Hill Forts of Rajasthan, India. (Photo: Courtesy of UNESCO/DRONAH)
While the Medici villas in Tuscany—also a new member of the club—will continue to draw hordes of tourists, no doubt there are other travelers who’ll welcome the challenge of visiting the off-the-beaten-track destinations singled out by UNESCO.
Each summer, UNESCO convenes to announce new picks for the World Heritage List, chosen for their cultural, historical, and environmental importance, from vast sand dunes and mountains towering 22,000 feet high to magnificent palaces. The Hill Forts of Rajasthan, India, over 1,000 years old, became one of 19 new inscriptions that bring the total to 981 sites in 160 countries (Fiji and Qatar debuted this year).
Check out this year’s new crop of wonders and see which ones speak to you.
Hill Forts of Rajasthan, India
These six forts are set among the rocky outcroppings of the Aravalli Mountains in India’s “land of kings” and remain a standing testament to the power that Rajput princes enjoyed from the 8th to 18th century. The defensive walls—up to 12 miles around and incorporating natural defenses such as hills, deserts, and rivers— protected the ornate palaces, temples, and other buildings within.
University of Coimbra–Alta and Sofia,
If you thought your professors were tough, consider that this university, founded in 1290, once had its own court of law and, naturally, its own prison for students and scholars (under the library). One of the oldest continuously operating universities in the world, the institution grew and evolved for more than 700 years within the old town. It now includes the 12th-century Cathedral of Santa Cruz, the Royal Palace of Alcáçova, and several 16th-century colleges.
Honghe Hani Rice Terraces,
For the past 1,300 years, the Hani people in southern Yunnan have used a sophisticated system of channels to funnel water from the top of the Ailao Mountains to the terraces below. These 41,000 acres of terraces also form a unique integrated farming system—using buffalo, cattle, ducks, fish, and eel to support the production of red rice, the staple crop. The Hani still live in thatched houses between the mountaintops and terraces, much like they have for a millennium, worshipping mountains, rivers, forests, fire, and other natural forces.
Red Bay Basque Whaling Station,
Beginning in 1550 and continuing for more than 50 years, 600 Basque mariners and 15 whaling ships from southern France and northern Spain would make a summer voyage to remote Red Bay, on the far-eastern shores of Newfoundland. Today, three whaling galleons, four smaller chalupas, and plenty of whale bones lie at the bottom of a watery archaeological site—and visitors can observe the rendering ovens, cooperages, and living quarters that make it one of the best-preserved examples of the European whaling tradition.
Namib Sand Sea,
Stretching 1,200 miles along the Atlantic and covering roughly 10 million acres of desert and buffer zone, the otherworldly Namib Sand Sea is the oldest desert in the world and is almost completely uninhabited by humans. Dense fog—which can envelop the coastal areas for half the year—is the primary source of water and, combined with the sandstorms, makes this one of the world’s top storm-watching destinations. The animals that manage to live here need to adapt to ever-changing microhabitats.
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Levuka Historical Port Town,
When American and European traders began building on Levuka’s coconut and mango tree–lined beachfront in the early 19th century, they were considerably outnumbered by the islanders. Rather than foist Western architecture on the landscape, they integrated local building styles into the stores, churches, schools, warehouses, and homes, giving a distinctive look to Fiji’s first colonial capital.
Medici Villas and Gardens,
During the Renaissance, any self-respecting Florentine family of means owned a vast farm outside the city gates. But when the powerful Medicis began building princely country estates, these wealthy patrons of the arts innovated a whole new approach to form and function—living in harmony with nature with an eye toward leisure and learning. These 12 villas and two pleasure gardens are exquisite examples of an architectural and landscape ideal that lives on today.
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto
de Altar Biosphere Reserve,
Desert bighorn sheep, black-tailed jackrabbits, Gila monsters, and the endangered Sonoran pronghorn all survive among the sand, cinders, and playas of this 1.75-million-acre reserve. The dramatic landscape includes 10 enormous, nearly perfectly circular craters, sand dunes that reach up to 650 feet, and granite massifs that rise 2,000 feet from the desert floor.
Poland and Ukraine
Poland and Ukraine came under the influence of rival Christian centers (Rome and Constantinople, respectively) more than a thousand years ago. But their shared traditions include tserkvas found in the Carpathian region: shingled wooden Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches built between the 16th and 19th centuries. They honor the holy trinity with buildings typically constructed in three parts, with wooden domes, cupolas, and bell towers.
Nowadays petrodollars fuel Qatar’s economy, but at one time pearls supported the realm. The fortified town of Al Zubarah—an abandoned pearl fishing and trading port that thrived on the Persian Gulf coast beginning in the mid 1700s—provides a glimpse into everyday Arab life before the discovery of oil and emergence of the modern Gulf States.
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