When we say UNESCO Heritage Sites, the places that come to mind are the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Rome, Angkor Wat and others. There is a never ending list of UNESCO Heritage Sites that are popular and known to all. But UNESCO has a long list of sites, the majority of which you have never heard of. There are around 878 World Heritage Sites scattered across the world. Today, let us look at the less popular UNESCO sites.
Lesser Known UNESCO Heritage Sites
Borobudur Temple Compounds
Java houses the Borobudur Temple Compounds, a crucial Buddhist site and one of the UNESCO Heritage Sites that dates back to the 8-9th century. The temple stands in three tiers. The base is a pyramidal shape, then there is a trunk of a cone that has three circular platforms and then stands a magnificent monumental stupa. The structure of the temple is in accordance with the concept of the mighty Universe in Buddhist cosmology theory.
City of Bosra
The historic city of Bosra was the ancient capital of Arabia and was a major stopover on the caravan route to the holy site Mecca. It is a small town in Syria located around 30 miles from the Jordanian border. The town has traces of both Roman and early Christian architecture in Syria that is reflected in its culture. The Roman theatre of Bosra is the most massive and the best-preserved Roman theatre in the Middle East.
Located in the Sichuan Province of China, Mount Emei houses the first Buddhist temple in China. The mountain is one of the four primary sacred Buddhist Mountains in China and has a giant Buddha statue of Leshan towering tall at 232 feet. It is the tallest Buddha statue in the world.
Cocos Island National Park
The marine national park is home to diverse marine life like sharks, stingrays, and dolphins. Located off Costa Rica’s coast in the Pacific Ocean, Cocos Island is popular as one of the well-preserved tropical marine waters in the world. They are the only location that has a tropical rainforest in the eastern Pacific.
It is a beautiful island formed from volcanic eruptions that occurred between 1963- 1967. The island is situated 20 miles from the southern coast of Iceland. The island houses a diversity of plant species.
Chan Chan Archeological Zone
The Chan Chan Archeological Zone is a historical archeological site and was the former capital of the Chimu Kingdom of Peru. UNESCO states that the site states that the planning for building the Chan Chan city was the largest in pre-Colombian America.
Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve
It is a unique nature reserve in Madagascar with karstic landscapes and glittery limestone uplands that seem to emerge upwards from the earth. The site encompasses a huge canyon with the Manambolo River, rolling down hills, and towering peaks. Visitors can see rare lemurs and bird species in the forests and swamp ecosystems.
It is a national park in New Zealand with towering cliffs, beautiful lakes and waterfalls. It is a perfect tourist spot for nature and outdoor lovers. UNESCO states that more than half of the national park is swamped with southern beech and podocarps that date back to 800 years old. The park is also home to the kea, the single most alpine parrot existing in the world, and the takahe- a huge endangered flightless bird.
Lesser Known UNESCO Heritage Sites
It is the birthplace of Lord Buddha and one of the holiest places in the world. Lumbini, as a religious Buddhist pilgrimage site, houses the archeological remains that connect with the birth of Lord Buddha. Visitors can see excavated remains of ancient Buddhist monasteries dating back to the 3-5th century
Amphitheatre of El Jem
It is the ruins of the largest colosseum in North Africa and the most massive amphitheater in the world. The 3rd century relic lies in Tunisia and earned its UNSECO recognition in 1997. The amphitheater was built completely of stone blocks without any foundation and can house up to 35,000 spectators.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Kentucky houses the Mammoth Cave National Park, the single UNESCO World Heritage Site of North America. The national park has parts of the Mammoth Cave, which is the longest cave and natural underground passageway system in the world. The passageways act as home to several species of endangered flora and fauna.
Mountain Railways of India
Ever heard of trains running in the mountains? Well, India has that! The Mountain Railways India comprises three popular railways: The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and the Kalka Shimla Railway. These railway systems were built in 1800 and are in function even today!
The third largest city in Uzbekistan is a lesser known UNESCO site. It dates back to the 5th century BC and is amongst the oldest cities in the world. The city is popular because of its strategic location on the Silk Route and being one of the important routes of trade between China and the West. There are historical monuments and sites in Smarkand.
Sri Lanka has the UNESCO Heritage Sites of Polonnaruwa, a significant city built during the Polonnaruwa kingdom. It was a flourishing center of trade for the kingdom with traders and businessmen alike who used to visit to witness its glory and religious temples. The city has several ancient structures dating back to a long time.
The exquisite historical site has amazing fossils that highlight the evolution of species like whales, crocodiles, sea snakes, sea turtles and other specific animals. The site spreads across an extensive area with relics that show the origin of the sea-borne animals that once used to live on land before developing to be amphibians or marine. Wadi Al-Hitan is a paradise for archeologists.
It is an amazing urban center dating back to the Inca Empire. It is an assemblage of historic temples, homes, structures and plazas situated at a height of 7000 feet. The entire settlement structure was called the ‘Lost City’ before the area was rediscovered in 1911.
Ha Long Bay
The naturally beautiful UNESCO Heritage Sites are an assemblage of 2,000 or more islands/ islets scattered across the Gulf of Tonkin. The place is associated with legendary tales that state that a huge dragon created the islands. The dragon descended from the mountains and as it sped towards the coastal area its tail hammered the landmass and created exquisite valleys and crevices.
