Blog TWHS Visits

The Royal Sites of Ireland: Cashel

Just 3 weeks after the St. Kilda failure, I went on my way to another Atlantic Island WHS: Skellig Michael. Months before I had booked a tour for Saturday the 17th of August, but already on Friday morning it was clear that boats would not sail either on Friday, Saturday or Sunday because of rough seas. So I tried to make the most of my time and have a closer look at the Irish Tentative List. The country so far has only 2 WHS. And although the island isn’t exactly dotted with highlights, there must be some more potential. My first stop was in the town of Cashel, where I visited one of the Royal Sites of Ireland also known as the Rock of Cashel.

Cormac's Chapel stands out

The Royal Sites TWHS comprises 5 locations, mostly in the Dublin area. Cashel however lies about an hour north of Cork, where I had flown into. They were sacred sites and places of royal inauguration for the medieval kings of the Irish provinces. Cashel was the place of the kings of Munster. Like the others, it “is strongly linked to myth and legend and are associated with the transformation of Ireland from paganism to Christianity and Saint Patrick”: Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.

The historical remains of Cashel lie on a prominent rocky outcrop, just above the modern town of the same name. The best views on it as a whole can be had from the other side however, from the road leading out of town and into the countryside. I involuntarily drove that route twice while looking for a parking space. There is a large car park at the foot of the Rock, but somehow I missed its entrance from the town center. So I ended up parking in the streets in the outskirts of town. This costs 2 EUR (coins only) for a limited 2 hours. Those 2 hours proved to be just enough: I had lunch in one of the cafés and wandered around on top of the Rock for about 1.5 hours.

Some of the mysterious head sculptures

Although it may ‘only’ seem to be a minor location of a TWHS with an unsure future, the Rock of Cashel is a hugely popular tourist attraction. When I arrived around 12.30pm, I even had to queue for a little bit to get my tickets. The entrance fee is 11 EUR and that includes a guided tour of Cormac's Chapel. This early 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque royal chapel has only reopened last year after a 9 year long restoration period, during which it was left it in scaffolding and under cover (you can see that in the photo attached to Ian’s review of a visit in 2009). Nowadays it looks so great that it seems to be the newest building at the Rock – but it is the second oldest.

The tour took some 50 people, so it was hugely crowded, but the guide managed to make himself heard and get some 10-15 minutes basic history and architecture lesson delivered before entering the doors of the church. The story of its restoration really is a remarkable one: this is the only construction on site made out of the more expensive but also more porous limestone. So the restoration started with covering it all and let it dry out for a few years!

The remains of Scully's Cross

The interior of the chapel makes you feel like you’re in Spain or Italy. Although it is empty inside, the sculptured wall decorations are still there – these are decorated pillars and sculpted ‘heads’ of people and other beings. These heads stick out from the walls and are in an excellent condition. Don’t forget to step out at the backside where you can see its original doorway, with a carving of a centaur attacking a lion with arrows. The area around the altar used to be fully covered with religious murals, but these haven’t survived the test of time and the whitewashing well.

The rest of the top of the hill is also worthwhile to visit. It includes the ruins of the large Cathedral and many stone crosses, all dotted on a grassy plain with views on the classic green Irish countryside.   

Els - 18 August 2019

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Jay T 19 August 2019

Ah, I should have looked at the site page to see your thumbs up, Els! I look forward to seeing the continuation of your Irish Tentative List reviews next week. I’m really sorry Skellig Michael didn’t work for you; boat trips can be so unpredictable.


Ian Cade 18 August 2019

I look forward to that, though I'm in agreement with Nan, I would throw in Glendalough (Early Medieval Monastic Sites) as a worthy inscription as well.


Els Slots 18 August 2019

I will write more on the Irish T List in next week's blog! (cliffhanger...)


Nan 18 August 2019

>> And although the island isn’t exactly dotted with highlights, there must be some more potential.

I think there are plenty of potential sites dotted all over Ireland. It's just that Ireland doesn't seem to be making much of an effort of moving tentative sites to inscription.

Of the current T-list, I would rate Clonmacnoise and Dùn Aonghasa (Stone Forts) as great additions to the list. Good additions would be Tara (Royal Sites) and Dublin.


Ian Cade 18 August 2019

The restoration looks good, just to flag up my review is from 2009 but my visit and photo were from 2005! So that restoration has been a long process.


Els Slots 18 August 2019

I gave it a thumbs-up!


Jay T 18 August 2019

Wow, the chapel looks good! Glad it was open for you; it looks a lot different with the scaffolding removed. So what are your thoughts on whether the Royal Sites should be a World Heritage Site, or are you reserving judgment until you see other components?


Blog TWHS Visits

Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose

The Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose has been added to Belgium’s Tentative List earlier this year. The hospital of medieval origin is located in the Walloon town of Lessines, a municipality of 18,000 inhabitants best known as the birth place of painter René Magritte. I visited it on a stormy Saturday as a day trip by car from my home.

