WHS #629: Nubian monuments

The Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae comprise 10 archaeological sites in the far south of Egypt. They were the products of the pharaonic attempts to dominate Nubia.

Many trip reports from the past about Abu Simbel start with the compulsory convoy that has to be taken to travel there from Aswan, effectively limiting arrival times to two times a day. The convoy has been discontinued however since October 2016. So after leaving my dahabiya near Aswan, I was picked up by a car and driver at 9 a.m. for the 3 hour drive south. The drive is incredibly boring, just a desert road with maybe one or two gas stations. There are road signs however to temples into the desert – two of them are Amada and Wadi es-Sebua which are also part of this WHS .

4x Ramses II at the Great Temple of Abu Simbel

I was staying overnight to be able to visit the temples without tour groups being there, and also to get a hint of the Nubian feel of the town of Abu Simbel. My latter wish was completely satisfied by the Eskaleh Lodge, an oasis of friendliness where hypnotizing Sudanese music was played all day long. At 3 p.m. I was picked up by driver and guide for my scheduled visit to the temples. Somehow the tour company had found it necessary to send a guide, although it isn’t of much use (they are not allowed inside the temples). But well, he bought the tickets and explained the essence of the site to me sitting outside. We just sat at the entrance to the main temple, as no one else was there!

The Abu Simbel site covers two temples next to each other. The largest one is to glorify Ramses II – the famous four huge statues at its facade all show himself at various ages! I even can’t think of a modern day dictator who would be so bold. One of the heads has fallen off (already 2000 years ago), but it still is laying at the statue’s feet like a toppled moai at Easter Island. The interior of the temple is well-lit, via a similar method as they use at the Valley of the Kings. As this temple was carved into the rock, not much natural light gets in. I had to forget about the delicate carvings and symbolism of the Ptolemaic sites that I visited earlier: the temple is a brash statement of power of Ramses II, mainly showing his accomplishments on the battlefield.

The second temple at Abu Simbel is dedicated to Nefertari, one of the wives of Ramses II who was of Nubian descent. It does show her, and him again. The interior is decorated with remarkable heads representing the goddess Hathor. I finished both temples within an hour – except for the facades with the mega statues and an occasional glance at Lake Nasser there isn’t much that will keep you there longer. I tried to find the “seams” where they pasted the temples together again after the rescue effort in the 1960s. If you look closely they can be seen, but it has been done very well. Only the back side of the rock where they are now located feels manmade.

Head fallen off

The next morning I got up at 5.20 and walked through the streets of Abu Simbel once more. The temples are especially beautiful at sunrise, as they are illuminated by the sun at that hour. I had read that sunrise tours (even from Aswan) are popular here, but again no more than a handful of other visitors were present.

After Abu Simbel, I unfortunately had only one afternoon left in Aswan. So there was little time to check out the other monuments included in this WHS. I decided to focus on Elephantine island, the island just in front of Aswan town center. A very short public ferry ride (costing about 2 minutes and 1 Egyptian pound) brought me there. At the southern part of the island lies the Aswan museum and the archaeological site. The museum did disappoint, I was expecting something to the level of the Luxor museum but this one is much more simple. It shows lots of small objects that were found on Elephantine island, but only the votive objects I found worth a second look. I did not do well at the rest of the site either: the temperature had risen so high that I had little energy to roam around ruins. I made my way directly to the Nilometer – the third of its kind that I saw on this trip, and the closest one to the Nile itself.

Nilometer at Elephantine Island

ICOMOS had its doubts in 1979 whether such a string of sites a long distance from each other would not set an unwanted precedent: “Does this not invite all countries to define the physical boundaries of their cultural heritage too broadly?” Well – almost 30 years later such loosely coupled WHS have almost become the norm, with the Works of Le Corbusier even stretching continents.

Published 26 April 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to WHS #629: Nubian monuments:

Solivagant (26 April 2017):
For our first visit to Abu Simbel back in 1978 we flew from Luxor – officially there were no seats available but we went out to the airport and a bit of baksheesh there unlocked 2. The only problem was that we (naturally!) were given no tickets! We were told, however, to say “Mr Qtab” at every occasion and this worked Ok at Luxor – but how on earth would we get back into the airport and onto the plane at Abu Simbel? No worry – The magic words “Mr Qtab” were like “open sesame”! There must have been quite a web of corruption distributing our fares (and no doubt those of many others) up and down the chain of employees! In ‘92 we had rented a car in Cairo and driven up to Aswan. The potential problem of driving on to Abu Simbel (this was before the “convoy era”) was whether there was any petrol in Abu Simbel as our small saloon car tank wasn’t definitely enough for the c600km round trip. No one in Aswan could state for certain that the only gas station in Abu Simbel (none along the road in those days) had any. Based on the belief that some $$$ would find some in Abu Simbel if really necessary, we set off early and alone on the empty road and had an excellent full day there – and got petrol ok! The tourists were like “waves” as coaches /planes arrived and departed and there were long periods when the Temples were virtually empty. Again – no limitations on taking photos in those days.
You made no mention of “Son et Lumiere” taking place at either Karnak or Abu Simbel. Is this because they have been cancelled due to lack of tourists or simply that this form of “entertainment” doesn’t appeal to you? I would agree that it is an over rated medium which always reminds me of some 1950s Hollywood epic movie with its booming sound track and overblown rhetoric but still worth experiencing at Karnak I believe.

