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World Heritage Site

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Blog: WHS #652: Cape Floral Region

The Cape Floral Region is one of the few WHS solely focused on flora. ‘Fynbos’ is the key subject here: a diverse shrubland and heathland vegetation with many endemic species. It comes for example in the variation of ‘rooibos’, that is used for the eponymous tea. Although plants aren’t my specific area of interest, I managed to visit Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens and the Table Mountain National Park during my 4 days in Cape Town. These cover only 1 of the 13 inscribed clusters – the other 12 are located in the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces.

A bit of fynbos

My explorations started at Kirstenbosch gardens. I was staying at a Bed&Breakfast in Klaassens Road, next to Gate no. 3 of the gardens. This whole area is incredibly lush – and wealthy. Properties sell easily for over 1 million EUR. Entering Kirstenbosch via this upper gate leads you directly to the fynbos and the proteas, both almost only to be found in the Cape Floral Region. With the Table Mountain directly in the background, it’s all very pleasing to the eye. The lower part, near main entrance no. 1, is a bit more like a landscape garden and hosted lots of picnickers when I was visiting on a Saturday afternoon.

We’ve discussed before on this website whether it is more important to preserve an iconic and large fauna species such as the giant panda or the mountain gorilla, than for example a mouse or even an ant. This also applies to the flora: we have the giant trees of Redwood and the double ‘coco de mer’ coconut of Vallée de Mai. The Cape Flora Region’s main claim to fame is its fynbos – which essentially is a low and unassuming shrub. I have tried and tried to find anything to love about it, but I can’t.

Sugarbird at a protea

I spent 3 hours in Kirstenbosch, which is a pleasure to walk in. Kirstenbosch also has a (rather lame) canopy walkway, a new addition to our connection. More extreme activities can be done from Table Mountain. Getting there involves stepping into a spectacular cable car that rotates 360 degrees during the ride. From the top you can try abseiling, or just watch other people do it.

The remarkable thing about the top surface of the Table Mountain is that it is covered by a great variety of plants. Somehow you would just expect a rocky platform. There are trails to explore the 3km width of the mountain, and it is recommended to go as far from the cable car station as you can – only there you will find some peace and quiet to enjoy the landscape. Yes, Table Mountain is one of our ‘one million visitors or more’ sites.

Floral diversity on top of Table Mountain

Kirstenbosch and Table Mountain are two of the obligatory stops on any trip to Cape Town, and they were well worth a visit. They attract lots of people, both locals and tourists: a bit too many for my taste. The diversity in plant life is easy to grasp and certainly a strong point of these two locations. Unfortunately I was too late in season for the blooming of the flowers, so I had to look at a lot of green shrubs.

Published 19 January 2018

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Blog: WHS #651: Twyfelfontein

Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes is a rock engraving site in northern Namibia, supposedly the best of its kind in variation and number in Africa below the Equator. My non-Dutch trip mates had already great difficulty in pronouncing ‘Twyfelfontein’ (which is a perfectly normal word in Afrikaans and Dutch, meaning ‘doubtful fountain’). But try its alternative name ‘/Ui-//aes’: the slashes represent two different clicks in the local Damara language.

Rocky area near the entrance

The site lies deep into a barren valley, surrounded by pretty rock formations made out of sandstone. All of a sudden you’ll end up at a car park and a visitor center – Twyfelfontein caters to 40,000 visitors a year so things are organized quite well. It conveniently lies on the route between Etosha and Swakopmund, and as there is not a lot else to see in the area many tour operators schedule stops here.

We are assigned a guide and after a short walk on the main road in the burning heat, we start our tour at the remains of the house of David Levin. He was a white farmer who settled in the area in 1946 to start a sheep farm. He was the one who named the site ‘Twyfelfontein’, and up against the rocks this unreliable but still delivering water source can be seen under a shelter. He showed the rock art to an archaeologist, and in 1952 Twyfelfontein already was protected as a monument.

Penguin to the left

The area is covered by two guided circular walks, the Lion Man route and the Dancing Kudu route. The guides seem to randomly do one of those with the group, and ours was the Lion Man route. The routes are equally long (both take about an hour) but do not intersect. The first panel of rock engravings that we are lead to see shows a number of common animals in this region (giraffe, oryx) and their corresponding footprints. A boulder a little further away shows circles: it is assumed that this was a kind of map, indicating the location of the more or less permanent water sources in the area. A second panel depicts the usual animals, plus what appear to be a penguin and a seal.

