19th July 2019
In early July, the World Heritage Committee met in Baku, Azerbaijan, where they unveiled a number of new UNESCO sites. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, to give it its full name, identifies a world heritage site as one which holds cultural, natural or historical significance considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. More importantly, it then encourages the protection and preservation of those sites. A World Heritage Site can be anything from a whole city, to a coral reef, a building or a wilderness area and as of this month, there are now 1,121 World Heritage Sites around the world. We take a look at a few of the sites that were added to UNESCO in their recent session.
What is most surprising about this inclusion is that Bagan was not already on the UNESCO list. This ancient temple city in central Myanmar was once the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, boasting an impressive 10,000 stupas at its peak in the 11th to the 13th centuries rising grandly towards the sky in sacred prayer across the dusty 26 square mile plain. When the Mongol’s invaded, the kingdom fell, as did many of the pagodas and temples. Today, more than 3500 stupas, temples, monasteries and pagodas still proudly remain, providing one of the most beautiful and beguiling landscapes, and an archaeological zone to rival Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Important for its historical significance, the reason it’s taken almost 25 years to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since its first nomination is due to the ruling military junta at the time neglecting restoration efforts and further setbacks from earthquakes that saw the site in jeopardy of being damaged irreparably. Having survived all of that, we think it’s finally rather deserving of that title.
Shrouded in mystery and the base from which local legend has bloomed, the plain of jars in northeast Laos is a fascinating megalithic attraction thought to be roughly 2500 years old. Though not a whole lot is known about the jars, they are made from limestone and vary in size up to 3m tall and 1m wide and are scattered, seemingly at random, over a huge area spanning hundreds of square kilometres in Phonsavan.
Some archaeologists believe the jars are urns that were once used to hold bodies of the deceased. Though remains haven’t been found in abundance inside the jars, it could have been used as one stage in the funeral rites of an ancient civilisation from the Iron Age. The locals, however, believe that they were used to brew and store rice wine for mythical giants that hail from the mountains overlooking the area. What doesn’t help is that, during the Vietnam war, this area was heavily bombed - the world’s most heavily bombed place per capita in fact - and contaminated the area with over 80 million undetonated bombs, which have hindered any further excavation of the site. Perhaps questions about the Plain of Jars will continue to go unanswered for the time being.
Known as the Pink City, fortified Jaipur has long been a popular fixture on many of our India itineraries, with its generous peppering of pastel-coloured palaces, ancient forts and sacred temples providing a perfect introduction to the charms of India for first-time visitors. Founded in 1727 by Sawi Jai Singh II, the commercial capital of Rajasthan was the country’s first planned city and wasn’t painted its signature pink colour, often associated with hospitality, until 1876 to welcome Prince Edward of Wales on his visit to Jaipur.
Already home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites - a collection of architectural astronomical instruments known as the Jantar Mantar Observatory and the iconic Amber Fort - these historically rich sites reinforce the city’s cultural significance. Jaipur follows in the footsteps of Ahmedabad, which was the first city to be crowned World Heritage in India.
In Osaka Prefecture, from the air, you could recognise this large expanse of green shaped like a keyhole surrounded by a moat and not necessarily associate it with being an ancient burial ground. But that’s exactly the story behind the two tumulus clusters known as Mozu-Furuichi Kofun group. The site consists of 49 tombs, varying in shape and size, constructed from the late fourth to the late fifth centuries. Of these, the largest at 486-meter long, Daisen Kofun is said to be where the 16th Emperor Nintoku was laid to rest, though some historians dispute this. Emperors in ancient Japan are considered to be descendants of Gods and in some cases, have turned out to be legend rather than historical fact as they date back to a time before recorded history.
These mounds are a sacred religious site so very little scientific examination has been carried out but what is known about kofuns is that they were built only for the ruling classes and their size pertains to just how important and powerful they actually were and the keyhole shape, a symbol of power and authority, is characteristic of the period in which they appeared between the third and early seventh centuries.