Blog Connections

Epic Subtitles

The connection Epic Subtitles collects WHS where the main title of the site is accompanied by a grandiose / epic / flowery subtitle. These additional, descriptive titles must be beyond simple statements of what or where the WHS are. They also exclude standard phrases like "Historic centre of ", "Cultural Landscape". Adding these kind of subtitles to nominations seems to have really taken off in the 2010s. There is a bit of a fishy smell around the WHS that use them, like they’re trying to make things look better than they really are.

Looking at the list of 22 connected sites, the subtitles come in 3 kinds: (A) they bring focus, (B) they make a claim or (C) they blatantly overdo it.

The ones bringing focus

A common form is to add a subtitle that hints on the OUV of the site, especially where it isn’t immediately clear that there is one: “Le Havre - the City Rebuilt by Auguste Perret”, or: “Provins Town of Medieval Fairs” for example. Q: What’s so special about Le Havre, it seems like a nondescript large city with few historic buildings? A: The City was Rebuilt after WWII by design of Auguste Perret.

Kujataa. Norse and Inuit Farming at the Edge of the Ice Cap” even needed a double explanation. It combines “Kujataa” (what is it?, where is it?, never heard of) with “Norse and Inuit Farming” (oh, it’s in the far north and they can even farm there) and “at the Edge of the Ice Cap” (which sounds like a terrific effort to make something edible grow there).

The claims

Lumbini (“Birthplace of the Lord Buddha”) probably started the trend of adding Epic Subtitles in 1997. Bethlehem (“Birthplace of Jesus”) of course followed. You’d expect a “Mecca, Birthplace of Muhammad” also, but that city seems to be too holy to the Islamic scholars of Saudi Arabia to be put forward. Instead, we have to make do with “Historic Jeddah - the Gate to Makkah”.

The grandiose

The best epic subtitles are the grandiose, the boastful. The fairly modest  "Samarkand – Crossroads of Culture" was changed upon inscription from Uzbekistan’s own proposal “Samarkand – The place of crossing and synthesis of world cultures”.

Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines - Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir” also is a classic. Noone knew about Battir before, so first it has been added that it is actually “Southern Jerusalem” and second it apparently is representative for a whole nation that thrives on olives and vines.  

The best one I think is “Chiribiquete National Park - Maloca (“home”) of the Jaguar” – although it’s not the only home of the jaguar of course and the beast surely isn’t responsible for the rock art of this WHS.

TWHS with Epic Subtitles

It doesn’t end here of course. The accumulated Tentative Lists have more of them. The same Danish script writers that invented “Kujataa. Norse and Inuit Farming at the Edge of the Ice Cap” came up with “The Maritime Heritage of Dragør Old Town and Harbour - A ‘skipper-town’ from the era of the great tall ships in the 18th and 19th centuries”. There is the bold 2021 candidate “Nice or The invention of Tourism”. And who wouldn’t want to visit “Milne Bay Seascape (Pacific Jewels of Marine Biodiversity)”?

Els - 7 March 2021

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Jay T 7 March 2021

Well at least Chiribiquete was modest enough to not put forward the name it has been given by locals: “Great Home of the Animals”!

Blog Connections

No Road Access

Sometimes I get slightly panicky when I think of the complexity of reaching the WHS that I still have to ‘tick’. What if my health lets me down and I physically cannot make it to them because you have to walk in on foot? To get an overview of where those challenges exist, we have the connection No Road Access. This is a list of WHS where the core zone cannot be reached by road (either paved or unpaved). It of course excludes island-only sites.

First steps on the road to Sagarmatha NP

My experience with hiking into 3 of them

12 sites are currently in this connection, of which I (properly) have visited 3. Personally I do like hiking and 2 of these 3 are among my best WHS visits ever. It’s unfortunate however that they involved quite some climbing while I am only able to train on flat lands in the Netherlands!

Day hikes got me into Madriu (Andorra) and Rwenzori (Uganda). The first is a relatively easy walk of 45 minutes. Rwenzori takes more stamina, especially the first ridge almost killed me. Far more elaborate is the way into Sagarmatha NP (Nepal), although I did not find the hike itself that demanding. The path is in good condition and there are a lot of amenities along it.

Having arrived within the Madriu core zone

Ways to get to the other 9

I need to rely on the reviews from others and the AB evaluations to get insight in the hardship of the other 9. Walk-in only, like the 3 above, are:

  • Chiribiquete National Park: the core zone is fully off limits to tourists and there are no roads either; I guess the scientists have to walk in (there were illegal airstrips on some tepuis during the heydays of the illegal drugs production though).
  • Darien National Park: Jarek has described the process really well: “That part can be done only on foot. The track is well marked but during rainy season it can be difficult to walk (huge mud and occasional streams). Although it is around 3 km it took around 1,5 hours to reached Park border (there are signposts) and around 2 hours to get to Rancho Frio which is located inside Darien National Park.”              

