Blog TWHS Visits

The Neanderthal fossil sites of Wallonia

The Netherlands and Belgium have been completely out-of-sync in the Covid crisis. During the first wave, Belgium surprised its northern neighbour by an overnight closure of its borders. Later on when one country closed its shops or restaurants, those on the other side were open resulting in lots of opportunistic daytrippers. Now, in January 2021, travel by both sides is discouraged but a visit by car for less than 48 hours needs no prior arrangements. So last Friday I thought I’d give it a go to visit one of the Belgian TWHS that I had not visited before: the Neanderthal fossil sites of Wallonia.

There are four fossil sites included in this TWHS: the Caves of Schmerling, Scladina, Goyet and Spy. They lie within a 50km circle around the city of Namur. Scladina can be visited with a guided tour on certain Sundays, Schmerling and Spy require a pilgrimage on foot and Goyet seems to be closed indefinitely. The Neanderthal remains and associated fossils of course have been whisked away to museums and universities long ago, but these sites are mostly about the Neanderthaler lifestyle and the development of Paleoanthropology as a science.

I choose Spy Cave for my visit. First I went to the museum about the findings in the nearby village. I was the only visitor, having easily secured a time-slot a day before by e-mail. The exhibition is in French but I received a folder with the texts in Dutch. You need those texts as the exhibition consists mostly of information panels. Spy Cave has brought us three Neanderthal specimen: a man, a woman and a small child. Their bones (discovered in 1886) were all mixed up and it took until 2010 to confirm there were three of them. The female had scars around her teeth which seems to indicate that she used toothpicks a lot! Unfortunately there are few findings on show – only some stone tools. Also there are copies of the bones of Spy I & II and an artist’s impression of how the Neanderthal man would have looked like. They must see a lot of school groups here. The most interesting part of the museum I found the 12 minute video at the end.

I then drove on for a few kilometers to the parking lot for the cave itself. The Grotte de Spy can be reached on foot via a side path of a fitness trail, it’s about 25 minutes walk in total. The trail is very muddy and the (signposted) path to the cave even more so. A number of hairpin turns take you down to the cave which lies just above the river Orneau. The path was so steep and slippery that I ended up taking a shortcut straight down the hill on my bum.

The cave itself is fully accessible and there seems to be no security in place. The only sign that betrays that this is not a normal cave is the memorial stone from 1928 that has been attached to its front. I entered the main ‘hall’ and two side rooms which seemed like perfect shelters. I learned from the museum that the Neanderthaler did not live in caves – they had camps, however most of those (except for 1 in Germany) did not withstand the test of time. Excavations at the site of Spy have brought forward animal bones (including those of mammoths) and stone tools in the same stratigraphic layer as the Neanderthal skeletons.

ICOMOS has carried out a thematic study on the somewhat broader subject of fossil hominid sites in 1997 and although evaluating no less than 31 sites, these Walloon ones are not among them. They were ranked on 6 criteria, including the number of the finds, the antiquity of those and the potential for further discoveries. The OUV of the Neanderthal fossil sites of Wallonia mostly lies in the role they played in the research of the history of the knowledge about the Neanderthal. Together with those in the German Neander Valley they convinced scientists in the late 19th century that these were the remains of a human ancestor. The first Neanderthal remains overall were discovered in 1829 by Philippe-Charles Schmerling in the Grottes d'Engis (now called the Caves of Schmerling, also part of this TWHS), but he thought it was an ancient skull of an anatomically modern human.

I do think that the Neanderthal history deserves a spot on the List, but there seems to be no singular site that really stands out. Of course we already have Gorham's Cave (wealth of  archaeological evidence), the Mount Carmel Caves (chronology of human evolution) and Le Moustier in the Vezere Valley (gave name to name a specific type of tools and artifacts, associated primarily with the Neanderthals in Europe, as Mousterian Industry). You’d need a number of sites to tell a coherent story; and with such a transnational serial site one or two of these Belgian locations could fit in together with for example Iraq's Shanidar Cave (full skeletons) and the Russian Denisova Cave (including a Neanderthal/Denisovan hybrid).

Els - 24 January 2021

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Blog Connections

Expressionist Architecture

There’s always something to polish in our long list of Connections. After having deep-dived into some natural subjects during the past weeks, my eye fell on an Architecture topic: Expressionist Architecture. It has only 3 connected sites so far: Hamburg's Kontorhaus District, Sydney Opera House and the Works of Antoni Gaudi. Let’s see if we can find more.

Centennial Hall, Wroclaw

What is it?

Expressionist Architecture is an architectural style from the early 20th century. It is one of the three main subgroups of what we call Modern Architecture. Buildings in this style are distinctive as "they seem like sculpted forms, even though the construction material is primarily brick and concrete.". It originated a bit earlier than the International Style and was itself influenced by Art Nouveau. Notable variants of Expressionist Architecture are the Brick Expressionism of Germany and the Amsterdam School of The Netherlands.

