Blog Connections

The Umayyads

I am currently preparing for a short trip to Medina Azahara. The OUV of this recent WHS in Andalucia is tied to both the “Umayyad cultural and architectural civilization” and “the significant period of the 10th century CE when the Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba was proclaimed in the Islamic West”. I found this is a good excuse to polish up our Umayyad Caliphate connection, as it actually falls apart into 3 focus areas: the original Umayyad empire, typical Umayyad art & architecture and the much later spin-off Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba.


The original Umayyads

The Umayyad Dynasty hailed from Mecca, but Syria was their main power base. Damascus was their capital from 661 to 744 and Harran (a TWHS) from 744 til 750.

Damascus was mainly a Christian city at the time. The Umayyads introduced an Islamic coinage system and established Arabic as the official language. They created a new urban plan with the Great Mosque (at the spot of the former Christian Cathedral of St. John) at its heart. This model served as an example to subsequent other Arab cities. The process of cultural Arabization and Islamization also extended to Jerusalem, where the Umayyad Caliph ordered the construction of the Dome of the Rock (692) .

The Umayyad sphere of influence reached from Central-Asia to the Iberian Peninsula, making it the third largest contiguous empire in the world. In Tunis and Kairouan they founded the city and built the Great Mosque. Akko and Tyre were important ports / naval bases and the Umayyads strengthened their fortifications. Now nothing tangible is left from the Umayyad period in these latter cities. Anjar and Aleppo are considered the best examples – after Damascus – of Umayyad town planning and city building.

Quseir Amra

Umayyad Architecture and Art

The art & architecture that the Umayyads created is considered to be a mix of other Middle Eastern civilizations and that of the Byzantine Empire. They also added own inventions such as mosques with minarets and the horseshoe arch.

In their architecture they often re-used existing buildings. In Syria, “churches were converted to mosques by blocking up the west door and making entrances in the north wall”.

The best example of Umayyad art undoubtedly is Quseir Amra. The frescoes in this bath house are a form of early Islamic art, far away from the “austere religious environment”.

Hypostyle prayer hall in Cordoba

The Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba

The 7th century Umayyad Dynasty had already reached unto what are now Spain and Portugal. It survived there even after the Umayyads lost their position in Damascus to the Abbasids. From 929 to 1031 they transformed into the Caliphate of Córdoba, which still was governed by a member of the Umayyad Dynasty. It had its capital in Córdoba. They secured Melilla, Ceuta and Tangier on the North African coast and held “diplomatic relations with Berber tribes in North Africa, Christian kings from the north, and with France, Germany and Constantinople.”

The Historic Centre of Córdoba is of course the most impressive testimony to this Caliphate of Cordoba. Here the focal point is the Great Mosque of Cordoba, built on the location of a Christian church just as the ‘original’ Umayyad Mosque of Damascus. Nearby Medina Azahara was its newly build twin city.

In total, 8 WHS attribute their OUV to the Umayyads in some form or another. 7 WHS have a lesser connotation.

Els - 17 March 2019

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Caspar Dechmann 17 March 2019

That is very impressive for one family! Thanks!

Clyde 17 March 2019

Very interesting post, Els! Thanks

Els Slots 17 March 2019

Good find, Solivagant! I believe it was at least Umayyad in architectural style (see Data at It probably wasn't built on the orders of an Umayyad dignitary (Toledo seemed to have been "far" from Cordoba in that respect), but by a private person. And I'll remove Abassid.

Solivagant 17 March 2019

"In total, 8 WHS attribute their OUV to the Umayyads in some form or another. 7 WHS have a lesser connotation."
I see that we haven't connected Toledo to this Connection.
Crit iii for Toledo states "The civilisation of the Emirate of Cordoba built a great many Islamic art monuments...." and then lists a number including the Bab al- Mardum Mosque. This was built in 999 and became the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz.
But we have it connected to the Abbasid Caliphate !!?? If my reading of the history is correct - Toledo was frequently in a state of rebellion but "In 932, Abd al-Rahman III conquered Toledo, re-establishing control of al-Tagr al-Awsat, the Central March of the Omeyyad state" (Wiki). My "bible" on such matters - "Islamic Art and Architecture" (pub Konemann) clearly places the Bab al-Mardum mosque in the chapter on "Spanish Umayyads" - just before Medina al-Zahra!!
What is your understanding on this?