Only by boat can be reached:

  • Central Amazon Conservation Complex: 3 hours in a boat are necessary to reach the park entrance of Jau. The 2nd location, Anavilhanas, is closer but also boat only.
  • Lena Pillars: from the review by Martina, who visited with a boat tour: “Overall it takes four hours to reach the small stretch of the vast national park that is actually open to tourists.”
  • Los Katios National Park: by boat via the Atrato river.   
  • Nahanni National Park: mainly by float plane or canoe/kayak (although hiking is also possible)
  • Pantanal: the core zone is only accessible by boat.        

On the way to the gate of Rwenzori NP

The final 2 are special cases. The only reviewer of Putorana Plateau so far did visit by helicopter. IUCN says: “The nominated property is only readily accessible by helicopter from an airport near to Norilsk, located about 200 km north-west from its western border, or by boat along the lakes, but navigation on the only water course (Norilka River) leading to the Lama Lake is difficult.”            

And finally we have Lorentz National Park. It includes ”small settlements of indigenous peoples several of which are serviced by missionary airstrips. These small settlements (some 50 in all) are accessible by foot-trails”. However, there is mining closeby. And the AB evaluation states “Only one road enters the park and that is on the north-east edge to Lake Habbema.” So it is accessible by road after all – I will scrap it from the connection list.              .

Do you know of additional WHS that have No Road Access?

Els - 28 February 2021

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Els Slots 1 March 2021

Bloodvein lies clearly in the core zone, and it can be accessed by road since 2017 - so I guess it doesn't count for the connection.

Can Sarica 28 February 2021

Pimachiowin aki, a WHS as big as Albania, may be considered in this regard. You can only go to a village on the edge (Bloodvein) by car but rest is canoe/kayak, hiking or plane only.

Jarek Pokrzywnicki 28 February 2021

And Great Himalayan National Park accessible by path on foot (at least I did so while entering core zone). Maybe local authorities will build some kind of road from Gushaini (there were some efforts to do so but probably only as far as the nearest village)

Jarek Pokrzywnicki 28 February 2021

Rio Platano in Honduras has only access by boat or plane. According to the LP guidebook there are flights to Palacios (just outside the park) or Brus Laguna (inside the park), although I am not sure about its frequency. More combined access by land (bumpy road) ends at Batalla. There are boats to different destinations inside core zone of Rio Platano

Els Slots 28 February 2021

Tsingy does have road access, of the Lorentz (sad) kind: "Finally, an oil exploration road was
built 30 km. into the Reserve in 1984 and this is now used as a regular route for foot travel and cattle transport through the Reserve. "

Michael Ayers 28 February 2021

I think we should probably also be able to add Tsingy De Bemaraha National Park in Madagascar. I have not actually been there (yet) but i I am fairly sure that "roads" will only take one close to the park boundary, and to get to any of the interesting places in the core zone will require a good deal of hiking. And based on previous experience with Malagasy roads, those that lead to the Park are probably closer to footpaths than standard dirt roads.

Also, with respect to Rwenzori, it may depend on how strict we want to be about Core Zone access. The second park entrance is right at the end of the Mubuku Road. From there, everything is by foot, but the trails are relatively easy, at least at the start.

Els Slots 28 February 2021

I've added Rio Abiseo and Puerto Princessa, as access to both is by boat only (or a horrendous hike).

Michael Ayers 28 February 2021

Regarding Lorentz, it is my understanding that the Indonesian government has begun its "Trans-Papuan Highway" project in recent years, which is actually a series of longer roads around western New Guinea. From what I have read recently, there may already be a new road connecting the Lake Habbema area in the highlands with a river port town near the south coast of the island. It may be the case that part of this road passes through the Park itself, though I am not really sure about that. If it does it is probably bad news for Lorentz, since usually wherever roads go, destruction soon follows. And this may be another reason to remove this Site from the Connection.

Els Slots 28 February 2021

Regarding Mt. Athos I see a road at the northern shoreline. I've seen it written also that you can get as far as the border post (which you could pass I guess if you're a monk responsible for bringing supplies).

Els Slots 28 February 2021

Noel Kempff has a road too (only 4WD and in dry season): "From La Florida there is a track which runs 35 kilometers into the park where you will find the camping grounds of Los Fierros"

Els Slots 28 February 2021

I was also thinking about Manu (I entered by boat), but the official map clearly shows a road entering the tip of the NP. Will check the other Amazon sites too.

Liam Hetherington 28 February 2021

Mount Athos? It's hard to distinguish on Google Maps satellite view but while there are some tracks that cross the border I think these are trails rather than roads. Not that we would be allowed to use them. Access is via boat (and possession of a Y chromosome) only.

Zoë Sheng 28 February 2021

Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco
only by mule/donkey, yay!!

Also potentially Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River although I don't know if the core zone is large enough to include roads. To get to the river cruise one has to get on a boat for the last stretch and then wait AGAIN for the river ride.

