Blog Connections


Our Himalaya connection so far only had seven entries. None of them had any rationale, and the connection itself had no definition. As in my head it was time to travel to the Himalaya again (I still have so much ‘to do’ there), I decided to work on the upgrade of this connection for a bit and see whether there is potential for more Himalayan WHS in the future.

The definition

Everyone has an image in his/her mind of what and where the Himalaya are, but providing a solid definition isn’t that straightforward. It’s not one mountain range but a series of them, and it borders even more mountain ranges with overlapping values.

I eventually came up with:

WHS located in the Himalaya proper, the rugged arc between the Tibetan Plateau and the Ganges Plain. Including sites that are in its foothills or where the site lays claim to specific Himalayan features for its OUV.

This implicates:

  1. This scope excludes the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges, which it borders to the northwest (they could have their own connections in the future). Also, the Tibetan Plateau itself is not part of the Himalaya – so Qinghai Hoh Xil for example isn’t included. A helpful map can be found here.
  2. It includes sites in transition zones that 'self-identify' as Himalayan, as in deriving value from it by the landscape, the flow of a river, etc. This must be clear from the nomination dossier or the AB evaluation.

Current Himalayan WHS

To the 7 that we had already, I added:

  • Mount Emei: “This is due to its transitional location at the edge of the Sichuan basin and the eastern Himalayan highlands”
  • Manas Wildlife Sanctuary: “Manas is located at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas”, “it is intricately linked to the Himalayas, including through the Manas River”
  • Mountain Railways of India: “the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway located in the foothills of the Himalayas in West Bengal ... and the Kalka Shimla Railway located in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh”
  • Chitwan NP: “Nestled at the foot of the Himalayas”
  • Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong: “a mixing zone between the subtropical flora of East Asia and the temperate flora of the Himalayan/ Qingzang Plateau” (AB ev)


On the Tentative Lists, we find these strong candidates:

  • Cold Desert Cultural Landscape (India): includes parts of Ladakh and Spiti, and is “a trans-Himalayan marginal plateau land and edge region between the Greater Himalayas of India and the main Tibetan Plateau, which is an unparalleled location both physically and culturally.”
  • Yalong Tibet (China): includes the middle reaches of the Yalong River, which "cuts through the Himalayas", and Himalayan geological structures.
  • Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes (China): Mt Kailash, “Nahumanni peak is the most typical ‘detachment’ of the Tibetan Plateau, which is identified as the key point for geologists to study the uplift of the Himalayas. It is also one of the largest concentrated areas of the Himalayan modern glaciers in the southwest of Tibet” “also one of the main corridors for the migration of rare wild animals such as Tibetan antelope and wild yak to the Tibetan Himalayas.”
  • Neora Valley NP (India): “a compact patch of virgin forest, rich in biodiversity located in the Eastern Himalayas”
  • Namdapha NP (India) at the edge of the Eastern Himalaya.

And we could also consider all TWHS of Nepal (which are all cultural by the way), notably Mustang and Lo Manthang. And all TWHS of Bhutan, notably the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and Jigme Dorji NP

In our Missing exercises, we came up with Mount Kailash and Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse (both Tibet).

A study by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in 2021 identified further potential. They used a wider scope, also including the Hindu Kush and extending the area from Afghanistan to Myanmar. But within our definition, they firstly suggest focusing on transboundary extensions: the Chinese part of the Everest region should be covered as well, as “Sagarmatha National Park (Nepal) encompasses part of the world’s highest mountain, a partial coverage following political borders rather than a conservation rationale”. The same rationale counts for Manas with an extension into Bhutan's Royal Manas NP.

As thematic ‘gaps’ they identified:

  • The cold winter deserts;
  • both the Eastern and the Western Himalayan Broadleaf and Conifer Forests;
  • the Eastern Himalayan Alpine Shrub and Meadows (adjacent to the above-mentioned Eastern Himalayan Broadleaf and Conifer Forests);
  • Rivers – “If any meaningful representations of untamed rivers of the world’s highest mountain ranges and their biodiversity are to remain, effective conservation approaches are needed now, including under the Convention”.

Which places in the Himalaya do you rate highly and would you put forward for a nomination?

Els - 4 June 2023

Leave a comment

Blog WHS website

The 10,000th Review

Today or tomorrow, the 10.000th review of a (T)WHS will be submitted to this website. I am not exactly sure when the first one was (we didn’t log the dates at that time), but looking back in the Waybackmachine it must have been late 2001. It was this one about Dorset and the East Devon Coast by Norman Day. On 13 November 2003, I had the first e-mail exchange with Solivagant about his first review – of Gough Island. That was review number 194. So it all took off slowly!

The 10,000 reviews have been submitted by 1758 different community members and are divided among 1137 WHS and 1104 TWHS. 6,879 reviews include a photo.


The first reviews were mostly comment-style posts, without photos. These limitations were also set by the technical set-up of the website at the time.

We had a ‘Rohtas and Idanre’ phase when local youth were tapping away at Pakistani and Nigerian internet cafes. You can still see some of their efforts in the 18 reviews of Idanre Hill and 15 of Rohtas Fort (and that is after cleaning up). And there was a short-lived Blogger phase around 2017 which resulted in a lot of Don’ts, the main one being no commercial links allowed! 

Nowadays, reviews are almost exclusively written by subscribed community members, not the occasional visitors. They usually have a length of 300-500 words, use white space for easier reading and are accompanied by a picture.

Photos were added more and more and bigger sizes got allowed. Someone cleverly thought of using the 4-in-1 photo solution, which makes the best of the allowed photo sizes and is now very common. The oldest I could find was a double photo before 2006 by Solivagant of Abomey, a triple photo by Kyle in 2010 of Mammoth Cave, and the quadruple by Solivagant again in 2013 of the Kasbah of Algiers.

The latest development was the inclusion of the first ChatGPT-aided review by Nan.


The reviews are free-format and I think it is good to have as little restraints as possible. Nevertheless, a few distinguishable ‘styles’ have developed:

The Overview

The most common type is the Overview: explain a bit about the background of the site and then describe the parts that you visited from a personal perspective. This is especially well-executed regarding European WHS by Hubert and Clyde.