Although the strict definition limits itself to works designed in Europe roughly between 1905 and 1930, sometimes later works on different continents (notably the Sydney Opera House) are categorized as (neo-)expressionist as well.

Carlton Hotel, Amsterdam

Additional connected sites

  • First I had a look at Amsterdam for examples of the Amsterdam School. Most of the buildings in that style lie outside the core zone of the Canal Ring WHS - no wonder as it is geared to 17th century architecture. However, at least three 20th century expressionist examples can be found within the Canal Ring. The Carlton Hotel at Vijzelstraat, De Bazel (often considered as Art Deco as well) at Vijzelstraat 32 and the former pharmacy at Keizersgracht 660. A number of bridges such as the Aalmoezeniersbrug also qualify. All were built when in the late 19th, early 20th century when access to the city centre had to be improved. Roads needed to be widened to allow for trams and ‘selective demolition’ took place.
  • The Centennial Hall (1911) in Wroclaw is labelled as Expressionist Architecture as well by Wikipedia. In the nomination file and the ICOMOS evaluation it is considered an early forerunner: “The comparative analysis has shown that the pioneering role of the Centennial Hall consisted also in its anticipation of the ideas informing architecture in the Expressionist style.” and “the Centennial Hall anticipated the later Expressionist and Organic Architecture.”
  • Bruno Taut is one of the style's main architects. He was responsible for the design of several of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. The nomination file for that WHS clearly mentions the Siedlung Schillerpark ("The architecture with its red brick walls, the flat roofs and the plastic shapes of the façades with loggias and balconies particularly reflects the Amsterdam school with its traditional, strong brick buildings.") and the Hufeneisensiedlung as having expressionist features.
  • Among the Works of Le Corbusier, the Notre-Dame du Haut is considered "the first building of the movement Expressionist architecture after World War II." (wiki)
  • Finally, a text search on the UNESCO WHS website brings Zollverein XII (1932) into play. It was “created at the end of a phase of political and economic upheaval and change in Germany, which was represented aesthetically in the transition from Expressionism to Cubism and Functionalism.” There’s no further explanation in the nomination dossier. Wiki categorizes it under New Objectivity, part of the International Style.

Einstein Tower (Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam)

Close enough

A special finding of researching this connection is that several major works of Expressionist Architecture are located just outside the core zone of a WHS. The boundaries of Tel Aviv’s White City are a mystery to me, but the Hechal Yehuda Synagogue (1980) is not named or pictured in the nomination file so I guess it’s out. It has an unusual seashell shape.

On the way to the Potsdam WHS one cannot overlook the Einstein Tower. Its architect, Erich Mendelsohn, is seen as one of the pioneers of Expressionist Architecture. He also designed the Red Banner Textile Factory in St. Petersburg. In Vienna, just outside the WHS, lies the Hundertwasserhaus.

Do you know of any other examples of Expressionist Architecture in or near (T)WHS?

Els - 17 January 2021

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Meltwaterfalls 18 January 2021

One for the close section.
Bremen has the magnificent (if some what ideologically awkward) Böttcherstraße, a fine example of Brick Expressionism.
The street leads to the square containing the Town Hall and Roland, it is partially in the buffer zone.
Personally I really love it and it is probably better than the actual WHS. The Haus Atlantic and Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum are real highlights.

Els Slots 18 January 2021

Good one, thanks Jurre.

Jurre 17 January 2021

St. Catherine's Church in Lübeck dates from the early 14th centry, but its brick facade was decorated with expressionist clinker brick sculptures by Ernst Barlach and Gerhard Marcks in the 20th century.

Blog WHS Visits

Wadden Sea: Texel

At the start of the 2020/2021 winter season I set myself the goal to visit all national parks in The Netherlands. There are 21 of them. The quest so far (I am currently at 12 out of 21) has resulted in wet feet caused by peat bogs, a growing ability to recognize common waterbirds and encounters with out-of-place mammal species such as the Konik.

One of those national parks is ‘Dunes of Texel’, located on the largest and touristically most developed Dutch island in the Wadden Sea: Texel. It overlaps partly with the Wadden Sea WHS, so last Sunday I combined the two destinations into a day trip. It was my first visit to this island.

How to get there

Texel lies only 2.5 km north of the mainland. A 20 minute ferry ride from Den Helder is necessary to get there. Ferries leave every hour and even every half hour during the summer time. You can take a car with you or walk on. There are public buses on both sides, so also when you’re limited to public transport it will be easy. On the island itself a bike can be a good mode of transport to get to the off-the-beaten track spots. Texel is just 20km long and 7km wide. Be prepared for strong winds though!

The ferry crosses the Wadden Sea, so from the deck you can already observe some marine features and try to spot a seal (best chance at low tide).

