Megalithic jar sites in Laos. Sacred mountains in the vast Spanish highlands. A 400-year-old horse-breeding institution in Czechia. These were some of the new locations added this year to the World Heritage List, which was just announced by the UNESCO committee in Baku, Azerbaijan, bringing the total number of sites on the list to 1,121.
Read on to see some of this year’s most spectacular entrants.
Migratory Bird Sanctuaries on the Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf, China
The mudflats of the Bohai Gulf look like they’re from another planet. Given the amount of unique and endangered species that they are home too, the comparison isn’t too far off: With over 280 species of fishes and over 500 different types of invertebrates, these expansive mudflats provide ample food for the millions of migratory birds that pass through each year.
The ancient city of Babylon was once the largest city in the world, and a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia some 4,000 years ago. Today, much of the ancient city can be found in present-day Iraq in the form of ruins, artefacts, and preserved structures.
Babylon is also associated with one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Hellenic creation was said to be a feat of engineering and artistry, replete with lush, tiered gardens and grand structures.
Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
Not only is the Vatnajökull National Park the largest park in Europe, it also covers 12 percent of Iceland’s surface. It also boasts a slew of other records, including being the home of Iceland’s highest mountain, largest glacier, as well as Europe’s most powerful waterfall.
Braving the icy winter to visit Vatnajökull National Park is well worth it, because that’s when the glaciers change completely from white to blue, creating an almost ethereal effect.
Jodrell Bank Observatory, Great Britain & Northern Ireland
In our modern, interconnected society, can a place free from radio interference truly exist? It does, and it’s located in a rural, verdant pocket in the northwest of England. Since its inception in 1945, Jodrell Bank has played a leading role in scientific and astronomical research over the years.
The observatory is still in use today, as is the awe-inspiring Lovell Telescope, named after Bernard Lovell, who established the Observatory.
Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, Mexico
In addition to the 29 new heritage sites, one location was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Over 244 islands and coastal areas located in the Gulf of California—collectively known as ’Islands and Protected Areas’—were marked for conservation.
Dubbed a ’natural laboratory’, the area is home to almost 700 plant species (more than any other location on the World Heritage List), as well as 891 different fish species, many of them endemic.
Overall, the area is said to contain roughly 39% of the world’s total number of marine mammal species. But the site faces the looming threat of large-scale tourism development, making it vital to put conservation efforts in place before the megahotels set up shop.
View the list of new UNESCO World Heritage Sites here.