The (mis)Adventure story

The yearly Tsunami Award highlights these stories of adventure, named after community member Tsunami who is the king of the misadventure story. Past winners include Nan on Hiking in Laponia (2019), Zos M. on Sanqingshan (2020), Nan and Tsunami on Rosia Montana (2021), and Philipp on Nemrut Dag (2022).

The Template

Some reviewers have developed their own templates in which they supply the reviews. This may include private scoring systems and a 'getting there on public transport'-section.

The Literary effort

Most of the reviewers aren't native English speakers, so grammatical errors or odd choices of words will always be there. And that's fine. On the other side of the spectrum are those who have grown up in an English-speaking country ánd have a way with words: read the reviews by Squiffy for example for a more poetic approach.

The PhD

The PhD (thanks to Jacob for naming this style) is a long review that covers all (OUV, nomination history, visitor experience) and is based on meticulous research. It substantiates its findings with links to sources. It’s almost exclusively the domain of Solivagant, although Frederic made an admirable effort lately too by posting over 2,000 words and including the scientific names of the wildlife. Some of these reviews are so all-encompassing that it is hard to add anything substantial even 10-15 years later.

The Rant

I’d like to see more of those! Zoe does good rants. I especially like her Andaman Sea review, in which she manages to offend both the Russians and the Thai. We probably all remember as well when she dismissed a country’s whole Tentative List with the best starting line so far. 


Of course, the reviews will continue to be the backbone of this website. If you’d like to write one, think of (T)WHS:

  • that have not been reviewed yet, or not in recent years (check the listings for WHS and TWHS)
  • where significant new developments have taken place (eg. a new site museum has opened)
  • that have a location that has not been described before
  • that cover a topic that you are passionate about

Or just when you have an interesting story to tell.

Reviews are very rarely rejected, although they may not be published on the homepage if you add one to a very common WHS or don’t offer much beyond ‘I have been there and I liked it’. Do read the reviews the site already has – do you really have anything to add? Remember that you write for an audience of like-minded people and not on your personal social media.

Also, look at the photos shown with the other reviews and try not to repeat them – can you add one from a different perspective?

Do you have any suggestions regarding the future of the reviews? Which styles or which reviewers do you enjoy the most?

Els - 28 May 2023

Leave a comment


Clyde 3 June 2023

I agree with Squiffy on Solivagant's reviews. I enjoy the whole variety of reviews from the community and I can almost always find something useful when reading reviews of places I intend to visit even if a particular review seems to have covered everything.

Happy to have contributed to such a milestone 😁

Squiffy 29 May 2023

Thanks for the nice comments. I cannot remember why I decided to start my first review with an introductory 'experiential' paragraph, but I feel honour-bound to continue with it, though I do now feel it is rather self-indulgent. I'm aware that it is a sign of native-English-speaker's privilege - floral language is of limited use if it does not assist others of the community.

I'd just like to say that I enjoy all the different styles immensely and they all add to knowledge, whether on the history and importance of a given site, the practicalities of visiting, or the political chicanery that led to its nomination. The nerd in me particularly enjoys the "Where exactly are the boundaries of the Coffee Cultural Landscape?" type review. Whenever I see a new review by Solivagant I think to myself "Right, I need a sit down and a drink to enjoy this properly...!"

Els Slots 29 May 2023

P.S.: review #10,000 indeed was submitted yesterday and it was done by Clyde on The Industrial Heritage of Barbados

Kyle Magnuson 28 May 2023

Thanks for highlighting the evolution of user reviews since the early days. I've recently went back and updated some old reviews that were "thin" compared to contemporary reviews.

I can't remember who first did the "double review", maybe Ian? Either way, I've thought this was an interesting approach to elaborate on a lesser visited/known world heritage site, especially if your second visit added a significantly different experience or component of the WHS. I've only done this for El Pinacate.

Nowadays, it's not uncommon to even write a pre-review for tentative nominations that why know are queued up. Still waiting for Busan!

Regarding Zoe's reviews, I thoroughly enjoy reading them, but I know I could never be so brutally honest! I have never given less than a 2-star rating for a WHS. Also thanks to people on this forum, Zoe especially I think I can avoid the most egregious examples of aspiring world heritage sites.

Frédéric M 28 May 2023

Congrats Els on reaching 10k reviews! And thank you for comparing my review to Solivagant's work. I'm not sure it's deserved, but it's very flattering.

Jay T 28 May 2023

Congratulations on 10,000! I like the variety of the reviews, with a smattering of adventures (or debacles) and full out dissertations mixed in with the general overviews. I’m glad you mentioned Squiffy as an example of literary reviews, since I always enjoy his writings. Like Nan mentioned, it was the excellent reviews of everyone from Iain and Ian to Kyle, Solivagant (before the handle change) and Nan himself that really drew me in to participate on this site; this is a great community of likeminded travelers. I also look forward each Sunday to Els’ blogposts, particularly when they stir discussion.
As an aside, I actually don’t mind seeing some of the sites that are more commonly reviewed show up on the front page every so often with new reviews, because it reminds me of why those sites were added, and it gives me a chance to go back and read more about the sites.
Thanks to everyone who reviews!

Zoe 28 May 2023

* Ranting... Tried to do so less. But if that's invited... Plenty of mediocre sites to go.

>I think it's more venting frustration in the case of Dom Rep and also at lack of management, following guidelines, horrible UNESCO meeting decisions rather than the site itself. The Russian/Thai thing was a personal experience that's not a common thing. I love everyone :)

Nan 28 May 2023

Some things coming to my mind...

* Early - Paul, Iain, Ian, Jorge and ... obviously Els .) This got me started as it was so different from the other travel sites you could consult.

* First Meetups in Rotterdam and Vilnius. People got faces. It got to be more of a community. Reviews also become a bit more interconnected with references to people met.

* I think Flavio belongs in the PHD category for his super detailed Italian tentative site reviews.

* Would be curious, what everyone's first review was. I think we didn't record the dates properly initially, so we would need to use the DB ID...

* I don't think all year in reviews are properly indexed. I think I should / did get one for being stranded in China without money on a mountain and hitch hiking across the Argentinian / Uruguayan border for Fray Bentos or Los Alerces National Park. Just saying...

