Monthly Archives: December 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #168: Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

Posted by on December 24, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #168: Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

UNESCO World Heritage Site #168: Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

From the World Heritage inscription:

The city and port of Liverpool are exceptional testimony to the development of maritime mercantile culture in the 18th and 19th centuries, and played an important role in the growth of the British Empire. Liverpool is an outstanding example of a world mercantile port city, which represents the early development of global trading and cultural connections throughout the British Empire. The city was also a major centre generating innovative technologies and methods in dock construction and port management in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Six areas in the historic centre and docklands of Liverpool bear witness to the development of one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries, based on its harbour. The first ocean steamship left from Liverpool in 1840; from that date onwards the town became a fundamental link connecting Europe to America. It also became the major port for the mass movement of people: it was a centre for the slave trade until its abolition in 1807, and for emigration from northern Europe to America. Thousands of people from all over Europe gathered here to migrate to the New World.

The first thing most people think of when they hear Liverpool is the Beatles and maybe the Liverpool Football Club. The city however, has a richer history beyond rock and roll and soccer. The city was the port for the importation of cotton from the Americas.

The waterfront area harkens back to its Victorian, mercantile origins when it was one of the most important economic centers in Britain.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #167: Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

Posted by on December 23, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #167: Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

UNESCO World Heritage Site #167: Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

From the World Heritage inscription:

The set of housing estates in the Berlin Modern Style provides outstanding testimony to the implementation of housing policies during the period 1910 – 1933 and especially during the Weimar Republic, when the city of Berlin was characterized by its political, social, cultural and technical progressiveness. The housing estates reflect, with the highest degree of quality, the combination of urbanism, architecture, garden design and aesthetic research typical of early 20th century modernism, as well as the application of new hygienic and social standards. Some of the most prominent leading architects of German modernism were involved in the design and construction of the properties; they developed innovative urban, building and flat typologies, technical solutions and aesthetic achievements.

As I’ve stated before, architectural world heritage sites are often the least interesting to the casual traveler. The buildings usually aren’t famous and often the architects aren’t famous either. To top it off, the buildings often aren’t open to the public because they are still in private hands.

In the case of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates has all of the above problems. If you are a student of architecture or urban planning, the housing estates might be interesting, but I think most people would walk by without ever noticing they have world heritage stats on a par with the pyramids or the Taj Mahal.

There are six different collections of these estates surrounding Berlin. Many of them are not easy to get to and would require a long bus ride or taxi to get there. The one I visited was the Großsiedlung Siemensstadt which is very easy to get to. Just take the U7 subway line and get off at the Siemensdam station. The moment you walk out of the station you will see some of the buildings. Walk a few blocks into the neighborhood and you can see some historical signs talking about the housing estate.

This was the eleventh stop on my November 2011 Eurail trip to European UNESCO sites.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #166: Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin

Posted by on December 22, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #166: Museum Island, Berlin

UNESCO World Heritage Site #166: Museum Island, Berlin

From the World Heritage inscription:

The art museum is a social phenomenon that owes its origins to the Age of Enlightenment and its extension to all people to the French Revolution. The Museumsinsel is the most outstanding example of this concept given material form and a symbolic central urban setting, and one that illustrates the evolution of modern museum design over more than a century.

The present importance of the Museumsinsel began when the Altes Museum was built to the designs of Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1824-28. A plan to develop the part of the island behind this museum was drawn up in 1841 by the court architect, Friedrich August Stüler, on the orders of Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The first element of this plan to be built was the Neues Museum (1843-47). The next step did not take place until 1866, when the Nationalgalerie, the work of Johann Heinrich Strack, was built. Another two decades passed before the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (now the Bodemuseum) was built in 1897-1904 to the designs of Ernst von Ihne, and Stüler’s plan was completed in 1909-30 with the construction of Alfred Messel’s Pergamonmuseum.

Museum Island is one of the cultural and tourist highlights of Berlin. The island is in the middle Spree river and is home to five significant museums: the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum.