Which locations are inscribed?

The Wadden Sea WHS mostly consists of a marine area which falls dry during low tide. But it also includes a few coastal locations on the ring of 'barrier' islands that enclose it to the north. The official WHS map isn’t great, but more detailed maps for each island can be found in the nomination dossier. The ones for Texel show two clear coastal areas within the red line that represents the core zone. The first one consists of the sandy southern tip of the island (De Hors) and the adjoining bay Mokbaai. The second one lies in the northeast and is an area called De Schorren, a foreland salt marsh.

What are the typical landscapes to look for?

The site's OUV is based on the "multitude of transitional zones between land, the sea and freshwater environment". Examples are:

  • Salt marshes that are regularly flooded by the tides and provide resting, breeding and feeding grounds for birds.

  • Coastal sand dunes, including ‘young’ ones. These are part of the ‘Dunes of Texel’ national park, which stretches out northwards along the North Sea coast. Best seen at De Hors.

  • Barrier islands: the whole of Texel is one.

  • Tidal inlets and channels: De Slufter is the best example, it lies within the NP but outside the WHS core zone although it is named in the nomination dossier. Still a must-visit.

Where are the birds?

Texel possibly is the best birding site in The Netherlands, with almost 400 species on record. Even during the winter it is, when it attracts migrant birds from Scandinavia and the Arctic. They really like to hang out in the agricultural fields behind the dikes. I found them easier to see there than in the protected areas, as you can get closer. Common winter birds are: Bar-tailed godwit, Common redshank and a variety of geese and duck species. The Mokbaai and De Schorren both were home to massive amounts (thousands) of godwits for example when I visited early January. During Spring and Summer they are joined by spoonbills, ruddy turnstones, common snipes and red knots among others. Also reed birds and songbirds are common.  

Els - 10 January 2020

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Blog Books

Book: Coastal WHS

Books about WHS are few and far between. Of course there are plenty that feature single sites, but putting a group of WHS into perspective is rare. In 2019 Vanda Claudino-Sales (a geography researcher from Brazil) compiled “Coastal World Heritage Sites”. I was happy to contribute a few photos to her book and was given a digital copy of it in return. However it took me until the Second Lockdown and rainy days around Christmas 2020 to find the time to fully read it. The book (aimed at the scientific coastal community) is a bit dry, but it stems from meticulous research and provides lots of tidbits that we can dwell on. 

World Coastal Heritage List

The author presents her own World Coastal Heritage list: natural and mixed WHS that include both purely marine sites as well as terrestrial sites with coastal segments. She found 84 of them in 48 countries. This up to and including the WHC of 2017. In 2018 (none) and 2019 (French Austral lands, Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, Paraty, Vatnajökull) I count 4 more coastal sites that could be added. UNESCO has its similar marine programme by the way, where 50 sites are brought together focussing on their marine ecosystems. Both lists lack a clear definition, but you’ll find pure coastal sites without a significant marine component (such as Giant's Causeway, Olympic National Park, Stevns Klint) only on the World Coastal Heritage list.

The country with the most coastal sites in this study is Australia, with ten. The USA has six, the UK and Canada have five sites each. Five sites (Tropical Rainforests of Sumatra, Rio Platano, Gulf of California, East Rennell, Everglades) are currently part of the In Danger list – a rather small percentage, and when I had a closer look I found out that their worries are mostly terrestrial (illegal logging, urban growth, mining). But these coastal sites face their own dangers. They “specifically are under risk from climate change and with the rising of the ocean level related to global warming”, claims Claudino-Sales.

Updating our coastal connections

With this book, Vanda Claudino-Sales puts Continental coasts in the spotlight (in addition to Islands, Gulfs and Reefs). A strength also is the structural attention to the climatic conditions of a site and the effects of climate change in its conservation. I have been deliberating for a while to add a Climate change connection to this website, but could never find the right angle. The subject includes too many generic threats (such as the rising of the sea levels) that may take decennia to materialize if at all.

So I came up with “Affected by Climate Change”- WHS where the OUV is already being eroded by effects of climate change (such as coral bleaching, retreat of the ice covers and rise in frequency / severity of wildfires). To select the connected sites I relied on the most recent IUCN World Heritage Outlook and this Coastal WHS book. East Rennell so far is the only coastal site where climate change is one of the reasons that it has been put In Danger. For many WHS the effects have not been studied or not yet analyzed.

The information provided in the book also has been a good source to update our existing coastal connections Coral, Dunes, Lagoons, Mangroves, Sea stacks, Tidal effects and Oil Spill with additional connected sites.

Els - 3 January 2021

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Blog WHS website

2020 - A Year in Review(s)

2020 was the year of closed borders and stay at home orders. It also was the year without a WHC meeting, so no bonus ‘ticks’ for our community members coming from fresh WHS they visited before. Still, we found our ways to travel and keep this website alive.

