A new batch of World Heritage Sites announced in summer 2019 by UNESCO prompts the question, “Why did it take them so long?” Among those wonders finally achieving recognition are eight landmark buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, a set of rock formations on the Canadian border that conceal carvings and paintings made by native Americans thousands of years ago, and modern man-made marvels such as Jodrell Bank Observatory in the United Kingdom.
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The following have now been inscribed for posterity—some for their outstanding natural beauty, some because they bear testimony to a significant cultural tradition, and others because they are considered masterpieces of human creative genius. With the exception of one new listing in the Canary Islands, none are within the “big five” nations that dominate the UNESCO list—China and Italy (55 sites each), Spain (48), Germany (46), and France (45).
Eight of the most important 20th-century buildings by architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright have been inscribed—a long-overdue recognition. They include Fallingwater in Pennsylvania—considered his ultimate achievement—the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Wright’s original Taliesin, his estate in Wisconsin. They are among only a handful of structures in the United States recognized by UNESCO, joining the Statue of Liberty, Monticello and the University of Virginia, Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, the San Antonio Mission National Historical Park, and Castillo San Cristóbal, a colonial military complex in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Two-thirds of the 24 World Heritage Sites in the U.S. are National Parks or natural sites of significance.
Wildlife rarely coexists in abundance with an urban population, but Paraty, at the end of the gold route from where precious metals were shipped to Europe in the 17th century, is a notable exception. This colorful, meticulously preserved coastal town is home to woolly spider monkeys, jaguars, and other threatened species. Along with Ilha Grande it has been inscribed a protected part of the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest; a site of importance for its biodiversity as well as culture.
Jodrell Bank Observatory in the English county of Cheshire is more than just a collection of telescopes. The entire building, where important research on cosmic rays was undertaken at the start of its life in the 1940s, has been inscribed, including the engineering sheds and a control building. Further research into meteors and the Moon, not mention the discovery of quasars and spacecraft tracking capabilities, have led, says UNESCO, to Jodrell Bank being credited with “radical changes in the understanding of the universe.”
Stargazing without telescopes was an obsession for centuries in the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria, whose fantastical formations were home to two temples associated with planetary cults. The cultural implications of this landscape won UNESCO over, as the many troglodyte settlements—evidenced by structures from granaries to cisterns—prove there was life on this island associated with early Berber tribes long before the Spanish arrived. Ceremonies thought to be linked to the stars and earth were held at Risco Caido, a temple that has also been named in the citation.
Two very different sites have been inscribed this year, bringing the country’s total to 17. The 18th-century palace complex at Mafra, northwest of Lisbon, includes a basilica, convent, library, garden, and hunting park as well as a royal residence, and is considered one of the world’s most important expressions of Baroque architecture. There is also an element of Baroque in the elaborate climbing chapels that comprise the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, where construction started in the 16th century; it’s cited for a mix of architectural styles that also includes Rococo and Neoclassical.
Kladruby nad Labem on the Elbe plain has been awarded for a ranch and surrounding landscape where ceremonial carriage horses have been bred and trained since the 16th century. Originally raised for the Habsburgs and their legendary equine spectacles, horses are still conceived and nurtured on the 1579 Imperial Stud Farm that has outlived the royal dynasty and its empire by more than 100 years.
Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi is an area of rock formations in the Milk River Valley close to the border between the United States and Canada. Here, where the rocks themselves have been sculpted into spectacular columns by erosion, native Americans of the Blackfoot Confederacy created engravings and wall paintings that endure after thousands of years. The Blackfoot consider this land sacred and preserve their traditions through ceremonies honoring their significant places.
Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group, aka Mounded Tombs of Ancient Japan, are 49 ancient burial sites in Osaka prefecture built between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD. They have been selected as the best examples of 160,000 such Kofun tombs, distinguished by a distinct keyhole shape, and include grave goods such as weapons, armor, and ornamental objects, and clay figures of people, animals, and houses that were used to decorate the mounds.