Additions to Unesco's World Heritage list: A look at 7 new sites

One Shinto priest is stationed at all times on Okinoshima, each serving for a ten-day shift.
One Shinto priest is stationed at all times on Okinoshima, each serving for a ten-day shift.PHOTO: IMAKI HIDEKAZU/WORLD HERITAGE PROMOTION COMMITTEE
Hoh Xil's Mount Bukadaban at dusk.
Hoh Xil's Mount Bukadaban at dusk.PHOTO: PEKING UNIVERSITY
Rampsholme from Friars Crag Derwent Water in the Lake District.
Rampsholme from Friars Crag Derwent Water in the Lake District.PHOTO: ANDREW LOCKING

A number of controversial and unusual sites have been included in Unesco's World Heritage list this year.

Twenty new places were inscribed, including a tiny island in China known for its pianos, the British Lake District and the controversial choice of Hebron Old Town. Five other sites had their boundaries changed.

The Straits Times takes a look at some of the additions to the list of more than 1,000 heritage sites.

1. GULANGYU, CHINA


A view of Gulangyu from Sunlight Rock, the highest point of the island. PHOTO: JEANNE TAI 

Many of China's most celebrated musicians have come from Gulangyu and the island is nicknamed "piano island".

The island located on the estuary of Jiulong River, facing the city of Xiamen, has one of the highest piano ownership ratios in China, with nearly 600 pianos on an island that is less than 2 sq km.

Its heritage includes a settlement of 931 historical buildings bearing a range of local and international architectural styles, historic roads and gardens, said Xinhua.

 

Wu Yongqi, a historian on Gulangyu, told Xinhua the styles developed there were brought to South-east Asia by Chinese immigrants.

A popular tourist destination, the island receives more than 10 million visitors a year.

Unesco says: "With the opening of a commercial port at Xiamen in 1843 and the establishment of the island as an international settlement in 1903, this island off the southern coast of the Chinese empire suddenly became an important window for Sino-foreign exchanges. Gulangyu is an exceptional example of the cultural fusion that emerged from these exchanges, which remain legible in its urban fabric."

2. QINGHAI HOH XIL, CHINA


Wild donkeys rest near a lake on the grasslands in Hoh Xil, in the north-western part of the Tibetan plateau. PHOTO: REUTERS

Hoh Xil nature reserve is home to more than 200 animal species, despite the harsh climate on the plateau 4,500m above sea level. More than 20 of the animals are state-protected, including the Tibetan antelope.

It is China's largest world natural heritage site, covering an area of 45,000 sq km.

Tibetan rights groups were not thrilled at its inclusion, saying it reinforces Chinese control in the region.

They contend that China's resettlement of Tibetan herders threatens a traditional lifestyle that has endured for hundreds of years.

China says its policies are aimed at improving nomads' living standards.

Unesco says: "Qinghai Hoh Xil, located in the north-eastern extremity of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year round. The site's geographical and climatic conditions have nurtured a unique biodiversity."

3. ISLAND OF OKINOSHIMA, JAPAN

The sacred island is known for being off limits to women. Only men can view the more than 80,000 artefacts left there as offerings at three Shinto shrines which constitute the Munakata Grand Shrine.

The offerings were left by sailors who visited the island as part of trade missions between Japan to China and the Korean peninsula from the fourth to ninth centuries.

Only one person stays on the island at a time - an employee of the shrine. Even men can visit only once a year on May 27 and no one can take anything from the island when they leave. Neither can they speak of the island when they return.

Male worshippers have to strip and perform a cleansing ritual before setting foot on the isle.

Unesco says: "Located 60km off the western coast of Kyushu island, the island of Okinoshima is an exceptional example of the tradition of worship of a sacred island. The archaeological sites that have been preserved on the island are virtually intact and provide a chronological record of how the rituals performed there changed from the fourth to the ninth centuries."

4. LAKE DISTRICT, BRITAIN


The southern face of Blencathra, a bleak curve-backed summit overlooking the northern end of one of Britain’s most popular national parks, in the English Lake District. PHOTO: BOBBLE HAT/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Britain's Lake District is an area of wild beauty that beguiled poets and artists from William Wordsworth to Beatrix Potter.