* Ranting... Tried to do so less. But if that's invited... Plenty of mediocre sites to go.

* Generative AI... Will to some more tinkering. ChatGPT was a great help, but it's nearly impossible to rant.

Nan 28 May 2023

Major milestone :) Congrats!

Generative AI and rants are hard to square, but will give alto douro a try.

Blog Books

Book: Heaven on Earth

Cathedrals is among the connections that have the most WHS associated with them. At 166 entries, it only lags behind more generic topics such as Located in a former capital (200) and former subjects of the World Monuments Watch (186). A recent book, Heaven on Earth. The Lives and Legacies of the World's Greatest Cathedrals by Emma J. Wells, describes 11 of these WHS Cathedrals plus a further 2 that are on the Tentative Lists. Does it bring any new insights?

What it is about

The book - I ordered the quite heavy (480 pages) hardcover version - provides ‘biographies’ of 16 European cathedrals, with a focus on the gothic building frenzy in the 12th and 13th centuries. Each cathedral gets about 15 pages. The text concentrates on the Who and Why behind the construction and not so much on the architecture itself. I’ve called them ‘biographies’ as their histories are described from their conception up until the present date.

The story starts with Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and ends at the Duomo of Florence. In between, the cathedrals in Santiago de Compostela, St-Denis, Chartres, Paris, Canterbury, Wells, Winchester, Reims, Amiens, Salisbury, York, Westminster, Cologne and Prague come by in chronological order.

Apparently, it needed an ambitious bishop, royal approval and lots of money to build a great cathedral. Wells describes a spectacular cathedral as a “money making machine to attract pilgrims”. We learn of riots by tax-paying citizens who had to pay for it. For it to become a success, religious relics were a must and it also helped to have a homegrown saint (this could be arranged by paying the Vatican a little extra to expedite the canonization process).

Cathedrals with notable stories

The history of some of the cathedrals is already better known than that of others; especially the Duomo in Florence has many books dedicated to it. But there are also intriguing stories associated with the other ones, such as the maverick bishop of Santiago de Compostela who wasn’t above the theft of holy relics from other places or remodelling a statue of Mary into one of St. James to adorn his church.

Notable is the prominent position given to the Cathedral of St. Denis, ‘only’ a TWHS but the most pivotal during the rise of Gothic. It is also credited with the first use of stained glass in a large church and all but four of the Kings of France were buried there. Why it has never been put forward as a WH nomination by France in the early years may lie in the "minimal remains of the 12th century original" and the debatable reconstructions that happened in later centuries and are still being discussed.

Pros and cons of the book

Heaven on Earth is easy to read; not so dumbed down that everything has to be explained, but you don’t have to be a scholar either. I found it refreshing to learn about the people's side of the construction of these famous cathedrals. The book is a coherent whole with an explanatory introduction and a glossary if you do not know your apses from your gargoyles. Also, with the chronological order, you will notice the evolution in cathedral construction and the many ‘modelled after’ references.

I found that there were one or two too many French examples and three or four too many English. An omission is the Aachen Cathedral, which would have been the best one to start with. And I would have liked a bit broader spectrum overall (Latin America? Another one in Italy?) as it now sometimes reads as a lesson in French and English medieval history.

Despite these minor flaws, I enjoyed the book and looked forward to what every new chapter would bring. Definitely, I will use it as a reference work to open again when I am about to visit another European cathedral.

Els - 21 May 2023

Leave a comment


Meltwaterfalls 21 May 2023

Thanks for the review, I was actually looking at a copy in our village bookshop last week. Certainly sounds interesting.

Yep, the title is a tad hyperbolic, and just looking at the list it is very evidently the work of an English writer. However as someone living close to several of them (and having visited them all) it may be worth a purchase.

Solivagant 21 May 2023

It seems to be very badly titled ("......the World's Greatest Cathedrals") claiming a scope which it doesn't attempt to meet or justify.
Her on line CV is interesting in showing the range of things which academics do nowadays to make a shilling or 2.... These include being a "specialist lecturer and guide for Andante Travels and Promenades Travel unravelling the history of architectural sites to parties across the UK".
Her full time academic role is at York University. One presumes she would be involved in any work to progress any nomination for the recently T Listed City and Cathedral. But I noted this recent headline from the newly elected Council "leader Claire Douglas said: “It’s not one of our top priority issues to get done immediately"

Blog Countries

Tips for Travelling to Western Turkey

I just completed my WHS-oriented trip to Western Turkey. Saw 7 new WHS, 3 upcoming possible WHS and 8 TWHS. I had been to this region twice before so I skipped the WHS I had already been to (Bursa, Ephesus, Cappadocia, Hierapolis/Pamukkale). I did a clockwise loop by rental car in 9 days, with Izmir as the most western point and Konya as the most eastern. Then I flew/bussed to Ankara, Safranbolu and Edirne to clear all that was left!

Below are my tips for travelling to Western Turkey as a WH Traveller. 

1. Beware that entrance fees have risen sharply

Despite rampant inflation, food and public transport are still inexpensive in Turkey when you come from abroad and accommodation I found good value. Entrance fees however have risen sharply over the past couple of years (you'll notice the little stickers on the tickets overriding the original prices). The most prolific sites now charge 200 TL – at about 10 EUR, this still is reasonable for a classy WHS I think. But it will add up as they charge mostly per location: Pergamon is 200 TL for the Akropolis and 180 TL for the Asklepion (and 180 TL for the cable car), and Troy is 350 TL for the museum + site combination. The price asked for seems to correlate with the number of tourists a sight attracts – so the Aspendos TWHS is 200 TL as it lies close to the beach resort of Antalya.

Xanthos is on the lower end at 50 TL (but no surprise since hardly any effort at site interpretation has been made here). Çatalhöyük is still free to enter, but they are building what looks like a large new visitor center next door so I guess it will become payable in the near future. In total, I spent 80 EUR on entrance fees for this trip.