I also wouldn't call access to East Rennell a "road" but alright it can be reached by car lol

Nan 28 February 2021

Wouldn't more places in the amazon count? At least if you restrict it to the core zone access? Manu, Rio Abesio, Noel Kempff?

Blog TWHS Visits

Buenos Aires 1880-1920

Few people will skip Buenos Aires while visiting Argentina, but the capital has remained largely under the radar on this website. It is part of the Buenos Aires – La Plata: Two capitals of the Culture of Modernity, Eclecticism and Immigration TWHS from 2018. The proposed site connects the eclectic late 19th, early 20th century architecture of both cities, “developed with unrestricted liberality” with the use of knowledge of immigrants.

Before writing up the TWHS description as part of our TWHS project, I had no idea how broad this proposal was. The list of ‘Selected Areas and Monuments’ names over 90 specific locations, so it would be hard to have been to Buenos Aires and not touched it. I visited the city in 2008; below I present four of the included neighbourhoods with their highlights from the focus period 1880-1920.

Opposites at the Civic Axis

The financial district of Buenos Aires is all about appearances: I noticed a lot of people walking down the streets dressed in chic business attire. But there was also that 10 year old boy trying to sell pens to customers in a restaurant. No wonder social protest belongs to this city. There’s always something going on at the Plaza de Mayo (1884). I stumbled upon a demonstration in favour of the release of 6 Paraguayans. Fences had been placed so that people could only move around to a limited extent, a mobile police unit was watching from a distance. A bit further away, a group of women with banners was already warming up for their protest for better health care.

Other notable components in this district include the stations of the first underground railway of Buenos Aires (1913).

Recoleta: the biggest tourist attraction is a cemetery

Recoleta is a beautiful neighborhood, one of the richest of Buenos Aires. Its main attraction is the La Recoleta cemetery (founded 1822, remodeled 1881). I wouldn't have been surprised if an entrance fee was charged to enter the grounds of the cemetery. A map at the entrance shows where the most famous graves are - all famous Argentinians unknown to me. The tombs, usually family mausolea, are located on straight streets like it's a small town. There is lots of marble, and classical Greek / Roman and Catholic sculpture; most materials used here were imported from Paris and Milan. The fact that some of the graves are in disrepair, with flowers growing on the roofs, broken windows and attached spider webs, adds extra atmosphere to the site. 

Other notable components in this district include the 'Monument of France to Argentina' (1910) and several residences.

A cycle tour will get you to the suburbs

I joined a 4 hour guided cycle tour to cover more ground. Beforehand I wondered how it would be to navigate the busy Buenos Aires traffic – but we just rode on the sidewalk. Our first stop was the memorial to the soldiers fallen during the Falklands War. A salient detail about this location is that it is exactly opposite "little Big Ben", the Torre Monumental (1916) - a gift from the city’s British residents when relations between the two countries were better. 

Via narrow paths and through city parks we rode to the harbour, Puerto Madero (1897).  Its old warehouses have been turned into restaurants and offices, the subject of 21st century renewal.

La Boca before the Age of Maradona

La Boca district is one of the oldest and most traditional parts of the city; it is mostly known as the cradle of Diego Maradona. Originally, Italian immigrants settled here. After the Second World War, more and more migrants from other countries arrived, and it became a poor working-class neighborhood. It still looks very Italian, with many Italian restaurants and men on the streets drinking and whistling to whoever comes by. At its edge lies the Buenos Aires Transporter Bridge (1908). It connects La Boca neighbourhood with the other side of the Matanza River.

Another notable component in this district is the 'Italo-Argentina Electricity Company Factory' (1916).

Els - 21 February 2021

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Blog TWHS Visits

The Egyptian Museum

While we are working diligently on the TWHS project, in Paris they are slowly adding updated Tentative Lists. A surprise came in last week with the inclusion of ‘The Egyptian Museum in Cairo’. Rumours about it being considered first appeared in 2019, but faded out since. The submission comes at a remarkable moment as the new ‘Grand Egyptian Museum’ in Giza is almost ready to open. 50,000 pieces including the Tutankhamun collection will then have been relocated from the old museum to the new.

The "Museum of Egyptian Antiquities", as the original museum is officially called, is one of the most notable museums in the world. It has been in the same building since 1901 and with 120,000 Ancient Egyptian artefacts on display, it is the world's largest Egyptology museum. Egypt hopes to prove its OUV along the lines of purpose-built museum design and the important contribution to Egyptology as field of study.

I visited the museum in October 2018. I will record my experiences here in some detail as what you see and where you find it in the museum may already have changed in 2021. I arrived at 9am - coming early in the morning or late afternoon seems to be the best recipe against the crowds that are always here. As many as 2.5 million visitors show up in a ‘normal’ year. I found at least 150-200 people already waiting in the courtyard for the doors to open.