View on the medicinal garden

The site would become another addition to the Brussels Hotspot – it lies some 55 km south of the Belgian capital. The building is only open in the afternoon, from 14-18.30h, every day except Monday. As Zoe indicated in her review, there is parking right in front of it in a dead end street. However this was full when I arrived, so I ended up at a large (free) public parking just beyond the market square and within walking distance of the hospital.  The hospital / museum complex has an informal restaurant on site, which opens already at 12. Entrance to the buildings / museum / gardens costs 13 EUR. French, English and Dutch are all spoken well by the reception staff and most information panels are in those 3 languages as well.

The Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose was founded in the 13th century as a charity to accommodate the homeless and poor of the town. It formed a completely autarkic system: it had its own gardens, was a large regional landowner and handicrafts from the those living there were sold to generate income. The hospital was run by nuns and thus had a strongly religious approach. Most of the buildings that we can visit now were rebuilt in the 16th/17th century.

The library held mostly religious books

It may not yet be a well-known site globally (I had never heard of it before it became a TWHS), but it is a major attraction in Wallonia. There are huge signs advertising it already from the highway. The reception area is worthy of a popular museum and there is a museum shop as well. There were dozens of other visitors already present just after 2 pm.

After paying the entrance fee you receive an audio guide and can further explore the complex on your own. There seems to be no clear order in the route through the rooms and the rest of the complex, or maybe I took a wrong turn early on. The audio guide also is of no help – it does not tell a coherent story but enlightens individual elements and histories. So I just walked from room to room – there certainly are many of them. The hospital got wealthy due to the revenue from its farmlands and also from the dowries it received when a nun entered her religious life. There’s a lot of art and historic furniture to see, although none of it did really appeal to me.

Remarkable is the hospital room that opens up to the church, so that the patients could follow the service from their beds. There’s a small library as well, a pharmacy and a separate hospital room for when the nuns fell ill themselves. Worthwhile is a short visit to the adjacent garden with medicinal plants, also still in its original location.

Some early drugs

So will this ever become a WHS? The tentative site description gives us two clues on which approach the Belgians aim to take: (1) the site in Lessines should become part of a serial transnational WHS, and (2) they state that hospitals are underrepresented on the current WH List. First I have no idea with which other sites they are trying to team up to create a transnational site. Paimio (a Finnish TWHS) and Zonnestraal (not even on the Dutch Tentative List anymore) are mentioned as comparisons, but although these buildings were used as health institutions they are more valued as representations of modern architecture.

And although the Belgians say hospitals are underrepresented, we count 68 of them in our 'Hospitals' connection already. Notable ones include Santa Maria della Scala in Siena (was one of Europe's first hospitals and is one of the oldest hospitals still surviving in the world), the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris (another candidate for the oldest worldwide still operating hospital), the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy (a very similar site to the one in Lessines, one that I found prettier and less museum-ish), the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Mompox (founded in 1550 and considered to be oldest hospital in America still functioning in its original building) and the Divrigi Mosque & Hospital. I doubt that The Hospital of Our Lady with the Rose is seen as equal to those prominent examples on its own merits – Wiki’s elaborate History of Hospitals makes no mention of it for example.

Els - 11 August 2019

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Els Slots 11 August 2019

Thanks for the additions, Solivagant. I will try and clean up the current entries a bit as well.


Solivagant 11 August 2019

And
Valletta - The Sacra Infermeria, Built late 16th C. also called Brand Hospital and Station Hospital. Ceased being a hospital in 1918 - now the Mediterranean Conference Centre. See - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_Conference_Centre


Solivagant 11 August 2019

I suspect that there are quite a few more "connections" we could find -
Mexico City. Hospital of Jesus Nazareno. Built by order of Cortez. now a major active hospital but still including the early building. See - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospital_de_Jesús_Nazareno.

I see that the Connection has no definition and the word hospital" can include "hospices" merely for stopping at. - might be worth including
a. For medical treatment
b. Of Historic value contributing to the OUV.


Blog WHS website

WH Travellers meeting 2019

The WH Travellers Meeting of 2019 was an odd one: we did not visit a WHS! Not even a TWHS. We gathered at the Scottish island of Skye for what would have been an epic trip to St. Kilda. Unfortunately the boat trip out there was cancelled for both the main and the spare day. More on what we learned about the logistics of getting to St. Kilda later in this post. What was left were 24 international travelers roaming about northern Scotland and its islands.

St. Kilda paraphernalia in Dunvegan Castle

The 25th and 26th of July 2019 went into the weather record books of Northwest Europe as the hottest days ever. Even the island of Skye, from where we were supposed to sail to St. Kilda, was sunny and dry at 22 degrees Celsius. Our trip however was cancelled by the cruise company due to the wind being “in the worst possible direction”. It was bitter to know that the trips just the day before and after we were scheduled did go on.