2. Choose your TWHS wisely

Turkey’s Tentative List at the moment consists of 84 places. It looks like the result of a brainstorming session where they forgot to cluster and prioritize afterward. Within the vast realm of possibilities, I think this is their way to already ‘give’ something to the hopefuls. But the sites aren’t all great, and some are double or already inscribed in one way or another. I am a firm believer in ‘chasing tentative sites is a fool’s errand’, but fortunately many community members have already made the effort to check most of them out. I found their ratings and reviews a good indication of whether a site is worth a stop – so go for the ones rated 60% or higher on Turkey’s country page.

3. Good luck with the ‘Karts’

During the final days of my trip, I was city hopping between Izmir – Ankara – Istanbul – Edirne, and I had a full day in Konya earlier as well, all the time relying on public city transport. There is no shortage of buses, trams, and metros in these big cities – but good luck trying to pay for them as a casual visitor. Each city has its own ‘Kart’ (Izmirim Kart, Konya Kart, Ankara Kart, etc.) that you must load and swipe to open the turnstiles. They all have different instructions, which are a bit of an enigma to the non-Turkish speaker. The biggest issue is purchasing a new card - sometimes done at supermarkets (Konya), a kiosk (Izmir airport) or God knows where in Ankara. Only in Edirne it was easy as you can check in with a credit card as well.

4. Driving is a breeze

The 'Turkish Mediterranean WHS loop' lends itself well to be done by rental car. That way you can stop at multiple (T)WHS per day. The road network is good and intuitive, with plenty of places to stop for gas or a drink/lunch. Drivers behave generally well, although they may sneak up on you from the right when waiting at a traffic light. The infrastructure investments seem to have gone a bit overboard with the multi-lane highways around Konya, as they seem hardly used. For some roads a toll fee is applicable - this is automatically charged via the HGS system present in the car. Traffic police is a common sight, and I was stopped three times at routine traffic checks (in 25 years of driving in NL I was only stopped once). Slightly annoying, but the officers were all friendly and wished me Gute Reise.

5. Don’t miss the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

There seems to be a trend in Turkey to move archaeological findings back to their place of origin – think of the Troy Museum. But those from the more fragile sites such as Gordion and Çatalhöyük are in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. This is probably the only sight not to be missed in the capital. I found the museum smaller than I remembered it (I had been there in 1992 as well!) and only needed an hour, but both the layout and the objects on show are excellent. 

Els - 14 May 2023

Leave a comment


Clyde 14 May 2023

Thanks for the tips. I'll make sure to visit the capital for its museum next time.

Blog TWHS Visits


Turkey has a good track record in nominating ancient sites with noteworthy remains still in situ. The more complete ones concern relatively late (20th century) and careful excavations deep in Anatolia. Gordion (nominated for 2023) is another example: it was the capital and cultural center of the Phrygian civilization. The Phrygians had come to Anatolia from what is now Bulgaria and Greece.

First: what have the Phrygians ever done for us? It would be overstating to say that they were an influential tribe: after a flowering period in the 8th century BC when they ruled over large parts of Anatolia, they were overrun by the Lydians, Persians, Alexander the Great, Celts and Romans. Still, there are two terms in modern English that remember them: the Gordian Knot and the Midas touch.

The site of Gordion lies deep in the countryside, in what looks like an impoverished area. While driving up there I noticed dozens of people poking around in the fields with sticks – were they looking for bird eggs or mushrooms?

The archaeological site doesn’t seem to draw many visitors, I only encountered three other cars on Saturday morning. The area that is open to visitors consists of the museum, the Midas Mount across the street and the remains of the citadel on the other side of town. The entrance fee for the museum/mount combination still is a modest 40 TL, and there is none at the ruins.

The museum is small and already ageing, but its exhibition is to the point when you want to learn about the Phrygians. You can see examples of their script, for example; it’s a bit like Greek. They made pottery as well; a fun development is that in later years they produced fully black or dark grey pottery instead of the nicely decorated earlier ones, so they would resemble the more prestigious ‘modern’ pots made out of iron.

The Phrygians built great tumuli for their rulers. There are over 100 of them in the immediate surroundings of Gordion. Each held the remains of only one person. The Midas Mount is now still 53m high and that’s after 2,763 years of erosion. A long straight path has been carved into its center, where the wooden ‘crate’ (about 3x3m) still can be seen which held the deceased King’s body. The TWHS description claims that “the tomb is the oldest standing wooden structure in the world” – so bear that in mind when you stand in front of it, disappointed by a stack of wooden beams that resembles a rudimentary log cabin. The contents of the tomb can be seen in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, which has devoted a whole section to Gordion. Photo 2 above shows a wooden screen that was found inside. They also have fine wooden animal sculptures and even the skull of Midas!

The citadel ruins can be visited by following the footpath that encircles them. It takes about half an hour. Some 15 information panels with interesting tidbits about Phrygian culture and history accompany the views. These seem to be a recent addition and they do their job well. The best-preserved part of the site actually is one of the oldest: the gate from the 9th century BC.

Overall, Gordion is fairly modest and off-the-beaten-track, but I enjoyed my visit because the 3 components museum, tumulus and citadel gave me a well-rounded view of the Phrygians. The exhibition that I saw a week later in Ankara topped it off. The tumulus is the most memorable part still on site, and it did remind me of the Macedonian one in Aigai/Vergina

Els - 7 May 2023

Leave a comment

Blog TWHS Visits


Íznik is Turkey’s nomination for 2024. It rose quite quickly among the 84 candidates, apparently using Bursa’s experience (it lies in the same province) to create a complete nomination dossier in a short time. Or, as others say, because it has an AKP mayor (no shortage of Erdogan banners in its streets anyway in late April 2023). With 2025 looking set for Izmir, the Turks in the short term seem to prefer the easy nominations backed by city tourism money and less so the more complex (in funding, in selection) thematic serial sites that also linger on the Tentative List.

There isn’t a really strong focus in Íznik’s proposed OUV. Probably they are going for another ‘multi-layered’ approach (as did Pergamon), presenting historical continuity from prehistory til the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, there are 4 specific topics mentioned: the production of ceramic tiles, Byzantine-Ottoman architecture, the town’s interaction with the lake, and its role in the history of Christianity.

