as its backdrop. We also saw two whales on our way across. Robben Island quickly came into view. I had expected it to be a fairly barren island, but it has a village of considerable size (where the staff of the museum lives), lots of greenery and many former prison buildings.
On arrival we were immediately divided over about five buses, each of which continued on its own route across the island. 'My' bus first went to the prison buildings. The special feature of Robben Island Museum is that former political prisoners who have been detained here have been hired to give the tours. They now live here again on Robben Island, but with their families. Our guide had been living in Johannesburg but could not find work, so he was happy that he had found a job here. I wonder if over the years they’ve filtered out the ones that did not fit the guiding requirements well, as public speaking isn’t for everyone.
Our guide delivered a good and personal story about how he came here and what he did in the 8 years he was imprisoned there (he worked in the kitchen). The only other prisoner who is mentioned over and over here is Nelson Mandela - he already had a special status at that time. Many of the other government leaders of the past 20 years, including the current president Jacob Zuma, have also been detained here. Zuma distinguished himself especially as a football referee. The regime was heavy in the 1960s and 1970s, with little food and ill-treatment. Later on, due to outside pressure the conditions improved and the prison developed into a kind of university for the ANC leadership.
After the prison visit, we were directed back to the bus for a tour of the island. This goes very fast - if you are on the wrong side of the bus to take pictures, you are unlucky (sit on the right!). We see, among other things, the leper cemetery, the village buildings of the former guards, the tomb of a muslim holy man detained by the Dutch East India Company (Moturu Kramat) and the stone quarry where some of the prisoners worked. At the far end of the island we were allowed a break to stretch our legs, buy some drinks at a kiosk or watch penguins. The full tour including ferry crossing eventually took 3.5 hours.
Published 22 January 2018Leave a comment
Blog: WHS #652: Cape Floral Region
The Cape Floral Region is one of the few WHS solely focused on flora. ‘Fynbos’ is the key subject here: a diverse shrubland and heathland vegetation with many endemic species. It comes for example in the variation of ‘rooibos’, that is used for the eponymous tea. Although plants aren’t my specific area of interest, I managed to visit Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens and the Table Mountain National Park during my 4 days in Cape Town. These cover only 1 of the 13 inscribed clusters – the other 12 are located in the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces.
My explorations started at Kirstenbosch gardens. I was staying at a Bed&Breakfast in Klaassens Road, next to Gate no. 3 of the gardens. This whole area is incredibly lush – and wealthy. Properties sell easily for over 1 million EUR. Entering Kirstenbosch via this upper gate leads you directly to the fynbos and the proteas, both almost only to be found in the Cape Floral Region. With the Table Mountain directly in the background, it’s all very pleasing to the eye. The lower part, near main entrance no. 1, is a bit more like a landscape garden and hosted lots of picnickers when I was visiting on a Saturday afternoon.
We’ve discussed before on this website whether it is more important to preserve an iconic and large fauna species such as the giant panda or the mountain gorilla, than for example a mouse or even an ant. This also applies to the flora: we have the giant trees of Redwood and the double ‘coco de mer’ coconut of Vallée de Mai. The Cape Flora Region’s main claim to fame is its fynbos – which essentially is a low and unassuming shrub. I have tried and tried to find anything to love about it, but I can’t.
I spent 3 hours in Kirstenbosch, which is a pleasure to walk in. Kirstenbosch also has a (rather lame) canopy walkway, a new addition to our connection. More extreme activities can be done from Table Mountain. Getting there involves stepping into a spectacular cable car that rotates 360 degrees during the ride. From the top you can try abseiling, or just watch other people do it.
The remarkable thing about the top surface of the Table Mountain is that it is covered by a great variety of plants. Somehow you would just expect a rocky platform. There are trails to explore the 3km width of the mountain, and it is recommended to go as far from the cable car station as you can – only there you will find some peace and quiet to enjoy the landscape. Yes, Table Mountain is one of our ‘one million visitors or more’ sites.
Kirstenbosch and Table Mountain are two of the obligatory stops on any trip to Cape Town, and they were well worth a visit. They attract lots of people, both locals and tourists: a bit too many for my taste. The diversity in plant life is easy to grasp and certainly a strong point of these two locations. Unfortunately I was too late in season for the blooming of the flowers, so I had to look at a lot of green shrubs.
Published 19 January 2018Leave a comment
Blog: WHS #651: Twyfelfontein
Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes is a rock engraving site in northern Namibia, supposedly the best of its kind in variation and number in Africa below the Equator. My non-Dutch trip mates had already great difficulty in pronouncing ‘Twyfelfontein’ (which is a perfectly normal word in Afrikaans and Dutch, meaning ‘doubtful fountain’). But try its alternative name ‘/Ui-//aes’: the slashes represent two different clicks in the local Damara language.