Once inside, after a second security check, all tourists and their guides piled up in the first rooms. However, I immediately continued to the rear rooms on the ground floor. Room 3 at the very back of the ground floor is dedicated to the period of Pharaoh Akhenaten. These finds look very different from the other Ancient Egyptian art: faces were portrayed much more lifelike.

Then I immediately went up the stairs to the first floor. This actually has more to offer than the ground floor. A hall and a corridor are dedicated to the famous finds from Tutankhamun's tomb. The highlight is of course the golden death mask, which is located in a separate room and may not be photographed. In the corridor are the larger burial finds such as a golden throne. The most beautiful I found the alabaster canopic jar - 4 white burial vases containing the remains of the organs of Tutankhamun, which were removed before he was mummified.

Almost every tourist comes here with a guide, and apparently they all call on a fixed set of highlights. I had also made a list beforehand with the most interesting rooms and objects, but it is just as nice to just walk into a room and see what catches your eye. All objects here are actually masterpieces, which other museums in the world would pay a lot for.

Upon entering I had bought an extra ticket for the "royal mummies" exhibition. I found it in a small and crowded room. Apparently many people are fascinated by those shriveled heads and bodies. I didn't like it much. The mummified animals in a room next to it I found a lot more interesting. The ancient Egyptians mummified everything: crocodiles, ibises, oxen, dogs, cats. Sometimes they were pets, accompanying their owners in the afterlife. But they were also sacred animals or just "food" to sustain the deceased in the grave.

When we evaluate the Egyptian Museum for WH status, the main question will be whether it is still attractive enough in comparison to the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza. Its pros are its prime location (even the epicentre of Egypt’s 2011 Revolution), the quality and cohesity of its collection, its long history as a museum in general. The purpose-built museum was the first of its kind in the Middle East, it showed the Egyptian discoveries in Egypt instead of being whisked away to Western Europe. So why would it be less important than Berlin’s Museum Island for example?

Els - 14 February 2021

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khuft 18 February 2021

Actually, why Egyptology was certainly dominated by Europeans at the time, Egypt was not yet a British protectorate, but instead nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire (and in reality a quasi-independent state. Before the Egyptian museum was built, the collection of antiquities was apparently kept in an annex of one of the palaces of the khedive of Egypt, who also inaugurated the Egyptian museum. So "colonial" is a bit misleading in this case...

Jay T 14 February 2021

It's true the museum is a colonial museum -- in fact modern Egyptology itself is deeply entwined with colonialism. The downside of Egyptology in the 18th and 19th centuries was that many treasures were taken away to Europe and a black market for goods from tombs was established. However, colonialism also brought the establishment of the Department of Antiquities in the 19th century, which led to the construction of the Egyptian Museum in the early 20th century to display the department's treasures, and eventually led to Egyptians gaining autonomy over their own heritage.

As a side note, I do wonder what the impetus for UNESCO World Heritage would have been if it were not for Egyptology...

Nan 14 February 2021

Hmn. I think it's hard to separate the content from the location. The Museumsinsel is great because you can walk through the Gates of Babylon. Or visit Pergammon. Will be interesting to see what goes where @kyle.

@jay good phrasing for ouv. still, this is a colonial museum, so clearly traces back to europe.

Jay T 14 February 2021

I would hazard that one point of OUV is that it was an early attempt to keep and showcase a culture’s archaeological treasures and artifacts in country, rather than taken to other countries for display. I agree that the heart of the OUV would be in the treasures on display, but the building itself provided an early example of displaying antiquities within the cultural region they were found, instilling a sense of ownership by the people. I am really curious to see what happens with this TWHS when the new museum opens, though.

Kyle Magnuson 14 February 2021

It seems mostly irrelevant if some of the highlights are moved to other modern facilities. From what I read, tens of thousands of artifacts are in storage and rotated into the exhibits. Furthermore, Egypt is not lacking in priceless treasures. In our Connection "Museum History", WHS containing locations that have been important in international museum history, none are outside Europe. That alone makes me supportive at least in theory, but I lack first hand knowledge of the museum itself.

Nan 14 February 2021

I think the comparison with the Museumsinsel is off. The Museumsinsel was built roughly 90 years before the Egyptian Museum. I also don't see OUV if the collection is removed.

The connection to the Museumsinsel is rather via it's most prominent artefact: the bust of Nofretete. But then you would also have to name the British Museum ;)

Blog TWHS Visits

The Meuse Citadel of Namur

The Meuse Citadels TWHS comprises the fortified areas of the Walloon cities of Namur, Huy and Dinant. The river Meuse, which runs from France to the North Sea via Belgium and The Netherlands, used to be a natural border and offered strategic points of defense. The fortifications developed from Roman times til the 2nd half of the 20th century, when land territory warfare became of less importance.

