Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, has just been designated as a World Heritage Site for its unique collection of Art Deco buildings, which UNESCO calls “an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20th century and its application in an African context”. (And for which the city is sometimes called “Africa’s Miami”.)
Asmara’s architecture is a legacy of Italian rule, which stretched from 1889 until the end of the Second World War. Italy’s determination to be a colonial power, like its stronger European rivals, drove it to pioneer new and radical styles far from the constraints of European sensibilities (indeed, many of these structures were heavily criticized at the time). It became known as a paradise for bold Italian architects, and by the 1930s the capital had the nickname of “Little Rome” because half of its residents were Italian.
Unfortunately, Eritrea’s government is among the most repressive and totalitarian in the world, and there is much concern about its capacity to preserve these structures, to say nothing of the treatment of its citizens.
Among the duties of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the cataloguing and preservation of World Heritage Sites — places both natural and human-made that are considered to be an outstanding part of humanity’s shared heritage.
The agency added twenty-four sites in 2015, bringing the total to 1,031 locations spanning 163 countries. These are the newest additions to the list until the World Heritage Committee meets again in Istanbul, Turkey this coming July.
The new sites, with hyperlinks to their official UNESCO profile and photo gallery, can be seen below. They include everything from 10,000 year old rock art, to unique Industrial Era complexes — a selection as varied as human ingenuity and ambitious.
I am eager to see what exciting new monuments, buildings, natural features, and other unique places will be added to the World Heritage List. There is no shortage of contenders in this big, beautiful world of ours.
Built 2,000 years ago and passed on from generation to generation, the Ifugao Rice Terraces are a marvel of engineering, built on steeper slopes and reaching a higher altitude than most other terraces. The terrace pond fields were created using stone or mud walls, and were carved carefully to follow the natural contours of the hills and mountains. They’re irrigated through an intricate system that harvests water from the forests of the mountain tops. The rice terraces are incorporated almost seamlessly into nature.The maintenance of these living rice terraces require a cooperative approach among the entire community. They rely on detailed knowledge of the rich diversity of biological resources existing in the Ifugao ecosystem, a finely tuned annual system respecting lunar cycles, meticulous zoning and planning, extensive soil conservation, and mastery of a complex pest control based on the careful processing of a variety of herbs, all accompanied by religious rituals.
Archaeological evidence reveals that these techniques have been used in the region virtually unchanged for 2,000 years. Because they illustrate the persistence of cultural traditions and remarkable continuity and endurance, they were included in a list reserved for sites of profound global importance to humanity — rightfully so, in my opinion.