The site lies deep into a barren valley, surrounded by pretty rock formations made out of sandstone. All of a sudden you’ll end up at a car park and a visitor center – Twyfelfontein caters to 40,000 visitors a year so things are organized quite well. It conveniently lies on the route between Etosha and Swakopmund, and as there is not a lot else to see in the area many tour operators schedule stops here.
We are assigned a guide and after a short walk on the main road in the burning heat, we start our tour at the remains of the house of David Levin. He was a white farmer who settled in the area in 1946 to start a sheep farm. He was the one who named the site ‘Twyfelfontein’, and up against the rocks this unreliable but still delivering water source can be seen under a shelter. He showed the rock art to an archaeologist, and in 1952 Twyfelfontein already was protected as a monument.
The area is covered by two guided circular walks, the Lion Man route and the Dancing Kudu route. The guides seem to randomly do one of those with the group, and ours was the Lion Man route. The routes are equally long (both take about an hour) but do not intersect. The first panel of rock engravings that we are lead to see shows a number of common animals in this region (giraffe, oryx) and their corresponding footprints. A boulder a little further away shows circles: it is assumed that this was a kind of map, indicating the location of the more or less permanent water sources in the area. A second panel depicts the usual animals, plus what appear to be a penguin and a seal.
On most rocks, human footprints are depicted next to the animals. These could be the 'signatures' of the makers of the rock carvings. Elsewhere in the world, you often see human handprints in the prehistoric petroglyphs. It then requires some climbing over the rocks to reach the highlight of this route: the image of the Lion Man. It has the body of a lion and human feet with 5 toes. It is assumed that this drawing had a more ritual significance.
In all, the visit was a bit too short and superficial for me. I read in a guidebook that the guides aren’t really motivated, and I wouldn’t say that was the case but they just cater to a very generic bunch of tourists passing every day with little or no interest in rock art. To enjoy the area a bit more, I can recommend staying overnight at the pretty spectacular Twyfelfontein Country Lodge. This lies at the other side of the rock and in the buffer zone of the WHS. Its construction made ICOMOS cringe in its evaluation (“severely compromised the integrity of the rock engravings in this area “). It has some rock art as well on its premises.
Published 15 January 2018Leave a comment
Blog: WHS #650: Namib Sand Sea
The Namib Sand Sea is the most extensive example in the world of a coastal fog desert. It’s the kind of place nature documentaries rely upon. In David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth II: Deserts’ several scenes were filmed here such as the gecko licking its own eyeballs - where thaw had formed in the early morning - to get liquid. The site was inscribed on all 4 natural criteria and it is the undoubted highlight of a trip to Namibia.
The designated area is enormous – about 75% of the size of the Netherlands. But only a small part of it is open to regular tourists. The common access point is at the east, at Sesriem and the Sossusvlei. Only few tour operators have permits to venture deeper into the Namib Sand Sea (they are named in the nomination dossier).
We stayed overnight at the Sossus Dune Lodge, which is the only hotel within the park’s borders (there’s a camp site as well which has this privilege). This means that you’ll be in the park before sunrise and have all the nice spots to yourself for at least an hour or so. At 5.30 a.m. we were the first to start the climb of Dune 45, at 150m the highest of the red sand dunes along the Sossusvlei access road. Sitting at the top ridge we watched the sun rise, giving the surrounding dunes a deep red colour. Getting down from a sand dune of this height also is great fun.
We then moved on some 10km deeper into the park to what is known as the ‘2x4 car park’. Here the vehicles that are no four-wheel drives have to be left behind. Jeeps will shuttle visitors for the final leg to the access point of Dead Vlei. We however hiked this stretch of 5km, right through the Sossusvlei’s barren clay pan and across some smaller sand dunes. It was a lovely walk which I would recommend to anyone over using the shuttle.
A final hurdle is left for everyone after the Dead Vlei car park: there’s a 1.5km struggle through the sand, where you hope to see the famous white pan with the dead trees after each small hill. But it really is at the far end. At one point there may have been 50 tourists at the place at the same time, the pan is however larger than I had thought (about 100m across?) and there are plenty iconic dead trees to take pictures of.
The whole place is terribly hot. We were done for the day at 11 a.m. At the late afternoon temperatures hit 46 degrees Celsius. Even at the luxurious Sossus Dune Lodge we had to develop all kinds of tricks to keep ourselves cool. There was only hot water coming from the taps in the rooms, so we filled our water bottles with warm water and then left the bottle in the freezer overnight.