On most rocks, human footprints are depicted next to the animals. These could be the 'signatures' of the makers of the rock carvings. Elsewhere in the world, you often see human handprints in the prehistoric petroglyphs. It then requires some climbing over the rocks to reach the highlight of this route: the image of the Lion Man. It has the body of a lion and human feet with 5 toes. It is assumed that this drawing had a more ritual significance.

The Lion Man panel

In all, the visit was a bit too short and superficial for me. I read in a guidebook that the guides aren’t really motivated, and I wouldn’t say that was the case but they just cater to a very generic bunch of tourists passing every day with little or no interest in rock art. To enjoy the area a bit more, I can recommend staying overnight at the pretty spectacular Twyfelfontein Country Lodge. This lies at the other side of the rock and in the buffer zone of the WHS. Its construction made ICOMOS cringe in its evaluation (“severely compromised the integrity of the rock engravings in this area “). It has some rock art as well on its premises.

Published 15 January 2018

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Blog: WHS #650: Namib Sand Sea

The Namib Sand Sea is the most extensive example in the world of a coastal fog desert. It’s the kind of place nature documentaries rely upon. In David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth II: Deserts’ several scenes were filmed here such as the gecko licking its own eyeballs - where thaw had formed in the early morning - to get liquid. The site was inscribed on all 4 natural criteria and it is the undoubted highlight of a trip to Namibia.

View from halfway Dune 45

The designated area is enormous – about 75% of the size of the Netherlands. But only a small part of it is open to regular tourists. The common access point is at the east, at Sesriem and the Sossusvlei. Only few tour operators have permits to venture deeper into the Namib Sand Sea (they are named in the nomination dossier).

We stayed overnight at the Sossus Dune Lodge, which is the only hotel within the park’s borders (there’s a camp site as well which has this privilege). This means that you’ll be in the park before sunrise and have all the nice spots to yourself for at least an hour or so. At 5.30 a.m. we were the first to start the climb of Dune 45, at 150m the highest of the red sand dunes along the Sossusvlei access road. Sitting at the top ridge we watched the sun rise, giving the surrounding dunes a deep red colour. Getting down from a sand dune of this height also is great fun.

Sossusvlei

We then moved on some 10km deeper into the park to what is known as the ‘2x4 car park’. Here the vehicles that are no four-wheel drives have to be left behind. Jeeps will shuttle visitors for the final leg to the access point of Dead Vlei. We however hiked this stretch of 5km, right through the Sossusvlei’s barren clay pan and across some smaller sand dunes. It was a lovely walk which I would recommend to anyone over using the shuttle.

A final hurdle is left for everyone after the Dead Vlei car park: there’s a 1.5km struggle through the sand, where you hope to see the famous white pan with the dead trees after each small hill. But it really is at the far end. At one point there may have been 50 tourists at the place at the same time, the pan is however larger than I had thought (about 100m across?) and there are plenty iconic dead trees to take pictures of.

Dead Vlei

The whole place is terribly hot. We were done for the day at 11 a.m. At the late afternoon temperatures hit 46 degrees Celsius. Even at the luxurious Sossus Dune Lodge we had to develop all kinds of tricks to keep ourselves cool. There was only hot water coming from the taps in the rooms, so we filled our water bottles with warm water and then left the bottle in the freezer overnight.

At the end of my tour through Namibia I was in the town of Swakopmund, just north of the Namib Sand Sea. From here, 1.5-2 hour scenic flights are offered over the whole inscribed area. They are quite pricey at 250-300 EUR, but I heard great things about them. Unfortunately, the minimum of 4 participants could not be met on the day that I wanted to go. Another option to try out for future WH travellers are the helicopter tours from Sesriem.

Published 12 January 2018

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Responses to WHS #650: Namib Sand Sea
Clyde (13 January 2018)

What a spectacle! Thanks for the informative review ;)


Blog: Etosha Pan

The Etosha Pan in northern Namibia is one of the world’s largest salt pans. It is a former lake bed of 4,730 square km. Nowadays the area is mostly a dry, saline and uninhabited desert. This combined with the high temperatures results in the fact that no flora or fauna to speak of can survive there. Only ostriches sometimes seek shelter here from predators. Vehicular traffic on the pan itself is forbidden.