Ptolemaic Temples

The Ptolemies ruled over Egypt from 304 to 30 BC. They were descendants of Macedonian Greeks, whose leader Alexander the Great had conquered the pharaonic lands and set up his capital in Alexandria in the far north. The Ptolemies (all their kings were named Ptolemy) did however contribute their own set of temples to the already existing landscape of sacred sites upstream along the Nile. Four of these temples are combined on the Tentative List under the name Pharaonic temples in Upper Egypt from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. They are located in Dendera, Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. I visited the latter two as side trips from a dahabiya cruise along the Nile.

Horus statue at Edfu

Edfu is a mid-size commercial town without any charm. Together with my 5 shipmates I crossed it quickly by horse carriage, the traditional form of taxi transport that also still can be found in Luxor. The temple’s parking lot even has a shaded section to park the horses.

The temple at Edfu is dedicated to the falcon-headed warrior god Horus. His image is the trademark of this temple, and the various granite sculptures of his face that stand guard at the site are especially picturesque. Due to having its roof intact, the temple itself feels more like a complete building than the ones I visited so far in Egypt. Inside there are dozens of separate rooms that were used for storage and as chapels. All of its walls are decorated with bas-reliefs. They have lost most of their colours however, and the ceilings have been badly damaged by smoke. Numerous pigeons contribute daily to the deteroriating condition of the building. Access to the roof has even been closed off – this is to fend off another annoying animal species: bats.

I enjoyed roaming around this temple on my own, discovering fully decorated corridors that lead nowhere. I stayed for two hours and there were hardly any other visitors.

"Hidden" corridor

Kom Ombo lies a few hours upstream from Edfu. This temple is also located near a sizeable (and eponymous) town. No need for a taxi this time: the temple of Kom Ombo lies directly on the eastern bank of the Nile. From a distance it strongly resembles a Greek temple, showing off its many columns.

The distinguishing feature of the temple of Kom Ombo is that it is a double-temple, dedicated to two gods at the same time. They are Horus (like in Edfu) and Sobek, the crocodile god. This is one of the few places in Egypt where a cult around crocodiles developed. A live specimen used to live inside, and when it died it was mummified and replaced by another living crocodile. A number of the crocodile mummies can be seen at the on site museum.

Kom Ombo also has a fine example of a Nilometer (that measured the height of the river’s water level), and numerous interesting bas-reliefs in good condition. The display of surgical equipment is possibly the best-known among them. We had arrived early enough to have unobstructed views of the temple’s highlights, but after 3.30 p.m. the passengers of large cruise ships started streaming in. At least 12 of them were docked near the temple when we left.

Horus and Sobek together at Kom Ombo

These two sites are examples of the value that in my opinion still can be taken from Egypt’s Tentative List. It’s a miracle that these sites have never been nominated, as is the case with nearby Dendera. Dating from the Ptolemaic Period, they all represent a part of Egypt’s ancient history that is not covered yet by its WHS.  

Published 21 April 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to Ptolemaic Temples:

Colvin (23 April 2017):
Great photos! I loved Kom Ombo and Edfu temples, and I hope these Ptolemaic temples are one day inscribed as World Heritage Sites. I was spoiled by magnificent temples traveling from Aswan to Luxor by dahabiya, leaving me to wonder if I would have enjoyed Luxor more if I took the trip in reverse.

Els (23 April 2017):
@Kyle: done!

Kyle (22 April 2017):
Can you link your Blog (Dutch) in the About portion of this website? I like following that as well, but I have to search the forums if I ever want to find it.

WHS #628: Ancient Thebes

Thebes, what we now call Luxor, is one of the most ancient “tourist” destinations in the world. Already the ancient Greeks came here to marvel at the temples that were built by the Egyptian pharaohs. Later Christian and Muslim generations had much less respect for their forefathers, so it wasn’t until the 19th century that these sites were rediscovered by Europeans. The 21st century has brought Asian tourism to the spectrum: the Chinese are the only nation that dare to come here today en masse. It became especially popular since a visit of president Xi Jingping to president Sisi in 2016, which partly took place in the inner courtyard of Luxor Temple.

Row of sphinxes from Luxor to Karnak

The site was already inscribed as a WHS in 1979, with epithets such as “splendid”, “monumental” and “unique and unequaled”. It is also part of our Top 200. Not much of substance has been written about it yet among our reviewers though (sorry guys). Important to know is that it comprises 3 locations: the temple of Karnak and the temple of Luxor on the East bank of the Nile, and the Necropolis on the West Bank. Especially the latter is a collection of many temples and tombs, scattered around in a rural area and at the foot of a barren mountain ridge.

