As per UNESCO, world heritage is defined as “the designation for places on earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.”
Every year, members of UNESCO meet and assess which sites should be added to the list. Last year, due to COVID-19, the annual meeting did not take place, so this year, there are more than the usual new additions to the list, covering everything from spa cities in Europe to a mining landscape to the Trans-Iranian Railway. There’s a truly varied number of sites that have only one thing in common: they are worthwhile seeing and worthwhile protecting for the future.
Here is a brief list of all the new 2020/2021 additions, in the order published by UNESCO.
1. Arslantepe Mound, Turkey
Located in the remote eastern Anatolian city of Malatya, the Arslantepe, or Lion Mound, is a 90-foot-high archaeological hill dating back some 8,000 years. It is one of Turkey’s earliest religious and civil sites and lies within a historically important region where the world’s first palace and remains of the first state system were found. Malatya is a hotbed of ancient history, with many local excursions available.
2. As-Salt, Jordan
Easily reached from Jordan’s capital of Amman, the town of Salt was listed as “The Place of Tolerance and Urban Hospitality.” A busy trade hub between east and west, the hillside town’s old center hosts some 650 significant historic, often yellow buildings, exhibiting a blend of European Art Nouveau and Neo-Colonial styles.
3. Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex, Peru
This pre-historic site on the north-central coast of Peru dates to 250–200 B.C. and is believed to be the oldest astronomical complex in the Americas. A series of 13 stone towers standing on the ridge of a hill was constructed in a way that allowed the date to be known on any given day, while the astronomers of the day could also follow the movements of the sun throughout its annual cycle. You can best explore the region with an experienced tour guide.
4. Colonies Of Benevolence, Belgium/Netherlands
In 1818, the Colonies of Benevolence were founded in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which at that time still incorporated Belgium. The four colonies, encompassing farms, churches, and communal buildings, were established as a means to illuminate poverty, with poor families, vagrants, orphans, and beggars being able to move to the colonies to work and live. The colonies are located in Frederiksoord, Wilhelminaoord, and Veenhuizen in The Netherlands, and Wortel in Belgium.
5. Cordouan Lighthouse, Le Verdon-Sur-Mer, France
Located at the mouth of the Gironde estuary, on the French Atlantic Coast not too far from Bordeaux, this beautiful lighthouse first opened in 1611 and is still working today. At 221 feet tall, it is the 10th tallest lighthouse in the world and can be visited, as well as climbed (301 steps to the top).
6. Cultural Landscape Of Hawraman/Uramanat, Iran
Sadly, practically unreachable for visitors, this remote region in the mountains along the border of Iran and Iraq, includes 12 villages that sit on terraced mountainsides, and are a credit to the semi-nomadic Hawrami people who have inhabited the region since around 3000 B.C. Their adaptation and innovative ways of living in and cultivating this rugged landscape are truly remarkable.
7. Dholavira, Gujarat, India
Bringing India’s UNESCO World Heritage sites to a total of 40, the archaeological site of Dholavira in the Indus Valley represents the ancient Harappan culture, dating back to between 3000–1500 B.C. Dholavira, locally known as Kotada, meaning “large fort,” sprawls across 100 acres with the nearest hub being Bhuj, some 150 miles from the site.
8. Frontiers Of The Roman Empire — The Lower German Limes: Germany And The Netherlands; And The Danube Limes: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, And Romania
This is a multinational and multi-site encompassing listing, basically including the military frontiers of the former Roman Empire, taking in forts, towers, camps, harbors, and roads, military, and civilian sites. The Danube frontier alone stretches 375 miles and would make a perfect road trip for Roman history enthusiasts.
9. Jomon Prehistoric Sites, Hokkaido, Japan
In northern Japan, there are several archaeological sites, restored cultural villages, and exhibitions and museums dedicated to the Jomon Period, a prehistoric period that spanned from the last Ice Age, some 15,000 years ago, until the year 300 A.D. It’s an incredible time span filled with intriguing historic details that can be visited.
10. Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple, Telangana, India
The Rudreshwara Temple, also known as Ramappa Temple, is an 800-year-old temple, and the main Shiva Temple within the walled complex of Kakatiya. Beautifully carved from stone, the temple was named after the artist who created it rather than the deity it celebrates, as is more common. Located some 125 miles from Hyderabad in India’s southern Telangana state, you can easily visit on a day trip from Hyderabad, but with much to see in the region, you might want to book a two-day tour.
11. Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Germany
Above the central-western German town of Darmstadt presides a tower that looks like a benevolent hand reaching up, and marks an artist colony set up to give a home and workspace to Art Nouveau artists at the end of the turn of the last century (i.e. 18th to 19th centuries). This space, which incorporates numerous buildings in the style called Jugendstil in German, is not just of interest to artists and architect-lovers, but also gives you a good excuse to visit the historic city of Darmstadt, a bit of a hidden gem.
12. Nice, France
This city on the French Riviera really does not need an introduction, but you might be wondering why it was chosen as an entire city when so many French cities are just as beautiful but not on the list. Nice was chosen as a “winter resort town of the Riviera,” which, according to UNESCO, “bears witness to the evolution of the winter climatic resort due to the city’s mild climate and seaside location at the foot of the Alps. From the middle of the 18th century, Nice attracted an increasing number of aristocratic and upper-class families, mainly British, who took to spending their winters there.”
13. Padua’s 14th-Century Fresco Cycles, Padua, Italy
Painted between 1302 and 1397, there are eight architectural marvels in Padua which have been adorned with stunning frescoes and murals. Executed by different artists, including Giotto, they tell viewers about the style of the times and have mainly religious themes in common. You can visit Padua and see at least some of the frescoes on a tour.
14. Paseo Del Prado And Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
Described by UNESCO as a landscape of arts and sciences, this part of the capital of Madrid is a must-see. The grand, tree-lined boulevard of Paseo del Prado and the Retiro Park bring together some six museums, including the famous Museo Nacional del Prado recreation grounds, the Green Lung of Madrid, and are generally considered the go-to quarter of the capital for arts and sciences.
15. Petroglyphs Of Lake Onega And The White Sea, Russia
In the forests and lake-dotted landscape of northwestern Russia, not far from the Finnish border, are Lake Onega and the inlet from the northern Barents Sea, which are lined with rocks adorned with some 4,500 petroglyphs (rock carvings). These are around 6,000–7,000 years old, and mostly depict animals and human figures, as well as hunting and sailing scenes, reflecting life on and around the water. Traveling through this remote region is not easy, but there are a few tours setting off from St. Petersburg.
16. Quanzhou: Emporium Of The World In Song-Yuan, China
Another serial listing, featuring a number of sites in one listing, Quanzhou incorporates religious buildings, including the 11th-century Qingjing Mosque, one of the earliest Islamic edifices in China. Islamic tombs and a wide range of archaeological remains dating back to the western Chinese denote the coastal city’s importance as a maritime hub along the Maritime Silk Route between the 10th and 14th centuries.
17. Roșia Montană Mining Landscape, Romania
Mining landscapes are typically marred by excavations and unsightly holes in the ground. Which, to an extent, is true here also. But these excavations in an otherwise pristine, forested, and hilly landscape in central Romania, are a result of Romans digging for gold and finding it, using still mind-bogglingly advanced technology. This should be part of any Romanian Balkans tour, either organized or private road trip, starting from the capital Sofia.
18. Settlement And Artificial Mummification Of The Chinchorro Culture, Chile
In the Arica and Parinacota regions in northern Chile along the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, there are three sites that come together in this listing. The entry celebrates marine hunter-gatherers who resided in the region from approximately 5450 B.C. to 890 B.C. and have the oldest known archaeological evidence of the artificial mummification of bodies, involving complicated burial rituals. Some of the mummies can be visited in the Museo de Situ Colon 10 in Arica.
19. ShUM Sites Of Speyer, Worms And Mainz, Germany
The German cities of Mainz, Speyer, and Worms were recognized for their role as centers of European Jewish Culture in the Middle Ages and are the first-ever UNESCO recognition of Jewish cultural heritage in Germany. They are collectively known as ShUM sites, after their medieval names in Hebrew. The structures included under this listing encompass synagogues, ritual baths, cemeteries, and religious schools.
20. Sudanese Style Mosques, Côte d’Ivoire
Eight small adobe mosques in the Sudanese style in northern Côte d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, have been warranted a UNESCO seal of approval. The gorgeous, primitive-looking mud-brick mosques with pointy minarets, including some with wooden supports showing similar to the style of mosques in Mali, date to around the 14th century.
21. Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
This site is, according to UNESCO, a living work of art. Developed over 40 years by landscape architect and artist Roberto Burle Marx, this is essentially a gorgeous garden in the west zone of Rio de Janeiro. With some 3,500 cultivated species of tropical and sub-tropical flora, this is the first modern tropical garden.
22. The Great Spa Towns Of Europe
The superb spa towns of Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland have been collectively recognized for their historic value, architecture, long health, travel, and spa culture. From the Roman Baths in Bath, England, to Vichy in France, these beautiful towns warrant a separate article solely dedicated to them. Watch this space.
23. The Porticoes Of Bologna, Italy
Is there anything better than walking on shaded pavements, often topped with coved and painted ceilings, all set off by columns? Beautiful Bologna has nearly 40 miles of these porticoes, resulting not just in shaded walkways and shop fronts, but also adding to the overall beauty of this northeastern Italian city.
24. The Slate Landscape Of Northwest Wales, UK
The sites of the former slate quarries and mines are not necessarily beautiful, but they are set in the beautiful Snowdon region of Wales and speak of a cultural and industrial heritage that shaped a nation and is said to have “roofed the 19th-century world.”
25. The Work Of Engineer Eladio Dieste: Church Of Atlántida, Uruguay
Twenty-eight miles west of Uruguay’s capital of Montevideo lies an incredible church, the work of architect Eladio Dieste (1917–2000). When you hear that it is made from brick in the 1960s, you may imagine an ugly building, but it is a church with smooth lines and minimalist beauty. The bell tower is especially a work of astounding architecture, with a stairwell without banisters that is totally open, scarily sticking out from the outside wall.
26. The Works Of Jože Plečnik, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Architect Jože Plečnik has quite literally shaped the city of Ljubljana with his architecture. From bridges, museums, churches, and public buildings, all built between WWI and WWII, UNESCO recognizes his work as “Human Centered Urban Design.”
27. Trans-Iranian Railway, Iran
The Trans-Iranian Railway was built between 1927 and 1938, crossing two mountain ranges and connecting the Caspian Sea with the Persian Gulf. With countless tunnels and viaducts, the railway crosses a formidable and beautiful terrain for 865 miles, making it a must-ride for all railway enthusiasts, as this DW documentary shows.
28. Ḥimā Cultural Area, Saudi Arabia
With Saudi Arabia opening up to tourism, this is one of the must-see sights in the vast country. Showcasing ancient petroglyphs from some 7,000 years ago, the site in the mountainous southwest of the Arabian country also exhibits rock art that spans centuries, with the subsequent cultures and visitors leaving their mark on the rocks.
29. Southern Islands, Japan
Four islands stretching along the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea might be difficult to get to, but that is exactly why they are so special. Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, the northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island offer incredible biodiversity with many endemic species of flora and fauna in a diverse habitat of some 42,698 acres. Some islands are easy to visit from the mainland.
30. Colchic Rainforests And Wetlands, Georgia
Who knew that you could find rainforests in Georgia? But over a 50-mile stretch along the Black Sea, there lies a unique ecosystem that encompasses rainforests and wetlands, both home to many endangered plant and animal species that need to be protected. Georgia is known for its varied landscapes and a perfect trekking country.
31. Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats, South Korea
Stretching along the south and southwest of the South Korean peninsula, some 2,150 animal and plant species call these extensive tidal flats home. Mostly unreachable by humans, tidal mudflats are, however, loved by migratory and local water birds, and this ecosystem offers perfect breeding and feeding grounds. This is an ideal vacation spot for any birder.
32. Ivindo National Park, Gabon
Ivindo is a national park covering some 300,000 acres of rain-forested land dotted with plentiful rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. This region on the equator of West Africa is a natural treasure, home to critically endangered forest elephants to endangered chimpanzees and lowland gorillas, leopards, numerous parrots, and scores of endemic freshwater fish. The very remote but spectacular location can only be reached by the Trans-Gabon railway, or as part of a tour.
33. Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, Thailand
This forest complex lies within the Tenasserim Mountain Range in the Indo-Malayan eco-region, near the border of Thailand and Myanmar. A semi-evergreen rainforest, this is an important habitat for endemic and endangered animals ranging from the Siamese crocodile to the Asian wild dog. There are regular minibus services direct from Bangkok and guided local tours.