The salt pan

On the fringes of the pan there are natural (and artificial) waterholes, grasses and shrublands that support high numbers of mammal and bird species. They are protected within the Etosha National Park, which with a founding date of 1907 is one of the oldest conservation sites in Africa.

The park has the largest single population of black rhino in the world. Numbers are nowadays undisclosed to prevent unwanted attention of poachers (drones are forbidden in the park for the same reason). But earlier numbers indicate about 600-750 black rhino living in Etosha. We saw about 10 of them. White rhino has been reintroduced here as well, but they are more rare. We were lucky to encounter one formidable individual at the edge of the pan, and follow him around for some 20 minutes. He took a long mud bath, so he was one big clay-ey, shiny mess. Afterwards he crossed the road close to our truck, and disappeared into the bushes – not before giving his nose/horn a long rub against a tree.

White rhino after a mud bath

We spent 3 days in Etosha National Park, crossing it from east to west. We slept two nights in lodges inside the park, in Namutomi and Okakuejo. These and the other park lodges/restaurants/camps get fairly busy. They are not as luxurious as the private lodges where we had stayed at outside the park, but do a fair job especially at dinner time. The main attractions of the park lodges are their private waterholes, at which animals come to drink during day and night. Most famous is the one at Okaukuejo. There are benches and a small stand to sit and watch the comings and goings from a safe distance. It’s like watching a nature documentary on TV together with a lot of other people. After sunset rhino will surely show up – within the course of an hour I saw 4 individuals, including a mother with a very young calf.

Other good sightings during the game drives included: a hyena den with 3 or 4 cute baby hyena, 3 cheetahs guarding a kill and a family of 5 lions avoiding the heat under the biggest tree in the area. Also we visited two great waterholes in the west of the park, that hasn’t been opened to tourists for long. At the Ozonjuitji M’bari and Sonderkop waterholes we saw the congregation of animals that Etosha is so famous for. At the first we saw an elephant share his bath with hundreds of zebra’s, springbok and wildebeest. At the second, giraffes were drinking (always a spectacular sight) with numerous red hartebeest and rows of zebra joining. Three lions were watching them lazily from under a bush, they probably already had their stomachs full.

All around the waterhole

Etosha is undoubtedly one of the best national parks in southern Africa, both for its conservation track record and visitor experience. I do agree with Namibia’s reasoning in its description of the tentative site that “although large African savannah fauna has already been inscribed elsewhere, some of Etosha’s fauna species are under threat or have died out elsewhere”. It’s especially a good rhino habitat. For a possible future WH nomination, a transboundary serial nomination with the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana is considered.

Published 10 January 2018

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Blog: Benguela Current

Few of you will be familiar with the Benguela Current. At least I wasn’t before I started researching my Namibia trip. At the country’s Tentative List I found an entry called The Benguela Current Marine Ecosystem Sites. It could surely do with a more catchy name and/or an epic subtitle if it ever were to be nominated, but in reality it is quite an interesting site. The Benguela Current is an ocean current that carries icy cold, wind-driven upwelled waters from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. These waters are very rich in nutrients, and they support a whole food chain from phytoplankton via fish to sea birds and marine mammals.

Approaching Halifax Island

The proposed nomination includes a marine ecosystem along the southern Namibian coast including Mercury Island, Ichaboe Island, Halifax Island and Possession Island. In the coastal town of Lüderitz there are catamaran trips on offer to one of these islands: Halifax. They leave daily (weather permitting) at 8 a.m., take 2 hours and cost 450 Namibian dollar (about 30 EUR). Halifax Island is home to the largest colony of jackass-penguins in Namibia.

Lüderitz (“home of the sand storm”) is known for its windy weather, and I wondered how that would affect the boat trip. Just to be sure I had taken an anti-seasickness pill an hour before we left. Fortunately the sea wasn’t rough at all – the winds mostly start from the late morning - and we did not travel so fast. It was lovely to sit outside at the tip of the catamaran, watching small dolphins jumping around and looking at the small rock islands covered in bird guano.

