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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:

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 8 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

Zoƫ 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: