20 Unusual World Heritage Sites

The good people over at UNESCO have been like the modern-day equivalent of the Knights Templar: a protective order with a sacred duty. Bound to safeguard the natural and architectural treasures of the world, the international body has a ceaseless mission.

Every new member of the World Heritage club is special in a singular fashion. Here are 20 recent additions however, that are spectacularly unusual.

Chief Roi Mata’s Domain, Vanuatu

Roi Mata, a legendary 17th century chief of the South Pacific archipelago nation Vanuatu, whose reign was marked by landmark social reforms and a relative era of peace and prosperity, spawned a rich oral tradition that endures to this day. His domain complex spans three islands and is one of the best examples of Pacific tribal systems left.

Fujian Tulou, China

Inland from the Taiwan Strait in China is a curious network of 46 earthen homes built between the 12th and 20th century that span over 120 km. Part agrarian communal quarters and part defensive fortifications, the unusual homes blend seamlessly with a landscape that includes rice, tea and tobacco plantations.

Historic Centre of Camag?ey, Cuba

One of the first Spanish settlements in Cuba, the town of Camag?ey was built in 1528 to support the cattle and sugar industry. The exceptional and unorthodox urban plan features small and large plazas, labyrinthine promenades and alleys and architecture from various periods. The historic heart of Camag?ey is the focal point for cultural events in the town to this day.

Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes, Italy and Switzerland

Not many railways around the world draw the attention of UNESCO. But when you bridge two historic lines in the Swiss Alps, exceptions are made. For sheer landscape obstacles overcome, the Rhaetian Railway is superlative, with a wondrous network of tunnels, viaducts and covered galleries.

Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests, Kenya

On the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Mijikenda Kaya Forests of Kenya are a wonderful complex of sites that span 200 km. With traces of bulwark villages from as far back as the 16th century, the forests are venerated by local tribes as a sacred ancestral home and remain vital today for cultural and spiritual reasons.

 The Archaeological Site of Al-Hijr, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s first entry on the UNESCO World Heritage list is a network of sandstone tomb monuments that date back to the dawn of the modern age. Incredibly, the Al-Hijr site, at over two millenia old, is rather well-preserved, with Assyrian, Egyptian, Phoenician and Hellenistic design influences still in evidence.

Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran

Iran, no stranger to UNESCO, contains some of the most ancient treasures in the world. The Armenian Monastic Ensembles in the northwest of the country date as far back as the 7th century. Three distinct sites bear witness to the vitality of the Armenian Orthodox Christian faith, with Byzantine, Muslim and Persian influences.

Kuk Early Agricultural Site, Papua New Guinea

Perhaps the best example that to change the world for the better, we can learn from the past, the Kuk site in Papua New Guinea is a wetland reclamation project that has been worked over a period of 10,000 years. Excavation by archaeologists unearthed traces of agricultural development and advances that led to a seismic shift in practices over time.

Le Morne Cultural Landscape, Mauritius

Mauritius was once a major stopover in the eastern slave trade from Africa to India and Southeast Asia. From the 18th century to the early 19th century, runaway slaves hid out in the vast and rugged terrain of the island’s southwest. Known as the Le Morne Cultural Landscape, the site is a powerful symbol today of the brave resistance of slaves who were able to esape and their subsequent fight for freedom.

Stari Grad Plain, Croatia

The Adriatic island of Hvar is part of Croatia but maintains a strong historic bond with Greece. Parts of the island were first colonized by Greeks from Paros in the 4th century, with fortress walls, stone abodes and other remains relatively pristine all these years later. People who dwell in the fertile Stari Grad plain still cultivate the same crops 2,400 years after the Greeks first built up the agricultural base on Hvar.

Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun, Bahrain

Known as Qal?at al-Bahrain, this paramount excavation mound in the oil rich Persian Gulf nation displays traces of human settlement from as far back as 2300 BC. With not even half of the site uncovered, only time will tell how many inherent treasures rest under the ground of what was once a vital civilization. The most notable landmark is a Portuguese fort from the colonial era.

 Tiwanaku, Bolivia

Though Bolivia is not always the safest and most stable destination to visit, the South American country has a wealth of wonders to explore. The ancient pre-colonial city of Tiwanaku is one of Bolivia’s veritable jewels and was a de facto base of power for an empire that virtually ran the Andes between the years 500 and 900.

 The Four Lifts on the Canal du Centre and their Environs, La Louvi?re and Le Roeulx, Belgium

Industrial landmarks are not a favorite with UNESCO but every once in a while, the World Heritage team finds a diamond in the rough. Hydraulic boat-lifts are not everyone’s idea of a tourist attraction but the four you find near the town of La Louvi?re in Belgium are stellar examples of innovative 19th century engineering and industrial design.

Historic Centre of the Town of Goi?s, Brazil

Imagine what in essence is a town built to support a mine industry that at first glance, appears completely European in nature. But then upon closer inspection and with the greater landscape in mind, you realize that you are in fact, in South America. The spectacular old town of Goi?s is just that. On one hand an 18th century colonial outpost but on the other, with the use of endemic raw materials and craftsmanship, wholly Brazilian.

Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada

Canada’s capital city is replete with charm, which for many, is most emblematic in the iconic Rideau Canal. People who come to skate on and walk along the canal often forget or remain oblivious to the fact that Rideau is one of the most historic canals in North America. It spans over 200 km and contains many pristinely preserved fortress landmarks that hint at the engineering feat’s initial purpose. Rideau is also the only 19th century canal left on the continent still in commercial service.

Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works, Chile

Under threat because of human and natural interference, the Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works in Chile dates back to a time when laborers in the harsh Pampas environment processed the land to produce fertilizer sodium nitrate for South America, North America and Europe. The communal culture that evolved over the decades from 1880 to 1940, with migrant workers from all over the continent, makes this area significant, unusual and completely unique in the world.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam

With a phenomenal city like Saigon, beautiful countryside and sites like Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam has become a dominant player in Southeast Asia. The park is unusual for several reasons, but chiefly for macabre layers of limestone, fossil remains and a network of caves and subterranean rivers that span 65 km.

 Cornwall and West Devon, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Back in the 19th century, the area of Cornwall and West Devon produced more than 66% of the world’s copper. The prolific industrial output of the region was the result of stupendous innovations in the mining and metallurgical manufacturing sectors. The foundries, mines, engine houses and ports that stand to this day were deemed by UNESCO to be incredibly rich in historical value and in need of preservation in what remains one of the predominant cradles of the Industrial Revolution.

Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan

Central Asia is a vast cultural panorama, awash with hidden treasure troves and ancient towns. The old city of Merv in underappreciated Turkmenistan, a country with a checkered past but phenomenal GDP growth in recent years, is perhaps the best-preserved Silk Road oasis in the region. With monuments and excavated traces from as far back as 4,000 years ago, Merv is certainly the oldest in all of Central Asia.

West Norwegian Fjords

With some of the most dramatic and awesome scenery in store for visitors, the Geirangerfjord and N?r?yfjord of west Norway are the archetypes of typical fjords. The twin natural wonders span over 500 km of pristine wilderness and feature classic fjord details like mammoth steep rock walls that plunge over half a kilometer below sea level and rich biodiversity. Land and marine mammals that depend on the fjords for sustenance abound and old farm settlements, no longer in use, add a subtext to the environment.

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