At the end of my tour through Namibia I was in the town of Swakopmund, just north of the Namib Sand Sea. From here, 1.5-2 hour scenic flights are offered over the whole inscribed area. They are quite pricey at 250-300 EUR, but I heard great things about them. Unfortunately, the minimum of 4 participants could not be met on the day that I wanted to go. Another option to try out for future WH travellers are the helicopter tours from Sesriem.
Published 12 January 2018Leave a comment
Responses to WHS #650: Namib Sand Sea
Clyde (13 January 2018)
What a spectacle! Thanks for the informative review ;)
Blog: Etosha Pan
The Etosha Pan in northern Namibia is one of the world’s largest salt pans. It is a former lake bed of 4,730 square km. Nowadays the area is mostly a dry, saline and uninhabited desert. This combined with the high temperatures results in the fact that no flora or fauna to speak of can survive there. Only ostriches sometimes seek shelter here from predators. Vehicular traffic on the pan itself is forbidden.
On the fringes of the pan there are natural (and artificial) waterholes, grasses and shrublands that support high numbers of mammal and bird species. They are protected within the Etosha National Park, which with a founding date of 1907 is one of the oldest conservation sites in Africa.
The park has the largest single population of black rhino in the world. Numbers are nowadays undisclosed to prevent unwanted attention of poachers (drones are forbidden in the park for the same reason). But earlier numbers indicate about 600-750 black rhino living in Etosha. We saw about 10 of them. White rhino has been reintroduced here as well, but they are more rare. We were lucky to encounter one formidable individual at the edge of the pan, and follow him around for some 20 minutes. He took a long mud bath, so he was one big clay-ey, shiny mess. Afterwards he crossed the road close to our truck, and disappeared into the bushes – not before giving his nose/horn a long rub against a tree.
We spent 3 days in Etosha National Park, crossing it from east to west. We slept two nights in lodges inside the park, in Namutomi and Okakuejo. These and the other park lodges/restaurants/camps get fairly busy. They are not as luxurious as the private lodges where we had stayed at outside the park, but do a fair job especially at dinner time. The main attractions of the park lodges are their private waterholes, at which animals come to drink during day and night. Most famous is the one at Okaukuejo. There are benches and a small stand to sit and watch the comings and goings from a safe distance. It’s like watching a nature documentary on TV together with a lot of other people. After sunset rhino will surely show up – within the course of an hour I saw 4 individuals, including a mother with a very young calf.
Other good sightings during the game drives included: a hyena den with 3 or 4 cute baby hyena, 3 cheetahs guarding a kill and a family of 5 lions avoiding the heat under the biggest tree in the area. Also we visited two great waterholes in the west of the park, that hasn’t been opened to tourists for long. At the Ozonjuitji M’bari and Sonderkop waterholes we saw the congregation of animals that Etosha is so famous for. At the first we saw an elephant share his bath with hundreds of zebra’s, springbok and wildebeest. At the second, giraffes were drinking (always a spectacular sight) with numerous red hartebeest and rows of zebra joining. Three lions were watching them lazily from under a bush, they probably already had their stomachs full.
Etosha is undoubtedly one of the best national parks in southern Africa, both for its conservation track record and visitor experience. I do agree with Namibia’s reasoning in its description of the tentative site that “although large African savannah fauna has already been inscribed elsewhere, some of Etosha’s fauna species are under threat or have died out elsewhere”. It’s especially a good rhino habitat. For a possible future WH nomination, a transboundary serial nomination with the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana is considered.
Published 10 January 2018Leave a comment
Blog: Benguela Current
Few of you will be familiar with the Benguela Current. At least I wasn’t before I started researching my Namibia trip. At the country’s Tentative List I found an entry called The Benguela Current Marine Ecosystem Sites. It could surely do with a more catchy name and/or an epic subtitle if it ever were to be nominated, but in reality it is quite an interesting site. The Benguela Current is an ocean current that carries icy cold, wind-driven upwelled waters from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. These waters are very rich in nutrients, and they support a whole food chain from phytoplankton via fish to sea birds and marine mammals.
The proposed nomination includes a marine ecosystem along the southern Namibian coast including Mercury Island, Ichaboe Island, Halifax Island and Possession Island. In the coastal town of Lüderitz there are catamaran trips on offer to one of these islands: Halifax. They leave daily (weather permitting) at 8 a.m., take 2 hours and cost 450 Namibian dollar (about 30 EUR). Halifax Island is home to the largest colony of jackass-penguins in Namibia.
