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Recent Community Reviews

1050 of 1092 WHS have been reviewed by our community.

That Luang de Vientiane (T) Nan Germany - 06-Nov-18

That Luang de Vientiane (T)

"Thanks" to some last minute flight schedule changes by Lao Air I found myself stuck for a day in Vientiane while waiting for my flight to Pakse. I used the time to visit the national symbol of Laos, That Luang. Laos may be Communist on paper, but it's very much Buddhist in daily life. So it fits that the national symbol is not the workers' palace or a mausoleum of the dear leader but a buddhist stupa.

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Joggins Fossil Cliffs Jay T USA - 07-Nov-18 -

Joggins Fossil Cliffs

I think that I shall never see a fossil lovely as a tree... Although Joggins Fossil Cliffs does have some reptilian fossils, the vast majority of the fossils on display are of the arboreal variety. I visited Joggins on a cool September day in 2017 and joined a two hour tour on the beach below the cliffs. The tour guide very helpfully showed how the constant erosion of the cliffs was exposing fossilized tree trunks, and also displayed examples of fossils found exposed on the beach. A museum near the car park on the top of the cliffs provided an exhibit revealing what the prehistoric forests would have looked like for context. I enjoyed the tour, as well as the opportunity to wander around the beach afterwards and look for fossils. That said, I am not as much of a fan of fossil sites as I am of sites with natural beauty, so Joggins Fossil Cliffs resonated with me more for its scenic location along the Bay of Fundy. For those World Heritage Site travelers who love fossils, though, Joggins Fossil Cliffs is one of several Canadian sites that would be well worth a visit.

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Vat Phou Nan Germany - 07-Nov-18 -

Vat Phou

Thanks to Lao Air and their weird flight schedules, I managed to visit Vat Phou during an overlay on my way to Siem Reap (Angkor). I arrived in the evening and stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of Pakse along the Mekong River. From there I went by cab the next morning to the site.

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Luang Prabang Nan Germany - 06-Nov-18 -

Luang Prabang

As my first stop in Laos I visited Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos. The main components of the site are situated at the confluence of Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

The town boasts several temples, some French colonial buildings and the former royal palace, albeit that last one is rather amusing than impressive. My highlight was the Wat Xieng Thong temple. And the overall relaxed mood of the city. 

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Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region Zoe Sheng China - 06-Nov-18 -

Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region

Oura Church is easy to visit and combined with the Glover Garden next door. Of all the sites inscribed I think this is the only one not off the beaten path, after all the sites were supposed to be hidden. Wait wut? Reading the inscription I always thought they were about hidden sites, but in fact it is about hidden Christians practicing their faith after being outlawed in Japan, risking death and punishment they would move onto islands at the West coast of Japan and merge with Shinto shrines to cover up any sign of Christianity.

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Blog: WHS #687: Historic Cairo

A lot can be said about Historic Cairo and Cairo in general, but I will focus my review on the mosques of Islamic Cairo. I was in the mood for it: just before this trip I bought the book Mosques. Splendors of Islam and I recently re-visited Istanbul – famous for its exquisite Ottoman mosques - as well. Cairo however might the best place in the world to see the architectural development of mosques: from the Samarran style to the designs favoured by the Fatimids, the Mamluks and the Ottomans.

Ibn Tulun Mosque

Beforehand I had made a list of mosques from the different periods that I wanted to see: Ibn Tulun Mosque (Samarran) + Al Hakim & Al Azhar Mosque (Fatimid) + Sultan Hassan & Aqsunqur Mosques (Mamluk) + Muhammad Ali Pasha (Ottoman). Due to the considerable walking distances between them, I ended up only visiting the ones that I have underlined.

The first of these was the oldest: the Mosque of Ibn Tulun (879). It exemplifies the early tradition of the Arab-plan or hypostyle (“many columns”) mosque, with a spacious courtyard (“to accommodate the large number of worshippers during Friday prayers .. in the warm Middle Eastern and Mediterranean climates”) and a flat roof dominated by a single minaret.

From downtown I first rode 2 stops southwards by metro to Saad Zaghloul station and then - with a map in hand – looked out for this mosque. I immediately walked in the right direction, but it still took me 20 minutes to find it. Nothing is signposted here in Cairo and the mosque is too low to stand out among the surrounding buildings (you can see it very well though from the Citadel looking down).

The Ibn Tulun mosque is known for its spiral-shaped minaret, which has been designed following the example of the minaret of the Samarra Mosque in Iraq. The mosque does not look very much in use anymore: much of it is covered in pigeon droppings. At the entrance you get protective covers for your shoes - probably intended not to contaminate the holy ground with street dirt, but here also very welcome as a hygiene measure. Nevertheless, I was very impressed by its simple but strong architecture.

Al Azhar Mosque

From the 10th century on, the Fatimid Dynasty came into power in Cairo and the city started rivalling Istanbul. The change the Fatimids brought with them was the veneration of their caliph. This lead to public appearances in the form of holy processions and in mosque architecture the innovation of the mosque façade as an important backdrop for sacred rituals.

The Al Azhar mosque is one of the buildings left from the Fatimid heritage in Cairo. It was still built as a hypostyle mosque: I found many students praying and reading under the shaded corridor, while the marble of the open courtyard was being polished and cleaned to perfection. I arrived during prayer time, but that did not matter: I was welcomed anywhere on the premises (after they had given me a robe to wear). This was also the most actively religious of the mosques that I entered on this day. I encountered many Muslims from other countries such as Malaysia / Indonesia and Central Asia praying and probably studying here (it is said to be the oldest still operating university in the world).

In the 13th century, the Mamluks took over Cairo. They were equally ambitious builders as the Fatimids. Their innovations included the integration of charitable institutions and mausolea into their mosque designs. They are also known for their intricate stone masonry. And they replaced the hypostyle structure of the prayer hall with the Persian iwan (with 4 open spaces, 1 on each side of the courtyard).

From this period I visited the Sultan Hassan mosque. This huge mosque lies at the foot of the Citadel. Its portal and courtyard, in the textbook Persian iwan style, are just beautiful. Behind the pulpit lies another room, intended for the tomb of Sultan Hassan himself (but that never happened). Here too, one gets the feeling of being in Persia. The corners of the burial room are covered with muqarnas.

Sultan Hassan Mosque

Finally, the Muhammad Ali Pasha mosque at the Citadel is a pure Ottoman creation. It was modelled after the Yeni Valide Mosque in Istanbul (according to wikipedia its model was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque – but I think it looks more like the Yeni, a suggested by the Mosques. Splendors of Islam book). This is the most visited mosque of Cairo and just as the rest of the Citadel a bit too touristy for my taste.

There are many beautiful, really old buildings to see here in Historic Cairo: you just have to look through the mess. Cairo does not have the grandeur of Istanbul, but it has much more variety in building styles. A full day is necessary already for Islamic Cairo alone: I walked around from half past 8 to half past 4. And then you still have Coptic Cairo left which is also part of this WHS and worth half a day.

Published 10 November 2018

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