On my first day, after having visited the excellent Luxor museum as an appetizer, I started with Karnak Temple. Heavy security measures are in place at this and Luxor Temple: cars are searched, trunks have to be opened. People have to pass security booths everywhere (similar to Paris, where I was a few weeks ago), and armed guards hover at strategic road blocks. There’s actually not much glory to be gained for a bomber at the moment – the parking lot was nearly empty. Karnak stands out for its size, the size of everything actually. Much has been taken away (such as the obelisk that now is at the Place de la Concorde in Paris) or has fallen down. Its prettiest feature is the hypostyle hall, a forest of 134 massive columns (much thicker than the average Roman or Greek ones).

Karnak, hypostyle hall

Luxor Temple lies at the heart of modern Luxor, there’s even a McDonalds right next to it. A long row of sphinxes once connected Luxor Temple with the Temple of Karnak, 3 km’s away. Egyptian authorities are now rebuilding this monumental path. I think it’s important to be aware that Luxor is still changing every day – the path is nearly finished, statues are put upright, colourful ceilings have been restored. Luxor Temple has more sculptures and carvings than Karnak, and I found it more atmospheric.

During my second day in Luxor I went to the necropolis on the West Bank of the Nile. I had a driver and a guide with me, and we first had to cross the bridge which lies 20 minutes or so south of Luxor. Life on the “other” side of the Nile seemed more rural, especially sugarcane is harvested. We first stopped at the Colossi of Memnon – two enormous statues that once guarded yet another huge temple complex. German archaeologists are still excavating here, and the outline of the complex and other statues can already be seen.

Afterwards we went to the Temple of Habu – the favourite of my guide, and I can easily understand why as it is the most intact of all around Luxor. The Ramses that had this built was especially proud of his slaughter of enemies, as shown by carvings of bunches of hacked-off hands (with a scribe next to it counting the numbers). The ceilings here are well-preserved too, including their colours. The only issue is that birds have taken over many of the niches that are present in the cut sandstone.

One of the Colossi of Memnon

Finally I did go and see some tombs. At the one of Ramose, a Noble, I was the only visitor. The Tombs of the Kings however are the masterpieces. And that’s where they all take the few tourists that are left in Egypts nowadays! There surely where over 100 buses and cars at the car park, mostly used by daytrippers from the Hurghada resorts. Certainly they weren’t staying in Luxor. An entrance ticket here gives you access to 3 of the tombs out of the 12 or so that are open. Some “special” tombs (like the one of Tutankhamon) can only be entered for an extra fee. On recommendation of my guide I went into tombs number 6, 8 and 2. One with the longest corridor deep into the mountain, the other two with fantastic bright paintings. The lighting is very good, so one can really enjoy it all. Photography is forbidden in the Valley so you have to go and see it for yourself.

Published 16 April 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to WHS #628: Ancient Thebes:

Els Slots (17 April 2017):
@Solivagant: the photography restrictions already start right behind the visitor center, there's a booth where all cameras have to be surrendered (I left mine in the car). So you evén aren't allowed to take pictures of the part of the valley with the many entrances to the tombs. Some people with cell phones did so however, it seems strange that the Egyptians are unaware of the photographic capabilities of smartphones.

Solivagant (16 April 2017):
When you say "Photography is forbidden in the Valley" I presume you mean "forbidden in the tombs in the Valley"? We have visited the Luxor etc 3 times over the years - 1978, 1992 and 2006 and it has been a sorry story of additional restrictions and fears of terror etc replicated in so many places around the World. On the first occasion we hired bicycles in Luxor, took them across on a small ferry (no bridge then!) and just rode around all day to our heart's content, visiting whichever tombs we wanted on a single ticket. The Tombs of the Nobles were unlit and many of them had a man (or even 2) with a shiny sheet of metal which he/they used to reflect the sunlight down into the tomb from the top/half way down. Happy days. I have a fine set of photos of all the tombs taken with flash - no restrictions then. I understand that there is considerable doubt as to whether flash does actually damage colours and that the main reasons for restrictions are copyright and crowd management!

Paris revisited

I am a rather late convert to Paris – only in 2002 I visited the city for the first time and it took another 10 years for a second visit. My third trip to the French capital would be more in-depth than the first two that had covered most of the touristic route: during the past weekend I joined a small group of 12 fellow students at the Open University with whom I had been to Florence in 2015. The organizing team had drawn up a full 4 day schedule, focusing on small art museums and architectural highlights.

"The Kiss" (1889) by Rodin, near the Orangerie

Obviously we didn’t stay within the Banks of the Seine all the time, so I’ll try to focus this report on the sites that are within the WHS area or just next to it. We stayed overnight at the recommended Ibis Bastille, quite a steal at 80 EUR per night in central Paris. It is located close to Le Marais, a former aristocratic area and active Jewish neigbourhood (featuring an interesting Art Nouveau synagogue by Guimard).

