On a previous list, we looked at ten places I thought should be UNESCO Sites. Since then, one of the places on the list was actually inscribed as a World Heritage Site last year. I am not normally one to brag, but I guess China can thank me for Xi’an. That was all me, you’re welcome guys. Anyways, UNESCO tries its best, but there are still a ton of amazing places that, for one reason or another, have not been considered or were flat out rejected. Let’s explore 10 more of these places.
10) Meteor Crater (Arizona, USA) [Natural Site]
Yes, yes, Arizona gets another nod, and if you haven’t figured it out already, I have a soft spot for this state.
Meteor Crater makes up for its bland name with a fantastic history. A giant space rock came crashing down on the Arizona desert approximately 50,000 years ago and left this hole measuring a kilometer in diameter. Since then, pretty much everyone left it alone. Okay, so the history isn’t very dynamic, but it’s short and sweet. While the moon might take issue with nominating a crater, the fact remains that such well preserved meteor craters are not exactly a dime a dozen, unlike the millions of churches which ARE UNESCO sites… just saying. Meteor Crater is an excellent example of how our earth naturally interacts with the cosmos.
9) Batu Caves (Gombak, Malaysia) [Mixed Site]
The Batu Caves often refers to both the 400 million year old cavern system and the Hindu shrines within. They are an excellent example of geological history and the formation of caves. They also have a ton of cool monkeys, rad statues, and an impressive forest growing inside the main chamber.
The department administering the caves however does not see it this way. They maintain that the Batu Caves do not fulfill any of the 10 criteria to be a World Heritage Site, so they have no plans to nominate it. Unfortunately, visiting the caves, it is easy to see why. Adjacent to the shrines is a very cheap set of lights and statues that have tried to capitalize on the sacred site for profit. It seems that at least this time, greed, and not UNESCO, is the main culprit here.
8) Taupo Lake (Taupo, New Zealand) [Mixed Site]
For being one of the most naturally rich countries in the world, New Zealand has only three UNESCO sites. I nominate Taupo Lake and its surroundings, not just for its natural history, but also its historical one.
Taupo is a geothermally active area in the smack center of the North Island. Today, thousands of steam vents and mud pools surround the area, but that is only a small fraction of what occurred here in 180CE.
The Hatepe Eruption poured out 120 cubic kilometers of lava, classifying it as a Level 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. The explosion was so massive, it was recorded in Chinese and Roman history, on the other side of the planet. This lake connects the histories of two of the most advanced civilizations at the time (much like the supernova pictograph of Chaco Canyon) and reshaped the entire ecosystem of northern New Zealand.
7) Huaca Pucllana (Lima, Peru) [Cultural Site]
To truly appreciate Peru, a little history lesson is in order (when isn’t it, I know). Rafael Larco is probably the most prominent collector you never heard of. Prior to his interest in his own nation’s history, the outside world’s knowledge of pre-columbian societies started and ended with the Empire of the Inca. That civilization came to promise in the 1400s, and given that the city of Caral-Supe might be from the 30th century BCE, there was a serious gap missing.
One culture that he studied were the Lima people, who called modern day Lima their home. I honestly thought it had a relation to the Spanish word ‘lima’ meaning ‘lime.’ Anyways, Huaca Pucllana is one of the largest discoveries of the Lima period (turn of the first millennium). More astonishingly however is a set of Wari era graves proving the Lima were likely conquered by the Wari, who predate both the Moche and the Quechua (Inka).
Why the hell am I telling you all this? Well, despite speaking Spanish and scouring the internet in both languages, I have had great difficulty finding confirmation for everything I have just told you, and thus the significance of this site. Many of us believe that travel is not important given how the internet has given us the ‘whole of human knowledge’ but that is simply not true. I learned all of this in Peru and it seems shocking to me that almost the entire history of the most advanced region of the Americas is simply not well documented. Huaca Pucllana needs recognition, as it is just the tip of the ice berg.
Note: To UNESCO’s credit, the ancient city of Caral-Supe is a World Heritage Site. There is no way I would have made the Caral reference if I hadn’t come across it on UNESCO’s website.
6) Geographic South Pole (Antarctica) [Mixed Site]
While allowing this as a UNESCO site opens up a can of worms with “the equator” and possibly even Greenwich wanting a piece of the pie, hear me out. The location of the true South Pole marks something that has unified humanity like very few places have.
The mere existence of Antarctica fascinated explorers from the onset as many tried to by the first to reach the last continent. As the first humans made landfall, a competition to see who could get to True South is a story we still hear about today. However, Scott vs Amundsen is not a tale of two explorers trying to be the first. Okay, maybe it is, but there’s more to it. It is a testament to Earth’s most intelligent animals pushing themselves to the limit for the sake of progress, and maybe bragging rights.
