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Things I learned from rewriting the site intros

Earlier this year I started rewriting the site intro texts to make them more consistent and appealing. The idea was to turn them into an Executive Summary of the WHS: what is it, why was it inscribed and what has the community to say about it (as written down in the reviews). It proved to be a huge amount of work, on average one WHS took me 15 minutes. I now have 95% completed and hope to finish the project before I embark on my next trip later this week.

During the process, I also made hundreds of small changes to the individual site pages which have improved their overall quality. Think of standardizing the size of the main photo, removing blank lines, updating specific visitor requirements (free entrances, guided tours only, etc), small name changes, and adding overlooked locations. And I took note of some remarkable, unintentional findings which are listed below.

I love one-sentence quotes that define a site: As I was aiming to summarize, I was glad to find single sentences within reviews that cover the site beautifully. Like “Falun gives you a real sense of how heavy industry can alter a landscape”, or “Prague is Europe in a nutshell and on a budget”, or “You need to really love rock formations and hard-to-see petroglyphs to get much out of it” (Talampaya). Or the honest ”The statue was large and the queues were long” (Statue of Liberty) and the concise: “It’s brick walls” (Nalanda).

The UNESCO pages aren’t static either: Adding the Retrospective OUV Statements has been a great improvement by the WHC Bureau. But sometimes smaller changes have been made too, reflecting later corrections. So Hal Saflieni went from the Bronze to the Neolithic Age, Hollókö from the 17th-18th centuries to the 18th-19th centuries, the discovery of the Son Doong Cave was added to the description of Phong Nha and the history of Gorée has been revised.

The site and its OUV can be a mystery: Some sites were particularly tough as they have no full OUV statement available (like Porec, Tongariro, Agra Fort) or the prose is unclear (like Wartburg, Naples). I found all of India's WHS hard, often weird sentences in the OUV statements appear there such as “comprising deep layers of deposited rock and detritus overlain by sandy loam and a layer of humus represented by bhabar tracts in the north” (Manas).

Countries often have their own peculiarities: As I did them country by country, I started seeing common threads. Portugal seems to still be preoccupied with its independence from Spain, while Russia glorifies colonization and Christianization of remote parts of its territory. Iran loves its qanats and Bulgaria’s sites are often tiny in scope. Spain stands out for not really adhering to the WHS visitor commandments, with frequent complaints about its very Spanish opening hours (closed Mondays and between 1 and 5 p.m.), the necessity of joining guided tours (in Spanish of course) and outdated ‘no photography inside’ regulations.

The level of interest among reviewers varies greatly per site: Sometimes one great review seems to stimulate the posting of other memorable ones (Orkney, Ujung Kulon, Ischigualasto/Talampaya), while about other sites everybody essentially says the same. The summarizing I think turned out best when people visited different components, did it in different ways, or expressed different opinions. In other cases I have just pointed out the “star review”, the one(s) best to start with reading.

Serial sites with one unrepresentative component: There may be a new connection in here. Some serial WHS have one component that is visited (and reviewed) by far the most often but isn’t a fair representation of what the WHS stands for as a whole. Think of the Alamo, FLW’s Guggenheim Building in New York (one of his later works, far different from his classical Prairie School architecture), and Cuernacava's Popocatepetl 'monastery'. Possibly also the Catania component of Val di Noto. You'd actually need to see an additional component to make a “good visit”.

The tone of the reviews does not always match the site's rating: Now and then I noticed a strong mismatch between the overall opinion among reviewers and how the site is ranked by the community overall. Acre is an example, where the site has a fairly good rating (3.36/5), but the reviewers give it little praise.

There’s lots more to review: Not only are there 23 WHS that have no review at all, but numerous other WHS are also seriously underreviewed. I’d particularly welcome reviews of recent visits covering:

Els - 12 November 2023

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Shandos Cleaver 16 November 2023

I'll try and write some reviews soon including the Tasmanian Wilderness - I've visited quite a few components over the years.

Dennis Nicklaus 14 November 2023

I like your refreshed intros. Just wanted to let you know they are noticed and appreciated.

Els Slots 14 November 2023

Thanks, Mohboh!

Mohboh 13 November 2023

I've added a brief review of The red tower of Death if it helps.

Philipp Peterer 13 November 2023

Great job, Els! I tried to visit the tower of death during covid, but it was not even possible to get close. did not seem like it could be visited. maybe that changed now.

Els Slots 12 November 2023

Well done, Svein!

@Sebasfhb - if you think you have something to add to the reviews that are already there, please do so

Svein Elias 12 November 2023

Jomon Sites Hokkaidi just sent in :-)

Sebasfhb 12 November 2023

I could write a recent one on Tournai, but the scaffolding is still going on. Just on the inside, though.