Blog TWHS Visits

Padova Urbs Picta

One of the disadvantages of almost having ‘finished’ Italy - I have 2 out of the 54 WHS left to visit - is that I am missing the regular weekend trips out there to enjoy the historic cities and their art. So although Padua’s Scrovegni Chapel is only up for nomination in 2020, last week I fitted in an easy weekend trip to this self-proclaimed  ‘Capital of the 14th century fresco painting’. It even already has a nomination website and an epic title: Padova Urbs Picta (Latin for “painted city”).

Inside the Baptistery

I had been to Padua once before, in 2007. Then already I had a booking for the Scrovegni Chapel, but I ran out of time that day and only ‘did’ the WHS Orto Botanico. Now I had some 24 hours to spend in the city and I stayed overnight. Padua is not the most immediately likeable city: it has some prominent examples of fascist architecture, the railway station area is rather scruffy and it takes a long walk from there to get to the historic center – a center that is split into several piazza’s with not much of interest in between.

On my first afternoon I visited 4 out of the 9 proposed locations. I was staying near the Prato del Valle square, from where the Basilica del Santo is the closest location. This is a huge pilgrimage attraction – its interior holds the spectacular tomb of St. Anthony - but I did not manage to find the ‘right’ frescoes made by Giotto and his contemporaries (the church is fully covered with paintings and frescoes). A better bet lies next door: the small Oratorio di San Giorgio. This is a cute funerary chapel entirely decorated with frescoes and worth the separate ticket.

The Oratorio di San Michele lies somewhat out of the way, but it is also a small former church. I was the only visitor. The frescoes here have been severely damaged. Finally I went to the Battistero della Cattedrale, the Baptistery of the ‘other’ or real Cathedral of Padua. It was packed with visitors inside and some scaffolding disturbed the views, but I found it quite brilliant in general. There’s a lot to admire here, especially the dazzling ceiling fresco with a crowd of faces surrounding Christ.

Hell in the Scrovegni Chapel

For the next morning I had a pre-booked ticket for 10 a.m. to enter the Scrovegni Chapel. I was afraid to miss my time-slot again, so I already showed up at the adjacent Eremitani Museum an hour before to exchange my printed ticket for an official one (A4-sized!). That gave me some time to explore the museum first. It is large and a bit of a maze. The best 14th century art is concentrated in 2 or 3 exhibition rooms upstairs on the first floor. There’s a lot of other stuff also, including Roman, Egyptian and Etruscan archaeology plus art from various ages. The museum is to be part of the WHS nomination, as it holds some works that were taken away from their original location. These include the Croce by Giotto (originally painted for the Scrovegni Chapel) and the painted panels by Guariento (originally located in the Cappella della Reggia Carrarese). It takes at least an hour to do the exhibitions justice.

The Scrovegni Chapel itself did not disappoint: I felt a bit rushed in the beginning, would the 15 minutes that you are allowed inside be enough? But in the end I was OK with the time given. I also enjoyed the video that is shown in the 15 minute period while you're in the 'holding pen': it's a nice warm up and programmes your mind to see certain details. Because of the low sunlight I found the frescoes on one of the walls hard to see.

It is quite remarkable that taking pictures is allowed here, as well as in the museum. At the other nominated locations it is forbidden as far as I noticed, although the bans are not strictly enforced. At the Baptistery everybody was happily snapping away with their phones while the only staff member on duty was busy selling tickets. 

