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by Linda Baxter
If you think about World Heritage Sites, you probably think of places associated with ancient art and culture, historical buildings and monuments. And of course, many of these are on the World Heritage List.
Remains of ancient cultures, like Cuzco in Peru, Angkor in Cambodia, or the famous rock city of Petra in Jordan. Or old city centres, such as Rome in Italy, or Sana'a in Yemen. Or places of artistic or cultural significance, like the Stonehenge stone circle in England, or the Tsodilo rock paintings in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. But The World Heritage List contains a lot of sites that are not so obvious. Some of them are well known. For example, the Galápagos Islands, which inspired Darwin's theories of evolution, or the Victoria Falls waterfalls in Africa, and the Grand Canyon in the United States.
Let's look at a few of the more unusual sites on the World Heritage List and why it is important to preserve them.
Citadel of Haiti
These monuments were built at the end of the nineteenth century when Haiti became independent and the many thousands of black slaves in Haiti were free for the first time. These ex-slaves built the monuments, which The World Heritage List (WHL) describes as 'a universal symbol of liberty'.
Robben Island in South Africa
This island was used through the centuries as a prison, a hospital and a military base. But it's probably most famous as a maximum-security prison for political prisoners in the twentieth century. Nelson Mandela was one of its most famous residents. The WHL says it represents 'the triumph of democracy and freedom over oppression and racism'.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in India
This railway was opened in 1881 and is still operating today. It crosses a difficult area of mountain landscape and it is a great example of railway engineering. The WHL says that it is 'the first, and still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway.'
Borders of France and Spain
This is an area of great natural beauty and the mountains have many interesting geological formations. But it is also an area of small farms. People there still use a type of agriculture that used to be common in mountainous areas of Europe but has almost completely disappeared in modern times. The WHL has listed the site because it shows us about 'past European society through its landscape of villages, farms, fields, upland pastures and mountain roads.'
The city of Brasilia, Brazil
Brasilia is a capital city that was created from nothing in 1956. The WHL calls it 'a landmark in the history of town planning.' The different areas of the city and the buildings themselves were all designed at the same time so that they would harmonise with each other. Every part of the city shows the ideas of the planner and architect.
Dorset and East Devon Coast, United Kingdom
This part of the coast in the South West of England is famous for its fossils and is popular with scientists and amateur fossil hunters. The cliffs also show rock formations from millions of years ago. The WHL says that they 'have contributed to the study of earth sciences for over 300 years.'
Alto Douro, Portugal
This is an area in the North of Portugal where wine has been produced for thousands of years. Nowadays it is world famous for the 'port wine' that is produced there. The WHL says that this long tradition of winemaking 'has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that reflects its technological, social and economic evolution.'
Rio Platano Reserve, Honduras
The WHL says that this site is 'one of the few remains of a humid tropical forest in Central America.' It's a mountainous area on the Caribbean coast with many different species of plants and animals. The people who have always lived there still have the same traditional lifestyle.
Simien National Park, Ethiopia
Simien National Park was one of the first sites to be listed in 1978. It is one of the highest mountain areas in Africa, and the WHL calls it 'one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world'. It is also important for its wildlife. Rare animals like the Gelada baboon and the Simien fox live there. It is also the only place in the world where you can find the Walia ibex, a type of goat. The population of this animal is getting smaller and smaller. That's why the site is now on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
So, the World Heritage List isn't only about ancient monuments and buildings. It's also concerned with technology, natural beauty, wildlife and traditional ways of life.