Lesser Known UNESCO Heritage Sites
Dazu Rock Carvings
An assemblage of stunning sculptures and carvings, the rock carvings are structures that portray several Chinese religious traditions dating back to the 9-13 century. The carvings have a distinctive aesthetic appeal and give an idea of religious heritage and events of a regular lifestyle in China. The complex has around 50,000 statues standing tall.
It is a complex waterway system spanning an area of 2.5 kilometer landscape and descending from a towering hill. The structure has a giant Hercules statue from which the water descends and falls into a system of exquisite fountains and waterfalls. The waterway system was originally crafted by Landgrave Carl of Hesse-Kassel in the year 1689.
Fortress of Soumenlinna
The majestic fort was built by Sweden during the late 18th century as a highlight of its regal military architecture. It was originally built by Sweden to protect Helsinki from any marine attack. In the present times, it stands as a towering historical icon for Sweden and a major tourist place. there is also a museum, Soumenlinna Museum, located nearby.
It is a unique natural phenomenon where the water from the rivers doesn’t empty out into the sea, but into an open land flooding the savannah. A distinctive characteristic of the area is that the regular flooding of the Okavango River in the region occurs during the dry season. The Okavango Delta stands as a living example of a harmonious balance between the hydrological process of nature and biological processes. The Delta houses a variety of rare animals and plants.
Hattusa is an ancient city built during the 2nd millennium B.C. The Hittites used to live here- an urban organization with fortified buildings and ornate structures like the Lion’s Gate and the majestic Royal Gate. The civilization of the Hittites is one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world.
Joggins Fossil Cliffs
The Joggins Fossil Cliffs have the most extensive records of primitive life that turned into fossils. Joggins was earlier a swampland filled with organic matter that was buried back into the earth and transformed into coal. The region has around 15 kilometers of coastal cliffs and attracts thousands of tourists each day.
Lesser Known UNESCO Heritage Sites
Heart of Neolithic Orkney
This Scotland UNESCO World Heritage site is a cluster of Neolithic monuments and houses the most thorough village of the Neolithic age. One will get to see a humongous chambered tomb with two ceremonial stone circles fused together with a settlement. The site dates back to around 5,000 years old and highlights traces of prehistoric life. There is also the Skara Brae, a well preserved prehistoric site with high stone walls and stone furnishings.
Bronze Age Burial Site of Sammallahdenmäki
It is an ancient burial site dating back to around 3,000 years ago and has 30 graphite cairns. The representations imprinted on the tomb highlight traces of sun worship tradition. One can also see peculiar multiple shaped structures, like oval and rectangular on the site.
Australian Convict Sites
In earlier colonial times, the country of Australia used to be a popular prison site for convicts of Great Britain. The notorious grounds still remain a testimony as a convict site. Around a million men, women as well as children were shipped to Australia, during 1787- 1868 and imprisoned there. The facility spans across eleven penal sites, starting from Fremantle to New South Wales.
Historic Mosque City of Bagherat
The Mosque city was built under the command of Turkish General Ulugh Khan during the mid-1400s. It has vast dwellings, tombs, towers, roads and around 360 mosques, all created from bricks, mortar and lime. The structures are architecturally well planned and stand testimony to glorious crafting.
Located in the Kalahari Desert, Tsodilo is a stunning and massive concentration of rock art. It is popular as the “Louvre of the Desert” and has 4,500+ paintings that highlight the daily account of human activities and evolutions over time. The site now stands as a revered place of worship by the local people.
Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site
This was once a prosperous agricultural settlement when, during the 7th century, the city was buried under 20 feet of volcanic ash from a massive eruption. Though the city was resettled again, another massive volcanic eruption deserted it. The city now remains as an archeological site with items like utensils, personal items, furniture and household items bearing testimony to life there.
L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
The archeological site is one of the earliest European settlements in North America. Before the Scandinavians shifted here, the place was home to the native population dating back to around 5,000 years. The historic site has many Viking artefacts like spin yarns, axes, remarkable pottery or the Viking Knarr Snorri replica. Visiting the site is like taking a walk back in time.
Chiribiquete National Park
The 17,000 square mile spanning national park is the massive and largest protected tropical rainforest park in the world. The national park houses several species of flora and fauna in the Colombian Amazon. One of the remarkable species found here is the Chiribiquete emerald hummingbird, amongst the colourful macaws, giant anteaters, low-lying tapirs and pumas. The structure of the national park has unique landforms like deep caves, confusing labyrinths, majestic arches and 13 kinds of tepuis ( the Native American word for tabletop rock formations).
It was the glorious summer residence of Russian royalty in Peterhof and became recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. The site is crafted into a stunning palace located on a hill with the stunning Grand Cascade- a fountain ensemble that cascades into three waterfalls and around 150 fountains erupting more than 2,000 streams of water.
Kinderdijk has an assemblage of 19 well-preserved historic windmills, built around 1740. The windmills were built to drain out excess water during devastating floods way back in time.
Uluru or Ayers rock is a 1,142-foot towering natural sandstone monolith in Australia. The cave walls have beautiful and colorful Aboriginal art that portrays kangaroos, frogs, massive turtles, and the various seasons. The Uluru monoliths are the major attractions of the UNESCO heritage site, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization regularly recognizes several heritage and significant places from across the world in a bid to preserve and protect these places and the regions surrounding them. Every year, many places are added to the list and the organization selects them based on specific criteria. Check out the above and the list of many other known and less popular UNESCO Heritage Sites from around the world.