UNESCO adds medieval sites to World Heritage List

Medieval sites in Sicily, Korea and Turkey were among those selected to be added to UNESCO World Heritage list this week. During meetings held at Bonn, Germany, over 20 sites from around the world were added to the list, which now stands at over 1,000 landmarks and areas.

Palatine Chapel Palermo - photo by Fintan Corrigan of

The most prominent medieval site added this year is Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale on the island of Sicily. The entry was made up of nine buildings, including churches and palaces, which were built during the 12th century when the island kingdom was ruled by the Normans.

Italy’s Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, commented that “the entry of Arab-Norman Palermo and the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalu in the World Heritage List brings to 51 UNESCO sites in Italy. An international record of which we should be proud and of which we are even more excited for the recognition of one of the best examples of historical integration and coexistence between the different cultures of the Mediterranean.”

The Baekje Historic Areas in South Korea were also added to the list, making it the twelfth place in that country to be named a World Heritage Site. This area includes eight archaeological sites from the early medieval period in Korea, such as Gongsanseong Fortress. The South Korean delegate to the meeting commented that this addition “will mark a valuable chance to promote the history and culture of our ancient kingdom, Baekje. It is also expected to help develop the country’s tourism industry while also helping globalize our cultural assets and improve our country’s national image.”

Two sites from Turkey were also added to the list – Diyarbakır Fortress, which has almost six kilometres of walls that were built in the fourth century, and the city of Ephesus. Both sites have histories dating back to ancient times, but were also prominent during the Middle Ages. Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Minister, Omer Celik, commented on Twitter, “We have just received the second good news from Germany. Ephesus is now officially a world heritage.”

Diyarbakir walls

One of the proposals that failed to gain World Heritage status was the Viking Age Sites in Northern Europe, which was made up of archaeological sites located in the five countries: Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Latvia and Norway.

The UNESCO meeting in Bonn also addressed the dangers to other World Heritage Sites in places such as Iraq and Syria. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, said that “heritage is under attack today. In Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, we see the brutal and deliberate destruction of heritage on an unprecedented scale. This is a call for action.”

Here are the medieval sites added to the World Heritage list:

Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale (Italy)

Located on the northern coast of Sicily, Arab-Norman Palermo includes a series of nine civil and religious structures dating from the era of the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194): two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, a bridge, as well as the cathedrals of Cefalú and Monreale. Collectively, they are an example of a social-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures on the island which gave rise to new concepts of space, structure and decoration. They also bear testimony to the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins and religions (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and French).

Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) (Jordan)

Situated on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, nine kilometres north of the Dead Sea, the archaeological site consists of two distinct areas: Tell Al-Kharrar, also known as Jabal Mar-Elias (Elijah’s Hill) and the area of the churches of Saint John the Baptist near the river. Situated in a pristine natural environment the site is believed to be the location where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. It features Roman and Byzantine remains including churches and chapels, a monastery, caves that have been used by hermits and pools in which baptisms were celebrated, testifying to the religious character of the place. The site is a Christian place of pilgrimage.

Baekje Historic Areas (Republic of Korea)

Located in the mountainous mid-western region of the Republic of Korea, this property comprises eight archaeological sites dating from 475 to 660 CE, including the Gongsanseong fortress and royal tombs at Songsan-ri related to the capital, Ungjin (present day Gongju), the Busosanseong Fortress and Gwanbuk-ri administrative buildings, and the Naseong city wall related to the capital, Sabi (now Buyeo), the royal palace at Wanggung-ri and the Mireuksa Temple in Iksan related to the secondary Sabi capital. Together, these sites represent the later period of the Baekje Kingdom – one of the three earliest kingdoms on the Korean peninsula (18 BCE to 660 CE) – during which time they were at the crossroads of considerable technological, religious (Buddhist), cultural and artistic exchanges between the ancient East Asian kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan.

Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its surrounding sacred landscape (Mongolia)

The site is situated in the north-east of the country in the central part of the Khentii mountain chain where the vast Central Asian steppe meets the coniferous forests of the Siberian taiga. Burkhan Khaldun is associated with the worship of sacred mountains, rivers and ovoo-s (shamanic rock cairns), in which ceremonies have been shaped by a fusion of ancient shamanic and Buddhist practices. The site is also believed to be the place of Genghis Khan’s birth and burial. It testifies to his efforts to establish mountain worship as an important part of the unification of the Mongol people.

The Par Force Hunting Landscape in North Zealand (Denmark)

Located about 30 km northeast of Copenhagen, this cultural landscape encompasses the two hunting forests of Store Dyrehave and Gribskov, as well as the hunting park of Jægersborg Hegn/Jægersborg Dyrehave. This is a designed landscape where Danish kings and their court exercised par force hunting, or hunting with hounds, which reached its peak from the Middle Ages to the end of the 16th century. With hunting lanes laid out in an orthogonal grid pattern, their numbered stone posts, enclosures and hunting lodges, the site demonstrates the application of Baroque landscaping principles to forested areas.

Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape (Turkey)

Located on an escarpment of the Upper Tigres River Basin that is part of the so-called Fertile Crescent, the fortified city of Diyarbakir and the landscape around has been an important centre since the Hellenistic period, through the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman times to the present. The site encompasses the Amida Mound, known as İçkale (inner castle), the 5.8km-long city walls of Diyarbakir with their numerous towers, gates, buttresses, and 63 inscriptions from different periods, as well as Hevsel Gardens, a green link between the city and the Tigris that supplied the city with food and water.

Ephesus (Turkey)

Located within what was once the estuary of the River Kaystros, Ephesus comprises successive Hellenistic and Roman settlements founded on new locations, which followed the coastline as it retreated westward. Excavations have revealed grand monuments of the Roman Imperial period including the Library of Celsus and the Great Theatre. Little remains of the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World,” which drew pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean. Since the 5th century, the House of the Virgin Mary, a domed cruciform chapel seven kilometres from Ephesus, became a major place of Christian pilgrimage. The Ancient City of Ephesus is an outstanding example of a Roman port city, with sea channel and harbour basin.

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