Border between Belgium and The Netherlands, May 2020

The impact on our travels

Which members of the top 50 have added to their numbers significantly since March, when the WHO called the outbreak a global pandemic?

  • Not too many movements in the Top 10. Probably because most of the people in there are older; also it is hard to add lots of new WHS after you’ve reached a certain threshold. I came out ‘best’, with +9 new WHS divided among 5 countries and 2 continents.
  • Of those ranked numbers 11-20, Luis Filipe Gaspar banked +40, although I suspect this was an administrative catch-up. Fan Yibo had +8 with Chinese WHS, Stanislaw Warwas +14 including Turkey, Szucs Tamas +8 including the Greek Islands.
  • Among the ones ranked 21-50, the following managed to clock 10 or more: Jarek +23 (13 in Spain and Portugal), Clyde +15 (6 in Poland, 4 in Oman), Nan +13 (7 in Greece)
  • Fast tracking Wojciech is now close to the Top 50. He did +45, of which 14 last month in Brazil. He messaged me that he even plans to do one more before Dec 31!

Central Sikhote Alin and Landscapes of Dauria

Memorable reviews

With 528, the number of new reviews has been significantly lower than the 891 of 2019. But I was just glad that we could keep on delivering at least 1 review every day and that I managed to find something to write about once a week. Many travel blogs quit posting altogether or reverted to navel-gazing.

1098 of the 1121 WHS have now been reviewed, 4 more than last year. The new ones were: Central Sikhote Alin and Landscapes of Dauria both by Martina, Island of St. Louis by Jarek and Tassili n’Ajjer by Boj. Here's the list of the 23 still unreviewed.

With so many of the WHS already covered, we are especially looking for reviews that add something extra. For example a report from a different location of a WHS: Jarek did a first on the Russian side of the Curonian Spit. Michael’s 2020 World Tour brought him at a Struve site in Ukraine. And as the first among 8 reviewers, Clyde saw wild bison at Bialowieza NP.

Among the TWHS, previously unreviewed ones have also been covered. The monuments of Crimean Khanate Bakhchysarai were visited by Juha. Guatemala’s Cuenca Mirador was praised by Zoe, who also rewarded China’s Miao Villages and Dong Villages with a thumbs up. The Sagalassos archaeological site in Turkey was covered by Bergecn. Stanislaw ‘did’ the Sigatoka Sand Dunes in Fiji. Astraftis premiered with the Sacred Mountains of Mongolia. And a honourable mention: Svein & Randi checked out all 14 Icelandic turf buildings!

Icelandic Turf Houses

Candidates for the 2020 Tsunami Award for WH travel misadventure include Nan coming to terms with the implications of the Greek word Nea while visiting Bassae, Watkinstravel's "ordeal of flat tires and stress" at the Ouara ruins TWHS and Tsunami himself having an European Spa experience. But the winner is Zos M - who "started a rift between two neighboring guesthouse owners" and was responsible for the dead of a poor chicken while covering Sanqingshan.

Are there any memorable reviews from 2020 that you’d like to put into the spotlight again?

Els - 27 December 2020

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Els Slots 2 January 2021

Oh yeah, that was a classic. Sorry Nan!
(but he won the award last year already...)

Zoë Sheng 2 January 2021

Don't forget about Nan losing all his money at Huangshan, twice! Usually that happens on a visit to Macao! ;)

Blog Connections

Cold War

This week it has been reported that Ukraine plans to fast track Chernobyl for WH status. For someone my age it brings back memories from the Cold War, with news about the nuclear disaster seeping slowly through the Iron Curtain in 1986. In the WH nomination pipeline also are Gdansk Shipyard (in the TWHS description referred to as symbolizing “the end of the Cold War”) and the Korean DMZ (“the DMZ is a symbolic space of the inter-Korean cold war” (source)). Post-War era and Cold War sites were considered underrepresented in the ICOMOS Filling the gaps analysis from 2004, so we can expect more of them to come.

The Cold War “was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc, after World War II. … the period is generally considered to span the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union” (wiki). Related WHS which we grouped into a connection include venues where summits between the parties were organized, nuclear testing sites and strategic military locations. These links are mostly by coincidence, so far there is only one site where the Cold War is part of the OUV.


It may all have started at what later became the Potsdam WHS: the Cecilienhof Palace was the venue for the Potsdam Conference of 1945, where the USSR, the USA and the UK had gathered on how to administer Germany. Expansion of communism and nuclear power were important topics too.

In 1961 the Vienna Summit, where they mainly discussed the Berlin Crisis, was held between Kennedy and Chrushchov. Both leaders stayed at Hotel Imperial at the Ring in Vienna. The opening dinner was held at Schönbrunn Palace.

