The Magazine of Ethiopian Airlines
Feature

A Catalogue of Treasures

How UNESCO helps guard our world heritage.

Behind the golden peaks of Giza’s pyramids and along the sinuous stretch of China’s Great Wall stands an agency devoted to protecting these giants of history. A subgroup of the United Nations known as UNESCO — short for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — drives the preservation of more than 1,000 such sites throughout the world.

Created in 1945, UNESCO grew out of the rather bold hope that global peace might be fostered through moral and intellectual means. By 1972, UNESCO had created its World Heritage Program to move toward such peace through significant national landmarks. UNESCO hoped to promote dialogue between different countries as they shared a common goal: to care for their own country’s historic legacies. 

The World Heritage List, referred to as a catalogue of world treasures, boasts 1,007 sites around the world — including natural sites such as the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) and The Wadden Sea (Germany), and cultural sites such as Paphos (Cyprus) and the Maya Site of Copan (Honduras). Once on the list, these sites serve as landmarks to capture the imagination and attention of travelers throughout the globe. 

Among the list’s first 12 sites (all added in 1978) are Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, Germany’s Aachen Cathedral, Ethiopia’s Simien National Park and Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine. The Galapagos Islands were chosen for their foundational role in Darwin’s theory of natural selection, as well as for their unique ecosystem and endangered species. On average, 25 to 30 sites are added to the list annually, each newcomer contributing a unique dimension of history. 

The process to become a World Heritage site, though, doesn’t begin with the historical spot itself but with its homeland. Only a country that has signed the World Heritage Convention — pledging to protect its natural and cultural heritage — can submit proposals to nominate properties within its territory. 

To move a site through the lengthy nomination process requires diligence and patience. The last step is to pass the Criteria for Selection test. UNESCO’s 10 criteria champion accomplishments that range from significant habitats of biodiversity to a display of man’s creativity (i.e., a masterpiece, such as the Italian church that houses Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”). 

Unfortunately, 46 sites currently land on an in-danger list. While threats vary from civil wars to nature’s whims, UNESCO is committed to finding solutions for each site’s restoration and protection. In fact, Egypt’s Giza Pyramids stand out as one of the organization’s greatest success stories: The World Heritage Committee’s 1995 negotiations with the Egyptian government rerouted a threatening highway project near Cairo, keeping the limestone giants well intact.

But no matter where they find their place on the organization’s long list, sites as majestic as India’s Taj Mahal, as dramatic as Italy’s Amalfi Coast or as intricate as Jordan’s Petra vie for our attention as travelers — demanding our commitment to keep them alive and waiting to fold us into the stories of their past.




Austria

Hallstatt-Dachstein

Wedged between the Eastern Alps and the Hallstätter See lake, this town offers a glimpse into the past, maintaining its 18th-century baroque architecture. Today, Hallstatt is celebrated for its famed underground salt mines and idyllic natural landscape — high grazing pastures and mountains that slope to the shore of the lake.
BORIS STROUJKO / SHUTTERSTOCK


Brazil

Iguaçu National Park
The lush vegetation surrounding the 2.7-kilometer-wide waterfall is home to several endangered and rare species, including the giant otter and the harpy eagle. The falls themselves form a semicircle, their water cascading from a dramatic height of 72 meters.
VOJTEACHVLK / SHUTTERSTOCK


China

Huanglong

Limestone terraces scale the sides of snowcapped mountains, lining the region’s hot springs. China’s easternmost glacier also resides in the Huanglong valley, and the area’s diverse ecosystem is the life source for scarce giant pandas and Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkeys.
TAKEPICSFORFUN / SHUTTERSTOCK


Egypt

The Pyramid Fields

One of the ancient world’s Seven Wonders, the Pyramids of Giza stand as a colossal icon of human achievement — housing several ornate tombs along with one of the world’s oldest boats, dating back to 2500 B.C.
BRAND X PICTURES / GETTY


Japan

Nikko

Its name means “sunlight.” Filled with temples and shrines, the oldest dating to the 8th century, Nikko illustrates an architectural style that fluidly integrates buildings with nature.
SEAN PAVONE / SHUTTERSTOCK