In hindsight and after talking to the locals on Skye, a departure from the island of Harris would have been better. Two companies do make the trip from there, which is about an hour closer to St. Kilda - so the tour is cheaper, has less time on a rough sea and more time on the island. Both Harris companies seem to be more established as well: they have better terms&conditions regarding pre-payment, weather cancellation penalties and age limits.

Part of the WH Travellers in front of Old Man of Storr

The cancellation had various effects on the group members. Some whisked away immediately to the Orkneys, another island group a day away with the Neolithic Orkney WHS to tick for those who hadn’t been there before. Thomas was sad that he did not make it to the Outer Hebrides region and I desperately wanted to see puffins. Others went through a number of stages of grief and depression, leaving them doing not much at all. 12 of us ‘did’ Skye’s tourist destination #1: a hike up to the Storr. It’s a short walk (about 2 kilometers), but steep. Climbing from the start - just like for some Tour de France cyclists – does not fit me. So I eventually settled on a nice vantage point overlooking the sea just below the rock pillar called Old Man of Storr.

We were blessed with having Allan as a semi-local guide with us. At least he knew how to pronounce place names like Uig! Just as in Bulgaria last year we took the approach of pooling cars, so that we were all flexible and had different people to talk to. Others already had met up over the last week on the way up north, ticking some TWHS and WHS on the way. I took off some time to do a 3hr cruise near Skye's Trotternish Peninsula and the Ascrib Islands to see lots of seals and their babies, dolphins and the long-awaited puffins.

Seals at Skye's Trotternish peninsula

For myself, travel wise it was a bit of a waste of 2 precious holidays. On the plus side however I did get to know some WH travelers better, such as Canadians Craig & Lara who were in my car for over 6 hours! ‘New’ faces included Americans Jacob and Jay.

On my last morning at Skye I finally did see a few glimpses of island life on St. Kilda: I visited Dunvegan Castle, home of the Scottish clan of Macleod. For over 500 years they were the owners of St. Kilda and taxed its poor inhabitants. Two showcases in their quite ugly 19th century castle display a few items from the island plus photos of brave men rowing in high waves. And there is a stuffed puffin too…

Els - 4 August 2019

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Jay T 4 August 2019

Even though St. Kilda didn’t work out, I had a great time meeting everyone and exploring Skye. Glad you got to see puffins, Els!


Nan 4 August 2019

Thanks Els for the summary and organising! No more boat trips; at least if the Rucek's are joining :)


Blog WHS Visits

WHS #706: Tokaj Wine Region

The Tokaji Wine Region represents a distinct wine-growing tradition that has existed for at least a thousand years and has been preserved intact to date. The region is known for the Tokaji Aszú, the world's oldest wine that uses a process of 'noble rot'. The volcanic subsoil and the microclimate of the area are ideal for this type of viticulture. I visited the region as the last WHS in a series of 3 during my recent short trip to Hungary.

Wine cellar in Tokaj town center

From Hortobagy, it takes an hour and a half of driving to arrive in the heart of this wine region. I did not expect too much from it: the site is in the bottom 100 of our rankings & well, it’s about wine again and I don’t drink that. Daydreaming along the way in the car, I just hoped to be able to sit in the sunshine on a terrace in Tokaj with a cappuccino and preferably also a piece of cake. That may seem like a simple wish, but something like that is certainly not a given in eastern Hungary.

The town of Tokaj turned out to be small but also somewhat livelier than the places I had seen in the days before. They also had a couple of terraces in the well-kept center, and I had a cappuccino with a piece of plum pie. A plus for Tokaj!

Vines in neat rows

In addition to the usual wine cellars that can only be visited by appointment, they also have a 'World Heritage Wine Museum' here. It has only been open since 2016. Entrance to it costs 1,000 Hungarian forints (3 EUR). Photos and texts about other wine-growing areas on the World Heritage List are on display. You can also learn more about Tokaj's wine-growing tradition via interactive screens. Unfortunately, they do not have many items that were / are being used for viticulture here in the region in their collection.

The inscribed wine region covers an area of ​​132 square kilometers. To see some of the vineyards I drove 18 kilometers from Tokaj to Mád. Wineries are certainly prominent here and they also advertise along the road for sale. The vines are planted in neat rows against the mountain slopes. The cultural landscape is not very spectacular however.

The exterior of Mád synagogue

After arriving in the very modest town of Mád I had one goal: a visit to the synagogue. The role of Jews in the Tokaji wine history is an interesting sidenote: Jews settled in this region in the 18th century and started producing and trading kosher wine. From that time there was also a synagogue in Mád and a Jewish cemetery. With foreign funds that synagogue, one of the oldest in Hungary, was restored in 2004. It is signposted well from the main street. Unfortunately I found it closed though some foreign Jewish visitors were also present. I left without any clue when it can be visited (I was there on a Sunday morning).