Throughout the whole period, the Kremlin was the seat of the communist Russian government and the Red Square saw many Soviet Union parades “for May Day (until 1969), Victory Day, and October Revolution Day, which consisted of propaganda, flags, labor demonstration, marching troops, and showing off of tanks and missiles”. The Kremlin was also the venue for the Moscow Summits of 1972 and 1974 (Nixon – Brezhnev) and 1988 (Reagan – Gorbachev).

Implications on a global scale

The Cold War had a lot of impact outside of the USA & USSR: the unfortunate inhabitants of the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific were removed from their ancestral lands to allow for nuclear testing in the area. This is the only WHS so far with Cold War in its OUV: “birth of the Cold War … race to develop increasingly powerful nuclear weapons …. escalation of military power which characterized the Cold War”.

Cuba’s Desembarco del Granma park “includes the nationally important site of Fidel Castro’s “desembarco” in 1956 where he and a group of 82 revolutionaries landed after sailing from Mexico” - this was highlighted in the IUCN evaluation. During the Cold War, Castro aligned with the Soviet Union and allowed the Soviets to place nuclear weapons in Cuba, resulting in the Cuban Missile Crisis – a defining incident of the Cold War – in 1962.


Fortress Stevnsfort at Stevns Klint was part of the Baltic Sea defense of Denmark and NATO. It contains 1.8 kilometres of underground passageways carved out of Stevns Klint. Because it was hidden away behind solid layers of chalk, Stevnsfort could withstand a direct attack by a nuclear bomb.

The weirdest connection between WHS and the Cold War must be Fujian Tulou. I’ve tried to find the origins of this apocryphal story – which certainly does not feature in the Chinese nomination dossier. I found this in the Beijing review (2011): “One day, a U.S. satellite suddenly discovered several buildings which looked like nuclear missile silos in the mountains of Fujian Province. American military officers at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing were reportedly immediately dispatched to Yongding County in Fujian, where they discovered that the "silos" were nothing more than Tulou. As a result, Fujian Tulou was unveiled to the world.”

Els - 20 December 2020

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Durian 24 December 2020

For SE Asia, Cold War was about proxy wars. We faced many less known conflicts in Indochina. But for WHS, I think the most unique maybe the Plain of Jars in Laos and its all those tragic aerial bombs by American, the bombardment of historical Hue and ancient My Son during Vietnam War.

Colvin 21 December 2020

I'd love to see what Germany might put forward to fill in a Cold War gap. I've expressed before how I think the Berlin Wall is a very tangible piece of Cold War history, and I'm glad parts of it are preserved in situ.

Another link to the Cold War came to mind in regard to East Asia. The Great Wall and the Forbidden City (see the Nixon Foundation records) were both visited by US President Nixon in 1972 during his landmark trip to China, in which the US restored relations with Communist China after years of disengagement. Nixon's unexpected overture to China during the Cold War opened up China to the West, and drove a wedge into Sino-Soviet relations.

Nan 21 December 2020

If Cold War is a gap, then Germany will have to revise it's list yet again.

1) While the Wall is mostly gone, several bits remain in Berlin and along the East/West Border.

2) Berlin obviously has several key parts: Checkpoint Charlie, Glienicker Brücke, Tempelhof Airport.

3) The open border in Hungary would probably have to feature somehow, too.

Colvin 20 December 2020

There's one other tenuous connection to World Heritage Sites and the Cold War that comes to mind:

Egyptian President Nasser used Cold War enmity to play the US and the USSR off each other and ultimately secure Soviet funding for Egypt's desired Aswan High Dam on the Nile in 1956. As a result of the dam's construction, UNESCO initiated its Nubia campaign in 1959 in order to save the Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae from the rising waters of Lake Nasser. The rest is World Heritage Site history.

Colvin 20 December 2020

Interesting observation about the spas in Eastern Europe; it makes sense that they would have been opened to the people.

Another site that can be linked to the Cold War would be Papahânaumokuâkea. Midway Atoll was the site of a US naval facility that tracked Soviet submarines during the Cold War.

Matejicek 20 December 2020

As I grew up on the other side of the curtain, I remember also other aspects of Cold War that were somehow beneficial (but these benefits were fed up mostly by propaganda and were rather unreal): one example is TWHS Mountain-top Hotel and television Transmitter Ještěd as an example that "we" were technologically and economically at least at the same level as western capitalistic world. The second example of weird propaganda can be found in TWHSs Great Spas of Europe (Czechia), where spa guests and clientele of luxury spa hotels had totally changed in 50s and 60s, and decadent egoistic capitalists were replaced by working class and poor peasants.

Els Slots 20 December 2020

Good additions, thanks Colvin!

