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Book: Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura is a well-known and commendable website that focuses on “the World's Most Curious Places”. Those spots that deliver a sense of wonder, a ‘wunderkammer’ of often tiny and eccentric places. In 2016 they’ve brought them all together in a book, a 470 page hardcover which I only just recently obtained. While sites in the USA and Canada are far overrepresented, the editors at least have tried to find something in each and every country. I was wondering: can we get some candidates for our Missing List from their inventory?

Among the hundreds/thousands of entries I counted 49 places that are already WHS. They include full WHS such as the Madara Rider and the Nasca Lines. But also oddities in Rome (Pope Leo’s pornographic bathroom) and Jerusalem (the immovable ladder at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

Lots of places are quite peculiar – for example the Giant Lenin Head of Ulan Ude – but will never make it unto a World Heritage List. There are also relatively well-known tourist attractions such as the Rat Temple in India and the Wagah border ceremony (Pakistan/India). Fun to visit, but no WH material.

I had a look at some of the underrepresented categories and regions to see whether there are any interesting ‘Missing WHS’ among them:

Natural sites

  • We could have some more of the World’s deepest places: the Mariana Trench (USA) for example, the deepest natural trench in the world, or the Cotahuasi canyon in Peru – the world’s deepest canyon.
  • The Hoba meteorite in Namibia: the remains of the largest known meteorite (as a single piece) that has ever landed on earth.
  • Svartifoss waterfall (Iceland), a waterfall surrounded by columnar jointing. It is located in Vatnajökull National Park so it probably will become a WHS already this year
  • The Darvaza gas crater a.k.a. Door to Hell (Turkmenistan) – one of the largest gas craters in the world, with various flames and boiling mud 
  • Waitomo glowworm caves (New Zealand) – don’t know how unique this one is, but a different kind of cave than we have already

‘Modern’ cultural sites

Orlando Towers in Soweto

Underrepresented regions

  • Ganvie, Benin: a stilt village and already a TWHS. Although it has got a not too favourable review on this website.
  • Kitum Cave in Mount Elgon National Park, Kenya: The walls are rich in salt, and animals such as elephants have gone deep into the cave for centuries in search of salt.
  • Orlando Towers in Soweto (South Africa): former cooling towers of a power station with brightly coloured murals, one of which depicts scenes and images from township culture; it is as well an extreme sports site.
  • Christmas Island Crab migration: the annual breeding migration of the Christmas Island red crabs.
  • And on a new continent: Shackleton’s Hut, Antarctica 

Els - 10 February 2019

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