Íznik nowadays has 22,000 inhabitants and a bustling, pedestrian-friendly town center. I started with exploring its ceramic tile history, as I recently in Kuala Lumpur’s Islamic Arts Museum saw some fine examples of Iznik tiles. Look for ‘Çini fırınları’ on Google Maps and you will arrive at the archaeological site where they are excavating Iznik's kilns. You have to watch it from behind a fence, but the areas are labelled with signs big enough to get the idea of what you’re looking at (“ceramic waste”, “kiln fireplace”, “water well”). The recently renamed Turkish Islamic Works Museum - a beautiful building (it was an Ottoman public soup kitchen and caravanserai) - has one exhibition room fully dedicated to the Iznik tile work and its history. You’ll see the colouring and designs change over time.

Scattered around town are many buildings of the Ottoman era. The most magnificent one is the Green Mosque, with its tiled minaret and marble decorations (Photo 1).

There is barely anything left from Iznik’s Christian history. The most prominent example is the Hagia Sophia, recently re-converted from a museum to a mosque. The interior feels soulless: it still shows damage from multiple fires since the 15th century and is mostly a large open space without decoration.  The only notable detail I saw was the Byzantine mosaic (“opus sectile”?) right behind the entrance, uncovered in the 1950s after removing a floor layer (Photo 3).

A bit more about Iznik’s role in the history of Christianity can be found in the Iznik Archaeological Museum. This museum only opened earlier this year and occupies a huge modern building. It seems to have been modelled after the one in Troy but fortunately has learned from that one’s flaw that you do not have to use all the space when you do not have enough content yet. It takes you through the history of Iznik and the region surrounding the lake. There’s a formidable sarcophagus from Hisardere on show, and the two Councils at Nicaea are explained. They claim that the first one (AD 325) was held actually outside of Nicaea/Iznik’s town walls, and the second one (AD 787) in the Hagia Sophia in town.

Overall, Iznik looks totally prepared for receiving the ICOMOS team later this year. All sights have bilingual information panels that seem recent, the new museum has opened its doors in time, and the streets look clean and cosy. Only some restoration work is still going on at the city walls. I hope they will focus their nomination on the ceramic tile narrative and Iznik's role in the history of Christianity, to avoid leaning too much towards the Ottoman theme and coming across as the little brother of Bursa.

Els - 30 April 2023

Leave a comment

Blog Connections

One thousand visitors or fewer

In my preparations for upcoming trips, I do like to read the AB evaluations of lesser known natural sites, and phrases like “remote and rarely visited” in there often draw my attention. Some WHS just barely receive any visitors. So I decided to try and create a connection for sites with “1000 visitors or fewer”; as a counterpart to the longstanding One million visitors or more which currently has 98 entries.


As defining description I choose:

WHS core zones that have only 1,000 visitors a year or fewer.

  • Total given upon inscription, as stated in the AB evaluation or the nomination file. If it is not given, reliable data sources such as IUCN Outlook and UNEP/WCMC can be used.
  • Reflects the number of visitors in a ‘normal’ year, not at a temporary low (because of Covid, restoration, war, etc).
  • It also excludes the sites that have never been open to tourists.

Sites may see a growth in tourism after the inscription and go beyond the 1,000 – but not excessively so or they will be delisted from this connection.


I started scanning the most visited sites by our community in reverse order. And stopped at #1068 as the ones beyond that did not seem likely at first sight. This is what I got:

  1. Ivindo NP (Gabon): “Tourism and levels of visitation remain very low for the time being, with less than 200 people visiting annually prior to Covid-19.” (AB ev)
  2. Dja (Cameroon): “En 2014, l’écotourisme représente un total de 114 touristes dont 7 nationaux, 11 résidents et 96 étrangers” (IUCN Outlook 2020)
  3. Mbanza Kongo (Angola): “The current number of visitors, most of whom are local or regional, is low (508 in 2010 at the Museum of the Kings of Kongo, 892 in 2014). (AB ev)
  4. French Austral Lands (France): “Less than 350 people visit the islands annually” (AB ev)
  5. Thimlich Ohinga (Kenya): 247 in 2011, of which 48 were foreigners.
  6. Wrangel Island (Russia): “Only one tourist group consisting of 6 people visited the Island during the last 3 years, though over the previous 5 years the Reserve received 9 “terrestrial groups” (2 to 15 people) and 8 cruise vessels (40 to 80 people each).” (nom file)
  7. Malpelo (Colombia): “a relatively small number of less than 500 divers visit the site per year” (IUCN Outlook 2020)
  8. Taï NP (Cote d’Ivoire): “En ce moment la station d’écotourisme de Djouroutou reçoit en moyenne, 100 touristes par an. (IUCN Outlook 2020)
  9. Comoé NP (Cote d’Ivoire) : “ Depuis 2012, les activités touristiques ont repris et le nombre de touristes visitant le parc augmente chaque année (149 visiteurs en 2015, 242 en 2016 et 533 en 2017). (IUCN Outlook 2020)
  10. Lakes of Ounianga (Chad, photo 1) : “Data provided by the tour operators and local authorities indicate an annual number of 200 to 600 tourists visiting the site in small groups” (AB ev)
  11. Lorentz NP (Indonesia): “Owing to difficulties with security and access and lack of facilities, tourists totalled less than 100 in 1998.”
  12. Nahanni NP (Canada): “There are only a few hundred visitors each year” (IUCN Outlook 2020), but straddles between 770 and 1302 in the period 2010-2020 (source). 
  13. Noel Kempff Mercado (Bolivia): “Tourism to the park is currently extremely limited--less than a thousand visitors per year” (AB ev)
  14. Putorana Plateau (Russia): “In 2005, 437 people visited the reserve, including 30 tourist groups, 170 individuals and 3 scientific researchers.“ several thousand tourists visit the buffer zone per year. ” – may by now have risen well beyond 1,000: “More recent data is unavailable, however tourist numbers were growing rapidly at the time of inscription in 2010 (IUCN, 2010)” (IUCN Outlook 2020)
  15. Ennedi (Chad): “Tourism is little developed in the area due to logistical challenges; visitor numbers are currently estimated between 200 to 600 people a year.” (AB ev)
  16. Kujataa (Denmark): “A normal season in Qassiarsuk has about 1,000 paying guests. The ruin site/reconstructions and Kujataa Information Center in Qassiarsuk had 135 paying guests and Igaliku had 94.” (official website)
  17. Landscapes of Dauria (Russia/Mongolia): “The managers of Daursky SNBR are moving very cautiously and do not plan to greatly increase the number of tourists; currently the park receives about 600 visitors per year. In Mongolia there is no systematic visitor counting.” (IUCN Outlook 2020)
  18. Gough and Inaccessible Island (UK): “Tourist numbers to both component islands of the site are very low, with ca. 40 visitors to Gough Island annually as part of the annual weather station relief voyage. Visits to Inaccessible are few, and usually restricted to researchers or conservation staff.” (IUCN Outlook 2020)
  19. Ruins of Loropeni (Burkina Faso): “The modest visitor income, from around 200 visitors a Year” (AB ev)
  20. Ashur (Iraq): “There are ca 1,000 visitors per year.” (AB ev)
  21. Macquarie Island (Australia): 400 in 1991 (IUCN doc summary)
  22. Sub-Antarctic Islands (New Zealand, photo 3): “annual visitation to this site has fluctuated from approximately 250 to 750 visitors since the mid-2000s.” (source).
  23. Darien NP (Panama): Visitor numbers are not high except for birdwatchers, attracted by one of the finest centres in the world for the sport. Fewer than 700 visitors were recently recorded (UNEP-WCMC)

