I live in a World Heritage site in a city in the U.S.A. Here are the only other two World Heritage sites in U.S. cities and I have visited both – as you probably have as well.
It’s a woman. Gift from France.
Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Photo by Alex Rich-Michael, 2010.
Now, both of these are individual structures (more or less) in large cities, unlike here in San Antonio, where our missions cover a 12-mile long stretch of town from downtown south beyond 410 (that’s like the first ring road). Another US World Heritage site that is more than an individual structure is one I only first saw two years ago.
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA One of two World Heritage sites designed by Thomas Jefferson, putting him way ahead of Frank Lloyd Wright as of this writing.
Did your college dorm look like this? Mine was just like this, except for everything about it.
Yes I know McKim Mead and White redid the Rotunda after a fire, but they did find Jefferson’s lab in the basement during this rehab…
As I mentioned in My Favorite World Heritage Sites Volume 1, most of the U.S. sites are natural, rather than architectural, and I have been to Yosemite and the Redwoods but I am focusing on cultural sites here…
I think we need to get to the other side of the Ring of Fire, to China, which rivals Italy on the number of World Heritage inscriptions, beginning with these tourist staples that I have had the pleasure of visiting a half dozen times each.
I have actually visited four separate sites on the Great Wall during eight visits.
Hall of Peace and Longevity, Forbidden City, Beijing, 2009.
太和殿, Hall of Supreme Harmony, Forbidden City, Beijing.
Part of nine-dragon screen, Forbidden City, Beijing, 2014.
The thing about the Forbidden City is you can visit it ten times and still find new stuff – they can’t even keep all of it open all the time – it is 900 acres! Imagine Central Park in New York City, completely full of buildings, PLUS 100 acres of more buildings. Its endless.
I love the roof tile General…
The Hill of Accumulated Elegance, where Accumulated describes matter, not time. In Emperor’s private gardens at Forbidden City – always crowded with tourists.
There is always something new to discover in the Forbidden City, like this theater stage I first saw in 2011.
Interestingly, the Temple of Heaven, where the Emperor performed rituals to insure good harvest, is a separate World Heritage site in busy Beijing, one I quite like, although it lacks the endlessness of the Forbidden City.
Temple of Heaven, Beijing.
When you go to see the Great Wall, whether at Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling or Simitai, they often include the Ming Tombs, which are also World Heritage if pretty touristy and really not my faves.
Great Wall at Mutianyu
This bit is steep. Actually a lot of it is, and it is more road than wall. If you see a map of the wall, it looks like a series of scratches that cover some 4,000 miles in over a dozen non-contiguous stripes. The wall is more of a road to transport things across very mountainous terrain. To the extent that it is a wall it is really more of an idea – not unlike Kafka’s interpretation of it. As a wall it never kept anyone out. Or in.
The highlight of the Summer Palace has to be Cixi’s insane marble pleasure boat. The story is she used the navy budget to build this two-story boat which is like a modern casino – perpetually docked and only used for parties.
Okay, now the other big World Heritage site in China, which I have seen maybe four or five times is the temple of Qinshihuangdi in the ancient capital of Xi’an with the famous terra cotta army. Discovered AFTER the creation of World Heritage status, the site has been gradually excavated and improved over the last 40 years, and is stunning in many ways, from its scope and fabrication to the ongoing discoveries, such as the original painted pigments of the warriors and the fact that the Chinese invented chrome technology two millenia before Harley-Davidson even existed.
The first and largest excavation.
each one is different but none are snowflakes
I am not sure I should include Lijiang, a lovely town in Yunnan which was inscribed as World Heritage in 1999, because it has become what we try NOT to do in heritage conservation. Like Angkor, World Heritage status was seen as a way to turn the city into a tourist trap, an economic monoculture that excluded the original inhabitants. While wholesale displacement did not occur, the site bears many of the scars of too much focus on tourism, and was a great counter-example for my work in Weishan, also in Yunnan, between 2003 and 2014.
Black dragon pool in Lijiang. Dead gorgeous.
Downtown is all shops. Silk, tea, silver, fabrics, and then more of each. Also restaurants.
Weishan is not inscribed as a World Heritage Site, but does boast a temple mountain with 24 Daoist and Buddhist temples and a historic town at the intersection of the Southern Silk Road and the Horse-Tea Route. Also this stunning 1390 North Gate.
The gate burned in 2014 and has been rebuilt thanks to detailed drone documentation in 2012. Photo from 2009.