Palazzo della Ragione

After having spent 1.5 hour in this part of the city, I just forgot to pay a visit to another location next door: the Chiesa agli Eremitani. I went back to the Cathedral area instead, where I also had planned to have lunch. Not to be missed here is the Palazzo della Ragione. This huge former town hall annex covered market holds a great space on its first floor: a hall also covered in 14th/15th century frescoes. They're not really masterpieces up to the Giotto standard, but the hall itself and its wooden features are not to be missed. Trying to complete the 9-out of-9 locations, I searched in vain for the entrance to the Cappella della Reggia Carrarese. It lies close to the Cathedral as well, but signposting isn't great and its best frescoes are in the Eremitani Museum now anyway.

A final conclusion: I am still not smitten by Padua as a city in general, but the Scrovegni Chapel, the Battistero della Catedrale and the Palazzo della Ragione are worth the trip out there.

Els - 10 March 2019

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Zoë Sheng 11 March 2019

For Italy I would make an exception, it's beautiful "everywhere", but in particular these TWHS are worth going for no matter if they are world heritage candidates or not:
Maddalena Island
Giardini Botanici Hambury
Island of Asinara
Lake Maggiore and Lake D'Orta
Sila NP
Pelagos: The Cetacean Sanctuary
The Aniene valley and Villa Gregoriana in Tivoli
The Marble Basin of Carrara (I met the guy who drove around with the stunt guy from the Jamese Bond movie...what a connection indeed!)
The Prosecco Hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (actually the mountains nearby are worth a look instead in summer)
Via Appia "Regina Viarum" (probably impossible to miss if you go to the tombs in Rome anyway)

Nan 11 March 2019

I always thought it's just the chapel itself. I did not pay that much attention to the other churches. In Italy one quickly grows a bit tired of churches. Good that you wrote an extensive review.

@Zoe: Visiting tentative sites is a fool's errant for the most part.

Els Slots 10 March 2019

I have visited only about 5 out of 40 from Italy's Tentative List. But I do not target TWHS per se, only pick them up when they are close to nomination or when I am in the general area and they seem interesting enough.

Zoë Sheng 10 March 2019

It's indeed a lovely place. I walked around slowly twice in the 15min and it's just enough. Don't you have enough tentative places left to visit though?

Caspar Dechmann 10 March 2019

I also found the duomo baptistery stunning. But while I was not sure about “right” frescoes in Saint Anthony I found several of the side chapels very rich and fascinating. Therefore the whole church could be part of the inscription though not all of it may be from the specific century. Also it’s a maze of cloisters Is not to miss. Great is also the teatro anatomico, the best kept example of its kind. This could even be a candidate on its own or perhaps together with the few surviving buildings of the old university.

Blog Connections

Historical Graffiti

One of the funniest Connections between WHS that we have on this website is Historical Graffiti. I always enjoy looking out for those pre-20th century scribblings while visiting a WHS. A good example was in the news this week: the discovery of more Roman graffiti at the site of the Written Rock of Gelt at Hadrian’s Wall. Roman soldiers working at the quarry had scratched a phallus into the wall, "a good luck symbol in Roman times".

The word 'graffiti' is of Italian origin and literally means 'little scratches or scribbles'. According to Chambers dictionary the exact English definition is: ”words or drawings, usually humorous, political or rude, scratched, sprayed or painted on walls, etc in public places”. The American Merriam Webster dictionary adds that they are “usually unauthorized”.

After cleaning up and adding some, we currently have 31 entries for this connection. Let’s have a closer look at what they are about:

Visitor marks at Musawwarat es-Sufra

How old are they?

Graffiti clearly is of all times. The writings or drawings can be as old as the site as itself, or as recent as the 19th century. The oldest ones among the WHS with Historical Graffiti are those at the Megalithic Temple of Hagar Qim (possibly 3rd millennium BC) and the ones at the Pyramids (an inscription has been confirmed as dating back to 1240 BC). During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries it became almost commonplace to leave your markings on a classic archaeological site such as Persepolis and Baalbek.

Who made them?

The authors or ‘artists’ can be divided into several groups of people:

  • Pilgrims / Crusaders
  • Prisoners
  • Mercenaries / Soldiers
  • Workers
  • Tourists
  • Locals

They are mostly people who travelled from afar, wealthy ‘Victorian travellers’, explorers, pilgrims and to a certain extent soldiers that were sent abroad as well. Also people who got stuck somewhere and got bored, such as prisoners and (again) soldiers.