On my day trip to Namur late January 2021 I of course visited its citadel, the major landmark of this city. There are Roman origins here as well, but the major stone wall construction started in the late Middle Ages. From the 16th century onwards these defense works were built here, among others in the 17th century under the direction of the well-known French military architect Vauban and later by the Dutch.

From the city center the Citadel is easy to access on foot via one of the bridges over the river Sambre. It is huge and a brisk walk is needed to climb up the ramp: the defense structures stand on a 100m high hill. The main grounds are freely accessible, only the former Terra Nova barracks are in use as a museum nowadays. There is also a system of underground passages (closed because of Covid).

Having walked to the very tip of the Citadel I was surprised to find a gigantic modern statue there. It is Searching for Utopia by the Belgian artist Jan Fabre. The 5m long sculpture of a bronze turtle has found its permanent resting place here after having been dragged around the country from exhibition to exhibition. This and other high points of the Citadel also present beautiful views of the inner city of Namur on the other river bank. With its 110,000 inhabitants Namur is not very large but I found it rather lively. It is the capital of the Walloon region and thus has a government function with the associated public buildings and staff.

A good view the other way around – from the city to the Citadel – can be had from the Jambes quarter. That area is recommended for a stroll also because of its Art Nouveau buildings.

Forts are definitely an overrepresented category on the WH List already: no less than 45 sites have military/fortifications as their main theme. Furthermore there are the fortified cities such as Cartagena and Havana. Also the serial approach, which Belgium has applied so succesfully with the Belfries and the Beguinages to spread WHS around the country, is totally artificial here. Even the city officials in Namur were disappointed that they had to share the nomination with the “lesser” citadels of Dinant and Huy. A 4th citadel, in Liège, is now in use as a hospital and it is unclear whether it will be included in a future nomination. Earlier on, the citadel of the French town of Givet (Fortress of Charlemont) was also named as a possible serial candidate.

Els - 7 February 2021

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Blog WHS website

Pimping the TWHS pages

In the search for yet another lockdown project I thought time had come to pimp up the TWHS pages on this website. These have always been more limited in content than the WHS pages, but as there are currently 1751 of them that is a missed opportunity. Even more so while we are steadily making progress covering them by visitor reviews. So I set myself to this huge task and managed to already implement some quick wins.

Changes at each TWHS page

Most of the changes can be found on the individual TWHS pages:

  • The shortened name is used more often. The full name is still visible on the right after “Official name”, but a shortened version is used in general headers. Shortening of the names is often hard to do by the way, more polished names usually occur when a site is nominated for WH status.

  • Each TWHS will eventually get an introduction text of 3 sentences, which states what the site is about and where potential OUV may lie. The main source for this is the description by the State Party on the UNESCO website, paraphrased. Sometimes a bit of wiki or the official website is thrown in to get more content.

  • The new design shows a photo when there is one available.

  • Like the WHS, all TWHS now have been categorized as either Cultural, Natural or Mixed.

  • When the TWHS is proposed as an extension, it will show in the Site Info box (including a link to the WHS it will extend).

  • And finally, in the bottom right corner the list is shown of who visited this TWHS.

Also, the TWHS table on the country pages has been updated to include the Cultural/Natural/Mixed indicator and whether the TWHS is an extension to an existing WHS.

What more can be done?

How can we further polish the TWHS pages or present data to clarify the subject of TWHS? This preferrably with the reuse of concepts already present for other pages such as the Site page of the Country page. Some ideas:

  • Make visible that a TWHS is part of a transnational/transboundary nomination with TWHS in other countries.

  • Categorize them like the site pages. This can provide interesting data, for example whether the mix of categories among TWHS is really different from that of the WHS.

  • Add more Links, for example to the offical websites.

There are also a few things that I’d rather not tackle at the moment. Adding the site criteria (ii, iv etc) for example: a lot of work, they will probably change during the nomination process and I do not find them that interesting anyway. Also: adding connections (too slippery terrain as the borders of TWHS are often unclear). And this whole makeover does not include the FTWHS.

I can use some help...

The idea is to add content on a country-by-country basis, or at least begin with the countries sharing the same initial letter. For the TWHS in each country it has to be determined:

  1. Is it an extension to a current WHS? Close reading of the description often is needed. I already added those with “Extension” in their full name.
  2. Are photos available? Look for them in the public domain or donate your own.
  3. Can we write 3 sentences of introduction text, starting with “[TWHS name] is a [what is it and why is it special]”?

I did Afghanistan, Australia and Belgium already and I must say that it was illuminating. So if you plan to visit a certain country in the future, this exercise helps to get an in-depth look at the TWHS.

I will report on the progress via this Forum topic. If you’d like to participate in any way, please pick a task there.

Which further improvements do you see for the TWHS pages?

Els - 31 January 2021

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Kyle Magnuson (winterkjm) 31 January 2021

This is really some commendable work. This project adds so much to rather stunted information about tentative nominations.

Frédéric M 31 January 2021

Looks really nice, great idea! I will definitly try to give a hand.