Mali

Cliff of Bandiagara

The sandstone cliff, dubbed the “Land of the Dogons” for the people who inhabit it, stretches about 150 kilometers and includes 289 villages. For centuries, the Dogon have utilized their natural environment to support their lifestyle, carving shelters out of rock and supposedly escaping from enemies through natural tunnels and caves.
QUICK SHOT / SHUTTERSTOCK


Seychelles

Vallée de Mai

The palm forest in this valley is home to the tree that bears the famouscoco de mer(sea coconut), the largest nut in the world. This unique palm can grow over 30 meters tall and up to 4.5 meters wide. The island also hosts exotic wildlife, including the Seychelles black parrot and tiger chameleon.
DMITRY LAUDIN / SHUTTERSTOCK


Zimbabwe

Mana Pools National Park

A wildlife haven, the Mana Pools are formed by the Zambezi River’s ebb and flow. The area attracts many of Africa’s large mammal species during the dry winter months, and Nile crocodiles and hippopotamuses abound in the wetland.
2630BEN / SHUTTERSTOCK



Ethiopia’s World Heritage Sites

Celebrating the country’s historic giants.


PHIL DE JONG JR / JGM

Simien National Park

Date of Inscription: 1978
Region: Amhara
Coordinates: N13°10’E38°40’

With its dramatic cliffs and rugged gorges, this 136-square-kilometer park in northern Ethiopia boasts the highest peak in the country as well as many endangered species, including the walia ibex (Ethiopian mountain goat).


PHIL DE JONG JR / JGM

Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela

Date of Inscription: 1978
Region: Amhara
Coordinates:N12°45’E39°25’

This 13th-century “New Jerusalem” is the homeland of Ethiopian Christianity. Eleven churches chiseled out of natural rock face, said to have been built with the help of angels, remain a site of pilgrimage and devotion for Ethiopian Christians today.


PHIL DE JONG JR / JGM

Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar

Date of Inscription: 1979
Region: Amhara
Coordinates: N12°24’E37°58’

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Emperor Fasiledes and his successors built several castles in a fortified city. Resembling the medieval castles of Europe, these structures add unexpected flair to the northern Tana plateau region.


ANTON_IVANOV / SHUTTERSTOCK

Aksum

Date of Inscription: 1980
Region: Tigrai
Coordinates: N14°48’E38°6’

Once the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia, Aksum saw a score of Ethiopian emperors crowned between the first and 13th centuries. According to Ethiopian tradition, this is where the Ark of the Covenant remains.


ALBERTO LOYO / SHUTTERSTOCK

Lower Valley of the Awash

Date of Inscription: 1980
Region: Afar
Coordinates: N11°0’E40°45’

The famous 3.2-million-year-old hominid nicknamed “Lucy” was excavated in this ancient paleo-anthropological site. The valley remains significant for its contributions to the history of human development and scientific theories of evolution.


DIETMAR TEMPS / SHUTTERSTOCK

Lower Valley of the Omo

Date of Inscription: 1980
Region: Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples
Coordinates: N4°60’E35°0’

As a birthplace of humanity, Ethiopia’s southwestern valley provides 3.5 million years of history with its ancient hominid fossils, which are among the oldest ever discovered. The region also hosts rich wildlife and three major national parks.


MILOSK50 / SHUTTERSTOCK

Tiya

Date of Inscription: 1980
Region: Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples
Coordinates: N8°5’E38°43’

Thirty-six rock art monuments from an unknown ancient civilization scatter the landscape at this central Ethiopian site. Believed to have played a funerary role as gravestones, the stones offer a mysterious but beautiful window into a past culture.


ILIA TORLIN / SHUTTERSTOCK

Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Town

Date of Inscription: 2006
Region: Harari
Coordinates: N5°60’E37°60’

Considered the fourth most-sacred Muslim city, Harar Jugol contains 82 mosques and 102 shrines. The maze-like town was built between the 13th and 16th centuries and functioned as the capital of the Harari Kingdom between 1520 and 1568.


ALBERTO LOYO / SHUTTERSTOCK

Konso Cultural Landscape

Date of Inscription: 2011
Region: Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples
Coordinates: N5°60’E37°60’

The walled settlements that make up the Konso Cultural Landscape provide an example of adaptive living in a harsh, dry climate. With their agricultural ingenuity, Konso’s inhabitants have preserved their way of life for nearly 400 years.