Amazing Places

Meet 2018's New UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Since 1976, UNESCO World Heritage sites have been recognized as places of unmatched splendor, of incredible human triumph, and of rich cultural value. They aren't just pretty to look at; they are geographical treasures beyond compare. To be named a UNESCO World Heritage site, a place must achieve two things: It's got to meet at least one of these ten criteria, and it's got to be of "outstanding universal value." That value might be cultural or it might be natural, but it's got to be jaw-dropping. These are the 20 new UNESCO sites adopted in 2018.

2018 UNESCO Cultural Sites

Aasivissuit (Denmark)

This vast hunting ground located inside the Arctic Circle in West Greenland has been a seasonal home of Inuit and paleo-Inuit people going back at least 4,200 years.

Al-Ahsa Oasis (Saudi Arabia)

In the eastern Arabian peninsula, the largest oasis in the world has been a major center since the Neolithic era and remains so today with lush gardens, artificial canals, and historic ruins.

Göbekli tepe ruins near the city of Sanliurfa in the southeast region of Anatolia, Turkey.

Göbekli Tepe (Turkey)

This incredibly ancient stone temple dates back to about 11,500 years ago — older than metal tools, or even pottery. So how did they carve such intricate animals into the pillars?

Hara Castle Ruins

Hara Castle and Hidden Christian Villages (Japan)

Located in the Nagasaki Region on Kyushu, these sites reflect a period of bloody oppression by the shogunate. Hara Castle was a key stronghold held by insurgent Catholic peasants in 1637 — in 1638, the rebellion was quashed.

Hedeby and the Danevirke (Germany)

The Danevirke is a massive earthwork wall built over a millennium ago to cut off the Danish peninsula from the rest of Europe, and Hedeby represents an ancient major metropolis, built into the fortifications.

Ivrea (Italy)

Unlike many of the other sites on the list, Ivrea doesn't date back especially far. This industrial center is touted as an early 20th-century exemplar of integrating architectural form with manufacturing function.

Medina Azahara (Spain)

The seat of the Umayyad Caliphate in Cordoba for many centuries, this massive ruined castle was lost for nearly 1,000 years before being rediscovered in the early 20th century. The Western Islamic society of Al-Andalus ruled here for about 700 years before being overthrown.

Mumbai Victorian-Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles (India)

In the 19th and 20th centuries, a massive urban development project in Mumbai resulted in these clusters of buildings with a unique architectural style. The earlier buildings incorporate Victorian-Gothic styles with traditional Indian architecture, and later buildings have elaborate art deco designs.

Naumburg Cathedral (Germany)

The foundations of Naumburg Cathedral were laid in 1028, but as the centuries passed, construction of later sections began to reflect a growing appreciation of science and nature as reflected in art objects. The cathedral is also home to some incredible statuary.

Palsangjeon (Hall of Eight Pictures) is located at Beopjusa (Buddhist temple) originally built in 553.

Sansa Mountain Monasteries (South Korea)

These uniquely Korean Buddhist monasteries can be found on mountaintops across the southern end of the Korean Peninsula. Built between the 7th and 9th centuries, they all follow a similar format, but each contains individually notable buildings and architectural elements.

Sassanid Ruins of Fars (Iran)

The Sassanian Empire once stretched across Iran's Fars Province, and the ruins of fortresses, palaces, and cities still bear testament to their 434-year rule. What remains of the empire is a prime example of aesthetic styles combining Achaemenid and Parthian cultural traditions and Roman art.

Thimlich Ohinga (Kenya)

"Ohinga" translates as "fortress" or "settlement," and Thimlich Ohinga in the Lake Victoria region is one of the best, oldest, and largest examples of the architectural style. The large, stone walls encircle what would have been a large pastoral community.

Qalhat (Oman)

From the 11th to the 15th centuries, Qalhat was a major trading city on a port on the coast of Arabia. Archaeologists in the area have been able to tie the city to trade routes to East Africa, India, China, and Southeast Asia.

2018 UNESCO Natural and Mixed Sites

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (South Africa)

In northeast South Africa, the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains provide a record of an astonishingly long time ago — these rocks date back 3.6 billion years when the continents were still forming. Scientists have also spotted evidence of a period of time when the Earth was under constant bombardment from meteorites.

Central Sikhote-Alin (Russia)

This richly forested area in eastern Russia has actually been in the World Heritage database for a while, but this year its borders are being expanded substantially. What makes this place so special? It's one of the only biomes where you can find northern animals like brown bears and lynx mingling with southern animals like Himalayan bears and tigers.

Chaîne des Puys (France)

This lush mountain valley was carved into the Earth some 35 million years ago, around the same time that the Alps were created. It's also the site of a massive crack in the continental crust, where the continents are drifting apart as we speak.

Chiribiquete National Park (Colombia)

From a distance, this national park distinguishes itself with its networks of flat-topped mountains known as tepuis. But up close, it becomes even more special: Hidden in rocky shelters throughout the park, you can find wall paintings dating back all the way to 20,000 B.C.E.

Fanjingshan (China)

The twisting, otherworldly mountains of Fanjingshan are the result of a large deposit of metamorphic rock in a landscape made up mostly of karst. The result? These towering peaks are also home to a number of unique species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Pigeon River

Pimachiowin Aki (Canada)

The ancestral home of the Anishinaabeg for roughly 7,000 years, Pimachiowin Aki embodies the culture's philosophy of living in harmony with nature. Even today, the habitation sites and travel routes that crisscross this river-streaked forest landscape do so with respect for the natural world.

Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley (Mexico)

A desert valley situated in central Mexico, Tehuacán-Cuicatlán is notable as the most biodiverse arid or semi-arid landscape in North America. Cacti are plentiful here, and the biosphere also features yucca, agave, and oak trees.

For the most complete physical list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, you'll have to put in a pre-order for the new official publication, "World Heritage Sites: A Complete Guide to 1,073 UNESCO World Heritage Sites" (due for release on September 1). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

What Else Is Worth World Heritage Status? Pizza, Obvi.

Written by Reuben Westmaas August 1, 2018

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