Blog WH Travellers

Getting a Stoclet Pass

No, this is not about how to get into that city palace in Brussels. In a recent discussion in our WhatsApp group, Astraftis introduced the term “Stoclet Pass”. It means a visit that is good enough for an otherwise off-limits site. He wrote: “Referring to (semi)inaccessible locations like Roman limes or pile dwellings. If all you can do is to stand on the shore and to contemplate the water surface, then yeah, you get a Stoclet-pass for me".

We've since fully embraced his neonym. So for which WHS is a Stoclet Pass applicable, and what does it involve?

When not being able to enter

The most obvious group of sites to look at is the ones we have gathered in the connection “Not open to tourists”. Here we find:

  • the Decorated cave of Pont d'Arc and the Thracian tomb of Kazanlak. You can peer through the fence around the original tomb or touch the door to the original cave, but for both, you need to visit a replica to see the paintings. For Pont d’Arc, it can be argued that it adds value to see the cave’s original natural setting, but for Kazanlak, as Clyde concludes, “the visitor experience can only truly be enhanced by visiting the other accessible tombs at the remarkable royal necropolis of the Thracian city of Seuthopolis (currently tWHS extension) and the worthwhile National Archaeological Museum in Sofia.”
  • It also includes the Vézère Valley whose main caves are also closed to the public and have a replica cave. In this case, however, I would argue that you also have to visit one of the minor caves to earn the pass as they are quite good and have original paintings.
  • Stoclet House: stand on the pavement and look at the ‘wrong’ side of the building, that’s all you can do at the moment; looking at the 289 members who have checked this site, the community has no scruples here.
  • Los Katios National Park – the acceptable way to ‘see’ it is from the Atrato River by taking a boat from Turbo to Riosucio which crosses the core zone. Its OUV lies in region-specific fauna, birds and endemic plants, and I doubt that you would see any of those from a fast-moving boat. 
  • Papahanaumokuakea -  Midway Atoll is the only part that ever has been accessible (until 2012). Now the only option is to visit as a scientist or become a volunteer at the annual albatross count. I can’t think of any Stoclet Pass that would be applicable here instead. 
  • Gough and Inaccessible Islands: a significant marine area is included, and landings are allowed on Inaccessible Island (not on Gough). Probably this site should be removed from the Not open to tourists connection. It is similar to Surtsey where being in the marine core zone and seeing the island up close lead to a satisfying visit.
  • Fully closed is the Indian Sundarbans NP. As Solivagant stated about his Sundarbans visit: “by a very strict definition we haven't visited it even though we have a. seen inside the core from a distance, b. travelled and walked through land which is essentially the same and is situated inside a protected area albeit not an inscribed one. It would seem to be "obsessive" not to "count" it!”
  • Chiribiquete is a similar case. With its mixed OUV (including rock art), a fly-over tour seems hardly sufficient (although you may see its natural OUV, the tepuis). One could visit Cerro Azul, which has rock art in a similar natural setting to the WHS and lies in its buffer zone. An argument against this is that you cannot see into the core zone from there. I would say the combination of a specific fly-over and a visit to Cerro Azul earns you a Stoclet Pass.
  • As we know, Mt. Athos is not open to women. The Stoclet Pass here allows a woman to count it after having seen the landscape and the main monasteries via a specific cruise along the shoreline. Men are not allowed to use this pass and have to set foot on the peninsula!

When not being able to see its OUV

Other WHS may be ‘open’ but still provide difficulties in getting a good visit. These are the WHS where the OUV is covered underground or underwater or is just not present on site anymore. Notable examples include:

  • Prehistoric Pile Dwellings: Visiting a location with visible stumps seems to be the favoured way to get a satisfying tick. At other locations, you have to do what Ian did “I stared intently at the water trying to spot the merest hint of some buried rotten wood.” Other reviewers tried visiting different locations and regional museums to enrich their experience. Solivagant has written a philosophical answer to whether these detours improve the 'tick'. 
  • Roman Limes: the Lower German Limes is particularly low on visible remains, there are some original stone walls here and there but none of the reviewers returned happy (which also explains the low site rating, #1180 overall). Even the museums here aren’t fully recommended. The Danube Limes comes out only slightly better. A way to earn your Stoclet pass here is to visit several locations.
  • Fossil hominid sites: here the bones of the early humans will all have been taken away. Reviewers of sites such as the Peking Man Site, South Africa’s Fossil Hominid Sites, Sangiran, Gorham’s Cave, Mount Carmel Caves seem to be satisfied with getting an official entrance ticket, access to the core zone/dig site, look into “the” cave or at exposed series of archaeological strata, visit an on-site museum or even one outside where the original findings are shown.