Lüderitz (“home of the sand storm”) is known for its windy weather, and I wondered how that would affect the boat trip. Just to be sure I had taken an anti-seasickness pill an hour before we left. Fortunately the sea wasn’t rough at all – the winds mostly start from the late morning - and we did not travel so fast. It was lovely to sit outside at the tip of the catamaran, watching small dolphins jumping around and looking at the small rock islands covered in bird guano.
In fact, the guano presence has turned the site into a mixed nomination: there was a true ‘guano rush’ here from the 1870’s til the early 20th century. Ships industrially collected the guano as fertilizer. Special wooden platforms were constructed to encourage the sea birds to breed, so the guano can be harvested annually by humans to sell as organic fertilizer. This practice still is active at this site. Penguin guano was also collected until 1949 from Halifax Island, and the sheds of the miners are still visible there.
After sailing for half an hour or so, we already arrived at Halifax Island. Ships are not allowed to land on the island itself, but they can linger just before its coast. We did so for about 30 minutes, in which we observed small groups of penguins swimming closely to our catamaran. It was the first time that I had ever seen penguins swim, with their paddling they somewhat resemble ducks! On the island’s beach there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of penguins standing around as well in their classical manner. It was a wonderful experience to see them here acting in and out of the sea.
Later that day we visited a coastal viewpoint at the mainland in roughly the same area that we covered by boat earlier. It is named Diaz Point, after the navigator Bartolomeu Diaz who sailed by in 1488 and had a cross erected at a coastal rock. The rock can still be climbed, though the path upwards would not meet any health & safety regulations in most countries. The wind at the top is terrible. But it is the best viewing point for the Cape Fur Seal colony on an small island just offshore. I had seen it from the boat as well, but the sea was particularly rough around it so we could not get close. I find it funny to see that the species each have their own favourite island. From Diaz Point, many sea birds can be observed as well as flamingos.
Published 5 January 2018Leave a comment
Blog: Fish River Canyon
Spectacular New Year’s Day visits are starting to become a habit of mine: it was Virunga in 2016 (gorillas on New Year’s Eve, chimps the next morning) and the Rock Islands of Palau in 2017. On the first of January 2018, I woke up at the edge of Namibia’s Fish River Canyon. I had only been sleeping intermittently because of the strong, howling winds blowing through the canyon and along the chalets of the Fish River Lodge which has been built exactly on the rim. From my bed I could see the sun rise above the canyon, constantly changing the illumination of the rocks.
This canyon in the far south of Namibia is one of the world’s largest (often advertised as the second largest), although a precise ranking of canyons is as difficult as that of waterfalls. Are we counting length, width, depth or total area? We have 26 different canyons within WHS already inscribed in our connection, including Capertee Valley (Greater Blue Mountains) which also is said to be the world's second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon.
Anyway, the Fish River Canyon is a spectacular natural creation. It actually consists of two canyons, one inside the other. The outer canyon, the first level of terraces, was created when a tectonic rift made a wide gap in the earth’s crust. The Fish river afterwards eroded the second canyon along the valley floor, creating the 270m deep inner canyon.
It would have been lovely to do a hike through part of the canyon, but hiking permits are only available outside the summer season because of the scorching heat. See “The hottest walk on earth” for an impression. The canyon is already known as a bit of a graveyard anyway, due to reports of lost and dead hikers attempting the 5 day hike through the canyon valley. So I had to make do with a jeep tour along 4 viewpoints.
It is tempting to compare the Fish River Canyon to the Grand Canyon. Although it is the second most visited site in Namibia, visitor numbers are nowhere as huge as at its US counterpart. There were about 40 people staying overnight in our lodge, which is the only one right at the canyon. And for day trippers there are a couple of viewpoints at the other side of the canyon. There isn’t much that will keep you there for long. Getting to the Fish River Lodge is an adventure in itself by the way – it takes 108 km / 2 hours of unpaved roads from the main paved road.
Another difference is that this area is much more arid. Hardly anything grows at the ridge of the canyon, and even less inside it. The local guide that showed us around told that during the past 8 years, there has been no rain of any importance in this area. Even the iconic quiver trees that need very little are starting to die.
I believe the Fish River Canyon wouldn’t be out of place on the World Heritage List. Maybe the Namibian authorities can combine it with another tentative site: the Succulent Karoo Protected Areas. The Huns-Ai-Ais Park at the start of the canyon contains high populations of endemic succulent flora and is considered the most biologically diverse arid area in the world. The giant quiver trees, euphorbias and the aloe ramosissima are floral species that you will not easily find anywhere else.
Published 1 January 2018Leave a comment
Responses to Fish River Canyon
winterkjm (1 January 2018)
Beautiful way to start the new year!