Along the Seine we visited the Orangerie, an often overlooked art museum housed in a 19th century shelter for the orange trees of the garden of the Tuileries. Since 1927 it has been the home of a cycle of Monet's water-lily paintings, known as the Nymphéas. The building is surrounded by a number of precious sculptures (made by Rodin for example), quite amazing to find them here without protection.

Brick relief found at Susa, now in the Louvre

On Sunday afternoon a travel companion and I decided to give the Louvre a try – without having booked a ticket beforehand. It took us only 10 minutes to get in, most other tourists were probably spending the sunny day outside. I had never been to the Louvre before, but had prepared a bit with researching a new connection called In the Louvre (we have similar ones for the British Museum and the Pergamon Museum). I was about the only person in the archaeological wing of the museum that afternoon. Like its peers in London and Berlin, quantity (and sometimes size) seems to prevail over telling a story. But they do have interesting objects from WHS such as Susa and Byblos.

Unfortunately we do not have a thorough description of the core zone of the Paris WHS, so sometimes it’s a bit of a guess why one building has been included and another one hasn’t. One of the oddities of the Banks of the Seine WHS map is the peak in the center. The core zone here ends at the Church of La Madeleine, a “visual end” from the Place de la Concorde. Sometimes sight lines seem to have been included, but not those too far away from the river (such as the Pantheon). La Madeleine’s appearance is very un-churchlike, since it originally was built as a temple for Napoleon’s troops. It’s a firm neoclassical structure. Unlike many other buildings in Paris it hasn’t been polished up yet. The interior is gloomy as well.

Relief on door of La Madeleine

In the end I enjoyed my third visit to Paris. We visited a mix of very different things, of which the Fondation Louis Vutton (Frank Gehry, 2014) and the small but delicate Picasso museum stood out. Please, no more Impressionism for me though. And I can do without white sculptures of classical or French national heroes for a while too.

Published 27 March 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to Paris revisited :

Els Slots (1 April 2017):
@Aitia - Thanks, I did not know that! I'll add it to the connection. These moai have travelled far, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relocation_of_moai_objects

Aitia (1 April 2017):
There is also an original Moai inside the Louvre Museum.

Els Slots (27 March 2017):
@Clyde - it's already there

clyde (27 March 2017):
In the British Museum connection, Rapa Nui could be included as it houses an original Moai

WHS #627: Salins-les-Bains

From the Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains to the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, the production of open-pan salt is one of the more imaginative WHS of France. With an admission date of 1982 it also is one of the earlier sites on the WH List. So I was really looking forward to visiting, and it did not disappoint. I even had wanted to stay overnight at Arc-et-Senans, but when I checked 2 months beforehand the on-site hotel La Saline Royale was already fully booked for the date that I wanted.

Grande Saline of Salins-les-Bains

My planned visit on a Sunday in March left me with a dilemma: because of the limited opening hours during the winter season, I only had time to visit 1 out of the 2 inscribed locations (Arc-et-Senans or Salins-les-Bains) properly. I eventually chose Salins-les-Bains, as its features are mostly underground and less weather dependent. The site lies in the French Jura, quite a trip through the countryside away from the nearest tollway exit.

During the weekends off-season there are 3 daily tours of the underground saltworks. They are all conducted in French, although foreign speakers are provided with a leaflet in English. The stories of the guide are much more detailed though than what’s available on paper: you can download an audioguide in your language beforehand for your phone, but I forgot to do that. So I did my best to understand the French explanations.

Underground leftovers

The 1 hour tour teaches you everything that you never knew about salt. The product was so valuable in its heydays that the big Salins-les-Bains complex only had one small exit, where the labourers were checked everyday so they did not smuggle salt to the outside world with them. The factory at Salins-les-Bains was purposely built near a forested area to provide for its high energy approach to sustain the artificial evaporation process. The main distinguishing feature of Salins has been described by ICOMOS as “extraction techniques, notably the existing underground facilities, which testify to the pumping system and the production of open-pan salt”.

There’s always some excitement about an underground tour, though I must say that there aren't many original features left. The saltworks here were based on preserved layers of salt beneath the ground. Via an extraction process (partly done by horses and later using water wheels), brine would be pumped into pans and concentrated by the heat of the fire burning underneath. As crystals of salt formed these would be raked out and more brine added. The huge drying racks and fans can still be seen.

Main entrance to Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans

I left Salins-les-Bains just after noon, and decided to make a short detour to Arc-et-Senans. Both of the Saltworks were linked together by a double-pipe system. This main location is situated some 20 minutes northwards and is only open from 10-12 and 14-17. But I hoped to still get a glimpse of this highlight of classicist architecture. Well, it wasn’t really worth it: the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans are fully surrounded by a 3m high wall! The gate was locked and I could only admire the main entrance.

Published 11 March 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to WHS #627: Salins-les-Bains:

WHS #626: Beaune (Burgundy)

The Climats, terroirs of Burgundy is a fairly recent addition to the evergrowing list of wine-related WHS. The site covers a large area in the east of France, with officially two components: (1) the over 1,200 viticultural parcels called ‘Climats’ with villages and the town of Beaune and (2) the historic centre of Dijon. The site so far has only attracted one review on this website. And noone has written about the Beaune component yet. So that’s where my focus was on my weekend trip to Burgundy. An early warning: I am not going to write about wine!