When you can use the Pass

Going by the reviews and the lists of community members who claim to have visited the sites mentioned above, when you can enter the core zone people are always inclined to 'tick' the site, even when they did not see its OUV. I would even argue that encountering gigantic statues of early hominids or the pseudo-ruins at Xanten makes us feel better about it. And those wooden stumps of pile dwellings surely do!

When you cannot enter, a few things are valued:

  1. Having unobstructed views into the core zone from the closest you're allowed to go (a “from-the-outside-looking-in” visit).
  2. A visit to the buffer zone with similar features.
  3. In addition to (1) or (2), visits to museums or similar sites in the region – more is better to come to grips with the subject.

You can’t use a Stoclet Pass when you miss out on a site because of your own fault. Visiting a site that is always closed Mondays on a Monday for example. Not booking a tour beforehand when one is required. Not wanting to pay the entrance fee and just driving by.

Have you ever used a Stoclet Pass?

Pictures: (1) pile dwelling stumps at Fiave, (2) pile dwelling location at Bande: this rusty telescope enables to look through the ages, in a distant and blurred past (© Astraftis), (3) skull fragments of the Australopithecus africanus, found at Makapan Fossil Hominid Site and now in a regional museum

Els - 23 June 2024

Leave a comment


Philipp Peterer 24 June 2024

All the places I think I should do better are on my "revisit needed" list. For a lot of them I have clearly been in the core zone, but I missed something that I consider important. Recent example is a revisit to Champagne, where I visited a production site this time.

Jarek Pokrzywnicki 24 June 2024

As for Los Katios - personally I visited core zone during my 2011 Colombian trip - I had a possibility to visit area around Sautata as an unofficial guest of scientists. Oficially the place was (and probably still is) off limit for tourists. I did not mention that in my review not intending to make problems for persons allowing my visit but since many years has gone I may one day add also core zone to my review.

Clyde 23 June 2024

Altamira's case is very similar to Lascaux; a visit to a minor cave apart from the replica to earn a Stoclet pass.

Jay T 23 June 2024

Squiffy has a better example of not getting OUV while in a core zone. I was more commenting that I don't see the OUV of more Roman limes beyond what had been on the list (Lower German Lines, Danube Lines). Just because something is Roman doesn't make it universally outstanding. And if it is outstanding, I'd rather they do an extension on a limited basis.

As for the Monarch Butterfly WHS, I'm not counting it until I get to an inscribed core zone site, since they are quite accessible. I just didn't get a tour from Mexico City that took me to the inscribed components when I visited in 2017. That said, just seeing the butterflies on the mountain in Valle de Bravo did give me a sense of the OUV.

Nan 23 June 2024

Jay is hinting at a reverse Stoclet pass... Being in core but not counting due to missing ouv experience.

Squiffy 23 June 2024

I definitely used the Stoclet Pass for Pont d'Arc. There was no way I could make the case for lugging a 6 month old child up a trail to a locked door. I haven't for Stoclet itself - I've still never bothered to go gawp at its backside.

Conversely, I have definitely got a tick for Saloum Delta, despite not seeing any of the aspects that contribute to its OUV. As I note in my review, the Fathala Reserve I visited seems to be an area that either a) should have been removed from the nomination, or b) will only be justified once the original plans to extend into a Mixed site (plans which have never materialised) come to fruition. But definitely within Core Boundaries so... Tick, I guess?

Joel on the Road 23 June 2024

I used one for Mount Athos, ticking off from the boat cruise. Feels pretty unfair to the other party when you're travelling as a couple.

Els Slots 23 June 2024

In response to Nan & Jay: I would draw the line for (mostly) natural sites with similar features elsewhere at the buffer zone. Yes, you may have seen the OUV (the butterflies, the levadas) elsewhere, but when you were at a totally different place we could start counting random zoos or city museum etc as well.

Jay T 23 June 2024

Definitely used a Stoclet Pass on Stoclwt itself. Did not use a Stoclet on Mexico's Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, where I spent three hours watching the butterflies in January 2017, but at a park not included in the WHS.

For the Lower German Limes, I had a fun time looking for sites in Bonn and Cologne, and enjoyed what I saw there and in Utrecht, but I find no OUV in these sites.

Nan 23 June 2024

For me, I would see further reasons:
* Near misses due to bad tentative site maps.
* High emotional investment to get to a closed door.
I could also see an argument for nature reserves where buffer zone and core zone are the same apart from the protective status.

Els Slots 23 June 2024

I think the Hiroshima site is a good example; although you can fully walk around the ruined building and see much more of it than at Stoclet, it isn't really about the building itself of course and a way of contemplation.

mmarqz 23 June 2024

Would Hiroshima Peace memorial be considered? Since it has no access to the core zone.