Colvin 20 December 2020

There are some other historical connections to the Cold War in Eastern Europe as well:
Budapest saw students marching to the Parliament Building to protest the Communist regime during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. This uprising was quickly quelled, and Soviet tanks entered Budapest, protecting the Parliament Building and other key sites.
Prague had its own challenges in 1968, when Warsaw Pact forces took over the city and country to stifle "Prague Spring". This led to widespread protests, including the self-immolation of students Jan Palach and Jan Zajic in Wenceslas Square, in protest of the Warsaw Pact's military occupation of Czechoslovakia. A memorial to the students can be found in the square.

Colvin 20 December 2020

One could make the case that the Space Race was a beneficial result of the Cold War. Accordingly, the Jodrell Bank Observatory played a role in the Cold War through tracking Sputnik 1, and later tracking early spacecraft from the US and the USSR.

Blog TWHS Visits

Plantations in West Curacao

A few weeks ago I wrote about my foray into Sinology; after I quit, I went on to study (and finish) Modern and Socio-Economic History. I wrote my master thesis about the Abolishment of Slavery on Curacao. I re-read it before visiting the TWHS Plantations in West Curacao as it is so close to this subject. The slave plantation society at Curacao was atypical, as the island’s soil is not fertile and did not provide enough to make the export of crops profitable. So its mixed produce was mostly eaten by the local population. The plantation owners often had a job in the city as well.

This TWHS has been quite high in the ranking of future Dutch WHS (2019 was once named as the year that it should happen), but doubts have risen and it has been suggested to the Curacao government to think about joining a serial transnational nomination or even seek an extension of the Willemstad WHS (on similar grounds as Trinidad and the Valle de los Ingenios). I have not been able to find any news on its status beyond 2015.

Nevertheless, I looked forward to a visit during my first trip to Curacao in late 2020. The TWHS comprises 4 locations, but I will focus this review on Ascencion. I “visited” the other 3 locations as well, but I found Knip closed and my stops at Savonet & San Juan were superficial as well.

Plantation house Ascencion nowadays can only be seen on a guided tour on Thursday morning, which has to be pre-booked by e-mail. The site is managed by a Dutch couple, the building is in public ownership. In normal years it is rented out for weddings, parties and meetings. The Dutch Ministry of Defense has a special relationship with the building and has come to the financial Covid rescue to rent it for its troops this year while in training on Curacao. A dormitory has been created in the attic and the grounds are also large enough to accommodate a number of army tents.

Ascencion dates back to 1672. It belonged to a plantation where corn and fruits were grown for the local market. It looks neat from the outside, but what distinguishes it most from the other plantation houses is that the interior is also quite well preserved. They even still have a few pieces of furniture from the 17th century. The construction has an interior gallery that wraps all the way around the formal room in the center.

The tour focuses on the history of the house, there is little tangible presence of the “plantation system” that should be the core of its WH nomination. The agricultural fields are completely overgrown by manchineel trees and shrubs: the brackish water, that came when the Shell oil refinery emptied the fresh water bubble underneath, allows little vegetation. Also, nothing can be seen anymore of the living conditions of the enslaved or free labourers. They lived in huts next to the plantation house and had their own small fields. Only the original Slave Bell has been preserved, which was rung to regulate the day on the slave plantation (to be cynical even this may be more of an architectural style feature belonging to the plantation house).

So, in conclusion: while I am glad that I have visited these plantations and closed a circle from my student days, I would not recommend it for WH status in this format. It is brought forward as a cultural landscape that shows a “distinctive variant of the Caribbean slave plantation society”. However, the interaction between man and nature here was not very succesful and any impact made has gone already for a long time. Also, the physical remains of the slave plantation society are limited to that of the plantation owners which carries the risk of presenting a one-sided story.

Els - 13 December 2020

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Blog WHS Visits

WHS #741: Willemstad

Curacao holds the WHS where I could finally “finish” the Netherlands: the "Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour". While I already was done with the 9 other Dutch WHS in 2011, Willemstad seemed out of reach. The 10-hour flight to an island fully dedicated to mass tourism had always deterred me. During Covid times however, there are no cruise ships and the total number of monthly visitors is limited to 20,000. So it was exactly the right moment for me!

I stayed overnight for a week in the Pietermaai neighbourhood and explored the other 3 zones of the WHS on foot. I used itineraries that I found on the internet to identify the most interesting structures of Scharloo, Otrobanda and Punda.

I started in Scharloo, a neighborhood of detached 19th century residences. The place to be here is the long Scharlooweg. The stately buildings along this road now house companies and also the Swiss consulate. All are heavily secured and have gates in front. No one walked this street on a Sunday, I only met a stray dog.

The Waaigat separates Scharloo from the Punda district, the oldest part of the city center. As a pedestrian, you can choose from 3 bridges in a row to get to the other side. Especially this part of Willemstad is very reminiscent of Amsterdam. Fortunately, car traffic nowadays uses the also impressive 56 meter high Juliana Bridge.

