Historic Center (Old Town) of Tallinn

Historic Center (Old Town) of Tallinn, Estonia

Overview of the Historic Center of Tallinn

From the Historic Center of Tallinn World Heritage inscription:

The Historic Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn is an exceptionally complete and well-preserved medieval northern European trading city on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The city developed as a significant center of the Hanseatic League during the major period of activity of this great trading organization in the 13th-16th centuries.

The combination of the upper town on the high limestone hill and the lower town at its foot with many church spires forms an expressive skyline that is visible from a great distance both from land and sea.

The upper town (Toompea) with the castle and the cathedral has always been the administrative centre of the country, whereas the lower town preserves to a remarkable extent the medieval urban fabric of narrow winding streets, many of which retain their medieval names, and fine public and burgher buildings, including town wall, Town Hall, pharmacy, churches, monasteries, merchants’ and craftsmen’ guilds, and the domestic architecture of the merchants’ houses, which have survived to a remarkable degree. The distribution of building plots survives virtually intact from the 13th-14th centuries.

The Outstanding Universal Value of the Historic Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn is demonstrated in its existence as an outstanding, exceptionally complete and well-preserved example of a medieval northern European trading city that retains the salient features of this unique form of economic and social community to a remarkable degree.

I visited the Tallinn on a G Adventures tour of the Baltic States.
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Historic Center of Riga

Historic Center of Riga, Latvia - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Overview of the Historic Center of Riga

From the Historic Center of Riga World Heritage inscription:

The Historic Centre of Riga is a living illustration of European history. Through centuries, Riga has been the center of many historic events and a meeting point for European nations, and it has managed to preserve evidence of European influence on its historical development, borders between the West and the East, and the intersection of trading and cultural routes. Riga has always been a modern city keeping up with the current trends in architecture and urban planning, and at the same time, preserving the city’s integrity in the course of development.

Riga, which was founded as a port town in 1201, was one of the key centers of the Hanseatic League in Eastern Europe from the 13th to the 15th century. The urban fabric of its medieval core reflects the prosperity of those times, though most of the earliest buildings were rebuilt for actual needs or lost by fire or war. In the 17th century, Riga became the largest provincial town of Sweden. In the 19th century, it experienced rapid industrial development. It is in this period that the suburbs surrounding the medieval town were laid out, first, with imposing wooden buildings in neoclassical style, and later, when permanent stone buildings were allowed instead, in the Art Nouveau style. In the early 1900s, Riga became the European city with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture with around 50 Art Nouveau buildings of high architectural value in the medieval part and more than 300 in the rest of the Historic Centre. The site reflects various architectural styles, which provide valuable insight into the stages of development of Riga as a city. The Historic Centre of Riga is comprised of three different urban landscapes – the relatively well-preserved medieval core, the 19th century semi-circle of boulevards with a green belt on both sides of the City Canal, and the former suburban quarters surrounding the boulevards with dense built-up areas with a rectangular network of streets and wooden architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. Each of these parts has its characteristic relationship of buildings and public outdoor spaces.

Riga is the capital of Latvia and its historic center is one of two world heritage sites in the country. It is located on the Baltic sea and was one of the original trading cities in the Hanseatic League.

I visited the Vilnius on a G Adventures tour of the Baltic States.

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Vilnius Historic Center

Vilnius Historic Centre UNESCO World Heritage Site

Overview

From the Vilnius Historic Centre World Heritage inscription:

The Vilnius Historic Centre began its history on the glacial hills that had been intermittently occupied from the Neolithic period; a wooden castle was built around 1000 AD to fortify Gedimino Hill, at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers. The settlement did not develop as a town until the 13th century, during the struggles of the Baltic peoples against their German invaders. By 1323, when the first written reference to Vilnia occurred, it was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. At this time, some brick structures had apparently been erected on a small island formed when the Vilnia changed its course. By the 15th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, with its capital Vilnius, had become the largest country in Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea in the North to the Black Sea in the South. The historic center comprises the areas of the three castles (Upper, Lower and Curved) and the area that was encircled by a wall in the Middle Ages. The plan is basically circular, radiating out from the original castle site. The street pattern is typically medieval, with small streets dividing it into irregular blocks, but with large squares inserted in later periods.

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Curonian Spit

Curonian Spit UNESCO World Heritage Site

Curonian Spit Overview

From the Curonian Spit World Heritage inscription:

The Curonian Spit is a unique and vulnerable, sandy and wooded cultural landscape on a coastal spit which features small Curonian lagoon settlements. The Spit was formed by the sea, wind and human activity and continues to be shaped by them. Rich with an abundance of unique natural and cultural features, it has retained its social and cultural importance. Local communities adapted to the changes in the natural environment in order to survive. This interaction between humans and nature shaped the Curonian Spit cultural landscape.

The Curonian Spit is perhaps the top natural attraction in Lithuania and one of the top attractions in the Baltic Region. I visited the Curonian Spit on a G Adventures tour of the Baltic States.

Most of the information in this article will pertain to visiting the Lithuanian side of the Curonian Spit, however, half of the spit is shared with Russia. The Lithuanian side is much easier for most tourists to visit unless you have gone through the process of getting a Russian visa. This article will deal mostly with the Lithuanian side.

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Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe

Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe, World Heritage Site, Spain

Overview

From the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe World Heritage inscription:

The monastery is an outstanding repository of four centuries of Spanish religious architecture. It symbolizes two significant events in world history that occurred in 1492: the Reconquest of the Iberian peninsula by the Catholic Kings and Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Its famous statue of the Virgin became a powerful symbol of the Christianization of much of the New World.

The Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe is located in the town of Guadalupe in the Spanish Region of Extremadura. It is one of the most important religious destinations in Spain and was a vital place in the history of Spanish exploration and conquest of the Americas, as well as to the political history of Spain.

The site is a popular religious and tourist destination for Spanish tourists, but relatively unknown to international travelers. About 80% of the visitors to the site are from Spain.

Guadalupe is the namesake of many other Guadalupes around the world, mostly in Latin American countries.

The monastery is still an active monastery with monks and daily services, although the number of monks living here is much smaller than what it was in the past.

In 1993 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the many World Heritage Sites in Spain.
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Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey

Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey

Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey Overview

From the World Heritage inscription:

The site is located along the Weser River on the outskirts of Höxter where the Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey were erected between AD 822 and 885 in a largely preserved rural setting. The Westwork is the only standing structure that dates back to the Carolingian era, while the original imperial abbey complex is preserved as archaeological remains that are only partially excavated. The Westwork of Corvey uniquely illustrates one of the most important Carolingian architectural expressions. It is a genuine creation of this period, and its architectural articulation and decoration clearly illustrate the role played within the Frankish empire by imperial monasteries in securing territorial control and administration, as well as the propagation of Christianity and the Carolingian cultural and political order throughout Europe.

Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey is an UNESCO World Heritage Site in Germany. It was added to the World Heritage List in 2014 at the World Heritage Convention held in Doha, Qatar.

The site dates back to the reign of Emperor Charlemagne in the 9th century and was built as a monastery and spiritual center.

Today the site near the German city of Höxter is a popular cultural tourist attraction and museum.

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19 Interesting Facts About World Heritage Sites

I have been visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites since I began traveling full time in 2007. Since then I have visited over 375 sites around the world and have photographed all of them.

There are no typical world heritage sites. They come in all shapes and sizes, from a few square meters to sites larger than most countries. Some are ancient ruins while others are living, functioning cities.

I’ve compiled 27 interesting facts about world heritage sites which I hope you find interesting, and provide some illumination into the greatest places our world has to offer!


1) There are currently 1,092 world heritage sites. They are divided between 845 cultural, 209 natural, and 38 mixed sites.

2) The country with the most world heritage sites is Italy with 54.

3) There are 32 countries with at least 10 world heritage sites, 13 countries with at least 20 sites, 8 with at least 30 sites, and 5 with 40 or more.
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Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir

Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir

From the World Heritage inscription:

Battir is a major Palestinian cultural landscape, the adaptation of a deep valley system for agricultural purposes as a result of a good supply of water. The complex irrigation system of this water supply has led to the creation of dry walls terraces which may have been exploited since antiquity. The agricultural terraces, exploiting this irrigation system, were the basis for a strong presence of agriculture through the cultivation of olives and vegetables. The area still today has the same use.

The water distribution system used by the families of Battir is a testament to an ancient egalitarian distribution system that delivers water to the terraced agricultural land based on a simple mathematical calculation and a clear time-managed rotation scheme.

The village of Battir is not far from Jerusalem and is right on the Israel/Palestine border. In fact, there are Israeli train tracks which go right past the terraces at the bottom of the hill.

I could not find any organized tours to Battir, which was a shame. Nearby Bethlehem gets most of the attention in the region. That being said, it wasn’t that hard to get to Battir from Bethlehem. I had my tour guide in Bethlehem call a taxi for me which took me to there. It took about 15 minutes and cost about $10.

Battir is a fairly new world heritage site and as such the tourism infrastructure isn’t well developed. There are a few souvenir shops and cafes, but that’s about it.

The terraces are easily accessible if you are on the main street of the village. Expect to spend 30-60 minutes walking around the area. This site is probably going to be of interest to world heritage enthusiasts more than anyone else. Nonetheless, I think anyone visiting Jerusalem would be well off to come and visit a small Palestinian village, which Battir fits perfectly.
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Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem

Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem

Overview

Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem

From the World Heritage inscription:

Bethlehem lies 10 kilometers south of the city of Jerusalem, in the fertile limestone hill country of the Holy Land. Since at least the 2nd century AD people have believed that the place where the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, now stands is where Jesus was born. One particular cave, over which the first Church was built, is traditionally believed to be the Birthplace itself. In locating the Nativity, the place both marks the beginnings of Christianity and is one of the holiest spots in Christendom. The original basilica church of 339 AD (St Helena), parts of which survive below ground, was arranged so that its octagonal eastern end surrounded, and provided a view of, the cave. This church is overlaid by the present Church of the Nativity, essentially of the mid-6th century AD (Justinian), though with later alterations. It is the oldest Christian church in daily use. Since early medieval times, the Church has been increasingly incorporated into a complex of other ecclesiastical buildings, mainly monastic. As a result, today it is embedded in an extraordinary architectural ensemble, overseen by members of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Church, under the provisions of the Status Quo of the Holy Places established by the Treaty of Berlin (1878).

During various periods over the past 1700 years, Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity have been, and still are, a pilgrim destination. The eastern end of the traditional route from Jerusalem to the Church, known as the Pilgrimage route, marks the road that connects the traditional entrance of Bethlehem, near King David’s Wells with the Church of the Nativity, and extends along the Star Street through the Damascus Gate, or Qos Al-Zarara, the historical gate of the town, towards the Manger Square. The Route continues to be celebrated as the path followed by Joseph and Mary during their trip in Bethlehem during Christmas ceremonies each year and is followed ceremonially by Patriarchs of the three churches at their several Christmases, and during their official visits to Bethlehem.

The Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palestine. It was inscribed by UNESCO in 2012 as a religious/Christian structure. However, it was also added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger in that same year due to the damage incurred at the property due to water leaks.
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