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The Great Book of World Heritage Sites

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

ALTHOUGH the idea of creating an international movement to protect the heritage of mankind began gaining momentum after the First World War, it wasn’t until 1959 that the need to protect the world’s most important works from decay became a matter of prime concern.

It was then experts warned that the rising waters of the reservoir behind the Aswan Dam would submerge some of Egypt’s ancient architectural masterpieces, namely the Temples of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel.

As a result, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) stepped in, a move that ultimately led to the setting up of the World Heritage List. Today, that list includes somewhere in the region of 800 sites, in 135 countries, and encompasses both the natural and manmade world.

The Great Book of World Heritage Sites looks at just 110 of them and, with every continent and all eras represented, it’s one of the most comprehensive and beautiful appraisals of world heritage that you are ever likely to encounter.

Conveniently divided into three main sections – The Treasures of Art, Ancient Civilizations and Nature Sanctuaries – it’s an absolute mine of information, illustrated throughout by spectacular images.

The Taj Mahal, for example, has been photographed in the warm glow of dawn and with not a single tourist in sight. A familiar image but did you know it took 20,000 workers, women as well as men, 20 years to build?

On the other hand, ancient sources provide almost no information on the techniques used to construct the three great pyramids at Giza, yet they have survived, almost unaltered, for 4,500 years.

And then there’s Yosemite National Park, dominated by the mountains of the Sierra Nevada which were formed by magma forcing its way through the Earth’s crust around 100 million years ago.

These fascinating texts come courtesy of Marco Cattaneo and Jasmina Trifoni, both enthusiastic travellers who regularly contribute to various Italian publications. Images, however, come from a much wider source.

The Great Book of World Heritage Sites is a great book in every sense of the word. But more importantly, it provides reassurance in an uncertain world that conservation is, indeed, alive and well.

Also in this series is The Great National Parks of the World.
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