Looking at 2016’s new World Heritage Sites

UNESCO has decided what the new World Heritage Sites this year will be. It’s an interesting list – including one that I’m going to claim straight away!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


New World Heritage Sites 2016

As I make my way around the world, continuing to visit World Heritage Sites, hoping one day to see them all, my task gets a little harder each year.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meets once a year and at this event they add new places to the list. There’s no set number, but it tends to be about 20 new places each time.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

The committee met last week in Istanbul and added 21 new sites to the World Heritage List. It is quite an interesting collection of places.

Cultural Sites

  • Antigua Naval Dockyard and Related Archaeological Sites, (Antigua and Barbuda)
  • The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement (Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, India, Japan, Switzerland)
  • Stećci Medieval Tombstones Graveyards (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia)
  • Pampulha Modern Ensemble (Brazil)
  • Zuojiang Huashan Rock Art Cultural Landscape (China)
  • Archaeological Site of Philippi (Greece)
  • Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University) at Nalanda, Bihar, (India)
  • The Persian Qanat (Islamic Republic of Iran)
  • Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia (Federated State of Micronesia)
  • Antequera Dolmens Site ,(Spain)
  • Archaeological Site of Ani (Turkey)
  • Gorham’s Cave Complex (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

Natural Sites:

  • Mistaken Point (Canada)
  • Hubei Shennongjia (China)
  • Lut Desert (Islamic Republic of Iran)
  • Western Tien-Shan (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan)
  • Archipiélago de Revillagigedo (Mexico)
  • Sanganeb Marine National Park and Dungonab Bay – Mukkawar Island Marine National Park (Sudan)

Mixed, natural and cultural, sites:

  • Ennedi Massif: Natural and Cultural Landscape (Chad)
  • Khangchendzonga National Park (India)
  • The Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities (Iraq)

There were a couple of things that struck me right away. The first is that most of these sites are relatively unknown.

There aren’t really famous landmarks or popular international tourist spots on the list. The focus seems to be much more on places that have a genuine heritage value, rather than some kind of celebrity status.

This could be a conscious decision – or it could be a case that most of the famous sites are already on there.

Mediterranean Steps, Rock of Gibraltar

The second thing that struck me is that there are very few new sites from Europe and quite a lot from countries that are not well known for tourism.

Two countries got their very first World Heritage Site – Micronesia, and Antigua and Barbuda. There were also nods to countries that are rich in heritage but not often visited – Iraq, Iran, and Sudan.

This is significant because there’s been concern for quite a few years that developing countries are under-represented in the World Heritage List. When you look at the statistics, Europe and North America have 47% of the sites, while Africa has just 9%. There seems to be a strategy in place to change the disparity over time.

Now, there’s one new site on the list I want to talk about specifically. Partly because it’s pretty interesting and partly because I’m going to claim I’ve visited it… even if I’m not sure I really should.

The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier

The new site is called ‘The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier’ and it’s actually made up of 17 different places that span 7 countries and 3 continents. It’s always been possible to have a single World Heritage Site that includes more than one location, but this is a really extreme example!

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan

They’ve been grouped together because they are all good examples of works by the famous architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (better known as Le Corbusier). He was one of the pioneers in modern architecture and also had a big impact with urban planning more generally.

Le Corbusier was born in Switzerland but later became a French citizen. He was quite a man of the world, though.

One of his biggest professional accomplishments was designing the master plan for the city of Chandigarh in India. And he also designed the National Museum of Western Art in the Japanese capital, Tokyo.

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan

It’s this building which I’m going to use to claim that I have now visited this World Heritage Site. On a trip to Japan a few years ago I made the effort to go and see the museum building – mainly because I knew it would one day be considered for inclusion.

It was a grey day, which didn’t contrast very nicely with the concrete building, but I still took some photos and saved them for this moment.

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan

The museum building was finished in 1959 and was originally created to hold an art collection owned by an industrialist called Matsukata Kojiro. The collection was in France when the Japanese government asked for it to be returned.

France agreed on the condition that a French architect design the building. That’s how Le Corbusier got involved.

When it comes to visiting World Heritage Sites, often it’s easy to say that I have been to one. If it’s a temple or a castle, for instance, then it’s pretty obvious.

When it’s a large site like a national park, then I’m happy to say I’ve been there if I spend a decent amount of time getting a sense of the place. I obviously can’t go to every single bit of a huge national park.

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan

When it comes to sites that have multiple locations, I normally say that I have visited the site if I go to one of the locations. But in the past, most of these situations have been where the locations are all in the same (or neighbouring) countries and are all quite similar. This Le Corbusier one is a little different.

So, what I’ve decided to do is mark this off the list. But, at the same time, I’m going to be taking note of where some of the other buildings in this listing are, and visiting them when I get a chance.

If you’re curious, I’ve put together a map of the 17 locations.

Of course, there is lots more to Le Corbusier than I’ve mentioned here and that I really understand. His ideas on urban planning, for instance, are both genius and terrifying, it seems.

He saw the social problems with slums but had notions to replace them with monolithic high-rises that would have the unintended consequence of segregating society.

But these are discussions for another day. I like that the additions to the World Heritage List are sparking these kinds of thoughts, though. I’ve always felt like that’s what makes the sites so worth preserving.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

5 thoughts on “Looking at 2016’s new World Heritage Sites”

  1. Thanks for enlightening me on this Michael. Must admit, I’ve never heard of any of these.

    I was quite excited coming to Penang, a chance to live in a UNESCO heritage site is pretty cool.

    Favourite one I’ve visited by far is Cappadocia.

    • I’ve never been to Cappadocia, even though I’ve been to Turkey before. Everyone says it’s amazing – I would love to go sometime! And Penang is another one that is still on my list. They add so many each year… will I ever see them all???

  2. There is a little mistake in the location of “Cité Frugès”, probably because there are many villages called Pessac in France ! “Cité Frugès” is in the vicinity of Bordeaux, another Unesco site where I live 😉

    • Thank you for pointing that out – I’ve fixed it now. Interestingly, I used the GPS coordinates from UNESCO for my map so they’ve actually got it wrong on the official listing. I wonder if one of us should tell them? 🙂


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