Category Archive: Daily Photo

Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia

Posted by on March 8, 2017

Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia

Nan Madol: My 313th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Nan Madol:

Nan Madol is a series of more than 100 islets off the southeast coast of Pohnpei that were constructed with walls of basalt and coral boulders. These islets harbor the remains of stone palaces, temples, tombs and residential domains built between 1200 and 1500 CE. These ruins represent the ceremonial center of the Saudeleur dynasty, a vibrant period in Pacific Island culture. The huge scale of the edifices, their technical sophistication and the concentration of megalithic structures bear testimony to complex social and religious practices of the island societies of the period. The site was also inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to threats, notably the siltation of waterways that is contributing to the unchecked growth of mangroves and undermining existing edifices.

Overview of Nan Madol

The Canals of Nan Madol, MicronesiaNan Madol is one of the most fascinating and significant places in the Pacific. I first visited Nan Modal in 2007 as I began my around the world trip. However, it took until 2016 to be placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The site is extremely deserving of world heritage status and years it was number one on my list of places which should have been world heritage sites.

The site has been called “the Venice of the Pacific” because it is a network of small islands separated by canals and connected by bridges. In fact, the name Nan Modal means “spaces between” which references the canals. Most of the islands have a structure which can best be described as a log cabin built with basalt rocks. Geologic testing shows that many of the rocks were brought from other islands to Pohnpei, and it hasn’t been positively determined how they were transported.

The structures were used both as dwellings and as burials sites.

How to Get There

Stones of Nan MadolThe hard part about visiting Nan Madol is getting to the island of Pohnpei. Micronesia gets very few visitors as it is far away from any major population center, and there is only really one way to get to the island. The only way to get to the island is via the “island hopper” flight which is run by United Airlines. It starts in Honolulu and stops at islands in the Marshall Islands and Micronesia on the way to Guam three days a week. It alternates going Guam to Honolulu the other days of the week.

There are no major hotels or resorts on Pohnpei, so you will likely be staying in lodging which would be the equivalent of a 2-star hotel or a motel.

I arrived at the site by boat on a day long boat tour of the Pohnpei lagoon. You can also arrive by car, but there is a hike involved to get from the road to the location. It is approximately a 90-minute drive from the capital city of Palikir.

Expect to pay a few dollars as an entry fee.

What to See

Give yourself at least an hour, if not more, to explore the site. The location isn’t very visitor friendly. There is no visitor center and little to nothing in the way of interpretative material. If possible, hire a guide who can share some of the oral history of the site.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 11, 2017 @ 8:37 am

Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor

Posted by on March 7, 2017

Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Silk Roads were an interconnected web of routes linking the ancient societies of Asia, the Subcontinent, Central Asia, Western Asia and the Near East, and contributed to the development of many of the world’s great civilizations. They represent one of the world’s preeminent long-distance communication networks stretching as the crow flies to around 7,500 km but extending to in excess of 35,000 km along specific routes. While some of these routes had been in use for millennia, by the 2nd century BC the volume of exchange had increased substantially, as had the long distance trade between east and west in high-value goods, and the political, social and cultural impacts of these movements had far-reaching consequences upon all the societies that encountered them.

The routes served principally to transfer raw materials, foodstuffs, and luxury goods. Some areas had a monopoly on certain materials or goods: notably China, who supplied Central Asia, the Subcontinent, West Asia and the Mediterranean world with silk. Many of the high-value trade goods were transported over vast distances – by pack animals and river craft – and probably by a string of different merchants.

The Tian-shan corridor is one section or corridor of this extensive overall Silk Roads network. Extending across a distance of around 5,000 km, it encompassed a complex network of trade routes extending to some 8,700 km that developed to link Chang’an in central China with the heartland of Central Asia between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD, when long distance trade in high-value goods, particularly silk, started to expand between the Chinese and Roman Empires. It flourished between the 6th and 14th century AD and remained in use as a major trade route until the 16th century.


The Silk Roads world heritage sites is a serial site consisting of 35 different locations spread across three different countries: China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor
I visited the Burana Tower which was in the ancient, and near the current, city of Balasagun, Kyrgyzstan.