In addition to these 23, there's a group of 22 sites where the exact visitor numbers are unknown but are likely to be very low - here I found statements such as "tourism remains in its infancy". I've added them to the connection as well and labelled them with DD (“Data deficient”). You can find the longlist here.

Other takeaways

Always when you do an exercise like this, you end up with other notable findings:

  • It was uncommon in the early years of the AB evaluations to mention pressure from tourism.
  • Even when a site has a relatively low number of visitors, it can still be at risk from overcrowding. Tubbatha Reefs is an example, where "Park authorities intend to limit visitations before over-tourism occurs once a basis for determining tourism numbers is formulated" (IUCN Outlook 2020). 
  • In most cases visits by our community follow the overall trend - so if a site has few visitors overall, also few community members will have ticked it. Two anomalies are the Ombilin Coal Mining Heritage of Sawahlunto (“In 2015, the number of tourists visiting Sawahlunto was 810,000") and Shahr-i Sokhta (100,000+), which respectively have been visited by 6 and 11 members only.
  • I also found this IUCN resource for natural sites. Although it is dated (it's from 1998), it gives a good overview of both presence of a local population and visitor numbers in natural WHS, ranking them in tables from high to low.
  • And it made me rethink the existing Not open to tourists connection. I tried to make a clearer difference between sites that have never opened to tourism and those that do not at the moment. I added Lower Valley of the Awash, where in the most recent report by the State Party (2001) it says: "Not open to tourism". I removed Rio Abiseo as access with a permit is now possible.

Special thanks to Roman Bruehwiler for supplying the above photos of Henderson Island and Auckland Island (one of the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands), and many more of 'remote islands' which can be seen on the individual site pages.

Have you come across other WHS that are rarely visited?

Els - 23 April 2023

Leave a comment


Els Slots 24 April 2023

Kuk apparently does see some school groups, but indeed it is unlikely that they will number over 1,000 individuals. Will add it to the list as DD.

Zoë Sheng 23 April 2023

Very unlikely Kuk receives 1,000 visitors a year. Most tourists wouldn't even dare exploring that area of PNG (or even any land activity on PNG!) and actually setting foot in the core zone, which is hard enough to identify clearly, is another matter.

Solivagant 23 April 2023

Unfortunately the Darien NP is receiving many thousands "visitors" each year in the form of migrants from around the World (Including African and Asian countries as well as e. g Venezuela) crossing on their way North to USA. There are many current articles on the Web showing a route across the WHS from Bijao in Colombia via Paya to Yaviza where the Pan Am starts again. It now seems so enmeshed in the immigration gang-world that it has become too dangerous for the previous occasional "tourist" who made the journey South!

Els Slots 23 April 2023

UPDATE: Lower Valley of the Awash seems to be open now with a permit (see - thanks Solivagant for sharing this. And I think we can safely add it to the One Thousand Visitors or Less connection.

Blog WHS website

Aspiring TWHS

We have had a Forum topic called ‘Aspiring to be on the Tentative List’ already since 2008. It is filled with mentions of places around the world that have publicly announced to aspire to World Heritage status, but are not on their country’s Tentative List yet. Honestly, I never took those very seriously, as they were often proposed by locals after a few drinks without any further thought or follow-up.

But I feel something in the ‘Road to WHS’ has fundamentally changed over the past few years. Countries seem to keep their cards close to their chest longer than before. For a WH traveller, it can now be more worthwhile to be aware of these Aspiring TWHS (ATWHS) than to look at a current but aged Tentative List. On my recent short trip to Poland for example, I already added a Cluniac site (Tyniec Abbey) to the itinerary as it lies next to Krakow and it has a high chance of being nominated for WHS within the next 5 years.

What kind of ATWHS are we looking at?

Winterkjm last year already gave a great non-exhaustive summary of sites in the running. We see:

  • Sites in Limbo: often it takes a lot of time between a new Tentative List being declared, and it being publicized on the UNESCO website. I don’t know where the delay is – maybe there is a bit of going back and forward between the two as they also have to deliver a description nowadays. I also wonder about the dating: the recently (March 2023) added Padang Civic Ensemble (Singapore) has been retrospectively given the submission date of 15/09/2022.
  • Sites that are part of large transnational serial nominations: These projects have become succesful over the past couple of years and are now copied all over the place. They take many years and many (often well-publicized) international meetings to take their definitive shape. Still, we know of a number of them that are seriously working towards a nomination without any or all of the sites being on a Tentative List. Think of the Cluniac sites and the Workers Assembly Buildings.
  • Sites in non-acceding countries: there are countries that are already pondering possible nominations, but they have not ratified the WH convention yet (Tuvalu, Nauru) or are not a member of UNESCO (see the recent Taiwan discussion ; it would also include Liechtenstein but I would be hesitant to add any other 'countries' besides perhaps Kosovo -> for further discussion use this existing topic). This country could get its own country page plus a listing of its ATWHS - only if it has any that comply with the criteria outlined in the next paragraph.