It is the only museum(s) that I know of that have UNESCO World Heritage status. The Louvre and other important museums in the world are have not been accorded special World Heritage status.

One unique thing about the museums, and unlike much of the rest of Germany, is that the damage caused during WWII has been kept. You can still see bullet holes on the facade of many of the buildings.

Getting to Museum Island is very easy if you are in Berlin. It is accessible by U-Bahn and bus.

This was the tenth stop on my Eurail trip of UNESCO sites in Europe.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #165: Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

Posted by on December 21, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #165: Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

UNESCO World Heritage Site #165: Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin


From the World Heritage inscription:

The ensemble of the chateaux and parks of Potsdam is an exceptional artistic achievement whose eclectic and evolutionary features reinforce its uniqueness: from Knobelsdorff to Schinkel and from Eyserbeck to Lenné, a series of architectural and landscaping masterpieces were built within a single space, illustrating opposing and reputedly irreconcilable styles without detracting from the harmony of a general composition, designed progressively over time.

Potsdam, mentioned first in the 10th century, acquired some importance when the Great Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William (1620-88) established his residence there. Potsdam housed a small garrison from 1640 onwards; the site’s military function was strengthened by the young Prussian monarchy.

Under Frederick II the Great (1712-86) Potsdam was radically changed. The new king wished to establish next to the garrison town and settlement colony of the ‘Sergeant King’ a ‘Prussian Versailles’, which was to be his main residence. In 1744 Frederick II ordered a vineyard to be planted on six terraces on the southern side of a hill, Bald Mountain. Sanssouci, a name which reflects the king’s desire for intimacy and simplicity, translates the theme of a rustic villa into the marble, mirrors and gold of a Rococo-style palace.

One of the things which surprised me about Berlin was the number and quality of the palaces in the area, especially in Potsdam. Many of the palaces in the area surrounding Berlin did not receive heavy damage during the war.

The highlight of the world heritage site, in my opinion, was Sanssouci, the palace of Frederick The Great. One of his final request was that he be laid to rest on the grounds of Sanssouci with his favorite greyhounds. In 1991, 205 years after his death and after the reunification of Germany, his request was finally granted.

Sanssouci is about a 15-20 minute walk from the Potsdam train station. I’d recommend visiting in the summer as in the winter, all of the statues in the garden were covered and the fountains were drained when I visited in the winter.

This was the tenth stop on my November 2011 Eurail trip to European UNESCO sites.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #164: Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg

Posted by on December 20, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #164: Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg

UNESCO World Heritage Site #164: Luther Memorials in Eisleben and Wittenberg

From the World Heritage inscription:

These memorials are of outstanding universal value as bearing unique testimony to the Protestant Reformation, which was one of the most significant events in the religious and political history of the world, and as outstanding examples of 19th-century historicism. They are all associated with the lives of Martin Luther and his fellow-reformer Melanchthon.

In the 15th and 16th centuries Eisleben owed its great prosperity to copper and silver mining, Martin Luther was born there on 10 November 1483 at lodgings in a house in a street then known as Lange Gasse. The family moved in the following year to Mansfeld, some 10 km distant from Eisleben. After studying philosophy at Erfurt University, Martin Luther joined the Augustinian Order in 1505. He stayed there until 1510, when he transferred to the newly built Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg, where he also held the chair of Bible studies at the University. Two years later, on 31 October 1517, he launched the Reformation by nailing his 95 Propositions to the north door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Wittenberg is a small community in Germany which was the starting point for one of the most significant changes in European in the last 1,000 years: the Protestant Reformation.

Given the size of Wittenberg, it is difficult to escape the presence of Martin Luther. You will see Martin Luther streets, statues, festivals and historical markers all over.

The most significant buildings in Wittenberg pertaining to Martin Luther are the Castle Church where he nailed the 95 Theses to the door, the town church where he preached and the Martin Luther house. You could easily explore the main Luther historic sites in half a day.