At certain places, the workers that constructed the WHS have left their mark also. This is possibly the case with the very early drawing at Hagar Qim: the model of a temple could have been left there by the builders. At the Pyramids, the various gangs of workers left inscriptions such as “Drunks of Menkaure” and “Friends of Khufu Gang” (Menkaure and Khufu being pyramid-building Egyptian kings) on bricks at the monuments of Giza. From a much later date is the graffiti left behind by the convicts who were assigned to construct Australia’s Great North Road.

A special case is that of the 15th century 'scientists' (a.k.a. catacomb hunters) who could not constrain themselves at Rome’s Catacombs, when they rediscovered earlier paintings. In some cases they just scribbled their names on top of the new findings!

Crusaders graffiti at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

What do they represent?

The most common form of historical graffiti is just the inscription of a person's name. Or “[name] was here”. Or “[name] [year]”. Sometimes this act of self-expression was extended to one or two full sentences, remarking on the quality of the location they just had visited.

While most graffiti are simple texts or drawings, more elaborate forms have been found as well. Tikal for example is covered with Mayan drawings of masks, animal figures and temples. In Pompei, more than 11,000 inscriptions have been found, ranging from poems to riddles.

Els - 3 March 2019

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Paul Schofield 5 March 2019

Whoops - Athens I mean! - mixing my sources!

Paul Schofield 5 March 2019

The runic graffiti on the Piraeus Lion in venice ( is doubly interesting in that it was made in another world heritage site, Istanbul.

Jay T 4 March 2019

So there is Westminster graffiti, then, even if in the abbey rather than the palace — great find, Els!

Els Slots 4 March 2019

I also added 3 more: Edinburgh Castle, Gebel Barkal and Aphrodisias. I guess almost all medieval castles and classical archaeological sites are possible candidates.

P.S.: found a source for Wartburg as well and added it

Ian Cade 4 March 2019

Good work on the Westminster one, Another one that may qualify and I’m always keen to recount is in the in the Houses of Parliament where there is a hidden plaque surreptitiously installed by Tony Benn to commemorate Emily Davidson’s rather impressive suffarage protest (well worth a further read I’m sure there are others around the place as well though there aren’t any desks in the Houses of Commons or Lords so perhaps not the same as in Washington.

Im trying to find something online about it, but at Wartburg there is graffiti left by Peter the Great in the room where Luther translated the bible. I will see if I can find something if not I will dig out my photo of it.

Els Slots 4 March 2019

Found something, Jay T: Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey "Most of the graffiti on the back part of the Chair is the result of Westminster schoolboys and visitors carving their names in the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the tourists carved "P. Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800" on the seat."

Jay T 3 March 2019

Lawmakers have a tradition of carving their initials on their desks in the US (see Is there any counterpart to this tradition in London’s Palace of Westminster? If so, that might be another addition to this link.

Els Slots 3 March 2019

Yes it was Prince Pückler himself, see

Dechmann Caspar 3 March 2019

Your picture is even better since the graffiti could be of the UNESCO-Duke of the Muskau park or at least a relative!

Blog TWHS Visits

WHC 2019: Paraty Culture and Biodiversity

The Brazilian town of Paraty holds the record of having submitted an incomplete dossier: no less than 4 times! But finally the Brazilians have succeeded last year in putting everything together and Paraty will be brought forward as their WH nomination for 2019. Its new title ‘Paraty Culture and Biodiversity’ suggests a very broad approach.

As Gold Route in Parati and its landscape an earlier incarnation of this site was already Deferred in 2009: the main objection at the time was that only a small part of the Gold Route was included. The focus was on the town of Paraty, on which the verdict was “a 19th century colonial town, although attractive, it is not exceptional and ICOMOS does not consider that Paraty on its own justifies inscription on the World Heritage List”. Possibilities were seen though to include a longer stretch of the Gold Route and/or to extend it to a mixed WHS or a cultural landscape “with high natural values”.