"The special significance of the Lake District lies in the interaction between social, economic, cultural and environmental influences," Unesco said in a statement.

It is considered the cradle of the British Romanticism movement pioneered by the likes of Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey.

Unesco says: "Located in north-west England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area whose valleys have been modelled by glaciers in the Ice Age and subsequently shaped by an agro-pastoral land-use system characterised by fields enclosed by walls. The combined work of nature and human activity has produced a harmonious landscape in which the mountains are mirrored in the lakes. Grand houses, gardens and parks have been purposely created to enhance the beauty of this landscape."

5. HEBRON OLD TOWN, PALESTINE


Religious Jews and tourists walking towards the Tomb of the Patriarchs, also known as the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is a holy shrine for Jews and Muslims.  PHOTO: AFP

The inclusion of the Old City of Hebron sparked outrage from Israel, which said the decision denied a Jewish claim to an ancient burial cave that is also sacred to Muslims.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the Ibrahami Mosque, is venerated by members of both faiths as the grave site of the biblical patriarch Abraham, his son Isaac and grandson Jacob.

The core of the ancient city in the occupied West Bank is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and a few hundred Jewish settlers who live under heavy Israeli military protection.

Hebron claims to be one of the oldest cities in the world, with its origins dating back to the Chalcolithic period - more than 3,000 years BC.

At various times, it had been conquered by Romans, Jews, Crusaders and Mamluks.

Unesco says: "The centre of interest of the town was the site of Al mosque-Ibrahim / the Tomb of the Patriarchs, whose buildings are in a compound built in the first century to protect the tombs of the patriarch Abraham / Ibrahim and his family. This place became a site of pilgrimage for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The town was sited at the crossroads of trade routes for caravans travelling between southern Palestine, Sinai, Eastern Jordan, and the north of the Arabian Peninsula."

6. TAPUTAPUATEA, FRANCE


Azure waters surround the verdant Taputapuatea isle. PHOTO: PF AMAR/SCP

Taputapuatea, a portion of the Polynesian Triangle in the South Pacific, is thought to be the last part of the globe settled by humans.

It is the first time a site in the area has been recognised for its cultural significance.

The island is a centre for Polynesian seafarers, from where they explored Hawaii and New Zealand.

The sacred site is about 1,000 years old.

Unesco says: "Taputapuatea on Ra'iatea Island is at the centre of the Polynesian Triangle, a vast portion of the Pacific Ocean, dotted with islands, and the last part of the globe to be settled by humans. The property includes two forested valleys, a portion of lagoon and coral reef and a strip of open ocean. At the heart of the property is the Taputapuatea marae complex, a political, ceremonial and funerary centre. It is characterised by a paved courtyard with a large standing stone at its centre. Widespread in Polynesia, the marae were places where the world of the living intersects the world of the ancestors."

7. SAMBOR PREI KUK, CAMBODIA


Sambor Prei Kuk temple, an archaeological site of Ancient Ishanapura, in Kampong Thom province, Cambodia. PHOTO: REUTERS

This ancient temple likely inspired other Khmer-style structures such as the famed Angkor Wat.

Sambor Prei Kuk, or "temple in the richness of the forest" in the Khmer language, is located 206km north of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.

It is home to numerous temples, 10 of which are octagonal.

Unesco said the area had been identified as Ishanapura, the capital of the ancient Chenla Empire, a Khmer civilisation that flourished in the late sixth and seventh centuries and preceded the Khmer Empire.

It is the third site to be added to the World Heritage list after Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear, an 11th-century temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia.

Unesco says: "The vestiges of the city cover an area of 25 sq km and include a walled city centre as well as numerous temples, 10 of which are octagonal, unique specimens of their genre in south-east Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site are characteristic of the pre-Angkor decorative idiom, known as the Sambor Prei Kuk Style. Some of these elements, including lintels, pediments and colonnades, are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period."

SOURCES: AFP, REUTERS, TELEGRAPH, RADIO NEW ZEALAND, WHC.UNESCO.ORG