Carved out by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon (nearly 1,500 m deep) is the most spectacular gorge in the world. Located in the state of Arizona, it cuts across the Grand Canyon National Park. Its horizontal strata retrace the geological history of the past 2 billion years. There are also prehistoric traces of human adaptation to a particularly harsh environment.
The Great Barrier Reef is a site of remarkable variety and beauty on the north-east coast of Australia. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. It also holds great scientific interest as the habitat of species such as the dugong (‘sea cow’) and the large green turtle, which are threatened with extinction.
The Great Living Chola Temples were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of south India and the neighbouring islands. The site includes three great 11th- and 12th-century Temples: the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. The Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-m vimana (sanctum tower) has recessed corners and a graceful upward curving movement, contrasting with the straight and severe tower at Thanjavur. The Airavatesvara temple complex, built by Rajaraja II, at Darasuram features a 24-m vimana and a stone image of Shiva. The temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting.
This region of Anatolia was conquered by the Turks at the beginning of the 11th century. In 1228–29 Emir Ahmet Shah founded a mosque, with its adjoining hospital, at Divrigi. The mosque has a single prayer room and is crowned by two cupolas. The highly sophisticated technique of vault construction, and a creative, exuberant type of decorative sculpture – particularly on the three doorways, in contrast to the unadorned walls of the interior – are the unique features of this masterpiece of Islamic architecture.
Stretching over more than 200,000 ha, this exceptionally beautiful park is home to more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe. Many endangered animal species are also found there, including what is probably the greatest variety of salamanders in the world. Since the park is relatively untouched, it gives an idea of temperate flora before the influence of humankind.
The ruins of Great Zimbabwe – the capital of the Queen of Sheba, according to an age-old legend – are a unique testimony to the Bantu civilization of the Shona between the 11th and 15th centuries. The city, which covers an area of nearly 80 ha, was an important trading centre and was renowned from the Middle Ages onwards.
The Greater Blue Mountains Area consists of 1.03 million ha of sandstone plateaux, escarpments and gorges dominated by temperate eucalypt forest. The site, comprised of eight protected areas, is noted for its representation of the evolutionary adaptation and diversification of the eucalypts in post-Gondwana isolation on the Australian continent. Ninety-one eucalypt taxa occur within the Greater Blue Mountains Area which is also outstanding for its exceptional expression of the structural and ecological diversity of the eucalypts associated with its wide range of habitats. The site provides significant representation of Australia's biodiversity with ten percent of the vascular flora as well as significant numbers of rare or threatened species, including endemic and evolutionary relict species, such as the Wollemi pine, which have persisted in highly-restricted microsites.
Situated on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland, the park provides a rare example of the process of continental drift, where deep ocean crust and the rocks of the earth's mantle lie exposed. More recent glacial action has resulted in some spectacular scenery, with coastal lowland, alpine plateau, fjords, glacial valleys, sheer cliffs, waterfalls and many pristine lakes.
The austere, grandiose site of Hampi was the last capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar. Its fabulously rich princes built Dravidian temples and palaces which won the admiration of travellers between the 14th and 16th centuries. Conquered by the Deccan Muslim confederacy in 1565, the city was pillaged over a period of six months before being abandoned.
This group of sanctuaries, founded by the Pallava kings, was carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries. It is known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges', and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.
Pattadakal, in Karnataka, represents the high point of an eclectic art which, in the 7th and 8th centuries under the Chalukya dynasty, achieved a harmonious blend of architectural forms from northern and southern India. An impressive series of nine Hindu temples, as well as a Jain sanctuary, can be seen there. One masterpiece from the group stands out – the Temple of Virupaksha, built c. 740 by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband's victory over the kings from the South.
The nature reserve, which is part of the Regional Natural Park of Corsica, occupies the Scandola peninsula, an impressive, porphyritic rock mass. The vegetation is an outstanding example of scrubland. Seagulls, cormorants and sea eagles can be found there. The clear waters, with their islets and inaccessible caves, host a rich marine life.
Important both for its high biodiversity and for its karst features, Gunung Mulu National Park, on the island of Borneo in the State of Sarawak, is the most studied tropical karst area in the world. The 52,864-ha park contains seventeen vegetation zones, exhibiting some 3,500 species of vascular plants. Its palm species are exceptionally rich, with 109 species in twenty genera noted. The park is dominated by Gunung Mulu, a 2,377 m-high sandstone pinnacle. At least 295 km of explored caves provide a spectacular sight and are home to millions of cave swiftlets and bats. The Sarawak Chamber, 600 m by 415 m and 80 m high, is the largest known cave chamber in the world.
Five hundred years of Ryukyuan history (12th-17th century) are represented by this group of sites and monuments. The ruins of the castles, on imposing elevated sites, are evidence for the social structure over much of that period, while the sacred sites provide mute testimony to the rare survival of an ancient form of religion into the modern age. The wide- ranging economic and cultural contacts of the Ryukyu Islands over that period gave rise to a unique culture.
The Gyeongju Historic Areas contain a remarkable concentration of outstanding examples of Korean Buddhist art, in the form of sculptures, reliefs, pagodas, and the remains of temples and palaces from the flowering, in particular between the 7th and 10th centuries, of this form of unique artistic expression.
Ha Long Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin, includes some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and unaffected by a human presence. The site's outstanding scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest.
The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Gaya, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana , the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The buildings of Janggyeong Panjeon, which date from the 15th century, were constructed to house the woodblocks, which are also revered as exceptional works of art. As the oldest depository of the Tripitaka , they reveal an astonishing mastery of the invention and implementation of the conservation techniques used to preserve these woodblocks.
The Hypogeum is an enormous subterranean structure excavated c. 2500 B.C., using cyclopean rigging to lift huge blocks of coralline limestone. Perhaps originally a sanctuary, it became a necropolis in prehistoric times.
Human activity in the magnificent natural landscape of the Salzkammergut began in prehistoric times, with the salt deposits being exploited as early as the 2nd millennium BC. This resource formed the basis of the area’s prosperity up to the middle of the 20th century, a prosperity that is reflected in the fine architecture of the town of Hallstatt.
Lübeck – the former capital and Queen City of the Hanseatic League – was founded in the 12th century and prospered until the 16th century as the major trading centre for northern Europe. It has remained a centre for maritime commerce to this day, particularly with the Nordic countries. Despite the damage it suffered during the Second World War, the basic structure of the old city, consisting mainly of 15th- and 16th-century patrician residences, public monuments (the famous Holstentor brick gate), churches and salt storehouses, remains unaltered.