Also, I would suggest to add the score (or the Favor %) in the TWHS table on the country page. I think it can help to easily spot the best candidats from each country.

Nan 31 January 2021

Looks great.

Things I would like for TWHS:

Links to other countries' and former twhs. Could be squeezed into the description.

More locations. Or an indication what would be part of the core zone. Often quiet hard to figure out.

Blog TWHS Visits

The Neanderthal fossil sites of Wallonia

The Netherlands and Belgium have been completely out-of-sync in the Covid crisis. During the first wave, Belgium surprised its northern neighbour by an overnight closure of its borders. Later on when one country closed its shops or restaurants, those on the other side were open resulting in lots of opportunistic daytrippers. Now, in January 2021, travel by both sides is discouraged but a visit by car for less than 48 hours needs no prior arrangements. So last Friday I thought I’d give it a go to visit one of the Belgian TWHS that I had not visited before: the Neanderthal fossil sites of Wallonia.

There are four fossil sites included in this TWHS: the Caves of Schmerling, Scladina, Goyet and Spy. They lie within a 50km circle around the city of Namur. Scladina can be visited with a guided tour on certain Sundays, Schmerling and Spy require a pilgrimage on foot and Goyet seems to be closed indefinitely. The Neanderthal remains and associated fossils of course have been whisked away to museums and universities long ago, but these sites are mostly about the Neanderthaler lifestyle and the development of Paleoanthropology as a science.

I choose Spy Cave for my visit. First I went to the museum about the findings in the nearby village. I was the only visitor, having easily secured a time-slot a day before by e-mail. The exhibition is in French but I received a folder with the texts in Dutch. You need those texts as the exhibition consists mostly of information panels. Spy Cave has brought us three Neanderthal specimen: a man, a woman and a small child. Their bones (discovered in 1886) were all mixed up and it took until 2010 to confirm there were three of them. The female had scars around her teeth which seems to indicate that she used toothpicks a lot! Unfortunately there are few findings on show – only some stone tools. Also there are copies of the bones of Spy I & II and an artist’s impression of how the Neanderthal man would have looked like. They must see a lot of school groups here. The most interesting part of the museum I found the 12 minute video at the end.

I then drove on for a few kilometers to the parking lot for the cave itself. The Grotte de Spy can be reached on foot via a side path of a fitness trail, it’s about 25 minutes walk in total. The trail is very muddy and the (signposted) path to the cave even more so. A number of hairpin turns take you down to the cave which lies just above the river Orneau. The path was so steep and slippery that I ended up taking a shortcut straight down the hill on my bum.

The cave itself is fully accessible and there seems to be no security in place. The only sign that betrays that this is not a normal cave is the memorial stone from 1928 that has been attached to its front. I entered the main ‘hall’ and two side rooms which seemed like perfect shelters. I learned from the museum that the Neanderthaler did not live in caves – they had camps, however most of those (except for 1 in Germany) did not withstand the test of time. Excavations at the site of Spy have brought forward animal bones (including those of mammoths) and stone tools in the same stratigraphic layer as the Neanderthal skeletons.

ICOMOS has carried out a thematic study on the somewhat broader subject of fossil hominid sites in 1997 and although evaluating no less than 31 sites, these Walloon ones are not among them. They were ranked on 6 criteria, including the number of the finds, the antiquity of those and the potential for further discoveries. The OUV of the Neanderthal fossil sites of Wallonia mostly lies in the role they played in the research of the history of the knowledge about the Neanderthal. Together with those in the German Neander Valley they convinced scientists in the late 19th century that these were the remains of a human ancestor. The first Neanderthal remains overall were discovered in 1829 by Philippe-Charles Schmerling in the Grottes d'Engis (now called the Caves of Schmerling, also part of this TWHS), but he thought it was an ancient skull of an anatomically modern human.

I do think that the Neanderthal history deserves a spot on the List, but there seems to be no singular site that really stands out. Of course we already have Gorham's Cave (wealth of  archaeological evidence), the Mount Carmel Caves (chronology of human evolution) and Le Moustier in the Vezere Valley (gave name to name a specific type of tools and artifacts, associated primarily with the Neanderthals in Europe, as Mousterian Industry). You’d need a number of sites to tell a coherent story; and with such a transnational serial site one or two of these Belgian locations could fit in together with for example Iraq's Shanidar Cave (full skeletons) and the Russian Denisova Cave (including a Neanderthal/Denisovan hybrid).

Els - 24 January 2021

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Blog Connections

Expressionist Architecture

There’s always something to polish in our long list of Connections. After having deep-dived into some natural subjects during the past weeks, my eye fell on an Architecture topic: Expressionist Architecture. It has only 3 connected sites so far: Hamburg's Kontorhaus District, Sydney Opera House and the Works of Antoni Gaudi. Let’s see if we can find more.