I almost immediately left Punda to cross another stretch of water: St. Anna Bay. This is where the origins lie of 17th century Willemstad. Fort Amsterdam is a reminder of that time when access to the port had to be well protected against pirates and foreign naval forces. One usually crosses St. Anna Bay via the Queen Emma Bridge, the iconic pontoon bridge. However, when I arrived the bridge had just opened for a large cargo ship. At those times there is a free ferry back and forth. I got on that one and was in the Otrobanda district within a few minutes.

Otrobanda is a residential area with both working-class and upmarket houses from the 18th and 19th century. My walking route through Otrobanda was easier to follow than the one through Scharloo, but here too many buildings have changed hands or have fallen into disrepair. Next to the bright yellow Masonic Lodge - which indeed still stands – there should have been “another very beautiful mansion (white with blue woodwork)” from the beginning of the 18th century. What I found however was a charming ruin (see 2nd photo).

Finally, the Punda district. This consists partly of the government buildings of Curaçao and for the other part of shopping streets mainly aimed at tourists. The administration buildings are nicely painted in yellow. The shopping streets are narrow with properties on top of each other. The Post Museum here is located in the oldest remaining building. Punda was my least favorite neighborhood of the three, the best thing is watching the pontoon bridge open and close from a terrace on the waterfront.

After my first half-day city walk, I was able to do multiple short hops into town and visit also the attractions with limited opening hours such as the Maritime Museum. Willemstad does grow on you. Its historic area is quite large and goes well beyond the row of colourful houses at the Handelskade near the pontoon bridge. Compared to St. George (Bermuda) and Cartagena (Colombia), two similar WHS that I visited during the past year, Willemstad has less focus on fortifications and more on urban colonial architecture made possible by its success as a trading city.

Els - 6 December 2020

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Jay T 7 December 2020

Thanks -- I was curious how the Dutch architecture compared between the sites, so I appreciate the observations.

Els Slots 7 December 2020

Willemstad and Paramaribo are nothing alike in my opinion. Willemstad has that specific Caribbean sea port feel, while Paramaribo has a riverside location but not much of a port. Willemstad also feels more Dutch in its architecture, both in decorations and in the use of brick/stone. Paramaribo's wooden architecture is more geared to use in the tropics.

Jay T 6 December 2020

Glad you had a good trip! I was interested to see your thoughts on Willemstad’s differences from Cartagena and St. George. How would you say it compares to Paramaribo?

Blog Connections

Dependent Territories

When this blog post is published, I have just arrived in Curacao. Curacao is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands at the same level as the Netherlands, Aruba and Sint Maarten. It has its own currency, the Netherlands Antillean guilder. It’s a 10 hour flight from Amsterdam. Flights depart Schiphol from the non-Schengen zone. You have to show your passport to enter and to leave. However, when the Dutch Prime Minister adviced against all non-essential travel abroad during the 2nd wave of Covid, the Dutch Caribbean including Curacao was notably exempted as it was considered domestic travel.

Curacao’s only WHS, Willemstad, is included in the total Dutch count as well. It got me thinking about the odd positions of other WHS in Dependent territories. Of course we have a connection for them already!

What is a Dependent territory?

Wiki defines a Dependent territory as “a territory that does not possess full political independence or sovereignty as a sovereign state, yet remains politically outside the controlling state's integral area.” 

Characteristics to look for include:

  • a great degree of autonomy from its controlling state (for example having their own parliament)
  • often former colonies
  • having their own ISO 3166 country code

Which countries do have WHS in their dependent territories?

Denmark has Greenland with 3 WHS. Greenland has far-reaching self-rule, which may eventually lead towards full independence from Denmark.

Australia has Heard Island and Norfolk Island with a WHS each. They are both external territories. Norfolk Island has a colonial history but recently seems to be on the road to closer association with Australia. Heard Island has no permanent population but does have its own country code.

France has 3 WHS in its dependent territories. The French Southern Territories (French Austral Lands and Seas) is an Overseas Territory, French Polynesia (Taputapuātea) an Overseas Collecitivity and New Caledonia has a status all of its own. Reunion on the other hand is an overseas department (part of the eurozone, voting for the French parliament) and is not considered a dependent territory (although it has its own country code).

The UK has WHS in the 4 British Overseas Territories of Gibraltar, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, The Pitcairn Islands and Bermuda. 

The USA has a WHS in both the unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico (La Fortaleza) and the United States Minor Outlying Islands (Midway Island in Papahanaumokuakea).

We can also add Macau, which is a Special Administrative Region of China. They “greatly differ from mainland China in administrative, economic, legislative and judicial terms, including by currency, left-hand versus right-hand traffic, official languages and immigration control.”