The new nomination called ‘Paraty Culture and Biodiversity’ is a mixed one indeed and a cultural landscape as well. The “Gold Route” has disappeared from the title, so we may assume that the natural setting will become more prominent than the historic route. But let’s be clear: in the end it’s all about Paraty, a pretty coastal colonial town that is already well on the tourist trail. They might be wanting to attract even more international visitors.

For me it was an exciting trip just getting to Paraty, which lies on the coast south of Rio de Janeiro. I left by plane from Iguacu (in the far west of Brazil) with a direct flight to Rio. From there it’s another 4 hours to Paraty. At the bus station in Rio however I found out there was only one bus leaving, at 7.30 pm. Which meant a (very) late arrival in Paraty – something you always hope to avoid but just not always works out.

When the bus finally left, the fun lasted only briefly. After half an hour something obviously was wrong with the bus and the driver went outside to smoke a cigarette. Fortunately, we were stranded in a not too bad suburb of Rio. 45 minutes later a new bus picked us passengers up for the final stretch to Paraty. The road to get there winds along the coast, unfortunately it was already dark so I missed out on the views. The bus stopped pretty often, we even took a loop near a nuclear power plant. At half past twelve I arrived at the door of my pousada in Paraty where they had waited for me.

So what is there to see and do in Paraty? Well, actually nothing special at all. It is an old colonial port, which (in 2004) supported a modest form of tourism. There’s a good choice in restaurants, you can have a walk through the streets, sit on a bench and look at a church. However, I spent most of the days on the sunny terrace of my pousada.

Els - 24 February 2019

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Blog TWHS Visits

WHC 2019: Walled City of Jaipur

The Walled City of Jaipur will apply for WH status this year. The city in Northern India already has 2 WHS within its borders: Jantar Mantar and Amer Fort (the latter as part of the Hill Forts of Rajasthan). The city authorities however still they seem to long for the recognition of its historic center in general. The core zone of the proposed WHS will be limited to the area within the old city walls – this would lead to an exact location inscribed twice connection for Jantar Mantar, but not for Amer Fort which lies in a separate village within the municipality some 11km away.

The (old) train to Jaipur

I visited Jaipur in 1993, arriving by Pink City Express train from Delhi. The city was part of a whirlwind group tour across Northern India and Nepal and I think we stayed for 1 night only. My photo album of the trip shows that we covered the City Palace, Nahargarh Fort, the observatory, Amer Fort and a cinema. It would have been hard to have not seen the Hawa Mahal (the Pink Palace) as well, but I have no photos of this landmark left.

The Nahargarh Fort and cinema lie just outside of the walled city. Which leaves the City Palace (dating from 1732) for me to describe. This was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur and thus a core element of the 18th century planned city that is to sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the nominated site. It is a large complex, with several richly decorated gateways, palaces, pavilions and temples. Gardens and an artificial lake complete the scene.

City Palace

My memory in general is terrible, so don’t ask me about specific observations about Jaipur from 26 years ago. A short glimpse has remained though: we went to see a Bollywood movie in The Raj Mandir, a “meringue-shaped auditorium … and … a popular symbol of Jaipur”. The movie we saw coincidentally included fragments filmed in the Netherlands: there were shots of scarcely clad women and of violence on the train, with people having their heads jammed between the windows. Maybe this portrayed image explains the weird attitude some Indian men display towards European women….

The Cinema

Els - 17 February 2019

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Blog Books

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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Blog WHS Visits

WHS #696: Fujian Tulou

The Fujian Tulou were the last WHS of my 2019 China trip and it undoubtedly was the best sight of them all. They aren’t highly visited by our community members (ranked 620th out of 1092), but nowadays these distinct communal housing structures are easy to reach. From Xiamen, the nearest large city, it takes about 3 hours. On my way down I took a fast train to Longyan and a shared taxi from there. For the return trip I caught one of the 3 direct buses per day from Hongkeng to Xiamen.