Seal colony

In fact, the guano presence has turned the site into a mixed nomination: there was a true ‘guano rush’ here from the 1870’s til the early 20th century. Ships industrially collected the guano as fertilizer. Special wooden platforms were constructed to encourage the sea birds to breed, so the guano can be harvested annually by humans to sell as organic fertilizer. This practice still is active at this site. Penguin guano was also collected until 1949 from Halifax Island, and the sheds of the miners are still visible there.

After sailing for half an hour or so, we already arrived at Halifax Island. Ships are not allowed to land on the island itself, but they can linger just before its coast. We did so for about 30 minutes, in which we observed small groups of penguins swimming closely to our catamaran. It was the first time that I had ever seen penguins swim, with their paddling they somewhat resemble ducks! On the island’s beach there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of penguins standing around as well in their classical manner. It was a wonderful experience to see them here acting in and out of the sea.

Jack-ass penguins swimming

Later that day we visited a coastal viewpoint at the mainland in roughly the same area that we covered by boat earlier. It is named Diaz Point, after the navigator Bartolomeu Diaz who sailed by in 1488 and had a cross erected at a coastal rock. The rock can still be climbed, though the path upwards would not meet any health & safety regulations in most countries. The wind at the top is terrible. But it is the best viewing point for the Cape Fur Seal colony on an small island just offshore. I had seen it from the boat as well, but the sea was particularly rough around it so we could not get close. I find it funny to see that the species each have their own favourite island. From Diaz Point, many sea birds can be observed as well as flamingos.

Published 5 January 2018

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Blog: Fish River Canyon

Spectacular New Year’s Day visits are starting to become a habit of mine: it was Virunga in 2016 (gorillas on New Year’s Eve, chimps the next morning) and the Rock Islands of Palau in 2017. On the first of January 2018, I woke up at the edge of Namibia’s Fish River Canyon. I had only been sleeping intermittently because of the strong, howling winds blowing through the canyon and along the chalets of the Fish River Lodge which has been built exactly on the rim. From my bed I could see the sun rise above the canyon, constantly changing the illumination of the rocks.

Morning view

This canyon in the far south of Namibia is one of the world’s largest (often advertised as the second largest), although a precise ranking of canyons is as difficult as that of waterfalls. Are we counting length, width, depth or total area? We have 26 different canyons within WHS already inscribed in our connection, including Capertee Valley (Greater Blue Mountains) which also is said to be the world's second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon.

Anyway, the Fish River Canyon is a spectacular natural creation. It actually consists of two canyons, one inside the other. The outer canyon, the first level of terraces, was created when a tectonic rift made a wide gap in the earth’s crust. The Fish river afterwards eroded the second canyon along the valley floor, creating the 270m deep inner canyon.

It would have been lovely to do a hike through part of the canyon, but hiking permits are only available outside the summer season because of the scorching heat. See “The hottest walk on earth” for an impression. The canyon is already known as a bit of a graveyard anyway, due to reports of lost and dead hikers attempting the 5 day hike through the canyon valley. So I had to make do with a jeep tour along 4 viewpoints.

The two layers of the canyon

It is tempting to compare the Fish River Canyon to the Grand Canyon. Although it is the second most visited site in Namibia, visitor numbers are nowhere as huge as at its US counterpart. There were about 40 people staying overnight in our lodge, which is the only one right at the canyon. And for day trippers there are a couple of viewpoints at the other side of the canyon. There isn’t much that will keep you there for long. Getting to the Fish River Lodge is an adventure in itself by the way – it takes 108 km / 2 hours of unpaved roads from the main paved road.

Another difference is that this area is much more arid. Hardly anything grows at the ridge of the canyon, and even less inside it. The local guide that showed us around told that during the past 8 years, there has been no rain of any importance in this area. Even the iconic quiver trees that need very little are starting to die.

Even dying quiver trees are pretty

I believe the Fish River Canyon wouldn’t be out of place on the World Heritage List. Maybe the Namibian authorities can combine it with another tentative site: the Succulent Karoo Protected Areas. The Huns-Ai-Ais Park at the start of the canyon contains high populations of endemic succulent flora and is considered the most biologically diverse arid area in the world. The giant quiver trees, euphorbias and the aloe ramosissima are floral species that you will not easily find anywhere else.

Published 1 January 2018

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Responses to Fish River Canyon
winterkjm (1 January 2018)

Beautiful way to start the new year!


