Obscure World Heritage Sites

Twenty extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Sites – which you have probably never heard of.

1 Island of Gorée, Senegal

Year heritage status achieved: 1978

Background: Off the coast of Senegal opposite Dakar, the island of Gorée is a memorial to the African diaspora. From the 15th to the 19th century, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. It serves now as a reminder of human exploitation and as a sanctuary for reconciliation.

2 Bialowieza Forest, Belarus

Year heritage status achieved: 1979

Background: An area of ancient woodland straddling the border between Belarus and Poland. It is the only remaining example of the original forests which once covered much of Europe. Its evergreen and broadleaved trees provide the habitat to some remarkable animals, including the lynx, otter and the European bison.

3 Megalithic temples of Malta

Year heritage status achieved: 1980

Background: These seven megalithic temples, which date from the third millennia BC, are outstanding examples of major developments in culture and technology. Two temples on Gozo are particularly noted for the huge bronze age sculptures.

4 Willandra Lakes Region, Australia

Year heritage status achieved: 1981

Background: Aborigines have lived on the shores of this extensive lakes region for at least 50,000 years, and the area is a unique landmark in the study of human evolution on the Australian continent. Remains found in the dunes of Lake Mugo (pictured) are believed to be a female from the oldest ritual cremation site ever discovered.

5 Archaeological site of Cyrene, Libya

Year heritage status achieved: 1982

Background: Once, Cyrene was one of the principal Hellenic cities. It was Romanised and remained a great capital until an earthquake struck it in AD365. Thousands of years of history is written into its ruins.

6 Pirin National Park, Bulgaria

Year heritage status achieved: 1983

Background: In south-west Bulgaria, Pirin National Park has a limestone landscape, with lakes, waterfalls, caves and pine forests, which are home to hundreds of rare and endemic species.

7 Huascarán National Park, Peru

Year heritage status achieved: 1985

Background: The park covers most of the Cordillera Blanca, the highest tropical mountain range in the world. Deep ravines, glacial lakes and a variety of vegetation make it a site of spectacular beauty where animal life includes condor, deer and vicuna.

8 Quseir Amra, Jordan

Year heritage status achieved: 1985

Background: This is an exceptionally well preserved desert fortress that was constructed in the 8th century. It is richly decorated, with figurative murals that reflect the secular art of the time – and is also of significant architectural interest.

9 Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, Madagascar

Year heritage status achieved: 1990

Background: This nature reserve lies about 50 miles inland from the west coast of Madagascar and is remarkable for its forest of limestone needles, bordered by sheer cliffs, some of which rise 300-400m above the Manambolo river.

10 Baroque Churches of the Philippines

Year heritage status achieved: 1993

Background: These are outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of Baroque architecture. There are four churches, the first of which was built in Manila by the Spanish in the late 16th century.

11 Historic centre of Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Year heritage status achieved: 1993

Background: Located on the Silk Route, Bukhara is the most complete example of a medieval town in Central Asia, including the tomb of Ismail Samani, and the decorated brick minaret if Poi-Kalyan from the 11th century.

12 Hanseatic town of Visby, Sweden

Year heritage status achieved: 1995

Background: Arguably the best preserved medieval city in Scandinavia, this was the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic from the 12th to the 14th centuries.

13 Historic quarter of Sacramento, Uruguay

Year heritage status achieved: 1995

Background: The oldest town in Uruguay, this town on a peninsula of the Río de La Plata has cobbled streets, large squares as well as some excellent examples of 19th-century Spanish colonial buildings, including elegant town houses and artisans dwellings.

14 Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Democratic Republic of Congo

Year heritage status achieved: 1996

Background: The reserve contains about 5,000 of the estimated 30,000 remaining okapi (pictured), and features dramatic landscapes including waterfalls on the Ituri and Epulu rivers. It is inhabited by traditional nomadic pygmy Mbuti and Efe hunters.

15 Defence line of Amsterdam, Holland

Year heritage status achieved: 1996

Background: Built between 1883 and 1920, this is a unique fortification using the Dutch's considerable expertise in hydraulics. It consists of 42 forts around the city of Amsterdam, which would be flooded in the event of an attack to protect the city. However, the invention of the tank and the aeroplane soon rendered the construction of the fort obsolete.

16 Salzkammergut cultural landscape, Austria

Year heritage status achieved: 1997

Background: A resort area of Austria, where prosperity is funded in large part by salt deposits. The region's wealth has enabled the fine architecture of the town of Hallstatt, while the surrounding Dachstein Mountains are notable for the large number of caves.

17 Mir Castle Complex, Belarus

Year heritage status achieved: 2000

Background: Lying in a fertile region in the geographical centre of Europe, this castle was begun in Gothic style in the 15th century. It is testament to the area's turbulent history, with its various extensions in Renaissance and Baroque style.

18 New Lanark, Scotland

Year heritage status achieved: 2001

Background: This town in a striking Scottish landscape was developed as a model industrial village by the philanthropist and idealist Robert Owen. His vision had a profound influence on benevolent industrialists and influenced social developments in the 19th century and beyond.

19 Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland (Denmark)

Year heritage status achieved: 2004

Background: Studied for more than 250 years, this is the seamouth of Sermeq Kujalleg, one of the fastest moving (19m per day) and active glaciers in the world.

20 Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpetre Works, Chile

Year heritage status achieved: 2005

Background: Haunting ghost towns, relics of the nitrate towns that formed in the 19th century. Abandoned in the 20th century, they have been reopened as tourist attractions.

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