How to proceed?

I’d like to give this kind of sites a place on the existing country pages because when you are preparing a WHS-related trip to a certain country nowadays it would be a mistake to disregard these ATWHS.

It would be necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff - I don't want the country pages to become just a list of random 'things to see'. I consider meeting one of the following indicators as being serious:

  • Official additions made public by a government source, but not updated on the UNESCO website yet.
  • Have a nomination website already where progress can be followed.
  • Named as a serial extension on the official tentative site of another country.
  • Has backing from the applicable central government body. Not come from a local/regional source only.
  • Has involvement by UNESCO or one of its Advisory Bodies already.

Testing this for the 20 most recent entries at the ‘Aspiring’ topic, the Maungaroa Valley (Cook Islands), Tanger (Morocco), and Mekong (Cambodia)  would make the cut. All others are mostly local initiatives, although some (Duomo di Milano, Léon) are more serious than others.

There are also a few ATWHS ‘hidden’ in their respective country forum topics, such as the Central Victorian Goldfields (Australia) with a bid website lining up for a new Australian Tentative List. And Cape York (Australia) and Quandamooka (Australia) are backed by the Queensland government. I would propose to keep tracking this kind of selection stages per country towards a new Tentative List in the country's Forum topic, but maybe summarize the candidates and their progress a bit more often than now.

The first step would be just listing the selected ATWHS under their own header ‘Aspiring TWHS’ on the country page (under the Tentative List, but above the FTWHS). We could give each its own site page already too, which would allow for reviews. Solivagant and winterkjm already publicly stated on the Forum that they have reviews waiting for Navan Fort and Busan respectively! If technically feasible, we could also add their locations to the country maps (with a marker in a different colour).

What do you think of listing ATWHS on the country pages? Would you like to be able to add your reviews already, or wait til they are officially declared? 

Els - 16 April 2023

Leave a comment


Frederik Dawson 17 April 2023

Personally, the idea of ATWHS is problematic to make map or even review since there is no conclusive reason provide or selected site information. Even strong ATWHS may not be accept by national WHC or government, so it is too uncertain. IMO the current list of TWHS is already full of nationalist and political supported sites without clear OUV. Adding ATWHS will double the problem and degrade the quality of reviews to be similar with tripadvisor.

Astraftis 17 April 2023

Re F/ATWHS reviews, I understand the ratio; but what would you think (to make irreducible reviewers happy :-P ) of allowing them, just with a very strict character count? So they would be kind of telegraphic observations.

Right now, those pages look so lonely and forlorn... I admit I look at them mostly out of curiousity and not to plan trips. But it would be interesting to have coordinates for them, too, and I would like to collaborate as it is possible to me!

Els Slots 17 April 2023

The FTWHS mapping data stays available, but most FTWHS are very old and don't have any.

Meltwaterfalls 17 April 2023

That is fair enough on not wanting to touch the FTWHS, it makes sense when viewing this site as a travel planning tool, which is what it is for the majority of us.

I guess my persepctive was as the WHS process on the whole. Maybe I will update that FTWHS map over the summer and just keep it ticking over as a curiosity.

Out of interest when sites drop from being on the tentative list to being FTWHS what happens to the mapping data?

Els Slots 17 April 2023

Regarding the reviews / maps for FTWHS - I am firmly against it, as these are the least likely sites that ever will be inscribed as WHS (or have been flatly rejected already). We should look at WHS and those in the running to become one.

I will ponder a bit further about the answers you all gave about the ATWHS, maybe I will start by making them more visible and summarize them more often at the Forum and/or just list them as links in some sort of wheat to chaff order on the country pages.

Astraftis 16 April 2023

Ah, those Cluny abbeys really look like strong candidates! :-)

I would be in for ATWHS, given the strong selection that you sketch. Maybe not necessarily being based on governmental sources, since I have the impression that these might come only very late in the process.

Division B as Meltwaterfalls says is a nice idea: alpha and omega on the same map! I would be glad to add some ATWHS reviews, and I think this could be prompted to be of a slightly different character than others, maybe more "investigative". On the same note, isn't it considered to allow reviews for FTWHSs? Is there a particular reason they are disabled?

Meltwaterfalls 16 April 2023

I think there is something in this, but separating the wheat from the chaff is very important or else we will just have a list of local authority press releases.

Perhaps there is a step up from the forum pages where they could get lost, and actually listing them on a map alongside inscribed and formal tentative sites.

On a similar note we created a map of the former tentative sites several years ago, could the ATWHS be incorporated on that map?

A sort of Division B for WHS showing the full life cycle of tentative sites.

Zoë Sheng 16 April 2023

Pretty sure there are dozens of sites in India that were once in the news for "wanting to be inscribed".

Nan 16 April 2023

Not a fan of cramping more sites into the existing maps and pages. If you aren't listed by UNESCO, either inscribed, tentative or former, you are not in yet... Even if we know that you will be added eventually.

Personally, I would create simple and separate map with Google map maker and add locations per mention. Aspiring could also be listed in the country page as text. But not a dedicated page.

Blog WHS Visits

Kraków revisited

In the series “Revisiting the great cities of Europe”, I present Krakow. My first visit to Krakow was in early February 2005, and in the few pictures that I have left the buildings look gloomy and there’s a layer of snow on the ground. So I planned this return trip for April, confident in catching a few warm and sunny Spring days. Oh, how wrong I was! It was freezing. But I came prepared with a list of things to see gathered from previous reviews and other sources. And I read the original nomination file (1978), which has become available since it was attached to the 2010 minor boundary modification.

On my first afternoon, I joined a Free Walking Tour covering Kazimierz. No less than 36 foreign tourists showed up, which confirms Krakow as a popular city trip destination. The tour still milks the success of the Schindler’s List movie which dates from 1993. Fortunately, the group was split in 2 with a guide each. We walked a lot, also to the former ghetto across the river (outside of the WHS core zone). Several 16th and 17th-century synagogues and a cemetery have survived in Kazimierz, although hardly any Jews returned after WWII.