Els - 28 juli 2019

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Szucs Tamas 31 July 2019

The synagogue is officially open every day from 9 am to 4 pm, if not, you should call +36309251808

This is the mobile of the keeper of the synagogue. He is not a jew, none of htem remained in the town, but knows practically everything about the history of the local Jewish community.

As an alternative you can make an appointment by email oncsodarabbikutja@zsido.com

I do not know which languages are available for the guided tour but I am quite sure that the is an opportunity of an English ione. (Of course for us Hungarian was ok.)


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WHS #705: Hortobagy NP

Hortobágy National Park - the Puszta is a steppe landscape where man has left only temporary structures. Shepherds graze their horses, cows and sheep (species adapted to local conditions) here on the barren land. Fishponds were built in the early 20th century to vary the land use more. The park is also known for its variety of bird species. I had planned to focus mainly on the park’s natural features (though it’s a cultural site on our List) and I even brought a travel guide book to make the most of it. 

I had 1 full day here (stayed for 2 nights) and focused on Route 1 described in the guide book. This is an all-day circuit by car, with stops and short walks along the way. Officially you do need a permit to visit any site in the national park that lies off the main road, but since the Visitor Center wasn’t open yet at 8 am when I went out I decided to start without one (in the end I never encountered any controls).

The route first goes eastwards from the town of Hortobagy, on the busy road B33. There you’ll find 3 lookout towers. I climbed 2 of them – they provide wide views over the plains but you actually don't see anything of much interest. Afterwards you turn left off the main road and make a full loop via the northern side of the park. Here too the road is busy at first and there is a town with traffic lights, supermarkets and people who are just doing their daily things. The whole ‘steppe’ thing feels pretty small-scale if you have ever been outside of Europe.

The best part of the route lies along the road between Telekháza and Hortobagy. This road is full of potholes, but that does make people not drive so fast (and they probably avoid it as well). For me it was handy that I could just stop the car at the side of the road when I saw something interesting. I was mainly looking for a sozlik, a ground squirrel that only occurs on the steppes of Eastern Europe. They like to stand on their hind legs and I thought I found one in front of a row of straw bales. However, when I zoomed in closer, I noticed its large ears so it must have been a hare.

Still from the same road I saw an old burial mound (known as kurgan). They were made by nomads and date back to the Stone Age. A bit further on I got out for a walk to one of the fish ponds. The walk starts at 2 rusted water towers - you follow the path first to the right and then to the left at a metal shed. The path runs between 2 fish ponds, but the shores are so overgrown with reeds that you cannot see anything of the ponds. After 15 minutes walking you arrive at a wooden watchtower. Just like the others I climbed on this day, it is not exactly in perfect condition - there is always a beam loose or a hole in the wood. However, here the climb is well worth it because it gives you a view on both fish ponds. The trail is not signposted, so that does keep it exclusive and there were no other visitors present.

Later in the day I ticked off some more sights in the area, such as the Shepherd’s Museum and the Nine Arch Bridge. I had eaten at the historic Hortobagy Csarda the evening before, although I found better food next day at the Tiszacsege fish csarda. I even bought a permit (1000 forint / 3 EUR) at the Visitor Center to check out some more fish ponds. I tried hard to enjoy it all, but there are so many annoying things that keep distracting you from a satisfying visit. The permit system, the lack of information, the limited parking possibilities (or when there is, the payment for it), the busy roads and speeding locals. My best memories comprise encountering the shepherds and their herds in the fields early morning and late afternoon light.

Els - 21 July 2019

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WHS #704: Hollókő

Hollókő is a traditional agricultural settlement of the North Hungarian Palóc community. The village consists of whitewashed half-timbered houses, which originated in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was completely rebuilt after a fire in 1909. The town was the first stop on my long weekend to Eastern Hungary, where I aimed to tick off 3 suspiciously low-ranked WHS.

I had some difficulty getting there. It should only be an hour's drive from Budapest airport, but there were lots of impediments:

  • my flight already arrived with a delay of 10 minutes,
  • the rental car parking space had moved to a far away place beyond the Ibis hotel,
  • I lost my ticket to exit the parking so I had to go back to the Hertz counter for a new one,
  • there was no satnav in the rental car, so I had to use my phone…. for which I forgot to bring the charger! 
  • using GPS for navigation the phone battery doesn't last much longer than a few hours, so I was already thinking of buying an old-fashioned map at a gas station; luckily I passed a large shopping mall where they actually had an Iphone charger for sale,
  • Waze for some unexplainable reason sent me on minor roads (I even drove on a parallel road next to the highway ...).

But in the end I got there, some 2 hours later than planned. Hollókő presented itself as a small village with a very large parking lot. You have to pay for parking here, but that is only possible with forint coins or via a Hungarian phone number. Fortunately, I had received some change in the mall and had brought coins from an earlier trip. I was able to fund a visit of just an hour (400 Hungarian forint / 1.25 EUR).

