Menu Close

World Heritage sites

Gary Arndt travels the world. I never got into any details of how that came around, but he apparently made a lifestyle change about six years ago and since then had become a sort of celebrity in the travel photography field. I actually do not find either his prose on his blog or the photos that are posted there too exceptional – the photos are all nice in the “I-manage-to-get-these-kinds-of-shots-myself” sense and I am not a travelling photographer – but I certainly envy the guy (never mind that the key difference between him and me is that I have a family to support).

He has visited over 250 UNESCO World Heritage sites on his journeys. Which prompted me to count how many I have been to.

Now, it should be noted that World Heritage sites are far from ideal a gauge for the breadth of anyone’s travels. First, there is a matter of how the sites are determined, which is driven mostly by self-nomination. Unless a municipality, or any type of government, or a local preservation society, or some other organization nominates a locale as a potential World Heritage site, it will never get on the list, which explains how quite a few of my favorite European towns are not to be found on it. Conversely – and Gary provides examples in his blog – there are some sites that are far from impressive even if listed.

Then, there is the fact that sites get de-listed for violating official conservation guidelines or whatever, which means that although I’ve been to Dresden while it was on the list, I am stretching my count by including it today.

Finally, there is a completely incomprehensible absence of rhyme or reason as to what actually constitutes a site – it could be a singular landmark (Cologne Cathedral), or a few selected sights within a city (Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret’s Church – combined into one “site”), or a specific area of a city (Seventeenth-century canal ring area of Amsterdam inside the Singelgracht), or an entire city (City of Bath), or an entire region (Costiera Amalfitana), or a collection of related landmarks across a region (Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany), or sometimes across countries (Belfries of Belgium and France), etc.

Nonetheless, keeping an eye on which World Heritage sites I’ve been to and which I can expect to visit on my future trips certainly adds another dimension to my overall appreciation of the pursuit of travel.

Not that my statistics is all that great. Of the currently listed 981 sites, I can lay claim to having been to only 58 (a shade below 6%, for those mathematically-inclined). For multi-location properties, setting foot at one of the locations counts as having visited the site. Stretching the definition of “been to”, I recognize 7 other sites that I either have seen up close from the outside without stepping into (for buildings) or physically passed through without stopping or exploring (for regions) – I decided not to include them into the count. Furthermore, there are 4 sites that featured on my past travel plans but were eventually dropped from itineraries for one reason or another – I probably would have made a point to go see them if I had been aware then that they were official World Heritage sites.

Despite my frequent claim that I traveled all over Western Europe in our years of living in England, I find a lot of places that I have never visited that probably warrant a trip. Northern Italy, for instance, has about a dozen World Heritage sites and I’ve only been to one. Certainly, something that I have to rectify.