Part of the old ramparts of Beaune

Beaune once was the seat of the Duchy of Burgundy, a medieval state (or more precise: a personal union of many lands) that originated in the current French region of Bourgogne. The power of the Burgundian dukes stretched into what is now Holland and Belgium – the Burgundian Netherlands are still part of history lessons in the Netherlands. The Burgundian dukes managed to impose a central rule on the various provinces and city states of the Lowlands.

During exactly this period, the 15th century, the city’s one true highlight was constructed: the Hospices de Beaune. This hospital for the poor was founded in 1442 by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy, Nicolas Rolin. He wanted to spend part of his money on social work, but the building also displays his wealth and is somewhat of a shrine for himself and his wife. The Hospices are a masterpiece of art and architecture with an interesting bit of social history entwined. It wouldn’t be out of place on the WH List entirely in its own right.

The colourful rooftiling of Hospices de Beaune

The poor patients were treated and cared for in a large hall. It looked more like a church than a conventional hospital – there were painted wooden beams in the ceiling to admire, and a chapel at the far end (far enough so that the patients wouldn’t be too much disturbed by yet another funeral). A special religious order of nuns looked after the patients, and the hospital had its own gardens and vineyards to provide for food and income.

Parts of this hospital have functioned into the 1980s, now it’s a museum. Entrance costs 7.5 EUR, and audio guides are available in several languages including Dutch. At the end of the tour circuit a dark room awaits where silence is requested. This is the ‘sanctuary’ where the Last Judgement altarpiece made by Rogier van der Weyden is shown, a prime example of Early Netherlandish painting (one of my most favourite periods/styles). It originally was the altarpiece for the chapel inside the Hall of the Poor, and it was commissioned by Nicolas Rolin himself. It's in excellent condition, and I think it's a good thing that it still is preserved almost in situ and not in a museum.

Original wooden ornaments at the ceiling of the Hall of the Poor

Beaune nowadays is a friendly town of 22,000 inhabitants. Despite visiting very much out-of-season (early March), I wasn’t the only tourist around. The town has a nice medieval atmosphere, it reminded me a bit of Provins. The 313 MB nomination file lists many wine-related buildings in Beaune, such as schools and caves. But I skipped all of those in favour of art and architecture!

Published 4 March 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to WHS #626: Beaune (Burgundy) :

Books: Modern African Architecture

A few weeks ago we’ve had an interesting discussion at the Forum about the unfulfilled potential of African sites as future WHS. With some creative thinking we easily came up with possible additions to tentative lists. But especially ‘modern’ sites, connected to for example modern architecture and urban planning, seem to be few and far between. Coincidentally, a recent publication on global heritage matters adresses just this issue.

Global Heritage Assemblages: Development and Modern Architecture in Africa by Christoph Rausch is the publication of a PhD thesis. After a longish introduction of the theoretical framework, the second part of the book focuses on 3 case studies on Modern African Heritage. The most captive is the story of Asmara, up for WH nomination this year. The author shows how both the transnational organizations such as the World Bank and the EU ánd the Eritrean government use the cultural heritage of the Modern Architecture of Asmara for their own purposes.

The early 20th century Italian colonial urbanism of Asmara is seen by the transnational organizations as a globally shared heritage, of importance to both colonizers and colonized. This is founded on a “nostalgia for colonial utopias of progress” and on the other hand on the creation of a “new blank canvas” for economic development (for example via heritage tourism and jobs in conservation).

But while the Eritrean regime welcomes the money that comes with this appreciation, it has its own agenda with Asmara – and it certainly doesn’t want to share! Its reference to the Italian colonial period legitimizes the existence of Eritrea within its current borders and thus enstrengthens nationalism. This difference in views even went so far that Eritrea has not wanted to nominate Asmara for WH status, fearing the responsibilities that come with it and “erosion of sovereignity”.

So one of the pitfalls is that ‘modern’ sites in Africa are often linked to colonialism – which isn’t something fairly recent independent countries creating their own identities want to be associated with. A different book, Modern architecture in Africa by Antoni Folkers, tries to highlight the 'other' modern African architecture. Folkers is a Dutch architect and founder of ArchiAfrika, an organization which also features in the book of Rausch. His knowledge is based on his own experiences in a dozen African countries.

This attractively illustrated 350 page book is a very enjoyable read, both for its insights in architecture and world history. An intriguing map of medieval African cities looks like a WHS map with names such as Mapungubwe, Kilwa, Marrakech and Ghadames. At least those seem well-represented on the List.

What about ‘modern’ cities? Casablanca is brought forward in the book for its urban planning and origin of the term ‘bidonville’. It’s on Morocco’s Tentative List, although its future track is unsure as Rabat’s Ville Nouvelle has already been brought forward relatively recently. African metropolises such as Kinshasa and Johannesburg have had to develop their own solutions for urban growth, though no outstanding example of this jumps out. To get away from the colonial bias and the difficult issue of ‘shared heritage’, one would be looking for architecture designed by Africans for Africans in African circumstances. The author critically looks upon the many preserved colonial fortresses, which seem to get more funding by the former colonizers than strictly African sites.

