UNESCO World Heritage sites: some virtual visits

As thoughts turn to summer holidays, and foreign travel is still not a straightforward prospect for many, it is time to reprise the idea of the armchair traveller’s virtual tour, this time exploring some UNESCO World Heritage sites through our resources, mostly online ones. The World Heritage Program has been operating since the 1970s and the list of sites now numbers more than one thousand. This list will shortly be added to as the 44th session of the UNESCO World Heritage committee will take place during the next two weeks, an extended meeting (as they were not able to meet in 2020) at which delegates will consider the new nominations. They will also vote on whether the city of Liverpool should lose its World Heritage status, granted in 2004 and under threat because of recent waterfront developments regarded as detrimental. Previously, only one other European site was delisted, the Dresden Elbe valley in 2009 because of concerns about the construction of the Waldschlösschen Bridge.

View of Nice by Aeris06, Frédéric Oropallo via Wikimedia Commons

One of the places which may be added to the list this time is Nice in the south of France, nominated as capital of Riviera tourism. We can use the French Riviera Adventure Guide to find out more about this haven for tourists. Another nomination being considered is the ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and Mainz in Germany, showing the importance of these three Rhineland cities to Jewish heritage. This has been the subject of discussion for some time – an international conference was held in Mainz ten years ago and the UL has the conference proceedings: Die SchUM-Gemeinden Speyer – Worms – Mainz: auf dem Weg zum Welterbe (C214.c.2333). Speyer already has a UNESCO World Heritage site in the form of its splendid cathedral, added to the list in 1981 as “a major monument of Romanesque art.”

Speyer Cathedral by Kai Scherrer via Wikimedia Commons

Most sites inscribed on the World Heritage List are nominated by individual countries but some demonstrate transnational cooperation. An example of this is the architectural work of Le Corbusier, added in 2016 and consisting of 17 sites across seven countries. We can make virtual visits to a number of these courtesy of some online architectural guides:

Another individual building added to the list in 2001 is Villa Tugendhat in Brno, designed by Mies van der Rohe. Tugendhat House by Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat, Ivo Hammer and Wolf Tegethoff gives us the opportunity to look inside and includes photos from the Tugendhat family archive. 

Villa Tugendhat by Daniel Fišer via Wikimedia Commons

Widening our search out again to whole districts, we come to the 17th century canal ring area of Amsterdam, added in 2010 or if you prefer somewhere hotter, the old town of Corfu, added in 2007. A recent scholarly book is Amsterdam’s Canal District: origins, evolution, and future prospects by Jan Nijman, excellent on the history of the area but with interesting things to say on its future too. Meanwhile Corfu Old Town features briefly in Top 10 Corfu & the Ionian Islands by Carole French.

Corfu Old Town by Martin Falbisoner via Wikimedia Commons

Finally (and perhaps saving the best till last), if you are unable to travel abroad this year sit back and enjoy almost one hour of the film Cuba: the pearl of the Caribbean, visiting some of its nine UNESCO World Heritage sites along the way.

You might like to investigate other sites in the back issues of World Heritage, an official UNESCO quarterly review, published since 1996. A deeper analysis of how the World Heritage Convention has developed is provided in 40 years World Heritage Convention: popularizing the protection of cultural and natural heritage by Marie-Theres Albert and Birgitta Ringbeck.

Katharine Dicks

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