Yuchang Lou

I can really recommend staying overnight in one of the Tulou. I did so at the Changdi Inn in Fuyu Tulou, which lies in the ‘folk’ village of Hongkeng. The Fuyu Tulou is not round like most, but has a stepped construction (it apparently is “the most famous five-phoenix-style earthen building”). They have a number of rooms here that they rent out to guests; there were 7 other foreign tourists staying overnight during the same weekend as I was. The extended family of the owner lives there also. Together they inhabit a vertical cross section of the Fuyu Tulou, with other families living behind the same front door in other vertical sections.

When you are staying in a tulou you get a good impression of what life in this kind of communal house entails. The doors are always open: that means that everyone walks in all day. It could be the neighbours, a greengrocer or (in this special case) drivers who come to pick up guests. At night all is quiet, you will only be woken up by a crowing rooster at 6 am.

Hongkeng itself is a nice village where many tulou are still standing and are inhabited. It is stretched along a river - 3 km from one end to the other. A common sight in the streets are the vegetables that are being dried. Geese and turkeys are also kept. I visited the town on a Saturday afternoon and expected it to be very busy, but it was wonderfully quiet.

Tianluokeng cluster of 5 tulou

The next day I visited a couple of tulou in other valleys and villages. On the back seat of a motorbike I was first driven 25 km to a very well-known vantage point: that with a view on the Tianluokeng cluster. Here it can be very busy during the day, but when we arrived at 10.30 most day trippers had not arrived. This cluster consists of 1 square, 1 oval and 3 round tulou. These 5 tulou so close together form one cosy village. There was a market going on in one of the streets and the square building was being prepared for a wedding later that day.

With the motorbike we visited some more tulou in this valley. One of the most beautiful ones has a stone temple at the center of the courtyard. It is the Yuchang Lou, also one of the oldest and biggest.

Next to the tulou the local temples are also of interest. We visited for example the Deyuan ancestor temple in Taxia. In front of this basic temple stands a semi-circular row of 10m high stone flag posts. These decorated flag posts were made to remember distinguished members of the family clan.

Central courtyard of one of the round tulou

The busiest tulou on the trail is the 'King of the Tulou'. This is a large, round specimen with as distinguishing feature that it consists of 4 concentric rings. When you step inside, you will encounter another ring, and another and finally a little one with a temple in the middle. The inner rings also all contain small rooms, which are for example used as kitchens. This was the only tulou that I visited which felt too commercialized.

In general, tourists pay an entrance fee per village / valley / cluster to see its tulou. This can add up: Hongkeng and Tianluokeng both ask for 90 Yuan (11.60 EUR). In addition, you have to pay 50 Yuan (6.45 EUR) separately for the 'King of the Tulou'. One usually can have a look around freely on the ground floor of any of the tulou in these villages, but you are not allowed to go upstairs to the higher floors where the inhabitants live.

Els - 2 February 2019

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Blog TWHS Visits

Ancient Quanzhou

What struck me during my recent China trip is that one is constantly time-travelling here: one city can be ultra-modern and the ‘next’ one still functioning in a time-warp 15 years back. This also is the case with Xiamen and Quanzhou, superficially similar cities located half an hour by fast train from each other on the South-East Coast. Where Xiamen feels like a subtropical version of Shanghai including the European architecture, Quanzhou is a run-of-the-mill Chinese city diligently working for progress. If we are interpreting the signs well, Quanzhou's historic monuments will be China’s WH candidate for 2020 after 'earning' a referral last year.

Qingjing mosque open for prayer

Quanzhou had its heydays in the 10th – 14th centuries when it was an important stop on the Maritime Silk Road. The Chinese traded from here with countries in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific. Quanzhou’s nomination undoubtedly will focus on its multi-religious character. Its Unique Selling Point for that is the Qingjing Mosque. Built in 1009, it today is the oldest Arab-style mosque in China. I visited on a Friday, it was prayer day and from all sides Chinese (and foreign-looking) Muslims were arriving. The old mosque has mostly fallen into ruins, but next to it is a new building that is still in full use.