This not-so tourist friendly attitude I found quite common during this short trip through Hungary, as if city planners & authorities have difficulty in placing themselves in the shoes of foreign visitors (who do not understand the language, do not know the way without signposting and do not walk around with Hungarian coins in their pockets).

That hour turned out to be more than enough to walk up and down the 2 streets of the old village. Or actually it is only one that forks about half-way. I was joined by 2 busloads of Japanese tourists and some Hungarian day trippers, but it did not feel crowded (more sleepy or even boring). Most of the old houses are now turned into some kind of “museum” or a café. According to the documentation most people still live from agriculture, but it doesn’t look that way. 

The only building that I entered was the village museum. It consists of 2 small rooms with old things – other sources say "3 rooms" as the entrance also is kind of a room where a lady sits to sell tickets. The entrance fee here is also 400 forint. In the end I spent 45 minutes in town. It’s quite picturesque but there is so little to see. If I hadn't lost so much time in getting there, I would also have stayed for lunch.

Els - 14 July 2019

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Szucs Tamas 14 July 2019

Waze normally knows the actual situation very well. On M3 motorway between Gödöllő and Hatvan road accidents are very often, that can cause long traffic jams. In this case the parallel road (30) is better, and from there the minor roads are more convenient. We live here - between Gödöllő and Hatvan - and if we want to visit Hollókő (one a year normally we go there for family occasions) we take these minor roads.


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10 Bits of Trivia about the WHS of 2019

The Azeri capital of Baku will happily host (and fund) everything at the moment, recent examples include the European Games and the final of the 2018-19 UEFA Europa League. So it was no surprise that it stepped forward as the location of the WHC Session of 2019. The session in general went in a more civilized atmosphere than in the years before: negative recommendations lead to withdrawals, deferrals were accepted. But still there appears to be a gap between the Advisory Bodies (ICOMOS mostly) and the WHC. Most excitement came from Hungary, which withdrew 1 location of its lot within the Danube Limes at the last minute - blocking the whole nomination which was headed for inscription. 

29 new sites were selected, with a number of long-deserving ones. Find below some aspects that warrant a closer look.

1.    Missing WHS

From the Missing List that we compiled in 2014, a further 5 sites have now been inscribed as a WHS: Bagan (our number 1!), the Plain of Jars, the Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings, Vatnajökull National Park and Babylon.

2.    Threatened by termite nests

We have seen tsunami’s, dams, war, drought and rats threatening the healthy existence of a WHS. Burkina Faso’s Ancient ferrous metallurgy sites have been ‘colonised’ by termite nests. They destabilize the old furnaces and create cracks in them.

3.    In 2019 colonial heritage still gets inscribed

With most of this year's inscriptions again being from Europe and culture in nature, the intentions to diversify the WH List are not really working. But also countries outside of Europe have nominated remains from colonial times, in this case the colonial town of Paraty and the mines of Sawahlunto. Port Royal and Panama, both with strong colonial connections, were deferred.

4.    Best seen from the sky

Our connection Best seen from the sky got a worthy new addition: the keyhole shaped tombs of Mozu-Furuichi. The iconic image of the Daisen Kofun, the largest of all kofun, is one taken from above. Since last fall, local operators have been providing sightseeing flights to allow people to see the tombs from the air, while the city of Sakai has been keeping the 21st floor of its nearby building open as an observation deck. But how did the Japanese appreciate this in the 5th century when it was built?

5.    The break-through of water management

When the (then) Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander in 1997 announced that he wanted to devote his time and attention to "water management", a lot of people laughed at him or did not know what this would involve. But 20 years later this has become a very trendy subject. Of the new WHS for 2019, Budj Bim, Augsburg, Bagan, Ore Mountains, Liangzhu (Peripheral Water Conservancy System) and Risco Caido all contribute (some of) their OUV to ‘water management’.

6.    The race among countries

The larger countries are still in a race to become or stay the one with the most number of WHS. China, Germany, Portugal and the Czech Republic all could add 2 new sites to their tally. The new Top 10 of countries is:

  1. Italy - 54 + 1 = 55
  2. China - 53 + 2 = 55
  3. Spain - 47 + 1 = 48
  4. Germany - 44 + 2 = 46
  5. France - 44 +1 = 45
  6. India - 37 + 1 = 38
  7. Mexico - 35 + 0 = 35
  8. UK - 31 + 1 = 32
  9. Russia - 28 + 1 = 29
  10. Iran - 23 + 1 = 24 & USA - 23 + 1 = 24

7.    Nearly impossible to visit

The UK had already burdened us with remote places such as Henderson Island and Gough Island, the French have now added the French Austral Lands and Seas. These essentially are the Kerguelen and Crozet Islands, located in the Antarctic region. “Less than 350 people visit the islands annually” and “The last visits to Ile aux Cochons <one of the locations, ed.> were undertaken in 1974 and 1982” . The territory tickers of Nomadmania report 31 visits though, so with some money and stamina it should be possible to reach. The round trip takes 28 days or so from Reunion and costs 8789 EUR in a double room setting. Oh, and you have to do this before you reach the age of 75 (as older people are banned from the ship for health reasons!).

