The pyramids at Giza, the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge are amongst some of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but if you are looking for something a bit different there are 936 such properties in every conceivable corner of the planet. From New Zealand’s Sub-Antarctic Islands to the arid Saharan regions of Niger, there are dozens of UNESCO World Heritage Sites you may not have heard about. Here is a look at five of the most intriguing, often overlooked sites, offering everything from wild forests to entire cities.
When we think of the jagged Karst landscapes of China we normally think of romantic Guilan, with its towering spires of limestone and forests of Osmanthus. Yet the dramatic pillars, cliffs and jagged peaks of Zhangjiajie, some 400 miles due north of Guilin in Hunan province, is said by native Chinese to offer an even more scenic landscape. Dominated by quartzite sandstone pillars up to 2,600 feet in height, the UNESCO protected forest is a warren of gigantic gorges and dangerous ravines, verdant canyons and impossibly steep valleys. Some of the highlights in the area include huge calcite caves, such as the Yellow Dragon Cave, and natural bridges like Tianqiashengkong that cross canyons more than 1171 feet above the Suoxi River. The Zhanjiajie region is also home to protected wildlife, such as the clouded leopard, Chinese water deer, Asiatic wild dog who live, hunt and forage through the coniferous and tropical forests of plum yews, pines and ginkgo.
Due to civil war, security issues and a poorly performing economy, Algeria has been off the tourist radar for a few decades. But the Houari Boumediene Airport in capital city Algiers has recently announced a raft of new arrivals, with carriers such as British Airways, Spainair, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways now flying to the previously war-torn North African nation. One of the countries finest heritage sites is Timgad, a Roman ruin on par with anything in Pompeii, Palmyra or Arles. Created as a military outpost of the Roman Empire by Emperor Trajan around the year A.D. 100, Timgad was a vast city of more than 15,000 residents, and built on a classical grid street system. These network of streets still exist today, and visitors can wander from block to block admiring the weathered limestone and sandstone remains. Amongst some of the best preserved buildings include an imposing, 40 foot high Triumphal Arch, a semi-circular amphitheatre, the Capitoline Temple dedicated to Jupiter, the god of the skies, and a decumanus maximus colonnade of Corinthian columns. But just walking around this ancient settlement, in the distant deserts some 75 miles south of Constantine, is a wholly magical experience, questioning whether that dust that perennially blows through the streets is fine sand from the Sahara, or the crumbled dust of a long-dead Empire.
Many Travellers venture to the Indian subcontinent to, in their own words, find themselves. Whether this be through Buddhist meditation, the guidance of an enlightened Hindu guru, or by more narcotic means, this path to enlightenment has long been followed. Yet one of the most awe-inspiring and deeply spiritual sites in India tends to go rather unnoticed. Unlike the opulence of Agra’s monumental structures, the Ellora Caves are half-submerged in the hills outside Aurangabad. Dug deep into the mountains and carved from basalt cliffs, the Caves are rock temples to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, three of India’s most ancient religious movements. Overall, more than 34 monasteries and temples are gathered here, each richly detailed and decorated by the stone-masons who worked here more than one thousand years ago. Descending into these caves is an entirely other-worldly experience, the synthesis of man-made architecture and natural rock lending these sites of religious reverence a permanence and mystery that few cathedrals or mosques can hope to match. At times, wandering past wall carvings of Shiva, underneath arches of sheer stone, and through elaborate Hindu passageways deep into the hills themselves, one feels as if they are both touching something that has been here a very long time, and something that will endure for eternity.
Italy is the nation with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, Orto Botanico in Padua is one of its least well know but certainly well worth a visit. Sure, you may never have actually heard of the site, and will perhaps be far more interested in the ruins of antiquity in Rome, the Renaissance charms of Venice and Florence, and the tombs of the long-lost Etruscans, but the Orto Botanico has beguiling charms of its own. Founded in 1545, this 22,000 square metre complex is the oldest academic Botanical Garden in the world, and was originally founded to help discover natural remedies and medicines. Exotic plants and herbs from around the world were brought here by Venetian merchants and explorers, while trees centuries old flourish in the rich soils and capacious greenhouses on the site. So it is at this site that the European study of botany first began to flourish, while the gardens have also contributed a profound contribution to disciplines such as medicine, chemistry and ecology.
Poland’s emergence from decades of brutal Soviet rule has unveiled a number of impressively preserved historical towns and cities to the rest of Europe. Cities such as Krakow and Gdansk quickly attracted the coach tours and budget airlines, but it is the small Pomeranian town of Torun where one can find the very best Medieval architecture in the nation. Red-brick Hanseatic warehouses and merchant’s halls from as early as the 13th century can be found here, and one of the highlights is the humble home of the astronomer Copernicus, who once lived in the centre of town. The Teutonic Order also based themselves in Torun for a while, leaving behind a baronial and grandiose castle whose ruins can still be seen to this day. With enticing museums, streets resplendent with old world charm, and a rich history everywhere you look, this grand town deserves to be ranked alongside the great historic trading centres of northern Europe such as Bruges, Ghent and Lubeck.Write a Comment
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