Tourists have to buy a ticket for 3 Yuan at the visitor center at the back before being allowed to enter through the impressive gate. The old part of the mosque complex consists of 2 former prayer rooms. One was built in Arabic style, out of stone and with a colonnade. When it collapsed as a result of an earthquake, a new place of worship was built. This time it was in Chinese style: it looks like a temple but where you expect an image of Buddha or some deity it has the mihrab. On the grounds you can also find some old writings, such as an Imperial Decree of the 15th century to protect Islam and its followers.

One of the two tall pagodas at Kaiyuan Temple

Quanzhou does not have (historic) churches or synagogues, but does show the products of a very wide range of Asian beliefs. In the main street Tumen, next to the mosque, lies the Guan Yu Taoist temple. Confucianism is also represented in the same street. When I visited, the Guan Yu temple was very busy with people burning incense sticks and sacrifice stacks of 'money'. In the vicinity are all shops that sell that fake money and gold paper to burn.

The WHS will consist of 16 different locations. I decided to visit another 2 in the afternoon. With a taxi I went to the Kaiyuan temple. This is the largest Buddhist temple in the city. So that was already the third religion of this day. This one is especially known for the 2 beautiful large pagodas. Here too, it was busy. In the large hall a service was going on under the supervision of monks, accompanied by drums and singing.

Finally, another taxi took me to yet another part of the city - the different locations are not really within walking distance. Tian Hou Gong is a temple dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea. She has kind of an own religion (Mazuism), is popular among fishermen and sailors in this province and across the sea in Taiwan. The temple has the colourful ceramic decorations that temples in Taiwan are covered with, although here in Quanzhou it is less exuberant.

Tian Hou temple and the ruins of the old city wall

Quanzhou had to grow on me. In retrospect, I could have stayed a night there. There is a lot to see, but it is all rather scattered. There are also very few directions for tourists from the train station, so I first took bus 3 into the city center. You supposedly can take bus 601 along the various sights, but despite waiting at a designated stop none did pass within 20 minutes. I resorted to taking taxi’s from location to location.

Among the 16 locations of the TWHS (now all mapped on this website!), you can also find one of the oldest stone bridges in China and the largest statue of the philosopher Laotse. Both are slightly outside the city. Quanzhou is also proud to have 4 intangible WHS already listed: Nanyin Opera, Fujian Puppetry, the Mazu Belief and a 4th one that I couldn't identify.

Els - 26 January 2019

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WHS #695: Kulangsu

Kulangsu: a historic international settlement comprises an island off the coast of Xiamen which was inhabited by foreign traders, missionaries and diplomats in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Later in the 20th century it also became home to Chinese who returned from abroad. Together they gave a modern impulse to China through the input of Western culture and technology. The circa 1000 preserved historic buildings show a mix of European, Chinese and South Asian architectural styles.

Approach to the island

The island lies really just right off the coast, you can almost swim towards it. The ferry for the local residents also takes only 5 minutes. Tourists have to leave from a location further away though, with a boat that takes longer (20 minutes). There were at least 200 people on 'my' boat, all Chinese. Kulangsu (Gulangyu in modern Chinese) is a very popular destination for Chinese tour groups: there are no less than 13 million(!!) visitors per year. And that while there even is a daily limit on the number of visitors. In the weekends and around Chinese holidays you have to book the boat in advance, otherwise you run the chance that the tickets for the day in question (with a maximum of 50,000!) have ran out.

After arriving at the dock at 8.30 am on a weekday, I could leave with the 9.10 am ferry. The first boat of the day is at 7.10 am, so there were not many others on the island yet. It is also pretty big and there are no cars allowed, so you can leisurely walk around. I was blessed with a sunny day with temperatures above 20 degrees, so just walking around was a pleasure.

This must be Amoy Deco

You do not have to look hard for historic buildings: there are a lot of them. What I found striking is that they are hidden behind high fences and walls. Many entrance doors I found also closed - people still live in most buildings. If you already manage to enter one, you will soon find yourself on the grounds of a café. There are a lot of signposts on the island but still I did not manage to find all buildings described as especially interesting in the nomination, such as the Hongning Hospital, the Yanping Complex, the former water supply facility, the building of the former Kulangsu Telephone Company, and the former building of China & South Sea Bank Limited.