8. The souvenir WHS for the host country

Azerbaijan's Sheki became the 36th(!) example of WHC locations being rewarded with a WHS nearby. This needed the overturning from a 'Not to inscribe advice' from ICOMOS to a direct 'Inscription'. Lead by Kuwait, almost all countries present in the WHC aimed their arrows at ICOMOS and supported an amendment.

9. An eruption that lead to "several years of no summer"

Iceland's Vatnajökull National Park is the superlative among volcanic, glacial and tectonic features. Incidents there can have impact on the rest of the world: in 1783-1784 for example the Laki fissure flow "led to several years of no summer and famine conditions worldwide". An estimated 20–25% of the Icelandic population died because of it (from hunger because livestock had died or fluoride poisoning), there was a sequence of extreme weather events in Europe and poisonous gases reached cities like London and Prague causing fatalities there as well. In North America, the winter of 1784 became the longest and one of the coldest on record. 

10. Shortest and longest name

Bagan was added to the list with WHS with the shortest official name: 5 letters! (there are only 2 sites with 4, Tyre and Tiya). The list with the longest WHS names has also been extended this year: Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China (Phase I) has 86 letters.

 

Els - 7 July 2019

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Juha Sjoeblom 9 July 2019

I agree everything Els told about Sheki. Certainly there are some problems and concerns but there are so many worse sites. And the way it got inscribed made it seem somehow ”dirty”. But the palace is great even though there are lots of similar palaces in Iran. I think the views of ICOMOS were justified on many cases but it also felt a bit unfair compared to some other sites. I will probably rate it 3 or 2,5.


Nan 9 July 2019

Thanks weeks for shedding some light. I agree with some regional value WHS are ok if the area is not saturated with WHS. So Sheki better and more valuable than Mafra or Erzgebirge.


Eva Kisgyorgy 9 July 2019

slight off topic (delete if not appropriate) but talking about trivia and world heritage sites, I just came across this competition, where you test your knowledge and can win tickets to some sights: https://visitworldheritage.com/en/eu/world-heritage-journeys-trivia-competition/de99ebbf-974b-4e54-93ac-b988a3583bde?


Els Slots 9 July 2019

Juha in his review was also quite positive about Sheki.


Els Slots 9 July 2019

Regarding Sheki: it is probably the nicest place to visit in the whole of Azerbaijan. The Sheki Palace is really pretty. Yes there may be similar palaces in Iran, but there are dozens of Western European palaces on the list that are also very similar to each other. ICOMOS was mostly annoyed that they did not receive all additional information they had asked for. I do agree it is mostly a site of regional value instead of universal value, but there are a lot worse WHS.


Nan 8 July 2019

@Els: You have rated Sheki highly at 3.5. Do you feel Icomos was mistaken in their assessment?


Jay T 8 July 2019

The US is tied with Iran now at 24 World Heritage Sites, although I suppose one could make the argument that the US doesn’t realize it is in a race based upon the time taken between nominations.


Tsunami 7 July 2019

As soon as Mozu Furuichi was inscribed, the Imperial Household Agency announced the enforcement of the same no-entrance policy. On the other hand, it was them who kept the Kofuns protected from the urban developement...


Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero 7 July 2019

Yup, India has 38 sites, including Jaipur.


Philipp Peterer 7 July 2019

India and Mexico should be in the top 10


Els Slots 7 July 2019

Ah sorry, they had some colonial lands added near Antarctica. Will add the +1


Zoë Sheng 7 July 2019

France - 44 +0 = 44?


Eric Lurio 7 July 2019

here's an article on Baku I wrote a few years back: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/welcolme-to-the-first-and-last-european-games/


Blog TWHS Visits

WHC 2019: Krzemionki

The Krzemionki Prehistoric Striped Flint Mining Region has been nominated by Poland to be included in the List this year. ICOMOS in its evaluation has asked for a Referral, mostly because of the need for adequate protection of all its components and the implementation of the management plan. Outstanding Universal Value has been proven though, also compared to the already inscribed Flint Mines of Spiennes. So an inscription seems imminent, be it this year or the next. On my recent Pentecost trip to Eastern Poland I made a small detour between Warsaw and Zamosc to check out what Krzemionki is all about.

"Krzemionki" is the name of a former village, but not the name of the current location. The main site lies between the villages of Sudół en Magonie, 8km northeast of Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski. I drove there in 2.5 hours from Warsaw airport. Nowadays it is a wooded area, with some administration buildings and a grand parking. This Saturday afternoon though there were only a few cars. When I bought my entrance ticket (18 zloty / 4.20 EUR), an English-speaking colleague was quickly called for help by the cashier lady. He told me that a tour had just started with a Polish and German speaking guide. After confirming that German is OK for me too, and I could join them immediately.