Blog: 2017 - A Year in Review(s)
“Reviews” of Visits to WHS for long have been a cornerstone of this website. We do now have 6,446 reviews publicized, and have covered 1033 of 1073 WHS. Here are some review statistics for 2017:
You may have missed out on one or two reviews during the year due to the high turnover on the homepage of this website, so I’ve picked out reviews of 10 WHS that deserve a rerun:
Derbent and Grand Canal
In February, Szucs Tamas reasoned that travelling to Dagestan is not difficult at all for Western travellers. He ticked off Derbent. No fridge magnets on sale here, but they have the oldest mosque of Russia with a stunning interior.
Virgin Komi Forests and Western Tien Shan
2017 also was the year of WH Travellers rushing to Kazakhstan. We received 3 reviews in a row about the Western Tien Shan, a previously uncovered site. Probably unaware of each other, Solivagant, Jarek and Clyde visited a different location each. That is what we like!
Shahr-i Sokhta, Darien, Bassari and Sumatra
The Polish WH travellers have been contributing greatly this year.
Just as intrepid is his fellow countryman Stanislaw Warwas. He went to Senegal's Bassari Country: "It is not easy to get there – west of Kedougou there are no roads and I can hardly imagine how they travel in the rainy season…".
Stevns Klint and Mt. Athos
While Tsunami was eventually helped out by the B&B owner, Alexander Parsons found out at Mt. Athos that you cannot always count on a friendly local: "When we eventually found a monk around the guesthouse area, he was visibly confused and angry at our presence, at first trying to ignore us."
Many thanks to all reviewers of this year. Keep the reviews coming in 2018! Especially for those little reviewed sites and locations.
Published 23 December 2017Leave a comment
Responses to 2017 - A Year in Review(s)
Colvin (26 December 2017)
Thanks to all the reviewers this year!
Blog: WHS On Banknotes
While preparing for my upcoming trip to Namibia, I found out that South African Rands are as commonly used there as Namibian dollars. That meant that it would be worth sifting through my unorganized plastic box of leftover banknotes and coins in search for South African Rands from a previous trip.
As I had some time on my hands, I organized all banknotes into 28 envelopes: one envelope per country. I handled the dirty Indian rupees, wondered about the Ukrainian hryvnia and enjoyed the feeling of the polymer notes of Singapore, Malaysia and Canada. I counted the notes as well, hoping to find a small fortune but most of it is nearly worthless. Only the 7,700 Japanese Yen (about 59 EUR) can be a nice starter for a future trip to Japan. Maybe I should just save these random banknotes, they can become more sought after later.
The favourite in my personal banknote "collection" is the 250 Iraqi dinar note showing the Samarra spiralling minaret, that I brought home from my 2014 Iraqi Kurdistan trip. Currency showing WHS are extra special of course, although I do not have a lot of it.
Especially for this sentiment we’ve had the WHS On Banknotes connection for long. It has no less than 122 connected sites, so at least 8% of the WHS has been featured on a banknote. When I finished working on the actual banknotes, I went on to clean up the connection by adding or changing links to images of banknotes. It wasn’t difficult to find even more connected sites: lots of countries find inspiration among WHS, India for example has a number of them in its current series. The Scottish Clydesdale Bank even issued a full World Heritage series in 2009, showing St Kilda, Edinburgh Old and New Towns, New Lanark, the Antonine Wall and Neolithic Orkney.
The 2016 issue of the new 5 pound (polymer!) note of the Bank of England even includes both Blenheim Palace (its maze as a hologram) and Westminster Palace. They have to share their space with the faces of the Queen and Winston Churchill however. So my vote for the best WHS banknote goes somewhere else: to my beloved Nepal, which features two of my favourite WHS on its 1000 rupee bank note. It shows Sagarmatha National Park (Mount Everest) and Kathmandu Valley (Swayambhunath Temple). Mount Everest by the way can be seen at every current Nepali rupee note.
Other notable WHS on banknotes include those depicting the Old City of Jerusalem: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel all show parts of it on their banknotes. The three Islamic countries choose the Dome of the Rock and/or the Al Aqsa Mosque. Israel went for a stylized Jerusalem skyline on the older 50 shekel bill, and an almost invisible Temple Mount at the current 50 shekel note. Other examples of countries displaying WHS located in other countries I have not been able to find.
Oh and what about those South African banknotes? I did not find any, only a few coins. There will be no 'WHS On Banknotes' souvenirs from this trip: South Africa has Nelson Mandela (5x) and the Big Five (the wild mammals, one each) displayed on its banknotes. Namibia has chosen similar themes for its dollar notes, though it selected not one single national hero but two (Sam Nujoma and Hendrik Witbooi) and five species of antelope!
