Are these the world’s most fascinating historic places?
It may be a sad reflection of my life as a perpetual traveller that I probably would have bought a book with the title '1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die', rather than, say, 'Best Party Islands in the Mediterranean' even in my 20s. It’s an engrossing list that would fill several travel lifetimes.
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Only released in August 2016 after the original edition of 2008 the 960-page book, published by Pier 9, is an eclectic list compiled in collaboration with UNESCO. It spans sites from Stalin’s birthplace, the industrial town of Gori in Georgia (pictured below) to Elvis’ Graceland (Memphis Tennessee).
Of course, there’s no way you can capture the history of the world in 1001 entries but this book certainly covers a lot.
The Caucasus mountain landscape of Gori, Georgia - the birthplace of Stalin
Australia has just 15 listings:
- Australian National War Memorial ∞ Botany Bay
- Broken Hill
- Cascade Brewery
- Freemantle Prison
- Hyde Park Barracks
- James Craig
- Kakadu National Park
- Melbourne Cricket Ground
- Old Melbourne Jail (sic)
- Old Parliament House
- Perth Mint
- Polly Woodside
- Port Arthur Historic Site
- Sydney Harbour Bridge
It’s a good list but I’m sure most of us would have other places to add. Norfolk Island and the Kimberley Wandjina art sites would be the first two for me.
But that’s the sport with new guidebooks: settle down and pick the errors. Rather, I found myself revelling in the sometime quirky choices. Green Gables in Canada’s Prince Edward Island is there as a wonderful reminder of the Anne books of local author Lucy Maud Montgomery.
The editor Richard Cavendish is also the author of several authoritative guides to Britain so it’s not surprising that England, Scotland and Wales (all covered separately) collectively have the most entries. The only entry for Northern Ireland is Derry Town Walls and it’s hard to dispute that long-suffering town’s major attribute.
There are plenty of blasts from the past on show at Graceland, Tennessee (Image: Arun123 / Shutterstock.com)
France, Italy, Spain and the USA also have comprehensive listings. City Lights Bookstore, the publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl and Other Poems” and the heart of the Beat Generation, is an interesting inclusion. Disneyland has a page, too, along with Kit Carson’s home and the O.K. Corral.
There are some errors of fact throughout the book that are irritating (Newfoundland is in the USA?) but I still recommend buying this book then spending a few fascinating hours declaring “I didn’t know that!” Here are my selections on that basis from each of the book’s five geographic areas.
Oceania: Botany Bay (Sydney, Australia)
“ . . . A red buoy in the southeast of Botany Bay near the Kurnell Peninsula marks the spot where Cook first anchored on April 29, 1770. His landing place is marked by a monument at the southern end of Botany Bay National Park, which covers either side of the narrow entrance to the bay from the Pacific Ocean. On the north shore is La Perouse, which is Sydney’s oldest Aboriginal settlement and now part of the national park. More than 30 other sites exist in the park.”
Sydney's Botany Bay makes the list
The Americas: L’Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland, Canada)
“The subarctic shoreline of L’Anse aux Meadows not only looks like something straight out of a Norse saga, but is straight out of a Norse saga. Archaeological digs and carbon dating confirm that this remote spot is the only known Viking settlement . . . and the earliest recorded European habitation in the New World . . .”
The world's only known Viking settlement, but it's not Scandanavia
Europe: Thingvellir (Bláskógabyggð, Iceland)
“ . . . It is here, on the shores of the largest lake in Iceland, that the general assembly, or Althing, first met in 930 to act as a forum for the Icelandic people. The assembly, comprising chieftains and their advisers, would sit for two weeks a year in the open air of the countryside in order to settle disputes, debate issues, and establish laws . . . The site . . . is part of a fissure zone that runs through Iceland, which is set on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge . . . Fractures the size of canyons traverse the region.”
Africa: Northern Cemetery (Cairo, Egypt)
“. . . Cemeteries are often referred to as the cities of the dead, but this one also became a city of the living as people began to move in and make themselves at home. Most of the tombs resemble small houses, with a courtyard and two or three rooms, beneath which the body is buried . . . Today the cemetery has become a town, with shops and apartment blocks, flea markets, police stations, post offices, and bus stops, even though most of the streets are too narrow for anything bigger than a donkey cart. A flock of sheep is also kept in the Northern Cemetery.”
Asia: Plain of jars (Xiangkhoang Plateau, Laos)
“Why, when and how Laos’ Plain of Jars came into existence are three important questions still very much open to debate. Many . . . have theorised that the jars were originally used as funerary urns . . . between 500 B.C.E and 800 C.E . . . An alternative theory is that the jars were used by travellers for food storage or collecting monsoon rainwater . . . The jars are mostly made from sandstone and range from a height of 3 metres weighing up to 13 tons. . . The Plain of Jars is covered in many unexploded bombs as a result of the U.S. bombardment in the Secret War (1962-75).”
The mysterious Plain of Jars in Laos are well worth a visit
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