About this website
My name is James and I’m interested in old and beautiful things. So I thought I’d write about them.
Although I work in an unrelated field, I’ve always been interested in the relics of the ancient and not-so-ancient world. I studied archaeology and history at university, which in itself was a continuation of a passion for antiquity dating from childhood. Travel has also been a great interest of mine and I’ve found plenty of opportunity to combine the two.
While travelling a number of years ago I noticed that many of the sights I found most interesting or evocative had been classified by UNESCO as World Heritage sites – places where outstanding natural, cultural, or mixed qualities existed and which should be protected for future generations. As I travelled more and more I began to seek out these sites and to document and record them, and my reactions to them. It became something of a hobby, seeking out WH sites wherever I happened to go and making little pilgrimages to visit them. After collecting quite a lot of notes and photos, it occurred to me that I might as well share my thoughts and images with the wider world. And this, gentle reader, is the blog that you see in front of you.
Although this may look like I’m somehow collecting these sites (some people do), I’m not trying to tick them off my bucket list. For reasons I struggle to put into words, I have this idea that if I can expose myself to all that is great and wonderful about the natural and built world, then I can store it in myself like a living library. It’s not a rational process, more an exploration of the ways that people have lived and the things that they have left behind over the last 40,000 years or so. By learning about the people that have come before me I can somehow embody what they were for future generations. Visiting all the World Heritage sites is one way of doing this, and conveniently UNESCO has written me a list to pick from.
What this is
* Personal. I don’t claim any specific expertise about the places that I’ve visited. I just want to share my own experience of visiting them. My experience may be highly conventional or very idiosyncratic, depending on any number of factors.
* Inevitably biased. This ties in with the above, but I have strong views on some things which may not accord with other people’s views. I’m generally more interested in cultural rather than natural sites, and that’s ok – it’s just personal preference.
What this isn’t
* An academic resource. It’s certain that I’ve made errors in what I’ve written about. Let me know if you find one and I’ll fix it, but don’t lose sleep over it. Certainly don’t rely on it.
* Comprehensive. That much should be obvious, but when people can write entire books about one corner of the Colosseum, I’m unlikely to do the entire thing justice in 500 words.
* Political. As with any area of international relations, the UNESCO World Heritage listings can be intensely political. I make no claim or comment regarding any political aspect of the process, from listing, delisting, funding, maintenance, or anything else. Anyway, when we’re talking about locations of supra-national significance, it think it becomes a little irrelevant. Consider that one of my favourite places, Istanbul, has been administered by seven different political entities over the last 2000 years*. The fact that some ruins are Greco-Roman and some are Ottoman has no bearing on whether it’s a worthwhile and interesting place to visit – if anything it adds to it.
A note on dates
Throughout this blog I usually use the CE format for dates. I’m aware that this isn’t ideal when dealing with non-European societies, but it’s the only way I can find to have a standard way of dating things. It’s also the system that I’m most familiar with, and I expect the same is true for most of my readers. Is it Eurocentric/Christian centric/phallocentric/racist/unjust/wrong? Yes, probably. But it’s what we have.
A note on timing
The travels I’ve described have occurred over a period of around twenty years. In some cases the sites have changed from the time I visited. In other cases I have visited sites before they were declared to be World Heritage sites. I try to take this into account, but I’m probably a terrible tour guide and my comments shouldn’t be taken as gospel.
A note on comparing sites
I have explicitly avoided rating the sites for three reasons. Firstly, I’m writing about my personal reactions to what I’ve seen, and that may not accord with someone else’s view. By avoiding “top ten ” lists I hope I can assess a site a little bit more fairly than simply trying to rank them.
Secondly I feel that ranking is somehow degrading. How could we possibly compare Angkor Wat with the Great Barrier Reef? It’s ludicrous to suggest that I could in any way claim that one is better than the other. It’s not even apples and oranges – it’s grapefruit and Volkswagens.
Importantly, this is not the same as comparing, say, the Versailles palace in France and the Schonbrunn palace in Vienna, which are roughly contemporary human structures from a common political and cultural context. Discussing these two together might shed light on both of them, which adds to the experience.
Thirdly, if you’re going to rank things you need to be consistent. I am just a single person, who is vulnerable to all the usual weaknesses and this affects my views on things. Consistency is impossible.
I hope that you, the reader, enjoy my words and photos. I think a lot about the places that I’ve been and how they fit into the larger human (and pre-human) story, and I hope that my thoughts are in some way useful to you. Feel free to drop me a line or comment if you have something to add, especially if you’ve identified something I’ve gotten wrong. I love interacting with people who are as passionate about this topic as I am.
* By my count this would be: various Ionian Greek polities, the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, the Crusaders, Byzantine Romans again, the Ottoman Empire, and the Republic of Turkey.