Published 16 December 2017Leave a comment
Responses to WHS On Banknotes
Colvin (17 December 2017)
This is a fascinating blog post, Els! You made mention of how unusual it is for a country to feature a World Heritage Site from another country on its currency. The United States actually has done this once before, though it is a bit obscure. From 1862 to 1882 the US issued a $1000 bill with the scene of US General Winfield Scott entering Mexico City during the Mexican American War. In the background is the Metropolitan Cathedral, part of the Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco WHS. Unfortunately, these bills have been lost to time. I'll put a link to the picture in the forum, since links aren't allowed in the comments here.
Blog: Lechner's pre-modern architecture
On my way back home from Pécs I had a few hours to spare in Budapest. As I had been to the Budapest WHS already, I had a look at Hungary’s Tentative List for something else worthwhile to visit. And yes: there’s another site in Budapest waiting to be included in the WH List. Ödön Lechner's independent pre-modern architecture comprises 5 buildings, of which 4 are in the Hungarian capital. Given my limited time and the freezing weather, I focused on the 2 easiest of this batch: the Postal Savings Bank and the Museum of Applied Arts.
Ödön Lechner was a Hungarian architect of the late 19th and early 20th century. Coming from a family that owned a brick factory (which engrained a love for ceramic materials), his artistic education occurred in Paris and London. He lived in both cities for a few years, and there became acquainted with Art Nouveau and the Arts & Crafts Movement. Returning to Hungary and inspired by these modern developments, he developed his own particular style – hence the “independent” in the TWHS name I guess. It also relied heavily on the Hungarian nationalist notion at the time that their roots lie in Asia (Persia, India) and not in Europe.
The Postal Savings Bank is situated in the city center of Budapest, just a few minutes’ walk from the landmark Hungarian Parliament buildings. It’s an upmarket area with many large classicist buildings. This bank stands out in its street because of its Art Nouveau and vernacular accents, although not as much as for example Gaudi’s works in Barcelona (to whom he is often compared). The building has an almost textbook classic Art Nouveau entrance. The vernacular accents mostly consist of birds, bees and flowers. It is now part of the Hungarian National Bank and I am not sure whether it is open to the general public (I visited on a Sunday so it was closed anyway).
The second Lechner building that I visited was the Museum of Applied Arts. This lies close to Corvin Negyed metro station, also still quite in the city center of Budapest. It is immediately visible when you’ve exited the metro at ground level: this is a large stand-alone building, with a distinctive green and yellow roof. In a way it resembles the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus: in English texts that I read beforehand the British colonial link is pointed out (he apparently was influenced by the Indo-Saracenic style as well).
The museum is currently closed for renovation. Is it in preparation of a successful WH nomination perhaps? It’s a pity because it provides the easiest access to the interior of one of Lechner’s buildings. Fortunately they have left the iron fence open to the formidable main entrance of the museum: a colourful masterpiece of the use of tiles and ceramics.
The official description accompanying this Tentative List entry feels like it was written by a Hungarian nationalist. Lechner apparently “created outstanding cultural treasures that demand the attention of all humanity” and was “anticipating the great individuals of world architecture”. Lechner clearly is of great interest for Hungarian architecture, although he has been despised also for a long period in the 20th century. One wonders if his particular route is enough to warrant a WH listing: he has not inspired a global following and also hasn’t left much of his footprint outside of Hungary (the “Blue Church” in Bratislava is a notable exception).