The next morning I set out from my hotel at 8 a.m., lured outside early by blue skies and sun. I started by walking anti-clockwise from Hotel Polonia to Wawel via Planty Park. This park isn’t located in the core of the city but encircles it following the outline of the old defensive walls. To the left are the impressive towers of the city wall and the well-preserved Barbican, when you look to the right (outside the core zone) you’ll see fine Art Nouveau buildings and even some Art Deco.

At Wawel Hill, I skipped the Castle but did enter the Cathedral (24zl). At first, it feels a bit cluttered, as it was expanded over and over again by successive rulers in a variety of styles. But if you take your time you’ll enjoy Sigismund’s Chapel and the Crypt. I also climbed up to see the Sigismund Bell.

Back in the city center, I visited:

  • St. Andrew’s Church: the oldest remaining Romanesque building.
  • St. Adalbert's Church:  pretty one on the main square (2nd photo).
  • Basilica of the Holy Trinity: very gothic, also the interior.
  • St. Mary’s Church: a masterpiece of brick gothic, with a colourful interior (15zl).
  • The exterior of St. Barbara Church next door.
  • Collegium Maius: I took the tour in English here (18zl, entrance was free Wednesday afternoon), has a good collection of historical scientific objects.

While walking around, I enjoyed recognizing the special connections Krakow has to offer, such as the Jagiellonian globe (ca. 1510) with its early representation of America (somewhere near Madagascar), the Moorish revival architecture of the Temple Synagogue, the Zygmunt Bell. And I even found some more: an obelisk, Italian architects outside of Italy (Sigismund’s Chapel - "the most beautiful example of the Tuscan Renaissance north of the Alps"), domes also, an equestrian statue at Wawel, Art Nouveau (Palace of Art), theatres (Juliusz Słowacki Theatre).

I spent 1.5 days exploring the city, walking 22 km but did not manage to finish all that I had wanted to see. I really enjoyed my time, so I upgraded my rating from 3.5 to 4 stars. Compared to Prague or Budapest, Krakow is more intimate and has a heavier focus on the medieval. It’s also more ‘itself’: less cosmopolitan but also less sleazy. Its streets and buildings can be a bit grey (especially when the sun doesn’t shine), but it does have pretty Italian-style Renaissance squares, ornate church interiors in different styles, and the magnificent Cloth Hall which easily could have been a WHS on its own merits. Positive from a visitor perspective also is that the historic city center is almost car-free. And when you have to cross a main street, cars will invariably stop at pedestrian crossings or even when you just linger at the curbside – this to the visible amazement of the tourists from countries where this cannot be counted upon.  

Els - 9 April 2023

Leave a comment

Blog Connections

Canopy Walkways

During my recent visit to Gunung Mulu, I enjoyed an early morning walk on what they claim to be the world’s longest tree-based canopy walkway. It indeed is a truly adventurous one consisting of 15 long and narrow rope bridges connecting the trees. Only two people are allowed on each stretch at the same time. Another good one that I visited on the same trip was at the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sandakan; this is a more accessible skywalk with unobstructed views, and it is excellent for birds. The guide told me that on the hardcore birding tours they stay here for 5 hours, between 6 and 11 a.m.

The Definition

Canopy Walkways are structures that provide pedestrian access to a forest canopy. Sometimes they are also identified as skywalks or elevated walkways. For their construction, a lot of high trees obviously are needed, as well as a feel for adventure tourism and an expectation of a high number of visitors to get a return on the considerable investment. China seems to mostly have gone for the Glass floored Skywalks which are more like viewing platforms. Zip Lines are also similar, but are covered by their own connection as well.

So far we only had 7 WHS with ‘proper’ Canopy Walkways connected, but there are certainly more. In some countries (Australia!) it really is a craze. There are many in the world but not as much within the core zone of a WHS as it involves a fair bit of construction in a nature area. No wonder several can be found in the more cultivated setting of botanical gardens instead.

I managed to find the following additional ones:

Record Claims

From the 10 Canopy Walkways now in our connection,

  • The one in Hainich NP is the longest: 540m.
  • The Canopy Walk in Poring (Kinabalu NP) is the highest: up to 41m above the ground.
  • The one in Lamington NP (Gondwana Rainforests) is the oldest: it has been there since 1987.

Finally, a few honorary mentions, although these do not qualify for the connection (yet). Just outside the Sardona WHS in Laax only recently The Senda dil Dragun walkway has opened. At 1.5 km, this now is the longest treetop walkway in the world. The Tahune Airwalk lies just outside the Huon-Picton area of the Southwest National Park in the Tasmanian Wilderness but with views of it. And the Redwood Canopy Trail at Klamath claims to be amid the Redwood State Parks, but is a commercial affair just outside.

The TWHS of Nyungwe (a 2023 nomination) also has one of the best according to Lonely Planet.

Do you know of any other Canopy Walkways inside the borders of a WHS? Or was a visit to one of those mentioned above particularly memorable?

Els - 2 April 2023

Leave a comment


Hubert 3 April 2023

Unfortunately, this is often the case with these Beech Forest locations. They are named after the national park, but actually only a small and sometimes hardly accessible part is the core zone. You have to check exactly how and where to enter the core zone.

Els Slots 3 April 2023

I'm afraid you're right, Hubert (of course you are, you even wrote it in your review!). I was fooled by it being in "Hainich National Park", but the core zone of the WHS covers only part of the park.

Hubert 3 April 2023

The Canopy Walkway in Hainich NP is not within the core zone. It is right next to the National Park Centre, coordinates are at X 4396000 Y 5662000 (see 2011 map on Unesco website). Not even in the buffer zone, I guess.

Els Slots 3 April 2023

I think it does. Thank you, Shandos!

Shandos 3 April 2023

Another Australian entry (of course!) Does the Skywalk Lookout ( in Dorrigo NP, part of the Gondwana rainforests, count? It's not that long.

Sebasfhb 2 April 2023

I must say that I really enjoyed the boardwalk in Hainich NP. It made the visit to a ‘boring’ WHS like the beech forests surprisingly enjoyable.

Blog Index

TWHS Visits
Travel in general
WH Travellers
WHS Visits
WHS website