UNESCO’s future heritage gems

This week the World Heritage Committee are meeting in Krakow, Poland to consider requested sites for addition to the UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Sites on the list must be of ‘outstanding universal value’ and fulfill at least one out of their ten chosen criteria. Examples of the criteria include “represent a masterpiece of human genius” and “to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.” Such rules allow only the most valuable heritage sites to be inscribed on UNESCO’s list.  

Included in the tentative list is the site of the ruins of an ancient Greek city in modern Turkey called Aphrodisias.

It exists in the historic Caria cultural region of western Anatolia, near the modern village of Geyre. The name of the city was derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and the city created a unique cult image of her, the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias. Although the city was known to be named after Aphrodite in the 2nd BCE, the Suda, a Byzantine encyclopedic compilation, claimed that it had three previous names: Lelegon Polis, Megale Polis and Ninoë. This means that the city could be even older than its name. For the remains of a city that old, these ruins are incredibly well preserved. Some of the buildings and areas that can still be identified in the ancient city are the Temple of Aphrodite, a monumental gateway and a stadium. Aphrodisias was also an important city to the ancients, as it was built near a marble quarry, thus making its sculpture school one of the most famous in its time. This is an ancient city that definitely deserves to be remembered. 

Continuing eastward, another relatively old heritage site may be able to gain recognition for its historic religious devotion. This is none other than the sacred island of Okinoshima, a small Japanese island that is dedicated to the Shinto gods.

The three small Shinto shrines on the islands were used to pray to the gods to guard the ships, from the fourth to the ninth century, when the waters surrounding the island were very frequently used for trade in the region. This means that the island is now home to over 80,000 treasures from overseas, from swords and beads to mirrors. These international treasures are what make this little island truly extraordinary. Now only men are allowed to step foot on this sacred place, and only on a certain date every year. They also have to strip naked and go through a cleansing ritual before they can be on the island, and they are not allowed to talk to anyone about their time there after leaving. The sacred island of Okinoshima is respected and revered to this very day, and deserves protection.  

In Iran, the beautiful historic city of Yazd, the capital of the Yazd province, is being brought into the limelight through UNESCO.

It has history of over 5000 years, and the majority of the people living there are Persian, as the city has stayed true to its Persian roots. Beautiful Persian architecture and silk can be found everywhere. It was a Zoroastrian center, and remained so even after the Arabs conquered most of Iran by paying a levy, although many Zoroastrians migrated to neighbouring provinces and Islam gradually became the dominant religion. Yazd was also a haven for those fleeing from the Mongol invasion of the Persian Empire in the 13th century, as it had a relatively destruction-free location in the remote desert. This is also part of the reason why the city of Yazd is so well preserved, and traces of its 5000 years of history can still be observed in its streets.  

The Centre is also considering adding a number of natural sites to the World Heritage List, such as the Los Alerces National Park in Argentina.

It is best known for its magnificent alerces trees, which is where it gets its name, and it has the largest alerces forest in the entire country. Alerces trees are some of the oldest and longest-living trees in the world, and some of the trees Los Alerces National Park could be up to 3000 years old, although most are a humble 1000 years old. The park is also home to an intricate system of rivers and lakes that are all absolutely stunning. The old giants of Los Alerces National Park, coupled with the amazing views that the lakes, rivers and mountains provide are all worthy of universal attention.

Last but not least, England has its very own natural property that is coming under scrutiny of the World Heritage Centre, namely, the beloved Lake District.

It is a mountainous region in North West England, within the county of Cumbria, and is well loved by international tourists and British visitors alike. It is home to a wide variety of landscapes, including valleys, mountains, hills, fells, woodlands and lakes. One of the most exciting parts of the Lake District National Park is Scafell Pike, the highest point in England, where a clear day offers an extensive view, and one would be able to sweep his or her gaze over the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland to gaze at Snowdinia in Wales. The Lake District, however beautiful, does happen to have a lot of human interference, and farmland and settlement have altered the landscape. This was one of the reasons why the Lake District was rejected as a natural site under the World Heritage List in 2016. In 2017, Lake District has instead been submitted as a cultural heritage site, which might increase its chances of getting onto the list.  

Whether or not any of these sites make it onto the actual World Heritage List is something that many people will be highly anticipating. The new and added protection of culture and nature may lift spirits all over the world.  


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November 2021
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