Published 9 December 2017Leave a comment
- Books: Modern African Architecture (18 February 2018)
- Books: Wonders of the World (28 November 2015)
- Book: Chasing 193 (8 July 2015)
- Book: The Heritage Universe (27 June 2015)
- Book: Japan's World Heritage Sites (26 October 2014)
- WHS On Banknotes (16 December 2017)
- A Silk Roads overdose? (20 November 2016)
- A History of WHS in Danger (5 September 2015)
- WHS & World War I (19 October 2014)
- Tips for travelling to Ecuador (14 October 2017)
- Tips for travelling to Egypt (30 April 2017)
- Tips for Azerbaijan and Iran (3 June 2016)
- Tips for Rwanda, Congo and Uganda (30 January 2016)
- Tips for Travelling to Myanmar (31 October 2015)
- Mongolia's Tentative List (28 February 2015)
- How to visit the (T)WHS of Sudan (22 November 2014)
- Rietveld Bike Tour (26 November 2017)
- Looking for the Golden Rhino (4 December 2016)
- Vestfold Ship Burials (18 June 2016)
- Rome. Emperor Constantine’s dream. (22 November 2015)
- Carthage (8 March 2015)
- Etosha Pan (10 January 2018)
- Benguela Current (5 January 2018)
- Fish River Canyon (1 January 2018)
- Lechner's pre-modern architecture (9 December 2017)
- WHC 2018: Chaîne des Puys (18 November 2017)
- Hoge Kempen Transition Landscape (21 October 2017)
- Mathildenhöhe (19 August 2017)
- Mid-Atlantic Ridge (6 July 2017)
- Ptolemaic Temples (21 April 2017)
- WHC 2017: Dilmun Burial Mounds (11 February 2017)
- Palau and the Yapese Stone Money (7 January 2017)
- Tet el Bad (Stone Coffin) (1 January 2017)
- Hanyangdoseong (29 December 2016)
- Zadar - Romans and Venetians (12 November 2016)
- Nelson Mandela Legacy Sites (19 October 2016)
- Ngwenya Mines (12 October 2016)
- 1940's - 1950's Architecture of Minsk (7 September 2016)
- 20th Century Ivrea (13 August 2016)
- Waterloo (30 July 2016)
- Agricultural Pauper Colonies (9 July 2016)
- Masouleh (25 May 2016)
- Sheki, the Khan's Palace (2 May 2016)
- Temple of Fire (24 April 2016)
- Fortress Town of Palmanova (12 March 2016)
- WHC 2016: Rediscovering Dosan Seowon (13 February 2016)
- WHC 2016 – Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (7 February 2016)
- Mgahinga – Where Gold Meets Silver (9 January 2016)
- Rwandan Genocide Memorial Sites (29 December 2015)
- WHC 2016: Cetinje (5 December 2015)
- WHC 2016: Ani Cultural Landscape (13 November 2015)
- Sonian Forest’s Beech Cathedral (7 November 2015)
- Ancient cities of Upper Myanmar (24 October 2015)
- Bagan Archaeological Zone (17 October 2015)
- Konbaung Wooden Monasteries (9 October 2015)
- WHC 2015: Christiansfeld (20 June 2015)
- The Mystery of Kokino (14 June 2015)
- Amphitheatre of Durres (3 June 2015)
- WHC 2015: Champagne (14 May 2015)
- WHC 2015: Palermo, Cefalù & Monreale (9 May 2015)
- Two TWHS in Antwerp (6 April 2015)
- Five Dzongs of Bhutan (14 March 2015)
- Granada and its natural environment (20 February 2015)
- Volcan Masaya - Exciting or not? (14 February 2015)
- WHC 2015: Singapore Botanic Gardens (20 December 2014)
- Old Dongola (1 December 2014)
- Great Spas of Europe: the original Spa (15 November 2014)
- WHC 2015: Hagi Castle Town (9 November 2014)
- WHS #653: Robben Island (22 January 2018)
- WHS #652: Cape Floral Region (19 January 2018)
- WHS #651: Twyfelfontein (15 January 2018)
- WHS #650: Namib Sand Sea (12 January 2018)
- WHS #649: Pécs Necropolis (3 December 2017)
- WHS #648: Saint-Savin sur Gartempe (11 November 2017)
- WHS #647: Bourges Cathedral (4 November 2017)
- WHS #646: Galapagos Islands (7 October 2017)
- WHS #645: Quito (30 September 2017)
- WHS #644: Sangay NP (26 September 2017)
- Ingapirca (22 September 2017)
- WHS #643: Cuenca (19 September 2017)
- WHS #642: Antequera Dolmens (16 September 2017)
- WHS #641: Tetouan (13 September 2017)
- WHS #640: Gorham's Cave (10 September 2017)
- WHS #639: Neolithic Orkney (27 August 2017)
- WHS #638: Ice Age Art Caves (13 August 2017)
- WHS #637: Røros (30 July 2017)
- WHS #635: Pico Island (15 July 2017)
- WHS #634: Angra do Heroismo (1 July 2017)
- Wooden tserkva of Zhovkva (10 June 2017)
- WHS #633: L'viv (4 June 2017)