Blog: 2017 - A Year in Review(s)

“Reviews” of Visits to WHS for long have been a cornerstone of this website. We do now have 6,446 reviews publicized, and have covered 1033 of 1073 WHS. Here are some review statistics for 2017:

  • 555 new reviews have been added of both WHS and TWHS

  • 86 different people contributed

  • 9 WHS were reviewed for the first time.

    A special mention goes out to Jarek and Solivagant, as they each covered 3 of those 9!

    You may have missed out on one or two reviews during the year due to the high turnover on the homepage of this website, so I’ve picked out reviews of 10 WHS that deserve a rerun:

    Derbent and Grand Canal

    Grand Canal by Juha Sjoeblom

    In February, Szucs Tamas reasoned that travelling to Dagestan is not difficult at all for Western travellers. He ticked off Derbent. No fridge magnets on sale here, but they have the oldest mosque of Russia with a stunning interior.

    Juha Sjoeblom took us to 4 locations of the Grand Canal. His post is about granaries - not a surprise as "the canal is originally created for transportation of grain".

    Virgin Komi Forests and Western Tien Shan

    Virgin Komi Forests by Martina Ruckova

    Martina Ruckova and her husband Ivan have covered Russia well over the years. They did a crazy weekend trip by plane, marshrutka and helicopter "just" to get close to the rock formations part of the Virgin Komi Forests.

    2017 also was the year of WH Travellers rushing to Kazakhstan. We received 3 reviews in a row about the Western Tien Shan, a previously uncovered site. Probably unaware of each other, Solivagant, Jarek and Clyde visited a different location each. That is what we like!

    Shahr-i Sokhta, Darien, Bassari and Sumatra

    Shahr-i Sokhta by Jarek Pokrzywnicki

    The Polish WH travellers have been contributing greatly this year.

    Jarek Pokrzywnicki covered Shahr-i Sokhta and Darien National Park for the first time for this website.

    Just as intrepid is his fellow countryman Stanislaw Warwas. He went to Senegal's Bassari Country: "It is not easy to get there – west of Kedougou there are no roads and I can hardly imagine how they travel in the rainy season…".

    And Wojciek Fedoruk encountered an orang utan in the wild in Sumatra.

    Stevns Klint and Mt. Athos

    Mount Athos by Alexander Parsons

    Visiting WHS isn't just fun. Tsunami shared his ordeal after arriving at Stevns Klint by public transport in the evening, and finding everything closed.

    While Tsunami was eventually helped out by the B&B owner, Alexander Parsons found out at Mt. Athos that you cannot always count on a friendly local: "When we eventually found a monk around the guesthouse area, he was visibly confused and angry at our presence, at first trying to ignore us."

    Many thanks to all reviewers of this year. Keep the reviews coming in 2018! Especially for those little reviewed sites and locations.

    Published 23 December 2017

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    Responses to 2017 - A Year in Review(s)
    Colvin (26 December 2017)

    Thanks to all the reviewers this year!


    Blog: WHS On Banknotes

    While preparing for my upcoming trip to Namibia, I found out that South African Rands are as commonly used there as Namibian dollars. That meant that it would be worth sifting through my unorganized plastic box of leftover banknotes and coins in search for South African Rands from a previous trip.

    Leftover banknotes and coins

    As I had some time on my hands, I organized all banknotes into 28 envelopes: one envelope per country. I handled the dirty Indian rupees, wondered about the Ukrainian hryvnia and enjoyed the feeling of the polymer notes of Singapore, Malaysia and Canada. I counted the notes as well, hoping to find a small fortune but most of it is nearly worthless. Only the 7,700 Japanese Yen (about 59 EUR) can be a nice starter for a future trip to Japan. Maybe I should just save these random banknotes, they can become more sought after later.

    The favourite in my personal banknote "collection" is the 250 Iraqi dinar note showing the Samarra spiralling minaret, that I brought home from my 2014 Iraqi Kurdistan trip. Currency showing WHS are extra special of course, although I do not have a lot of it.

