The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has released its latest additions to the worldwide list of sites that are particularly important to the world’s cultural and natural heritage. This year’s inductees run the gamut from vineyards in Burgandy, to industrial complexes in South America, to ruins from the ancient world that you would have thought were already on the list. Oh, and one in our very own backyard. (We’re in Texas; we have big back yards.)
Places You Know by Heart
We’re going to start with the highlight closest to (our) home: The Alamo! Long recognized around the world (and by Phil Collins) for its role in American history, and throughout the Lone Star State as perhaps the most important landmark in Texas, the mission church in San Antonio is now recognized as a World Heritage Site.
Actually, the designation belongs to the San Antonio Missions, of which the Alamo is one, established by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century. The five missions, plus a ranch about 35 miles south, were built along the San Antonio River, and were cited for their place in local history and culture. The missions bridged Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures, combining Catholic symbols with Native American elements. Ironically, the missions also symbolize Spain’s efforts to colonize the northern frontier of New Spain; efforts which eventually led to the events the Alamo is most remembered for. The Alamo (aka: Mission San Antonio de Valero) is the most visited tourist attraction in Texas today, and the other Missions of San Antonio (Concepcion, Espada, San Jose and San Juan) comprise a National Historic Park.
Places You Thought Were Already UNESCO World Heritage Sites
And the answer is: Ephesus. If you haven’t been there, you have most likely seen pictures and may even have it penciled into your Bucket List for the Aegean. You know Ephesus for its stunning architectural ruins, which include the Library of Celsus, the Grand Theatre, St. John’s Basilica, and the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Home to Greeks, Romans, and Turks, since the 10th Century BC. Perhaps the city where the Gospel of John was written, and one of the Seven Churches of Asia cited in Revelations. Only one of the most important sites in all of modern Turkey, as well as ancient Greece and Rome, which has shaped global history, culture and religion. After a little more than 12,000 years, it’s finally a World Heritage Site.
Places You Never Thought Would Be UNESCO World Heritage Sites
This category is really large, given that it could include the likes of Your Mom’s Kitchen. Though undoubtedly its impact on your personal, family, and possibly neighborhood culture was profound, most of the world has probably not been influenced by Your Mom’s Kitchen. Instead, UNESCO has seen fit to honor several industrial sites which have had tremendous impacts felt around the world, affecting culture, industry, technology, health, wealth, and more.
- Germany’s Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus districts, and Chilehaus office building
Speicherstadt is a warehouse area in Hamburg. They were built on a group of islands in the Elbe River between 1885 and 1927, and partly rebuilt in the mid-1900s. Today, it’s one of the largest coherent historic districts of port warehouses in the world. Kontorhaus and the Chilehaus, meanwhile, are very large office complexes built in the first half of the 20th Century to house businesses related to the port and warehouses in the Speicherstadt.
- Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution
In the 19th Century, industrialism swept around the world. The sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution signify the transfer of Western industrialization to a non-Western nation as Japan emerged from feudalism. The sites also show how technology and industry was adapted to Japan’s deep social traditions, and used to meet the nation’s needs. In all, 23 locations feature coal mining, iron and steel manufacturing, and shipbuilding from the Meiji Era.
- Norway’s Rjukan–Notodden Industrial Heritage Site
Cited as an example of “a new global industry in the early 20th century,” the Rjukan-Notodden site is named for the towns built by Norsk-Hydro Company, and includes dramatic landscapes, hydroelectric power plants, factories, transport systems, and the towns themselves. The complex was built around the manufacture of artificial fertilizer to meet the growing global demand for agriculture production in the early-20th century.
- Uruguay’s Fray Bentos Industrial Landscape
The industrial complex near the city of Fray Bentos was built to process meat produced on Uruguay’s vast prairies. The site includes buildings and equipment of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, which exported meat extract and corned-beef to the European market from 1865, and represents the process of meat production on a global scale.
The UNESCO designation of these sites is a good reminder of industry’s effects on all other aspects of society. While not likely to be on anyone’s Travel Bucket List, they are important in their global impact and the roles they played in the development of local economies and cultures.
To wrap up on a related but far tastier note, two French industrial sites are in the Class of 2015. As the country has always been the acknowledged leader in wine production, it should be no surprise that both sites have played important roles in the wine industry. Also not surprisingly, these are two UNESCO sites that you probably will want to visit. Often, if possible.
- Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars
You are likely aware that Champagne was invented in France, but you may not know just how or where it was developed. These are the places: the historic vineyards of the Champagne Hillsides, and the cellars and Champagne Houses of L’Avenue de Champagne in Epernay. Together, they represent the entire champagne production process that has grown into a global industry.
- Climats, terroirs of Burgundy
Burgundy is notable for two things recognized by UNESCO: Grape cultivation and wine production dating from the Middle Ages, and the development of the Climats system in Dijon. The Climats are precise vineyard parcels on the slopes of the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune near Dijon, which came to be recognized for the wine they produced, each one influenced by the natural conditions of the particular parcel and the vines cultivated there.
This is just a sampling from the 24 global sites gaining UNESCO recognition this year, each of which is worthy of a visit. While most are not iconic, breathtaking, or even picturesque, all played significant roles in shaping the history and culture in their regions if not around the world. For many, the very reason we travel is to seek out places and stories just as these, to better understand the world and our place in it.
You can see the entire list of 2015 New Inscribed Properties, and the entire inventory of UNESCO World Heritage Sights, at UNESCO.org. Have you been to a UNESCO World Heritage Site? We’d love to hear about it in the Comments!
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