Together with 4 Polish tourists and guide Kinga I walked further into the forest. Thousands of flint mines lie beneath the ground here. They can be recognized by small ‘dents’ in the landscape, a bit similar to bomb craters. Next to these pits are ‘hills’, the slag heaps. Everything is now overgrown with grass and trees so it is not very visible up-and-close.

There were 4 types of mining executed here, but they all had in common that they had to reach up to 10 meters deep to reach the veins with flint. This location has 2 veins approximately 1 meter above each other. They were formed when there was a large lake here: trenches made by animals in the bottom of the lake were filled with deposits, which eventually solidified into the rock hard flint.

As visitors, we were allowed to go underground at the 3rd mine. We descended via an iron spiral staircase, after which we found ourselves in a cool corridor. Also in prehistoric times the miners connected the various smaller mines with corridors. However, the ones of today have been made with 20th century visitors in mind so they don't bump their head.

Flint is still abundantly present in these limestone walls. It was extracted here in an almost industrial way: the flint was brought to the surface and worked there into hammers and chisels. Flint tools that were made here have been found up to 600km away.

Once back at the site entrance there still was the permanent exhibition to visit. It is not immediately obvious where it is (it is in the building marked ‘Tourist Information’), so I asked the guide to show me the way. She subsequently gave me a private tour inside - all accompanying texts are in Polish and she was sorry that I could not read them. Different types of flint from all over the world are shown here. Most of it is characteristically black, whereas the flint of Krzemionki is of the striped variety which only occurs in this region. In polished form they make for nice souvenirs or even jewellery.

Els - 30 June 2019

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Solivagant 3 July 2019

PS. This academic article from 2016 has aerial photos of the Borownia site including Laser Scans. Nothing much for the ordinary visitor to see -
https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8e3f/a51da12ab5521305086fc808181885167264.pdf?_ga=2.67288657.1197636829.1562176982-1227947630.1562176982


Solivagant 3 July 2019

This "News" (in Polish) on the Krzemionki Web site shows photos of the 2017 dig at Borownia -
http://krzemionki.pl/aktualnosci/archeologiczne-badania-wykopaliskowe-prehistorycznej-kopalni-krzemienia-borownia-w-rudzie-koscielnej/#
translation for a couple of sections -
"Until July 2017, archaeological works carried out in the "Borownia" area had the character of surface surveys; geophysical and other technical methods were also carried out, among them airborne laser scanning (ALS)."
and
"The archaeological excavations undertaken in July 2017 resulted mainly from this year's decision on the notification of this object along with the "Krzemionki Opatowskie" and "Korycizna" mines to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Initially, only the mine in Krzemionki was to be registered on the list of world heritage. The consultations carried out in recent months by an international group of specialists in the field of the World Heritage List indicated that the notification of the mine itself in Krzemionki, in view of the fact that in 2000, the Neolithic Flint Mine in Spiennes (Belgium) was entered into the World Heritage List, is associated with the risk that the application of Krzemionki will be rejected. In the opinion of Polish and foreign specialists, the chance to enter Krzemionki will increase significantly" . As I suggested in my first comment!
The 2017 dig of the type shown in those photos will all have been backfilled after documentation and removal of artefacts - it is clearly situated in a forest among many trees - there may be some visible undulations etc in the area but nothing really to see?? Really rather similar to much of the surface area at Spiennes and also at Krzemionki itself, away from the Tourist trail.


Els Slots 3 July 2019

Hi 'user' - can you give us a bit more information about how the other 3 sites can be visited? Or do we just look at them from a distance?


user 3 July 2019

All 4 components can be visited. The mines in Krzemionki are open to visitors in the form of a tourist route, Borownia and Korycizna have the best-preserved mining landscape from the Stone and Bronze Age, and Gawroniec has underground objects associated with settlement and the production of flint tools.


Els Slots 30 June 2019

I did research it a bit beforehand, but I believe the other 3 cannot be visited. The settlement
site of Gawroniec sounds the most interesting, polished axes have been found here. I think I read somewhere that it has been covered up since.


Solivagant 30 June 2019

Did you gain any sense of what the other 3 locations are like? Is there anything to see? A
are any worth visiting? Were they even mentioned? The Google Map satellite view seems to show nothing above ground at all at the coordinates. Perhaps just like most of the Pile dwelling sites - archaeological sites which have been back-covered? A cynical view might be that they have only been included in order to provide something different from Spiennes!


Blog WHS Visits

WHS #703: Bialowieza Forest

After so many unsatisfying visits described by previous reviewers, I tried a different approach at covering Bialowieza Forest. I pre-booked a private tour into the Strict Reserve on the Polish side, a part that can only be visited with a licensed guide. This is also the core area that was originally inscribed in 1979 (the WHS has been extended several times since). I went with Arek Szymura of Pygmy Owl Nature Tours; I knew he was serious when he suggested to meet up at 4am! Just in time before sunrise, it was light already and a pleasant 15 degrees Celsius.