Like most towers in Muslim lands, it served as a minaret for daily calls to prayer. However, as it was an important stop on the silk road, it also served as a type of landlocked lighthouse. In the evenings a fire would burn on the top of the tower so caravans could see it from a distance. Today the tower is approximately half the height of the original tower which was reduced in size due to earthquakes.

In addition to the tower, there is also a graveyard located containing Turkish headstones known as balbals. They are carved into the likeness of the person who was buried there.

How to Get There

Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan CorridorThe Burana tower is located just outside the city of Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. It is approximately 70km from the capital of Bishkek. You can reach Tokmok by bus and then take a taxi to the Burana Tower. It can be visited as a day trip from Bishkek.

What to See

The primary attraction is the tower itself. You can climb to the top of the tower via a very narrow and winding staircase. The staircase only has room for one person. The graveyard mentioned above is the other primary attraction of the site. There is also a small museum on the site which displays artifacts which have been excivated from the site.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyrgyzstan.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 11, 2017 @ 8:40 am

San Antonio Missions

Posted by on August 8, 2015

UNESCO World Heritage Site #299 - San Antonio Missions

San Antonio Missions: My 299th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the San Antonio Missions:

The site encompasses a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along a stretch of the San Antonio River basin in southern Texas, as well as a ranch located 37 kilometers to the south. It includes architectural and archaeological structures, farmlands, residences, churches, and granaries, as well as water distribution systems. The complexes were built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century and illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain. The San Antonio Missions are also an example of the interweaving of Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures, illustrated by a variety of features, including the decorative elements of churches, which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous designs inspired by nature.

The Missions of San Antonio are United States’s newest world heritage site. In fact, it was listed at the World Heritage Convention in Bonn, Germany just one week before I visited.

The site consists of 5 missions in the San Antonio area. They are:

  • The Alamo
  • Mission San José
  • Mission San Juan
  • Mission Concepción
  • Mission Espada

The Alamo is owned and maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The other four missions are run by the National Park Service.

Most people visiting San Antonio will probably visit The Alamo, which is the most popular tourist attraction in the State of Texas. Given the historic events which occurred at The Alamo and its role in Texas independence, not to mention the fact that it is right in the middle of San Antonio, it is no surprise. On the plus side, it is also very close to the San Antonio Riverwalk.

However, from a visitation perspective, I think The Alamo might be the least interesting of the five missions. It is by far the smallest, and it surrounded by touristy things like a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit The Alamo (you should), so much as you should visit the other missions as well.

All the missions are relatively close, lying only 2-3 miles apart from each other. If you have a car it is quite easy to drive between the missions with less than a 10 minute drive between them.

The other missions are much larger than The Alamo and give you a better feel for how they were laid out. The rest still have their walls and courtyard intact.

It should also be noted that the missions, which were built as Catholic churches by the Spanish Empire, are still functional churches today. They still have services on Sundays and events like weddings do occasionally take place. Unless you wish to attend a service, you might want to avoid visiting on Sunday mornings.

Along with Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Statue of Liberty, the missions are the only urban world heritage sites in the US. As such they are very easy to visit if you are in the San Antonio area.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 16, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”

Posted by on July 3, 2015

UNESCO World Heritage Site #298: Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”

Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”: My 298th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”:

Situated on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, nine kilometers north of the Dead Sea, the archaeological site consists of two distinct areas: Tell Al-Kharrar, also known as Jabal Mar-Elias (Elijah’s Hill) and the area of the churches of Saint John the Baptist near the river. Situated in a pristine natural environment the site is believed to be the location where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. It features Roman and Byzantine remains including churches and chapels, a monastery, caves that have been used by hermits and pools in which baptisms were celebrated, testifying to the religious character of the place. The site is a Christian place of pilgrimage.

During a trip to Jordan in 2013, I had the pleasure of visiting the Bethany Baptism site which is on the banks of the Jordan river. The overall site has several Christian churches from several denominations.

The actual historic location is pretty underwhelming, as you can see in the photo. There are the ruins of churches which have stood on the spot, but currently, there is no church marking the location. There is another site on the other side of the border in Israel, but historically it was the East Bank of the Jordan River where it was believed Jesus was baptized.

This site is one of several early Christian sites in the region including the nativity church in Bethlehem and the church in Nazareth.

So long as you have transportation, getting here isn’t that difficult as it is a popular tourist attraction with pilgrims.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Jordan.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 10:55 am