I like to keep an eye on the new sites that UNESCO designates as World Heritage. My bucket list is so long a few more entries can’t harm it. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites combine my passions of travel and history so when there’s a new one named, I’m straight into the books to find out why and its significance. Here are some of the new ones for 2015 to learn about:
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1 Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore
Among the new UNESCO sites for 2015, Singapore enters the World Heritage list for a first time with the inclusion of the country's 183-acre botanic garden in Singapore City center. Founded by the British in 1859, who wanted to conduct trials on a variety of crops, the gardens today boasts trees the English tested nearly 150 years ago for their timber quality. The garden still serves as a research and scientific facility to this day. In addition, the site houses the National Orchid Garden, which boasts 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids. Both gardens are popular meeting places, staying open from 5.00 am to midnight 365 days of the year. Only the National Orchid Garden charges admission, the Botanic Garden is free to visitors.
2 Al Maghtas, Jordan
According to biblical descriptions, and potentially backed up by archaeological evidence, the east bank of the Jordan River may have been the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The Jordan River site has only been accessible to visitors and archaeologists for 21 years, after Jordan signed a peace accord with Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Since then, this latest UNESCO site has yielded amazing finds, such as a 3rd-century church where pilgrims were presumably baptized and a cave, where John the Baptist reputedly lived. Also many ancient Roman and Byzantine remains have been found.
3 Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque, Mexico
Constructed between 1553 and 1570, the canal system erected on the Central Mexican Plateau represents the intertwining of two different cultural influences, according to UNESCO, namely the European method of using Roman hydraulics and the traditional indigenous building techniques harking back to Aztec ingenuity. The aqueduct was the brain child of Franciscan friar Francisco de Templeque, who was looking for a way to create a dependable source of drinking water. Built by natives, the aqueduct towers over the farmlands, towns and ravines it passes for 28 miles, all the way from the Tecajete hillside to the town of Otumba.
4 Champagne and Burgundy Regions, France
The celebrated wine- and champagne producing regions of Champagne and Burgundy both became designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites this year, because they demonstrate nicely France's centuries-old heritage of grape and vine cultivation, production and distribution of an artisanal product. It's not just the vineyards that were included, but also the production sites and cellars, the Champagne Houses for brands such as Tattinger, Veuve Clicquot and Mumm in the bubbly-making region and the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits in the Burgundy region. The whole town of Beaune and the historic wine-producing center of Dijon were also included.
5 Hail Region Rock Art, Saudi Arabia
As recently as 6,000 years ago, Saudi Arabia was not a desert but a verdant grassland savannah where cattle grazed and humans lived quite happily, if rock carvings found in the Hail Region are anything to go by. This new UNESCO site comprises of two areas: one dates back to the Neolithic and contains the sandstone petro glyphs near Jubbah. The other is located near the village of Shuwaymis and was known to the Bedouins for many centuries, before being "discovered" by everybody else in 2001. Thrilling hunting scenes were carved into black volcanic rock, but the loveliest etchings depict Arabian horses, camels and cheetahs, ibex and dogs, Oryx and human figures living peacefully side by side.
6 Ephesus, Turkey
Ephesus dominated the Mediterranean region for many centuries as one of its most important cities. From its busy seaport merchant ships sailed for Greece, Italy and further afield. Historic figures like Alexander the Great, Antony and Cleopatra and apostles Paul and John stayed in Ephesus at one time or another. It was home to at least 300,000 people in the 2nd century A.D., possibly more, since only 20% of this ancient city has so far been excavated. Ephesus has one of the largest collections of Roman ruins in Turkey. Sadly, only small remnants remain of the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, the elegant Library of Celsus and Great Theater are well preserved and have become two of the most visited tourist attractions in the country.
7 Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain, Mongolia
Genghis Khan may have asked his followers to bury him in an unmarked grave, but legends are far harder to snuff out than those who belonged to his funeral party's procession - it seems they were killed by the Khan's most trusted funeral attendants, so the secret of his burial ground could be kept for eternity. According to legend, and archaeological finds, the Mongol ruler was probably buried where he was born, on the most sacred mountain in Mongolia, which is why Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain is one of the new UNESCO sites in 2015.
Which are going on your bucket list?
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