The unique architectural style that has developed here on the island is called 'Amoy Deco': Amoy for the local name for Xiamen, and Deco to the art movement Art Deco. It produces houses in brick with Chinese-style ornaments. The island also has 3 Christian churches. These served today as a background for the wedding photos of newly married (or to be married) Chinese couples.

Union Church

The island is a nice and relaxing place to walk around in good weather. The buildings however are not that interesting to a European person and I found it disappointing that you can not enter anywhere. To me a visit of three hours was enough. A special mention has to be made about the street food: like in Xiamen on the mainland, the food stalls are a real asset of Gulangyu. You can serve me an oyster omelette any day!

Els - 19 January 2019

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WHS #694: Hani Rice Terraces

The Hani Rice Terraces are a cultural landscape in the mountains of southern Yunnan. I had been to this region before, almost 25(!) years to date on a 4 week tour of this province. From the photo album that I have left of that trip I know that we were near Daluo. This lies close to the core zone but none of my remaining photos show the spectacular rice terraces that this WHS is known for. So in early 2019 I went back for a proper visit. It takes a full day of travel to get there by public transport from the provincial capital of Kunming. But it was well worth the effort.

Blue Terrace

The weather had been a constant worry on this trip so far. Fortunately on the evening that I arrived in the Yuanyang area – where the terraces are located – it was sunny. The minibus driver who picked me and some other tourists up from the bus station was kind enough to improvise a sunset photo stop at one of the terraces. Glistering water-filled terraces, that’s why we came here - wow!

I was staying overnight in the core zone in the village of Duoyishu. Actually the whole area is dotted with traditional villages: 82 of them. It was much more built-up than I expected. There’s a lot of construction going on as well. It seemed to me that this was mostly geared to getting the residents better housing though. There are a few hotels but not that many. In Duoyishu I stayed at the Flower Residence Inn, a cosy hostel. They do have a second place to stay a bit lower down the village & a restaurant at that same spot. So you’ll invariably end up going up and down the narrow streets of the village. This was made more complicated as all streets were opened up in the middle to install drainage.

In Azheke village

The next morning, together with 2 French tourists I hired a car + driver for half a day to take us to the main spots in the area. The weather forecast was such that rain was expected again later in the day. So I was happy to at least get a good overview of the area which at 35km is fairly stretched out. We first drove to the far end of the valley, where somewhat downhill the serious photographers with their tripods were already posted (probably since dawn). This is probably the most picturesque group of terraces of them all, the one with lots of ‘pools’ and only thin walls separating them.

Next we went to Azheke, also known as the ‘mushroom village’. They don’t grow or collect mushrooms here, it is named after the shape of the houses. It is like an open-air museum, because at almost every house or other interesting element there is an information panel with explanations in Chinese and English. You enter the village under a reed gate, with which the Hani want to indicate the border between where people live and where the spirits live. Above the village there is also a sacred forest where the villagers once a year worship the god Angma for happiness and a good harvest. In the village itself, the daily activities just went on. Women in traditional clothing were carrying cement and stones on their backs to make construction possible. Pigs, chickens, turkeys and a single buffalo walked freely through the streets.

It had been already a cloudy morning and unfortunately it started raining towards 11 o'clock. But we still continued our tour, although there was nothing to see at some viewpoints. One of the most beautiful and largest terraces we still could see was the one at the village of Bada. This one has more green and red than the others.

Amidst the clouds

These rice terraces have been the subject of many coffee table books as they are so picturesque. ICOMOS however did not want to reward the site with inscription on criterion i, “masterpiece of human creative genius”, stating that its aesthetic beauty was not meant as an outcome by the people who made the terraces. During holidays I am sure they attract a lot of tourists, but I found it relatively low-key during my stay on 2 weekdays in January. Transport between the villages still is delivered by local minibus and taxi drivers only.

Els - 16 January 2019

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