So at 5 minutes to 4 I stood waiting in front of Bialowieza’s orthodox church. This lies next to the Palace Park, which I had visited the day before. Our tour started with a quick crossing of that park (with a short stop for observing a tawny owl) and exiting it again at the north-western corner. Between the park and the strict reserve is a stretch of some 500m of meadows, they were very pretty in the early morning light with a bit of haze. We encountered a small group of people with spotting scopes there, hoping to get a glimpse of bison who sometimes come out of the forest to graze. However we only saw the first woodpecker of the day (many more were to follow, “The Bialowieza Forest is paradise for woodpeckers” – the nomination file states rightly).

The Strict Reserve has a similar wooden entrance gate to the Palace Park. This one though does have a UNESCO WHS sign (Solivagant was wondering in his review that none of the notice boards show the UNESCO logo – well, here it is) and a Biosphere Reserve logo. The access gate is not guarded, however you are only allowed to enter with an official guide. Two tourists were walking behind us on their own and my guide resolutely sent them back.

The biggest difference between the park and the reserve is that it is much darker inside the latter. Very high trees compete for a bit of sunlight, only the strongest ones survive. Also, the forest floor is covered with all kinds of plants, young trees and older ones that have collapsed. Just like the park, the reserve also has a network of trails although they are not signposted. An old Russian road crosscuts it as well, one of its markers stands next to the memorial where Polish and Soviet partisans were executed during WWII by the Nazis.

The guide was often scanning the trails with his binoculars: the larger mammals like to walk on the paths as well, they are much easier to navigate than the thickly covered forest floor. We saw a young fox early on. A bit later we encountered an odd combination: another fox in the company of a domestic cat! The cat comes from town but supposedly likes to venture into the forest, efforts to return it have had no success. Our final mammal ‘tick’ was a squirrel….

With no luck at larger mammals, we concentrated on the birds and the trees. Actually, the birds are easier to see in the Palace Park. But we observed a Black Woodpecker (the biggest species) hammering away, which was quite spectacular. The forest has several very old and high trees. But a lot has also come down in recent years, due to snowfall, fire and a severe storm.

The tour costed 300 zloty (ca. 70 Eur) for 3 hours. We encountered two more official guides, each with a single tourist in tow. Another one that advertises in town and on the web is Edu-tour Puszczyk. I don’t think there is much difference between them: Arek is mainly a birding guide, he knew the Dutch names of all the birds we spotted. The best thing about the guides is that they will get you in and know the way out!

Els - 23 June 2019

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Blog WHS Visits

WHS #702: Zamość

Zamość, located in the Far East of Poland near the border with Ukraine, was one of the two WHS goals of my recent Pentecost trip. This year especially I am trying very hard to cover isolated sites like these in my quest to visit all European WHS. In January 2017 I calculated that I had 98 to do  - now, in June 2019, I have only 24 to go (after excluding Turkey, Russia and Israel which are a bit too far and complex for weekend trips). I might be confronted however with an additional 4 to 9 after the 2019 WHC meeting that takes place early July.

I arrived in Zamość on Saturday around dinner time after a long day of driving and had looked forward to eating a meal at the famous Rynek square. But, lo and behold, a full stage had been set up there and a classical concert was about to start. Everyone who had managed to secure a spot at one of the terraces obviously stayed put to listen in.

Some time ago in our Whatsapp group we discussed what spoils a WHS visit (or a photo thereof): a parked car in front of the object, a person wearing too bright coloured clothing. But a full-size concert stage obscuring parts of the famous colourful ‘Armenian’ houses certainly was a low point for me.

The next morning I started my town visit with a full loop outside of the fortifications. These are mostly reconstructions from a later date than the early 17th century origins. A footpath has been created along most of them and it was a pleasant walk. There are information panels along the way to read as well. Some mentioned the similarities with Naarden-Vesting (part of the TWHS Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie). But it reminded me of Visby as well.

It took me only 45 minutes to complete the full circle. This demonstrates how small the historical center of Zamosc actually is. When you have seen the Rynek, the central square, you’ve seen most of it. The Town Hall with its 52m high tower is the major point of attraction, plus the row of 5 colourful houses next to it with façade reliefs. In the surrounding streets you’ll find the restored synagogue and a number of churches. The latter were fully in use as it was Sunday morning when I visited: at some of them people even had to stay outside to follow the sermons as the church was full. This is a common sight in Poland, something I had noticed before on a tour along the Wooden Tserkvas (they either build churches that are too small or the population grows more than the number of churches).

I had to think hard about my final ‘verdict’ on Zamość. It surely is special to find such a well-designed urban center in what is now a remote corner of Poland. And the restorations have been done very well. But it is a bit museumish and I couldn’t stop thinking about vibrant L’viv, just 130km away on the other side of the border. Part of the same trade route, but with a more obvious cultural mix of Armenian, Jewish, Hungarian and German heritage.

Els - 16 June 2019

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