Centennial Hall, Wroclaw

What is it?

Expressionist Architecture is an architectural style from the early 20th century. It is one of the three main subgroups of what we call Modern Architecture. Buildings in this style are distinctive as "they seem like sculpted forms, even though the construction material is primarily brick and concrete.". It originated a bit earlier than the International Style and was itself influenced by Art Nouveau. Notable variants of Expressionist Architecture are the Brick Expressionism of Germany and the Amsterdam School of The Netherlands.

Although the strict definition limits itself to works designed in Europe roughly between 1905 and 1930, sometimes later works on different continents (notably the Sydney Opera House) are categorized as (neo-)expressionist as well.

Carlton Hotel, Amsterdam

Additional connected sites

  • First I had a look at Amsterdam for examples of the Amsterdam School. Most of the buildings in that style lie outside the core zone of the Canal Ring WHS - no wonder as it is geared to 17th century architecture. However, at least three 20th century expressionist examples can be found within the Canal Ring. The Carlton Hotel at Vijzelstraat, De Bazel (often considered as Art Deco as well) at Vijzelstraat 32 and the former pharmacy at Keizersgracht 660. A number of bridges such as the Aalmoezeniersbrug also qualify. All were built when in the late 19th, early 20th century when access to the city centre had to be improved. Roads needed to be widened to allow for trams and ‘selective demolition’ took place.
  • The Centennial Hall (1911) in Wroclaw is labelled as Expressionist Architecture as well by Wikipedia. In the nomination file and the ICOMOS evaluation it is considered an early forerunner: “The comparative analysis has shown that the pioneering role of the Centennial Hall consisted also in its anticipation of the ideas informing architecture in the Expressionist style.” and “the Centennial Hall anticipated the later Expressionist and Organic Architecture.”
  • Bruno Taut is one of the style's main architects. He was responsible for the design of several of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. The nomination file for that WHS clearly mentions the Siedlung Schillerpark ("The architecture with its red brick walls, the flat roofs and the plastic shapes of the façades with loggias and balconies particularly reflects the Amsterdam school with its traditional, strong brick buildings.") and the Hufeneisensiedlung as having expressionist features.
  • Among the Works of Le Corbusier, the Notre-Dame du Haut is considered "the first building of the movement Expressionist architecture after World War II." (wiki)
  • Finally, a text search on the UNESCO WHS website brings Zollverein XII (1932) into play. It was “created at the end of a phase of political and economic upheaval and change in Germany, which was represented aesthetically in the transition from Expressionism to Cubism and Functionalism.” There’s no further explanation in the nomination dossier. Wiki categorizes it under New Objectivity, part of the International Style.

Einstein Tower (Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam)

Close enough

A special finding of researching this connection is that several major works of Expressionist Architecture are located just outside the core zone of a WHS. The boundaries of Tel Aviv’s White City are a mystery to me, but the Hechal Yehuda Synagogue (1980) is not named or pictured in the nomination file so I guess it’s out. It has an unusual seashell shape.

On the way to the Potsdam WHS one cannot overlook the Einstein Tower. Its architect, Erich Mendelsohn, is seen as one of the pioneers of Expressionist Architecture. He also designed the Red Banner Textile Factory in St. Petersburg. In Vienna, just outside the WHS, lies the Hundertwasserhaus.

Do you know of any other examples of Expressionist Architecture in or near (T)WHS?

Els - 17 January 2021

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Meltwaterfalls 18 January 2021

One for the close section.
Bremen has the magnificent (if some what ideologically awkward) Böttcherstraße, a fine example of Brick Expressionism.
The street leads to the square containing the Town Hall and Roland, it is partially in the buffer zone.
Personally I really love it and it is probably better than the actual WHS. The Haus Atlantic and Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum are real highlights.

Els Slots 18 January 2021

Good one, thanks Jurre.

Jurre 17 January 2021

St. Catherine's Church in Lübeck dates from the early 14th centry, but its brick facade was decorated with expressionist clinker brick sculptures by Ernst Barlach and Gerhard Marcks in the 20th century.

Blog WHS Visits

Wadden Sea: Texel

At the start of the 2020/2021 winter season I set myself the goal to visit all national parks in The Netherlands. There are 21 of them. The quest so far (I am currently at 12 out of 21) has resulted in wet feet caused by peat bogs, a growing ability to recognize common waterbirds and encounters with out-of-place mammal species such as the Konik.

One of those national parks is ‘Dunes of Texel’, located on the largest and touristically most developed Dutch island in the Wadden Sea: Texel. It overlaps partly with the Wadden Sea WHS, so last Sunday I combined the two destinations into a day trip. It was my first visit to this island.

How to get there

Texel lies only 2.5 km north of the mainland. A 20 minute ferry ride from Den Helder is necessary to get there. Ferries leave every hour and even every half hour during the summer time. You can take a car with you or walk on. There are public buses on both sides, so also when you’re limited to public transport it will be easy. On the island itself a bike can be a good mode of transport to get to the off-the-beaten track spots. Texel is just 20km long and 7km wide. Be prepared for strong winds though!

