UNESCO Monday #17: The Forgotten Kingdom of Ryukyu

Shuri Ryukyu


This is the Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan. The original was destroyed during World War II and this one is only about two decades old. What makes it a marvelous World Heritage Site is its significance as it is the home of the ancient Okinawan Ryukyu Federation. While we tend to think of Japan as always being homogenous, this island was not only once independent, but a key naval power that spread across the seas in eastern Asia during the 15th-19th centuries.

During the early part of the 1400s, what is now Korea, Japan, and China actually consisted of 2 more powers: Ryukyu and the Manchu (present day Manchuria, China). Ryukyu was independent for a while and traded with its four neighbors. It was later secretly annexed by Japan and used as a pawn to facilitate trade with China. Much like Hawaii in the United States, Okinawa has its own culture and language (1 million speakers) which is completely independent of Japan.



UNESCO Monday #16: Tiles of Changdeok Palace

Changdeok Blue Tiles

Which one of these buildings doesn’t seem to fit? While everyone was in the meeting where they agreed to paint their roofs black, this guy decided to be the rebel of the group and go blue anyways.

I kid of course, but the history is actually quite interesting. This building, located in Changdeok Palace has the distinction of being the only one with different colored roof tiles. It used to be the king’s study where he read scrolls, passed laws, and did all of those great king things. To distinguish it from all the other ones in the royal court, it was painted blue. Having been to Changdeok Palace many times, I was surprised how I didn’t even notice this until now.

The house of the president of Korea in modern times, is known as the “Blue House” and has its roof similarly painting to commemorate Korea’s rich history.

[Want to participate and be featured on this blog? Have you visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Find out how to submit your pictures here.]

UNESCO Monday #15: Four Heavenly Kings at Bulguksa

Four heavenly kings Bulguksa

The Four Heavenly Kings are these depictions of gods that often stand at the entrances of Buddhist temples. While I didn’t notice them at first, now that I know what I am looking for, I often find them while exploring these temples. They are human like statues made of wood, with faces that look like beasts, and often towering 3-4 meters tall. To an outsider like me, it feels like it doesn’t fit, but I suppose it makes sense to a devout Buddhist.

These two, and the two directly behind me, are found in Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju, South Korea. They are some of the most elaborate ones I’ve seen as most have had their color fade away over the years. The fence at the bottom is about 5 feet tall, so the statues are about 12 feet tall (but be warned, I am terrible at estimating heights).

[Want to participate and be featured on this blog? Have you visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Find out how to submit your pictures here.]

UNESCO Monday #14: Elephanta Caves and Shiva’s Legacy

Elephanta Caves in India

This week’s edition of ‘UNESCO Monday’ is a guest post from Brad Nguyen, a long time friend of mine, fellow UNESCO World Heritage enthusiast, and excellent photographer.

The Elephanta Caves are located on Elephanta Island, locally known as Ghapuri. The Portuguese named the site Elephanta after a large statue of an elephant found at the entrance of the island. The caves were carved by Hindus between the 5th and 8th centuries. In order to reach the island, one must take a ferry from Mumbai. The ferry entrance is located beside the Gateway of India, where British colonists left India after independence, and the Taj Mahal Palace, a site of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

[Want to participate and be featured on this blog? Have you visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Find out how to submit your pictures here.]

Brad Nguyen is a photographer, writer, and educator based out of India. You can find examples of his excellent photography work here.


UNESCO Monday #13: My ‘Point of View’ on Hospicio Cabañas

Hospicio Cabañas Horse

Is this a masterpiece?

What is your favorite painting? If you are a very artsy person, that might be kind of difficult to answer. For the average Joe like me though, we come up with a list of well known paintings by well known ‘masters’ of the European Renaissance Era or some guy named Van Gogh. Paintings like the ‘Starry Night,’ ‘The Last Supper,’ and the ‘Birth of Venus’ are definitely worthy of attention, no one is disputing that, but what makes them ‘masterpieces?’ Is it that they are really that good, or do we feel that way because everyone else has told us that they are? Read more