Wednesday, June 26, 2013

World Heritage Sites

Hello Everyone:

First of all a very big congratulations to all of the LGBT readers out in blogger land.  Today, the Supreme Court of The United States overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, thus clearing the way for full legal recognition of same gender marriages.  I raise a glass of champagne to you.  Now on to today's topic.

The National Historic Preservation Trust in the United States released its annual endangered historic sites list last week.  On June 23, 2013 the United Nations Economic, Scientific, and Cultural Organization inscribed nineteen new world heritage sites at their annual conference, held this year in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Quickly reviewing the list, I noticed the diversity of sites around the world.  This year's list include sites in Qatar, Ukraine, Iran, Niger, and Fiji(!)  The list includes natural properties and approved extensions for certain cultural properties.  I bring this topic to your attention because preservation is not just an Western thing but happens all over the world.  The benefit of inscription is that it brings attention to places and buildings that would've otherwise gone un-noticed and fallen into disrepair.  Also, it save pieces of global history are a necessary part of the story of humanity.  Rather than go through all nineteen places, I'd like to pick a few places in the non-Western world and tell you about them.

Historic Center Agadez, Niger 
The Historic Center of Agadez, Niger has long been know as "The gateway to the desert."  Agadez is located on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and was developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by the Sultanate of Aïr.  The city center is the historic crossroads of the caravan trade and is divided into eleven irregular shaped quarters. The quarters contain numerous earthen dwellings and a well-preserved group of palaces and religious buildings including a 27 meter minerat entirely from mud brick, the highest such building in the world.

Fujisan, Japa
O.K. I had to put Fujisan (Mount Fuji 藤山) in because I did write my thesis on Japan.  This is a long overdue inscription.  This fabled snow-capped mountain has long inspired artists and poets as well as a site of pilgrimage.  It is an internationally recognized icon of Japan and has had a deep impact on Western art.  Fujisan contains twenty-five sites which encapsulate  the 3,776 meter mountain's sacred landscape.  Fujisan has been the site of ascetic Buddhism and contains Shinto shrines.

Golestan Palace, Iran
Golestan Palace, Iran, beautiful isn't it?  This masterwork of the Qajar era (1785-1925) reflects the successful blending of Iranian craft and architecture with Western influences.  This palace, located in Teheran, one of the oldest groups of buildings and the former seat of government of Qajar family.  It became the site of Qajari arts and architecture, which remains a source of inspiration for contemporary Iranian architects and artists.  The palace represents a new style that blends traditional Iranian arts and crafts with eighteenth century technolog and architecture.

Levuka Historical Port Town, Fiji
Levuka Historical Port Town in Fiji.  Fiji?  Fiji is normally associated with paradisaical vacations not historic preservation but UNESCO apparently thought otherwise.  Levuka was the first colonial capital ceded to the British in 1894.  From the early nineteenth century, Levuka developed as a center for commercial activity by Americans and Europeans who built commercial, religious, residential, and school facilities around the indigenous villages of the island chain.  The town is a stellar example of nineteenth century Pacific port settlements, reflecting the integration of local building traditions by a colonial power, creating a unique landscape.

Namib Sand Sea, Namibia 
Sand sea sounds like an oxymoron but really, its the coastal desert in the world with extensive dune fields affected by the fog.  The sand sea covers an area of three million hectares, with a buffer zone of 899,500 hectares.  The site is composed of an ancient semi-consolidated one overlain with a younger more active one.  The dunes are formed by the transportation of particles millions of kilometers from the hinterland carried by the river, ocean current, and wind. The sand sea features gravel plains, coastal flats, rocky hills, and inselbergs.  The fog is the main source of water to the site.  This creates a unique environment for indigenous invertebrates, reptiles, and mammals to thrive.

Tajik National Park, Tajikistan
I love this picture don't you?  It reminds me of those mythical ancient Eurasian trades routes.  Tajikistan National Park covers more than 2.5 million hectares east of the country and is the center of of the so-called "Pamir-Knot," the meeting point of the highest mountain ranges in Eurasia.  It is a rugged landscape with high plateaus to the east and rugged peaks to the west, some over 7,000 meters high.  It features seasonal variations of temperatures.  The longest valley glacier outside the Polar region is found among the 1,085 glacier on the site.  The park shelters national rare and threatened birds and mammals such as Snow Leopards and Siberian Ibex.  The park is sparsely inhabited and virtually unaffected by permanent human settlement and agriculture.

Al Zubarah Archeological Site, Qatar

A lost city on the edge of a desert.  The stuff of mythology.  Al Zubarah Archeological Site in Qatar  in the Persian Gulf once flourished as center of urban trade and pearling.  Yes, people dove for pearls off the coast.  Did you think that pearls were only found in the Far East?  The city thrived int he late eighteenth, early nineteenth century before it was destroyed in 1811 and abandoned in the early 1900s.  Al Zubarah was founded by Kuwaiti merchants and had trade links across the Indian Ocean and Western Asia.  Excavation has only taken place in a small part of the city, which present excellant examples urban trade and pearl diving that sustained the region's major coastal towns and led to the development of independent states outside the Ottoman, European, and Persian Empires leading to the emergence of the modern Gulf States.

Thanks to the efforts of historic preservation around the world, people are saving tangible links to their heritage for the future.  Love your natural sites and buildings, their your history.

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