Asia’s Newest World Heritage Sites

Each year, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meets and deliberates over a series of nominated cultural, natural, and mixed sites to decide whether they are worthy of the prestigious World Heritage List. Here are seven in Asia that have just been recognized for their “outstanding universal value.”

A critically endangered Okinawa woodpecker on its namesake Japanese island. (© MOEJ)

Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island

The first of Japan’s two new World Heritage Sites this year encompasses more than 42,000 hectares of subtropical rain forest across four Ryukyu islands. Unspoiled by human habitation, these protected areas made the cut thanks to their biodiversity and high percentage of endemic species of flora and fauna that have evolved in isolation over millions of years, including the endangered Amami rabbit and critically endangered Iriomote cat. Some represent ancient lineages and have no living relatives anywhere in the world. A number of endemic species, like the critically endangered Okinawa woodpecker, are not found outside the forests of their respective island homes.


An excavated reservoir at Dholavira. (Photo: Lalit Gajjer/Wikimedia Commons)

Dholavira: a Harappan City

Situated in the Indian state of Gujarat, Dholavira was the southern center of the Harappan (a.k.a. Indus Valley) Civilization, which flourished between 3000 to 1500 BCE. Harappan cities stood out for their advanced urban planning, sophisticated water management and draining systems; the Indus Valley Civilization also created the world’s first accurate system of standardized weights and measures, while pioneering new techniques in metallurgy and handicrafts. Discovered only in the 1960s, Dholavira is considered one of the best-preserved urban settlements of its era in South Asia — the archaeological site comprises a fortified city built around a castle, alongside a cemetery whose cenotaphs shed light on the Harappan view of death and the afterlife.


Hooded cranes among East Asian seepweed on the wetlands of a getbol. (© World Heritage Promotion Team of Korean Tidal Flat)

Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats

Four areas of getbol — “tidal flats” in Korean — in the eastern Yellow Sea have now been inscribed as South Korea’s fifteenth World Heritage Site. Located on the country’s southwestern and southern coasts, the listed zones span 1,000 square kilometers, or slightly less than the total land area of Hong Kong. Collectively, these tidal flats host 2,150 species of flora and fauna, including 22 globally threatened or near-threatened species. Getbol are a critical habitat for 118 migratory bird species such as the hooded crane and the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper, serving as an important stop on their epic annual journeys between their breeding grounds in the northern latitudes and wintering locations in Southeast Asia and Australasia.


The Sannai Maruyama Site in Aomori Prefecture, part of the newly inscribed Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan. (© Sannai Maruyama Jomon Culture Center)

Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan

This collection of 17 archaeological sites, spread across southern Hokkaido and the northern Tohoku region on nearby Honshu, attest to the development of the Jomon culture over a period of 10,000 years from around 13,000 BCE. Comprising the remains of prehistoric settlements — some with reconstructed dwellings and an adjacent museum — shell middens, stone circles, and burial sites, it offers a snapshot of the daily lives and complex spiritual beliefs of the Jomon people, a hunter-fisher-gatherer society that existed in Japan before rice cultivation was introduced from the Asian mainland.


Pa La-U Waterfall in Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan National Park. (© Sunee Sakseau)

Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex

About 90 minutes’ drive northwest from Hua Hin, Thailand’s sixth World Heritage Site covers Kaeng Krachan National Park, the largest in the kingdom. Its mixture of forest habitats provides a refuge for all kinds of animals on the Thai side of the Tenasserim mountain range, which forms a natural border with Myanmar. Birdlife here is especially prolific; more than 460 species have been counted within park boundaries. Kaeng Krachan is also home to the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, the endangered Asiatic wild dog and Asian giant tortoise, as well as no less than eight cat species, among them the Indochinese tiger and clouded leopard.


An ornately carved Nandi, mount of the Hindu god Shiva, at Ramappa Temple. (© ASI)

Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple, Telangana

Another treasure just added to India’s crown of UNESCO-recognized wonders is the 800-year-old Ramappa Temple in the southern state of Telangana. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, the sandstone sanctuary was believed to have taken four decades to build and stands as a testament to the creative genius of the Kakatiya dynasty. Not for nothing is the temple named after its chief sculptor: elaborate, well-preserved carvings showcase regional dance forms and Kakatiyan culture, while the stepped tower is made of bricks so light, they are believed to float on water. This unique trait has been confirmed through laboratory tests in Hyderabad, some 200 kilometers away.


Fashi Zhenwu Temple, one of the sites grouped under Quanzhou’s new World Heritage listing. (© Quanzhou Maritime Silk Road World Heritage Nomination Center)

Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China

Once visited by world-famous travelers like Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, this ancient port in China’s Fujian province was historically a key trading center on the Maritime Silk Road. The UNESCO-protected site encompasses a wide range of structures and archaeological remains: think stone docks, inscriptions, places of ceramics and iron production, and religious buildings. The latter include the Tang-era Kaiyuan Temple (known for its twin five-story pagodas) and the early 11th-century Qingjing Mosque — a legacy of the city’s once-thriving Arab and Persian communities. Also part of the listing is the 1,200-meter Luoyang Bridge, first constructed more than a thousand years ago.

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