The Geographic South Pole, more than any other specific location, has captivated the hearts and minds of explorers in a way that was not surpassed until the space race. We sure as hell aren’t going to add the moon as a WORLD heritage site though, so let’s give this one up to our coldest continent.
5) Antelope Canyon (Arizona, USA) [Natural Site]
While the Grand Canyon gets millions of visitors every year, the best canyon in the state is actually a little further east in the small town of Page. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon which produces some of the most amazing lighting effects you will ever see. Photographers the world over make their way to capture some truly stunning pictures. It is a perfect example of what erosion by wind and water can produce. It is also really really pretty.
4) Cambodian Killing Fields
One of the very first UNESCO sites was the Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp, immortalizing one of humanity’s darkest moments. With the same light, it would be a step forward for the Cambodian Killing Fields to be up for consideration.
From 1975 – 1979, an equally atrocious event occurred in Cambodia, a nation now known for its overwhelmingly peaceful population and the ancient ruins of Angkor. An absolute lunatic known as Pol Pot took control of the tiny nation of 7 million, and systematically started a massacre of Nazi proportions.
People who were not ethnically Cambodians (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese) as well as Buddhists and Christians were targeted. Pol Pot wanted to convert Cambodia into an agrarian-only society and killed anyone who was educated or had any professional skills. Within four years, anywhere from 1.5 million (UN number) to 3.5 million (Cambodian figure) were executed, constituting 25%-50% of the current population. The capital of Phnom Penh went from a metropolis of 2 million, to a ghost town as his disdain of city life forced everyone to plantations in the countryside.
After WW2, it was said about the Jews, ‘never again.’ If history has taught us anything from as recent as the massacres of Rwanda and Sudan, it is that ‘never again’ is a nice catch phrase we say, but don’t always mean. By granting the Killing Fields of Cambodia UNESCO World Heritage status, the hundreds of mass graves found across the country can be acknowledged. At the very least, future generations will know that their ancestors did have remorse.
3) Aurora (Multiple Countries) [Natural Site]
I think it is safe to say that for any nature buff, seeing Aurora Borealis / Australis is really high on their bucket list. While it is definitely an unusual entry, I think it deserves recognition as a natural wonder like no other. The northern and southern lights are caused by charged particles as they interact with our upper atmosphere at the poles. But, who cares about all that, it just looks really bad ass! If this isn’t a Natural Wonder of the World, I really don’t know what is.
2) Translation Stones of Ancient Civilizations (United Kingdom and Myanmar) [Cultural Site]
Everyone who has ever tried to study a language has probably come across the computer learning program “Rosetta Stone.” The name comes from an actual stone found near the city of Rosetta, Egypt in 1798 by Napoleon himself. Well, not him personally, but you know what I mean. On the stone, is the writing of a decree by King Ptolemy V, which is translated into Ancient Greek, Demotic, and Ancient Egyptian. Until then, the first two languages were well understood, but the third had puzzled scholars for ages. The stone laid a base for the full translation of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. If you were ever taught to write your name in Ancient Egyptian like I was in grade school, you have this rock to thank.
Okay, so maybe you already knew of this stone. Chances are, however, that the Myazedi Inscription is completely new to you. Much like the Rosetta Stone, this slab of rock has the same script translated into different languages. In this case, the four languages are: Myanmar (aka Burmese), Mon, Pali, and Pyu. While I am sure the story of Prince Yazakumar is fascinating, the stone is important for its last language. Pyu was one of the first languages in the region, dating back more than 2,000 years. It also happened to be extinct, and hadn’t been used in over 7 centuries. This stone laid the foundation for its translation, thus breaking one of the biggest linguistic puzzles of the region. The Ancient Pyu Cities were actually given recognition last year as Myanmar’s first and only UNESCO site. The Myazedi Inscription, unfortunately, lies in a shabby and dark museum very few tourists even bother to visit in the center of Old Bagan. Speaking of which…
1) Bagan (Myanmar) [Cultural Site]
Bagan is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that should make a small tear roll down your cheek. The ancient capital of the Bagan Kingdom was at its zenith between the 11th and 13th centuries. It was then that they built one pagoda after another like there was no tomorrow, reaching a total of approximately 13,000. Today, around 3,000 remain, resulting in one of the most amazing landscapes you will ever see.
So, why the snub? It seems that UNESCO has chosen Bagan (of all places) to make an example. The restorations of the ancient city were deemed inauthentic. Furthermore, the recent expansion of some of the buildings with no regard to the original state really rubbed the committee the wrong way. One thing I personally noticed is how some of the pagodas were slapped with cement just to keep them from crumbling and to allow visitors to continue to climb on top of them (although rumor has it, climbing has been restricted as of late). I get UNESCO’s reasoning, but if they are going to lay down the hammer, it should be done across the board. Despite not being a World Heritage Site, Bagan is possibly, the most incredible place on earth.
Fun Fact: While Marco Polo is often noted for being one of the first westerners in China, he also took a side trip to Bagan.