- WHS #632: Telc (20 May 2017)
- WHS #631: Cesky Krumlov (13 May 2017)
- WHS #630: Holasovice (6 May 2017)
- WHS #629: Nubian monuments (26 April 2017)
- WHS #628: Ancient Thebes (16 April 2017)
- Paris revisited (27 March 2017)
- WHS #627: Salins-les-Bains (11 March 2017)
- WHS #626: Beaune (Burgundy) (4 March 2017)
- WHS #625: Par force hunting landscape (4 February 2017)
- WHS #624: Royal Joseon Tombs (21 January 2017)
- WHS #623: Baekje sites in Gongju (14 January 2017)
- WHS #622: Namhansanseong (11 January 2017)
- WHS #621: Rock Islands (4 January 2017)
- Westminster Abbey (10 December 2016)
- WHS #620: Plitvice Lakes (5 November 2016)
- WHS #619: Vredefort Dome (29 October 2016)
- WHS #618: Drakensberg (22 October 2016)
- WHS #617: iSimangaliso Wetland (15 October 2016)
- WHS #616: Mapungubwe (8 October 2016)
- WHS #615: Makapan Fossil Hominid Site (3 October 2016)
- WHS #614: Nesvizh (17 Sept 2016)
- WHS #613: Mir Castle (10 September 2016)
- WHS #612: Kernavė (3 september 2016)
- WHS #611: Curonian Spit (26 August 2016)
- Palazzina di Stupinigi (20 August 2016)
- WHS #610: Piedmont Vineyards (6 August 2016)
- WHS #606: Reichenau (2 July 2016)
- WHS #605: Swiss Alps (25 June 2016)
- WHS #604: Rjukan / Notodden (10 June 2016)
- WHS #603: Golestan Palace (28 May 2016)
- WHS #602: Soltaniyeh (21 May 2016)
- WHS #601: Takht-e Soleyman (18 May 2016)
- WHS #600: Armenian Monastic Ensembles (14 May 2016)
- WHS #599: Tabriz Bazaar (11 May 2016)
- WHS #598: Safi al-Din Ensemble (8 May 2016)
- WHS #597: Gobustan Rock Art (5 May 2016)
- WHS #596: Walled City of Baku (29 April 2016)
- A Rainy Day in Oporto (16 April 2016)
- WHS #595: Rock Art of the Coa Valley (2 April 2016)
- WHS #594: Santiago de Compostela (26 March 2016)
- Another piece of the Longobard puzzle (5 March 2016)
- Venice in one day (27 February 2016)
- WHS #593: Aquileia (21 February 2016)
- WHS #592: Kasubi Tombs (24 January 2016)
- WHS #591: Rwenzori Mountains (20 January 2016)
- WHS #590: Bwindi (15 January 2016)
- WHS #589: Virunga! (4 January 2016)
- A second look at Edinburgh (19 December 2015)
- WHS #588: Forth Bridge (13 December 2015)
- WHS #587: Pyu City of Halin (3 October 2015)
- WHS #586: Wachau (19 September 2015)
- WHS #585: Neusiedlersee (13 September 2015)
- WHS #584: Gammelstad (19 August 2015)
- WHS #583: Laponia (15 August 2015)
- Searching for the Wadden Sea (8 August 2015)
- WHS #582: Wooden Tserkvas (1 August 2015)
- WHS #581: Malopolska Churches (25 July 2015)
- WHS #580: Auschwitz Birkenau (19 July 2015)
- WHS #570: Medieval Monuments in Kosovo (10 June 2015)
- WHS #569: Ohrid Region (6 June 2015)
- WHS #568: Berat and Gjirokaster (30 May 2015)
- WHS #567: Butrint (27 May 2015)
- WHS #566: Corfu Old Town (24 May 2015)
- WHS #565: Vézelay (20 May 2015)
- WHS #564: Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay (17 May 2015)
- Remembering the Kathmandu Valley (3 May 2015)
- Florence in-depth (27 April 2015)
- WHS #563: Medici Villas and Gardens (21 April 2015)
- WHS #562: A Mining Landscape (25 March 2015)
- WHS #561: León Cathedral (6 February 2015)
- WHS #560: Ruins of León Viejo (31 January 2015)
- WHS #559: Portobelo (24 January 2015)
- WHS #558: Panamá (18 January 2015)
- WHS #557: San Cristobal de La Laguna (10 January 2015)
- WHS #556: Teide National Park (3 January 2015)
- WHS #555: Gomera's Garajonay (29 December 2014)
- WHS #554: Magnificent Meroë (13 december 2014)
- WHS #553: Gebel Barkal (7 December 2014)
- WHS #552: The Two Faces of Corvey (2 November 2014)
- 2017 - A Year in Review(s) (23 December 2017)
- Favourite entrance tickets to WHS (28 October 2017)
- Completing Europe (27 January 2017)
- WH Trip Planning in 5 steps (21 December 2016)
- WH Travellers meeting in Vilnius (31 August 2016)
- 10 Bits of Trivia about the WHS of 2016 (23 July 2016)
- WHS Top 200: The Results (9 April 2016)
- What counts as a visit? (19 March 2016)
- One of our Missing: Shwedagon Pagoda (27 September 2015)
- WH Travellers meeting in Rotterdam (26 August 2015)
- A 17-Year Journey (12 October 2014)