Few outstanding individual buildings are discussed in the book (which is more about urban planning). Noteworthy though are the Kaedi hospital (Mauretania), Gando school and the Koudougou central market (both Burkina Faso). The first two were designed by African architects. They are among the very few Subsaharan African constructions in the wider Islamic world awarded with the Aga Khan award for Architecture. None of them are TWHS, so there might be something to gain here.

Published 18 February 2018 Leave a Comment

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WHC 2017: Dilmun Burial Mounds

The Burial Ensembles of Dilmun and Tylos (renamed to: "Dilmun Burial Mounds") are nominated by Bahrain to become a WHS later this year. This move forward is quite surprising, as in the past these burial fields have been known as sites with ‘issues’. “In a New Age, Bahrain Struggles to Honor the Dead While Serving the Living” wrote the New York Times in 2009, while CNN similarly reported in 2013: “In Bahrain, development chips away at world's largest, oldest burial site”.

Hamad Burial Mounds

The Dilmun civilization existed in what now is Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and coastal Saudi Arabia. It controlled the Persian Gulf trading routes and was an important trading center from the late fourth millennium to 800 BC. Tylos was the name used by the Greeks to refer to Bahrain after the Dilmun period (ca. 6th to 3rd century BC). While burial mounds or tumuli are quite a common sight all over the world, these Bahraini ones from the Dilmun and Tylos eras “have the highest density of mound fields in a limited territory and the highest concentration of mounds in one single field”.

The excellent Bahrain National Museum is a good start for learning about this ancient period and the tradition of tumulus construction - they even have an original burial mound on show that has been moved from Hamad. During my visit to Bahrain in 2011 I further visited 5 out of the 11 locations that are part of this Ensemble: the A’Ali tumuli, the Hamad Town Tumuli (cluster of 3 locations) and Saar Heritage Park. The latter two are also separately on Bahrain’s Tentative List.

Sign prohibiting the extraction of sand and stones (A'Ali, 2011)

In my memory, the visits to Hamad and A’Ali have blurred into one. I can only distinguish between the photos of the two based on the digital time stamps. Both are dusty fields in an urban setting, and I found them as neglected as is described in the reports above from the NYT and CNN. The high density of the mounds is the most distinguishing feature of the sites, like a giant mole has been at work. Technically though they weren’t constructed as mounds or tumuli: they were cylindrical stone towers, surrounding a grave chamber. Only natural erosion and the drifting sand has turned the landscape into what it looks now.

The other burial site is located at Saar. Saar Heritage Park consists of the remains of a village, with streets, a temple and a cemetery. It appears that only its cemetery will be part of this nomination. It is characterized by two large tumuli. Saar definitely is the most interesting site to visit, though it all has to be considered from an archaeological perspective.

One of the tombs at Saar

There’s no doubt that these are important archaeological sites in Bahrain and the wider region. So why have they suffered so much neglect? Partly of course this is because of the growing pains of a fast developing and overpopulated country. It also seems that local people that live next to the locations have little appreciation and awareness about the mounds. For WH inscription, the main question will be whether the Bahraini state has turned the conservation issues around and have presented a perfect picture to the visiting inspectors from ICOMOS.

Published 11 February 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to WHC 2017: Dilmun Burial Mounds:

Els Slots (12 February 2017):
This is the source that I used:

Solivagant (12 February 2017):
Am interested in this comment above - "Technically though they weren’t constructed as mounds or tumuli: they were cylindrical stone towers, surrounding a grave chamber. Only natural erosion and the drifting sand has turned the landscape into what it looks now."
Do you have a reference for it?
We have both seen the mounds in situ and the cut-away reconstructions in the National Museum and my understanding was that, although there are different types of interior tomb and mound size across many centuries and that they have no doubt become eroded from their original pristine shape, they all were indeed "mounds" and not "cylindrical stone towers". Inside, beneath the earth, are different types of interior chambers according to period and status of the family but externally all were covered by earth/sand to create a proper "mound".

Now of course it is possible for "Mounds" to have low "side walls" keeping the mound "neat"- I think of some Korean tombs and also the Etruscan ones at Cerveteri (though those walls tend to be carved into rock with an earth "dome").

This is the "best" academic article I have been able to find on the subject and it contains cut-away diagrams of early and late mounds
Figures 2 A and B would seem to show that both early and late tombs were presented as "mounds".

WHS #625: Par force hunting landscape

“You don’t need luck. You need good shoes!”, fellow WH traveller Nan e-mailed me when I told him to wish me luck ticking off the Par force hunting landscape. He was so right, and I’d like to add to others that plan to visit this WHS: also bring snacks, something to drink and a smartphone with GPS. And do read up a bit about what par force hunting entails beforehand.

