World Heritage: Large Urban Centre

Click here for the background on my World Heritage Sites roundup.

Large Urban Centre

Population > 100,000

15 sites

9

Prague

Last visited: September 1, 2007

As we watched the sunset on Kampa Island, we wondered out loud how could this city be so beautiful. What Prague has going for it is an eye-catching historic centre. Prague doesn’t have a singular colour tone that defines the town. Rather, its Art Nouveau architecture mix-and-matches like a field of wildflowers blossoming into different forms and colours.

Rome

Last visited: April 1, 2012

Rome has to be the most blessed city on earth in terms of cultural heritage. Being the capital of the Roman Empire and the seat of the Papacy means the city contains a high concentration of Roman-era ruins and sumptuously decorated churches. The Colosseum alone is worth the trouble, and then there are the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Capitoline Hill, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain, just to name a few.

8

Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam

Last visited: February 15, 2013

Amsterdam has a much more serene side for anyone willing to take a small step away from the party and drug scene. One night I walked around Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht, Amsterdam’s three main canals; I was captivated by the numerous photographic subjects and the overall tranquility.

Venice

Last visited: April 6, 2012

Extremely expensive and touristy. Normally Venice is the kind of place I wholeheartedly dislike, but Venice is unlike anywhere else. Many places are compared to Venice — none is similar. One of the truths in traveling is to always go for the original.

Many pockets of Venice remain free of tourist if you are willing to venture off the major tourist areas. Highly recommend waking early to take a walk around town. Burano is also worthy of anyone’s time.

7

Florence

Duomo, Florence

Last visited: June 3, 2016

We did all the standard must-sees like the Uffizi and the Accademia. But I never was able to feel comfortable in Florence. Not in a place where everything was overpriced, the food was mostly disappointing and the crowd smothering. By and large the whole town is a huge tourist circus. When I did venture off the main routes I saw derelict buildings and rubbish.

Florence will always be one of the world’s greatest art city, but more so than Venice I come away feeling the city’s best day is long behind it.

Paris

Last visited: June 29, 2014

I am on the record saying I am not a fan of Paris, but even a critic like me has to admit Paris is one of the world’s great traveling destinations. Like it or not, if possible everyone should come to see its great art pieces and make their own judgement if the astronomical price, high crime rate and general unfriendliness are holding the city back.

Salzburg

Last visited: April 23, 2006

Aside from the beautiful Baroque style town centre, the main draw in Salzburg is its music tradition. However, the novelty of “Mozart’s hometown” quickly turned old after seeing the musician’s face and hearing his music everywhere, but Salzburg is not just about commercializing its famous hometown son. Concerts were held around town several times each day in all forms of revues, ranging from the basement of a chapel to cathedrals to concert halls. The price of admission was reasonable and the choice was almost limitless. On the same day I could choose between choir, solo pianist, quartet, or orchestra, performing on a wide range of composers, although Mozart was obviously the most available.

6

Arequipa

Last visited: April 24, 2003

Arequipa has one unique attraction — the Santa Catalina Monastery. Founded by a rich widow named Maria de Guzman in 1580, the monastery accepted mostly women from Arequipa’s Spanish upper class. Back then it was a widely accepted belief that by having a daughter dedicated her life as a nun, she would bring salvation to her whole family. Once admitted these girls could never leave the monastery.

Barred but by no means arduous, the nuns lived a privileged lifestyle. Most had personal servants. The size of the complex resembles more of a castle than a monastery. Besides the backstory, the most distinguishable element of the Santa Catalina Monastery is its highly contrasted walls painted in red, blue, white and orange, perhaps as a way to brighten up the trapped souls of the past occupants.

Vicenza and the Palladian Villas

Last visited: April 7, 2012

Villa La Rotonda justified the effort. After a week-long onslaught of some of the best cathedrals and palaces on earth, we were still in awe the moment we stepped inside. The fact that it is a private property offered us a different perspective – some form of social gathering in one of the living room might very well take place. It is a house still in use and apparently very well taken care of, more than four hundred years after its creation.

Vicenza’s historic centre and the Teatro Olimpico are also well worth anyone’s time.

4

Cairo

Last visited: October 1, 2012

Similar to many metropolises in the developing world, Cairo has gained a somewhat negative reputation among travelers. The reason is not hard to imagine – these cities, with their ever-growing population and inadequate public infrastructure, are extremely difficult to navigate for short-term visitors. Some people swear Cairo is one of the most interesting cities on Earth, but count me as those who want to get away from Cairo’s insufferable traffic and pollution as soon as possible.

3

Cusco

Last visited: April 18, 2003

I am not a fan of colonial towns. Much of the historic centre is occupied by the tourism sector and tourists in general.

Beyond Plaza de Armas, everywhere in Cusco was awfully quiet at night. There was no pedestrian on the street, and very few cars. I imagined this sleepy hill town must had been like this for centuries after the fall of the Inca Empire, until the tourist hordes showed up and occupied the town centre.

Macau

Last visited: Recently

Easy day trip from Hong Kong. This gambling hub is flooded by Chinese tourists and gamblers at all times. Retains tiny bits of quietness in some old quarters, but these places too are disappearing fast. Mega casinos tower over the old town like sore thumbs and traffic is a constant problem.

Verona

Last visited: April 7, 2012

Verona was as crowded as any place I have ever been, including Venice. The underlying reason of my rather unfavorable impression of Verona, however, was that the town failed to enhance what we had already experienced at previous stops on the trip. We had seen what Verona has to offer elsewhere — only better.

Looking back, we were bound to see only Verona’s downside with just a few hours in town over the Easter weekend at the tail end of our trip. I can see why so many people love it – it is a pretty town with a diverse range of sites. Still, I can’t come up with a good reason to recommend Verona besides the amusing scene of people of all ages gathering to rub a bronze statue of Juliet for good luck.

2

George Town, Penang

Last visited: August 22, 2009

Our trip to Penang turned out to be quite a bore. The weather had a lot to do with it, as we spent five days in town that we could otherwise split between Penang and Langkawi. Even so, I found Penang, and its historic centre George Town, to be a little disappointing. As a colonial town, I find Macau to be more appealing and photogenic, and it is only a short ferry ride from Hong Kong. Rampant redevelopment also has a negative impact on the historic core.

Split and the Palace of Diocletian

Last visited: April 29, 2006

Half of Split’s historic centre is comprised of the Diocletian’s Palace, built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian upon his retirement in 305. Today it is the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace, with residents making their homes and businesses within the palace basement and directly in its walls.

I never warmed up to Split. My impression of Split is a ghost town. It wasn’t particularly pretty and most of the historic centre was vacated — very few of the businesses within the palace’s complex opened their doors.

As some friends of mine have stated they prefer Split over Dubrovnik, I am willing to give Split another chance to prove me wrong.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s