    Especially for this sentiment we’ve had the WHS On Banknotes connection for long. It has no less than 122 connected sites, so at least 8% of the WHS has been featured on a banknote. When I finished working on the actual banknotes, I went on to clean up the connection by adding or changing links to images of banknotes. It wasn’t difficult to find even more connected sites: lots of countries find inspiration among WHS, India for example has a number of them in its current series. The Scottish Clydesdale Bank even issued a full World Heritage series in 2009, showing St Kilda, Edinburgh Old and New Towns, New Lanark, the Antonine Wall and Neolithic Orkney.

    Samarra mosque at 250 Iraqi dinar note

    The 2016 issue of the new 5 pound (polymer!) note of the Bank of England even includes both Blenheim Palace (its maze as a hologram) and Westminster Palace. They have to share their space with the faces of the Queen and Winston Churchill however. So my vote for the best WHS banknote goes somewhere else: to my beloved Nepal, which features two of my favourite WHS on its 1000 rupee bank note. It shows Sagarmatha National Park (Mount Everest) and Kathmandu Valley (Swayambhunath Temple). Mount Everest by the way can be seen at every current Nepali rupee note.

    Other notable WHS on banknotes include those depicting the Old City of Jerusalem: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel all show parts of it on their banknotes. The three Islamic countries choose the Dome of the Rock and/or the Al Aqsa Mosque. Israel went for a stylized Jerusalem skyline on the older 50 shekel bill, and an almost invisible Temple Mount at the current 50 shekel note. Other examples of countries displaying WHS located in other countries I have not been able to find.

    Two WHS on 1000 Nepali rupee note

    Oh and what about those South African banknotes? I did not find any, only a few coins. There will be no 'WHS On Banknotes' souvenirs from this trip: South Africa has Nelson Mandela (5x) and the Big Five (the wild mammals, one each) displayed on its banknotes. Namibia has chosen similar themes for its dollar notes, though it selected not one single national hero but two (Sam Nujoma and Hendrik Witbooi) and five species of antelope!

    Published 16 December 2017

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    Responses to WHS On Banknotes
    Colvin (17 December 2017)

    This is a fascinating blog post, Els! You made mention of how unusual it is for a country to feature a World Heritage Site from another country on its currency. The United States actually has done this once before, though it is a bit obscure. From 1862 to 1882 the US issued a $1000 bill with the scene of US General Winfield Scott entering Mexico City during the Mexican American War. In the background is the Metropolitan Cathedral, part of the Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco WHS. Unfortunately, these bills have been lost to time. I'll put a link to the picture in the forum, since links aren't allowed in the comments here.


    Blog: Lechner's pre-modern architecture

    On my way back home from Pécs I had a few hours to spare in Budapest. As I had been to the Budapest WHS already, I had a look at Hungary’s Tentative List for something else worthwhile to visit. And yes: there’s another site in Budapest waiting to be included in the WH List. Ödön Lechner's independent pre-modern architecture comprises 5 buildings, of which 4 are in the Hungarian capital. Given my limited time and the freezing weather, I focused on the 2 easiest of this batch: the Postal Savings Bank and the Museum of Applied Arts.

    Entrance to the Postal Savings Bank

    Ödön Lechner was a Hungarian architect of the late 19th and early 20th century. Coming from a family that owned a brick factory (which engrained a love for ceramic materials), his artistic education occurred in Paris and London. He lived in both cities for a few years, and there became acquainted with Art Nouveau and the Arts & Crafts Movement. Returning to Hungary and inspired by these modern developments, he developed his own particular style – hence the “independent” in the TWHS name I guess. It also relied heavily on the Hungarian nationalist notion at the time that their roots lie in Asia (Persia, India) and not in Europe.

    The Postal Savings Bank is situated in the city center of Budapest, just a few minutes’ walk from the landmark Hungarian Parliament buildings. It’s an upmarket area with many large classicist buildings. This bank stands out in its street because of its Art Nouveau and vernacular accents, although not as much as for example Gaudi’s works in Barcelona (to whom he is often compared). The building has an almost textbook classic Art Nouveau entrance. The vernacular accents mostly consist of birds, bees and flowers. It is now part of the Hungarian National Bank and I am not sure whether it is open to the general public (I visited on a Sunday so it was closed anyway).

    Vernacular themes

    The second Lechner building that I visited was the Museum of Applied Arts. This lies close to Corvin Negyed metro station, also still quite in the city center of Budapest. It is immediately visible when you’ve exited the metro at ground level: this is a large stand-alone building, with a distinctive green and yellow roof. In a way it resembles the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus: in English texts that I read beforehand the British colonial link is pointed out (he apparently was influenced by the Indo-Saracenic style as well).