From the 3 main components of this WHS, I had set my sights on Store Dyrehave (“large deer park”). Both Store Dyrehave and a formerly connected second component, Gribskov, lie near the town of Hillerød (the third, Jaegersborg, is located closer to Copenhagen, sees a whopping 7.5 million visitors a year and is already well-covered on this website).

Entering the forest of Store Dyrehave

Getting to Hillerød already did not prove to be as easy as internet research had lead me to believe. Part of the direct S-train route was blocked, so passengers had to be transported by buses to the final destination. This added another 20 minutes to the 1 hour trip from Copenhagen Airport.

Having finally arrived at the station in Hillerød, you'll just have to walk. There is no signposting at all. Beforehand I had carefully studied the route to the deer park and downloaded a map of the area to my phone. Both actions proved necessary, not at least to find the "right" patch of forest: a remarkably similar forest lies on the other side of the main road Københavnsvej - but that is not part of the WHS.

Using my sense of direction (and the help of the GPS on my phone) I hiked towards the center of the park. I had given myself a time-box of two hours to catch a glimpse of the meager remains of this former hunting landscape. Those being – according to the nomination file – “markers”, “numerical place names” and “an emblematic marker (Kongestenen)”. It’s like doing a treasure hunt with no clues. So I was quite happy when I came across an original marker for road #8 after a while: these numbered stones signal the 8 main radiating roads that lead to the central point.

A first marker!

Store Dyrehave now is used mainly by mountain bikers and joggers. The distances are actually a bit too long to enjoy for hiking and the landscape too monotonous. After an hour though I was rewarded for my efforts: I found the central point, the intersection where the 8 roads diverge in a star shape. I was really pleased with myself, and even rather impressed by the ingenious lay-out of the lanes and the original star stone at the center. Here, the ritual slaughter of the captured animal by the King would have taken place to end it all. It reminded me of a children’s TV series from my youth (‘De Zevensprong’ – Crossroads of Seven Roads): each episode started and ended at the crossroads of 7 roads in a mysterious forest setting.

On my way back I took road number 6, one of the other main lanes. It ends at the northern end of the park, where part of the original stone fence is still visible. Close to this exit is a parking lot with an information panel in Danish and English about the park's WH status.

The Apotheosis

In hindsight and comparing the experiences of other reviewers, Store Dyrehave may be the best among the locations to understand what this WHS is about. If you arrive by car (recommended), park it at the main parking lot along Overdrevsvejen.

Answering a recent observation by Solivagant (how to handle trips to European WHS that aren’t among the continent’s highlights): I ‘did’ this as a day trip from my home, flying to Copenhagen early morning and returning early evening. My plan was to spice it up a bit by combining a visit to this WHS with the Islamic art of the David Collection. In the end however the WH visit took so long that I didn’t have time left for the museum.

Published 4 February 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to WHS #625: Par force hunting landscape:

Completing Europe

Covering Europe is key to a high WHS score: the List is definitely eurocentric, and the high density of sites combined with good infrastructure and relatively short distances make for easy pickings. I like to set myself (travel) goals, and was wondering how long it would take me to see all WHS in Europe using only (sometimes longish) weekend breaks. Earlier I have written about how I choose destinations and prepare for my longer trips. Here’s my plan for the shorter ones in Europe. All with one goal in mind: ‘completing’ Europe!

Density of WHS locations in Europe

Narrowing it down

UNESCO has divided the WHS into their own version of ‘continents’, and now has 499 sites in 'Europe and North America'. On this website I have 500 as the total number because of Jerusalem, which is attributed to Jordan on the UNESCO list while I have it linked to Israel. That’s not meant as a political statement, but a mere practicality in the database. It doesn’t matter anyway for this description of achieving my goal, as I have been to the Old City of Jerusalem WHS already.

When you leave out the sites in the USA and Canada from the list of 500, there are 461 sites left in Europe. Of these 461, I have already visited 357. Looking at the general overview, my Europe score is relatively high. It’s also clear that one needs a high score in Europe to be among the top WH visitors.

This means there are 104 WHS left ‘to do’ for me. Six of these however lie in “colonies” in geographical different continents. I will deduct those as they logistically need different trips. They are: the Lagoons of New Caledonia, the Pitons of Réunion, Willemstad (Curaçao), Henderson Island, Gough and Inaccessible Islands and St. George. (Bermuda).

So I have 98 left!

Hard to access: Wrangel Island (satellite view)

Making a plan

I started working on a plan to cover these final 98 sites. I created yet another spreadsheet, and divided these remaining 98 WHS into 3 categories:

1. Weekend trips (without taking a day off from work, so Fri evening - Sun evening)

2. Long weekend trips (3-4 days, Thur – Sun, making good use of public holidays)

3. Short breaks (up to one week)

The smaller blocks (category 1) are actually preferred because they won’t cost me vacation days. Of course one could lump a number of the weekend destinations together into 1 or 2 week trips, but that’s not what I want (I need those for destinations further away)!

What becomes clear quickly is that the countries on the fringes of Europe (such as Russia, Turkey, Georgia and Israel) warrant full trips on their own. They do not share the same characteristics, are more challenging logistically.