UNESCO locations in Wittenberg are a 10-15 minute walk from the Wittenberg train station. Wittenberg can be easily reached by train from Leipzig or Berlin and Wittenberg could be visited on a day trip from either city.

This was the ninth stop on my Eurail trip of UNESCO sites in Europe.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #163: Dresden Elbe Valley

Posted by on December 19, 2011

UNESCO World Heritage Site #163: Dresden Elbe Valley

UNESCO World Heritage Site #163: Dresden Elbe Valley

From the World Heritage inscription:

The 18th- and 19th-century cultural landscape of Dresden Elbe Valley extends some 18 km along the river from Übigau Palace and Ostragehege fields in the north-west to the Pillnitz Palace and the Elbe River Island in the south-east. It features low meadows, and is crowned by the Pillnitz Palace and the centre of Dresden with its numerous monuments and parks from the 16th to 20th centuries. The landscape also features 19th- and 20th-century suburban villas and gardens and valuable natural features. Some terraced slopes along the river are still used for viticulture and some old villages have retained their historic structure and elements from the industrial revolution, notably the 147-m Blue Wonder steel bridge (1891–93), the single-rail suspension cable railway (1898–1901), and the funicular (1894–95). The passenger steamships (the oldest from 1879) and shipyard (c. 1900) are still in use.

This site is going to require more explanation than most World Heritage sites that I have visited…

Technically speaking, the Dresden Elbe Valley is no longer a World Heritage site. It was removed from the list by UNESCO in 2009 after being put on the list 2004.

The entire episode is an example of the downside to having world heritage status and something which I’ve heard from different cities around the world.

As I make it a point to visit UNESCO World Heritage sites, I paid attention to the Dresden incident when it happened back in 2009. It all had to do with a bridge which was being built across the Elbe river. As I had never been to Dresden at the time, I reserved judgment about what was happening. When I had the opportunity to visit Dresden as part of my Eurail trip through Germany, I jumped at the chance to see it for myself.

The entire controversy surrounds a bridge. The people of Dresden decided in 2005 in a referendum to build a bridge across the Elbe. A bridge in that location had actually been discussed as far back as 1876, but it was never built. There is even an avenue which was built on one side of the river in the 1920’s which leads up to where the bridge would have been built. Plans for the bridge were in the works before the vote by UNESCO to put Dresden on the list in 2004 and UNESCO was told that one more bridge would be built before they had the vote.

Local opponents of the bridge used UNESCO as their tool to stop construction after they lost the 2005 referendum. They claimed that the bridge would destroy the river valley, block views and ruin the aesthetic of the region.

They were wrong.

Having seen the bridge (which was mostly completed at the time of my visit in November 2011) I can state the following:

1) The bridge is not visible from the historic center of Dresden. If you go to the edge of the area, you might be able to see it. You can however, see an ugly communist era bridge that was built in the 1960s.

2) The bridge is barely visible from some of the historic palaces further up the river from Dresden. Here is a photo where you can see the bridge, as seen from the Albrechtsberg Palace.

3) It only blocks the view of the city center if you happen to put yourself in a position where it will block your view. By that logic, anything can block your view.

4) Nothing historic was destroyed to build the bridge. It wasn’t as if they tore something down to create this. It was built where there never was a bridge.

There was one other UNESCO site which has been delisted, and that was the The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman. That was delisted at the request of Oman because 90% of the sanctuary was destroyed after oil was found there. A totally different set of circumstances than what was in Dresden.

UNESCO was trying to strong arm Dresden to get them to do what they wanted. I’ve heard similar stories in Cologne, Liverpool and other cities. Preservation of history isn’t enough, they also want to block development, even if that development is done in such a way as to fit in with the history of a place.

Having visited Dresden and seen the bridge with my own eyes, I don’t agree with their decision to delist Dresden.

For that reason, I’d decided to keep it on my personal list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

This was the eighth stop on my November 2011 Eurail trip to European UNESCO sites.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.