For more than 40 years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been compiling a list of the world’s most historically significant landmarks, settlements, and natural features. By the most recent count, UNESCO has officially recognized nearly 1,000 ‘Heritage Sites’ around the world; the newest batch includes religious monuments, royal palaces, fortresses, and two of the world’s most recognizable mountains.
Considered the first large human settlement in Qatar, the seaside city of Al-Zubarah is located in the northwestern part of the country. This site consists of intricate underground wells, coastal fort ruins, and evidence of sea-grass beds used as agricultural implements.
Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora (Ukraine)
Tauric Chersonese was a city founded by Dorian Greeks on the shores of the Black Sea in the 5th century, and consisted of hundreds of chora, or square-shaped plots of land. Much of the site remains standing; archaeologists have taken a keen interest in the juxtaposition between Christian monuments and Bronze Age artifacts that have been found within the city.
Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe (Germany)
This venerated ‘water theatre’ was first constructed in the 17th century and completed about 200 years later. The fountains, grottos, and reservoirs located on the grounds are powered by a “complex system of hydro-pneumatic devices”; the enormous sculpture of Hercules is equally impressive.
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)
Geological contrasts are rarely as striking as this 1.4 million-acre site located in northwestern Mexico. The eastern half of the reserve is flanked by black and red lava flows produced by the Pinacate Shield volcanoes, while the Gran Altar Desert — complete with massive sand dunes — lies to the west.
Golestan Palace (Iran)
The Qajar family assumed rulership of Iran in the late 18th century and subsequently established the bustling metropolis of Tehran as the country’s capital city. This ornate complex of eight palaces was the family’s home base; guests are welcome to tour lavish bedrooms, art galleries, and libraries, as well as the vast gardens that serve as the site’s centerpiece.
Hill Forts of Rajahstan (India)
Nearly two thousand years ago, the Rajput clan constructed this septet of military strongholds in the mountains of northwestern India. Archaeologists have marveled at the strategic placement of the hill forts, as well as the ornate architecture found within each of the seven compounds.
Historic Center of Agadez (Niger)
This ‘gateway to the Sahara’ played a very important role in North African history; the city was constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries to provide a settlement for not only the Sultanate of Air, but also the nomadic Touareg tribes that made their living on the fringes of the desert. The city contains many earthen dwellings, as well as a clay minaret that reaches a height of 27 meters.
Historical Monuments and Sites in Kaesong (North Korea)
The Koryo Dynasty ruled Korea from 918-1392, but many of the family’s shrines, religious monuments, and other structures remain well-preserved within Kaesong City. The architecture, art, and interior design found at this site represents a confluence of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucionist influences, as well as some spatial planning techniques that were well ahead of their time.
Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (China)
The stunning landscape of Honghe Hani covers roughly 41,000 acres lying between the Ailao Mountains and Hong River of China’s Yunnan province. The intricate network of rice paddies and irrigation channels has been used for more than 1,300 years.
Levuka Historical Port Town (Fiji)
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Pacific Islands were a major hub of exploration and international commerce — and this portside settlement, Fiji’s first colonial capital, was bustling with activity. Visitors today can marvel at various structures from that era that have remained preserved, from churches influenced by Portuguese architecture to villages inhabited by indigenous tribes.
Medici Valley and Gardens in Tuscany (Italy)
The Medicis were one of the most influential families in European history; one of the largest banks ever assembled bore their name (as did four different popes), and their keen interest in the arts fueled the Renaissance movement. Comprised of a dozen villas and two pleasure gardens, the site served as a rural getaway for the Medicis until their dynasty was toppled in the 1700s.
Mount Etna (Italy)
Considered the largest active volcano in Europe, Mt. Etna is also one of the continent’s most popular tourist destinations. Viewers can regularly view “continuous summit degassing, explosive Strombolian eruptions, … frequent basaltic lava flows,” and other evidence of powerful geological activity.
Mount Fuji (Japan)
One of the most enduring natural symbols of Japan, Fujisan is one of the highest mountains in the world when measured from the sea level. Though the mountain has blown its top on more than one occasion, Mt. Fuji has been a pilgrimage site for the Japanese people (as well as thousands of world travelers every year) for centuries.
Namib Sand Sea (Namibia)
This landmark is also a geological anomaly: the world’s only coastal desert with extensive dand dunes partially created by fog. The sand sea is also massive, stretching more than 2,000 kilometers from Angola to South Africa — but despite its size, the desert is mostly uninhabited by humans.
Pamir National Park (Tajikistan)
The Pamir Mountains are the third highest range in the world (after the Himilayas and the Karakorums), and this national park lies near the Pamir Knot, where many of the region’s tallest peaks meet. Like most national parks, exotic wildlife abounds at Pamir; some of the local denizens include snow leopards, ibex, and Marco Polo Argall sheep.
Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (Canada)
Dating back to the 1500s, this site at on the shore of Newfoundland’s Strait of Belle Isle was once a major whaling center. Visitors can check out various tools and devices used to snare whales and render oil from their valuable fat, as well as a myriad of sunken vessels and well-preserved whale skeletons.
University of Coimbra–Alta and Sofia (Portugal)
One of the oldest universities in the world that continues to serve students, the University of Coimbra was founded by King Dinis in 1290. It has sustained a stellar academic reputation for centuries, particularly for its offerings in the fields of law, literature, and the sciences; the school’s architecture has also influenced countless campuses around the world.
Wooden Tserkvas (Poland and Ukraine)
These striking monuments to the Eastern Orthodoxy faith were constructed in the late 1700s. It is believed the structures played important roles in everyday life, functioning as worship centers as well as village gathering spots.
Xinjiang Tianshan (China)
The Tianshan Mountains stretch for more than 2,500 kilometers across China and extend into Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Home to an array of ecosystems, the mountains consist of “desert zone, desert steppe, shrubbery, river valley forest, wild fruit forest, mixed forest of spruce and broadleaved trees, pure Picea schrenkiana, cypress and shrubs, alpine meadows, and glaciers and snow-covered peaks”.
By Brad Nehring