Two sites are even impossible to visit within one week: for Wrangel Island cruises take about 14 days for a roundtrip and Putorana Plateau costs at least 10 days if you can arrange it at all. Derbent also seems terrible to get to under your own steam, although more due to safety than remoteness.

Should be an easy one: Visby

How long will it still take me?

It would take me a daunting 65 different trips all together to ‘complete’ Europe:

17 different weekends

30 different long weekends

16 short breaks

2 specials

At my current level of some 7 weekend trips a year, it would cost me at least 10 years (assuming I can find time in my travel schedule to fit in those one week short breaks). Even without any work or money or stamina limitations, it would still take 294 days to string them all together in successive visits.

But this whole excercise has made me more aware about the logistic possibilities, and I found out that there are more weekend trips still doable for me than I thought. So watch out for WHS reports of the Parforce Hunting Landscape, Burgundy and the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans in the coming weeks!

Published 27 January 2017 Leave a Comment

Responses to Completing Europe:

Solivagant (29 January 2017):
Another aspect of the “unvisited 98” which might be worth having a bit of a discussion about is the number of “mediocre” ones included within – hardly surprising in that the European “stars” are likely to have been already picked up by Els. Unfortunately the “Top 200 List” format on the Web site doesn’t facilitate analysis by Continent - but I wonder how many of the 98 are on it? I suspect the majority are going to be those on the “periphery” of Europe!
Now of course, to a committed “WHS traveller”, the mere fact of being inscribed provides some intrinsic value and that “tick” has its own “value” but how many of them would one really go out of one’s way to see if one didn’t live only a “Short weekend” trip away from them or if one wasn’t passing by as part of a longer visit to the country?
I did a quick “personal” subjective assessment – We have already visited 59 of the 98 and, of these I would only place 14 in my “highest recommendation” category ( Mt Athos (sorry Els - you are only ever going to see it from the boat!), Meteora, Thingvellir, Surtsey, Scelig Michel, Masada, Bib Tells, W Nor Fjords, Kizhi, Baikal, Troy, Catalhoyuk, St Kilda, Orkney). Of the remaining 39 I would only place 8 among my “top unvisited” list (Vezere, Pont d’Arc (but then there is the “replica” issue which somewhat degrades the value), Svaneti, Su Nuraxi, Solovetsky, White Monuments, Kamchatka, Lena Pillars). So, as with Els, Russian WHS remain a significant gap (at least in our perception!) - but we have already visited the country itself at least 6 times across the past 50 years so it would have to be a visit mainly to see these “gaps” with a “take” on contemporary Russia as an additional driver – not a really storng dirver with other sites around the World calloing. Svaneti was “closed” when we visited Georgia - I think we are unlikely to kindle enthusiasm to revisit just for it. Which leaves Su Naraxi – I guess we need to start looking at the Ryanair/Easyjet schedules to do an “Els Weekend” there!!

Els Slots (29 January 2017):
@Alexander Barabanov: Indeed Russia is a particular weakness of mine (as well as not having been to Egypt yet after almost 30 years of travelling). The sites surrounding Moscow and Kazan should be relatively easy to cover though. But I'd rather save them for a longer trip, stringing them together with a Transsiberian Railway route to Vladivostok.

@Solivagant: "And across the next 10 years Europe seems likely to add another say 8 pa average (?) = 80"
Oops - I forgot about that. Sigh.

nan (28 January 2017):
I would also exclude sites that aren't geographically in Europe. Personally, I rather try to finish a country than a continent ;)

Solivagant (27 January 2017):
Even across 10 years there is a fair bit of optimism there! Despite my reputation for travelling fast I am not sure I would want to combine Orkney and St Kilda as a combi in a single week-end, flying into/out of Inverness from NL. And it isn't quite clear whether the "combi" of Surtsey/Thingvellir is a "Short break" or a "Long w/e". As you have commented on posts for similar subjects "WHS" aren't the only reason to visit a country and to go all the way to Iceland and then try to do it in a "short break" (Let alone a "long week-end"!) would be a bit of a waste. The same point applies elsewhere.
And across the next 10 years Europe seems likely to add another say 8 pa average (?) = 80. With previous wide travel and good planning a fair number might be achievable without many more "week ends" but there will always be the odd one tucked away in "European" corner not otherwise being covered - e.g Gran Canary??!
Anyway - plenty to keep you going for a fair number of years to come

Alexander Barabanov (27 January 2017):
So much of Russia to be covered!
As I understand, Russia usually issues single visa, which is very expensive, correct? Would be especially difficult to tick off remote Russian sites, which require multiple trips, like Lena Pillars or Sikhote-Alin..
In my management file I separate Europe and Asia and categorize everything to the right from the Ural mountains as Asia (e.g. Putorana; Lena Pillars, Baikal, etc.). That's why I only have 416 European sites..
In fact yes, it could only be faster if you only concentrate on Europe, but it's not realistic, given other interesting destinations...

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