Okay, back to World Heritage. Suzhou is a lovely city about an hour out of Shanghai that is famed for its traditional Chinese gardens with their landscaping, rockeries, pavilions and water features. First visited in 2006 and most recently in 2012, Suzhou is a must see with a wealth of different designed gardens all around the city.
Copyright 2006 Felicity Rich. From our first visit to Suzhou in 2006.
Two of those gardens, the Master of the Nets and the Humble Administrator’s, are World Heritage sites in their own right.
Master of Nets garden, Suzhou.
The gardens privilege the shaping of views from pavilions with a broad array of geometric openings, creating a sense of discovery aped by 19th century landscape architects in the West.
Copyright 2006 Felicity Rich
Lion Grove Garden, Suzhou
Humble Administrator’s Garden. (Hint: There is nothing humble about it.)
Since I threw in one Natural World Heritage site from the US here is one I saw and thoroughly enjoyed in China, Tiger Leaping Gorge, which we saw on our Three Gorges Yangtze River cruise in 2008, when the inundation was about 2/3 complete.
25m at its narrowest point, hence leapable by a storied tiger.
One of my favorite World Heritage Sites in China is Pingyao, the walled city with some 400 intact siheyuan 四合院(courtyard houses). I first visited in 2008 and again in 2011 as an Advisor for the Global Heritage Fund, returned with students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012, and visited again as Executive Director of Global Heritage Fund 2013-2015.
One of the only truly intact city walls in China. This shot is from 2008.
Some of the courtyards are hotels and some are museums, including this complex which forms part of the rishengchang 日升昌票号, an important draft banking invention that arose in Pingyao and spread across East Asia in the 19th century. You can see my original blog from 2008 and another from 2011.
Typical hotel conversion.
Market tower on main street, Pingyao
I love yaodong – parabolic-arched brick structures in the rear of the courtyards – helpful in the hot summers and cold winters of Shaanxi province. The World Heritage inscription includes the Shuanglin Temple six kilometers outside of the walled city. Its extensive sculptural program famously survived the Cultural Revolution, purportedly by local cadres who filled the temples with grain, hiding the sculptures.
Check out the duogong at Shuanglin – totally Ming Dynasty proportions – the temple history actually goes back even further, nearly 1,400 years. Definitely one of my favorite World Heritage Sites.
I think we have to have a Volume 4 – there are still a few places left…
I attended a recent ULI event here in San Antonio that outlined emerging trends in real estate. I was struck by how much the factors they identified tracked with my own prognostications in November during my Partners speech in Houston at the National Trust conference.
The big news this week is the long-awaited release of the Alamo Master plan, following a process that took most of the year. Actually, the real master plan won’t be done for another six months, but the summary that was released to City Council and civic groups finally takes some clear positions on what the Alamo area will look like in the future. Continue Reading
Project Row Houses by Rick Lowe – I finally saw it 20 years after I met the man.
Well, it finally started to happen, and in Houston of all places. PastForward, the National Preservation Conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, witnessed the emergence of the next generation of “preservation” practitioners and highlighted the future of the movement. Featuring inner-city artists who save places like Houston native Rick Lowe and Chicagoan Theaster Gates, it felt to many of us like the movement had finally turned the corner and embraced the future. Continue Reading
Old school. Not enough room on the sign for the whole story, so you have to turn it over…
Last month I wrote about Colin Ellard’s work, the neuroscience of why historic buildings and good design are better for your physical and mental health than the frequent monolithic stretches of our contemporary streetscape. You can read it here.
At that time, I promised a follow-up blog about how technology – including the kind that allowed Ellard to do his studies – also offers new possibilities for interpretation. I taught historic interpretation classes for more than a decade, and I have always been fascinated by every kind of historic interpretation, from big bronze signs and statues, to performances and interactive displays. Continue Reading
Ten years ago this November. My blog covered the event.
That is Vasyl Rozhko at the end of the table with me to his right. I was in the Ukraine at the invitation of Myron Stachkiw (pointing at left) and other heritage experts, including Henry and Chris Cleere and Taissa Bushnell. Rozhko’s father had spent his life documenting over 4000 post holes carved into 55-million year old rock outcroppings along a river in the Carpathian mountains. Continue Reading
Alfred Giles emigrated to America in the 1870s after studying architecture in his native England. Moving to San Antonio from New York in 1875, he became one of the most prolific and important architects in San Antonio. In 1875 he designed the stunning Second Empire Steves Homestead in the King William District, which is open daily for tours. Continue Reading