The ferry crosses the Wadden Sea, so from the deck you can already observe some marine features and try to spot a seal (best chance at low tide).

Which locations are inscribed?

The Wadden Sea WHS mostly consists of a marine area which falls dry during low tide. But it also includes a few coastal locations on the ring of 'barrier' islands that enclose it to the north. The official WHS map isn’t great, but more detailed maps for each island can be found in the nomination dossier. The ones for Texel show two clear coastal areas within the red line that represents the core zone. The first one consists of the sandy southern tip of the island (De Hors) and the adjoining bay Mokbaai. The second one lies in the northeast and is an area called De Schorren, a foreland salt marsh.

What are the typical landscapes to look for?

The site's OUV is based on the "multitude of transitional zones between land, the sea and freshwater environment". Examples are:

  • Salt marshes that are regularly flooded by the tides and provide resting, breeding and feeding grounds for birds.

  • Coastal sand dunes, including ‘young’ ones. These are part of the ‘Dunes of Texel’ national park, which stretches out northwards along the North Sea coast. Best seen at De Hors.

  • Barrier islands: the whole of Texel is one.

  • Tidal inlets and channels: De Slufter is the best example, it lies within the NP but outside the WHS core zone although it is named in the nomination dossier. Still a must-visit.

Where are the birds?

Texel possibly is the best birding site in The Netherlands, with almost 400 species on record. Even during the winter it is, when it attracts migrant birds from Scandinavia and the Arctic. They really like to hang out in the agricultural fields behind the dikes. I found them easier to see there than in the protected areas, as you can get closer. Common winter birds are: Bar-tailed godwit, Common redshank and a variety of geese and duck species. The Mokbaai and De Schorren both were home to massive amounts (thousands) of godwits for example when I visited early January. During Spring and Summer they are joined by spoonbills, ruddy turnstones, common snipes and red knots among others. Also reed birds and songbirds are common.  

Els - 10 January 2020

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Blog Books

Book: Coastal WHS

Books about WHS are few and far between. Of course there are plenty that feature single sites, but putting a group of WHS into perspective is rare. In 2019 Vanda Claudino-Sales (a geography researcher from Brazil) compiled “Coastal World Heritage Sites”. I was happy to contribute a few photos to her book and was given a digital copy of it in return. However it took me until the Second Lockdown and rainy days around Christmas 2020 to find the time to fully read it. The book (aimed at the scientific coastal community) is a bit dry, but it stems from meticulous research and provides lots of tidbits that we can dwell on. 

World Coastal Heritage List

The author presents her own World Coastal Heritage list: natural and mixed WHS that include both purely marine sites as well as terrestrial sites with coastal segments. She found 84 of them in 48 countries. This up to and including the WHC of 2017. In 2018 (none) and 2019 (French Austral lands, Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, Paraty, Vatnajökull) I count 4 more coastal sites that could be added. UNESCO has its similar marine programme by the way, where 50 sites are brought together focussing on their marine ecosystems. Both lists lack a clear definition, but you’ll find pure coastal sites without a significant marine component (such as Giant's Causeway, Olympic National Park, Stevns Klint) only on the World Coastal Heritage list.

The country with the most coastal sites in this study is Australia, with ten. The USA has six, the UK and Canada have five sites each. Five sites (Tropical Rainforests of Sumatra, Rio Platano, Gulf of California, East Rennell, Everglades) are currently part of the In Danger list – a rather small percentage, and when I had a closer look I found out that their worries are mostly terrestrial (illegal logging, urban growth, mining). But these coastal sites face their own dangers. They “specifically are under risk from climate change and with the rising of the ocean level related to global warming”, claims Claudino-Sales.

Updating our coastal connections

With this book, Vanda Claudino-Sales puts Continental coasts in the spotlight (in addition to Islands, Gulfs and Reefs). A strength also is the structural attention to the climatic conditions of a site and the effects of climate change in its conservation. I have been deliberating for a while to add a Climate change connection to this website, but could never find the right angle. The subject includes too many generic threats (such as the rising of the sea levels) that may take decennia to materialize if at all.

So I came up with “Affected by Climate Change”- WHS where the OUV is already being eroded by effects of climate change (such as coral bleaching, retreat of the ice covers and rise in frequency / severity of wildfires). To select the connected sites I relied on the most recent IUCN World Heritage Outlook and this Coastal WHS book. East Rennell so far is the only coastal site where climate change is one of the reasons that it has been put In Danger. For many WHS the effects have not been studied or not yet analyzed.

The information provided in the book also has been a good source to update our existing coastal connections Coral, Dunes, Lagoons, Mangroves, Sea stacks, Tidal effects and Oil Spill with additional connected sites.

Els - 3 January 2021

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