A few special cases

In our original connection we also listed Jeju, Rapa Nui and the Sub-Antarctic Islands. These have a lesser degree of autonomy than the territories mentioned above and do not have their own country code:

  • Jeju is “is the only self-governing province in South Korea, meaning that the province is run by local natives instead of politicians from the mainland”. They are represented by 3 constituencies in the National Assembly of South Korea.
  • Rapa Nui is a “special territory of Chile”. Administratively however it is governed as a province of a mainland region. It has little autonomy and only a few distinct legislations(*). 
  • The Sub-Antarctic islands are part of the the New Zealand outlying islands. "Although considered as integral parts of New Zealand, seven of the nine island groups are not part of any region or district, but are instead designated as Area Outside Territorial Authority.” As they are unpopulated, they lack their own government or country code.

I am considering delisting these 3 cases from the connection, but would like to hear your voices on this subject first in the comments section below. And if we allow (some of) them, shall we then also add Reunion?

Els - 29 November 2020

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James 8 December 2020

It is very difficult to determine whether a region is a dependent territory or not. The definition of dependent territory is unclear, but I think you should delist all 3 cases from the connection.

A lot of countries have self-governing provinces or autonomous regions, these regions form an integral part of their country. I think Jeju is one of them.

It seems to me that Rapa Nui has even less autonomy than Jeju, so no Rapa Nui either.

As for the NZ Sub-Antarctic Islands, they are just part of NZ, there is nothing about them. Again, no.

Wojciech 29 November 2020

Territories without permanent population should be delisted if they don't belong to other dependent territory. Dependency without people makes no sense. So Gough should be kept, Heard, French Lands etc. deleted.

Jay T 29 November 2020

Welcome to the Western Hemisphere! Hope you enjoy your time in the Caribbean. I don’t have strong opinions about Jeju, but I have thoughts on the other two sites. Rapa Nui is a province of Chile, and that seems counter to the definition of a dependent territory; I’d be fine delisting it. As for New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands, I think they should stay based on their sponsorship by New Zealand; they seem to me in a similar position to the islands making up Papahānaumokuākea in the US.

Blog TWHS Visits

Unreviewed TWHS: Hirkan Forests

During the past week Azerbaijan has replaced its TWHS “Hyrcanian State Reserve”, dating from 1998, with “Hirkan Forests”. This revision follows the change in the national park structure that happened in 2004 and a further enlargement of the protected area in 2008. Though it may seem like a minor administrative adjustment, a change like this usually indicates an upcoming official nomination of the site. In this case it would be an extension to the Iranian Hyrcanian Forests WHS from 2019. The new Azeri TWHS is known for its ancient, deciduous mixed broad-leaved forests - in normal language that means: trees that shed their flat, usually veined, leaves. It comprises 3 locations.

A similar, but smaller site was nominated for inclusion in the WH List already in 2006 as “Hirkan Forests of Azerbaijan”. It was Deferred at the time with the option to renominate it as part of a transnational serial property with other Hirkanian forest areas in Iran.

When I re-read that IUCN evaluation now, I see no strong argument to either include or reject it. The forests are said to be of equal importance to sites known for vascular plant diversity already on the List, such as the Great Smoky Mountains. The Azeri site’s size is small, but there might be OUV if linked to Hirkanian forest sites in Iran. (I do not really understand this point as all components of a serial site should show OUV individually, so this alone should not have been a reason for Deferral). The removal of illegal settlements from the area however may have been a precondition.

I “visited” one of the 3 locations of the revamped TWHS on my way from Azerbaijan to Iran in 2016. I was well aware that I would quickly pass it by bus and sat ready with my camera in front of the windows. This explains the blurriness of photo 1 and 2 accompanying this post. To me it was a forest like any other, but I decided that I earned my future ‘tick’ when I noticed a park entrance gate marked Hirkan Milli Parki (photo 2). The road to Ardabil (in Iran) straddles the border and the Hirkan National Park. I am unsure about the proposed site’s exact borders, but will count it anyway as it is unlikely that I will ever visit Azerbaijan or this region again.

According to its new TWHS description, the area includes “living fossils” among its tree species such as the Persian Ironwood, Caucasian Wingnut and Caucasian Elm. The text even includes a cliffhanger: "...further endemic, rare, and threatened species ... will be detailed in the nomination dosser". 

These Azeri forests are not contiguous with Lisar, currently the most western part of the 15 locations of the Iranian Hyrcan Forests WHS. And to add to the confusing storyline - last week Iran has launched a new TWHS to add 2 more locations which are in a wholly different area. All together, this serial transnational Hyrcanian Forests (T)WHS seems to imitate the pointless extension upon extension of the Ancient Beech Forests of Europe. If you have allowed one location in, locations of similar value (and there are many in these cases) will get into the List also. Even the Colchis Wetlands and Forests of Georgia (up for the WHC of 2020/2021) is related. All these "survived the ice age periods as extremely rare “Tertiary relict forests”".

Els - 22 November 2020

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