    The museum is currently closed for renovation. Is it in preparation of a successful WH nomination perhaps? It’s a pity because it provides the easiest access to the interior of one of Lechner’s buildings. Fortunately they have left the iron fence open to the formidable main entrance of the museum: a colourful masterpiece of the use of tiles and ceramics.

    Magnificent entrance to Museum of Applied Arts

    The official description accompanying this Tentative List entry feels like it was written by a Hungarian nationalist. Lechner apparently “created outstanding cultural treasures that demand the attention of all humanity” and was “anticipating the great individuals of world architecture”. Lechner clearly is of great interest for Hungarian architecture, although he has been despised also for a long period in the 20th century. One wonders if his particular route is enough to warrant a WH listing: he has not inspired a global following and also hasn’t left much of his footprint outside of Hungary (the “Blue Church” in Bratislava is a notable exception).

    Published 9 December 2017

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    Blog: WHS #649: Pécs Necropolis

    The Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs represents a mix of three categories of sites: it's a Burial site, an Archaeological site of Ancient Rome and a Christian religious structure. Its OUV is mostly derived from its wall paintings. Pécs is a midsized city in the south of Hungary, and I went there for a weekend trip reaching it via a 2 hour flight to Budapest and then a 2 hour 50 minute direct train ride. The town was very quiet, but it had a cosy Christmas fair in front of its landmark (former) Mosque of Pasha Qasim.

    Mausoleum superstructure

    The core zone of this WHS lies in front of Pécs Cathedral and mostly underneath cathedral square. On my first approach I walked across the glass ceilings from where you can look into the Roman site, but I could not find the way in! So I walked on to the mausoleum which fortunately has a clearly visible structure remaining above ground. It’s all out in the open, this is the only part that you can see without paying the entrance fee. That fee by the way is 1100 forint, about 3.5 EUR, and it covers both the mausoleum and the Cella Septichora visitor center.

    The mausoleum burial chamber is just a few square meters large, but has all the nice features: a sarcophagus (pieced back together again), colourful murals with recognizable biblical themes and some abstract figures such as a red disk.

    Inside the mausoleum burial chamber

    Via the map on the entrance ticket I found out that the entrance to the visitor center is from the south. It is somewhat hidden as it is an underground structure as well. This entrance connects a number of burial monuments. It is named after the Cella Septichora, an unfinished chapel with 7 apses - fairly large, it can nowadays be rented for wedding ceremonies. Deeper into the complex I found the Wine pitcher burial chamber – well, I found the glass wine pitcher and an intact sarcophagus. But I believe that the chamber itself is closed at the moment (or I did not look well enough in the maze of corridors).

    At the end of the circuit lies the Peter & Paul burial chamber, the one with the most elaborate murals. As with all other tombs, a glass wall has been placed in front of it for protection. Here it is done at the bottom end, so you look upwards. The glass of course causes a lot of reflection, and this is even made worse by a video screen that constantly sends out coloured flashes. I found the murals hard to see here, only Peter and Paul stand out.

    Besides the monuments accessible via these two main entrances, there are another two on private property that are also included and supposedly open to the general public. They are the Painted twin grave and an Early Christian burial chapel on Apaca Street at number 8 and 14 respectively. Both are apartment blocks that have seen better times. At number 8 there is a bell marked “Early Christian Burial Chapel – press here”. Strangely the burial chapel according to the nomination dossier is at #14, not at #8, but maybe the person with both keys lives at #8! I rang, but nobody answered or opened the door. At number 14 there’s even no hint that something historical is behind its doors.

    Sarcophagus that was found in one piece

    This site’s most remarkable feature is its age. Dated at the second half of the fourth century, the Pécs necropolis just fails to make the cut for our Early Christianity connection, corresponding to the times that the new religion was still persecuted. Still it is remarkable that just a few decades after Christianity was officially allowed, a construction frenzy occurred in a Roman province town. Its murals also mostly are similar to very early Christian art. The monuments at Pécs however are no match for the much more extensive and better preserved sites in Italy, such as Aquileia (early 4th century) and the Catacombs in Rome (3rd century).

    Published 3 December 2017

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