Great Spa Towns, Centuries-Old Rock Inscriptions Added to UNESCO World Heritage Sites

On Sunday, UNESCO unveiled new additions to its World Heritage list, including Madrid’s historic Paseo del Prado boulevard and Retiro Park, as well as sites in India, Saudi Arabia, and China. Outstanding natural beauty or architectural ingenuity qualify a site for the designation, and these spaces are often considered key for historians for a variety of reasons.

The 16th-century Paseo del Prado boulevard, located in the center of Madrid, is home to the Prado museum, one of the most-visited cultural institutions in the world. In a statement, UNESCO said the boulevard and adjoining Regio Park “illustrate the aspiration for a utopian society during the height of the Spanish Empire.”

Madrid mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida said in a statement, “Today, in these times of pandemic, in a city that has suffered enormously for the past 15 months, we have a reason to celebrate with the first world heritage site in Spain’s capital.”

The committee has also added the “Great Spa Towns of Europe,” which comprises 11 towns located across seven European countries, to the list. Each town was developed around natural water springs and “bear witness to the international European spa culture that developed from the early 18th century to the 1930s, leading to the emergence of grand international resorts,” according to UNESCO. The towns include Baden bei Wien in Austria, Spa in Belgium, Františkovy Lázně in the Czech Republic, and Vichy in France.

France’s Lighthouse of Cordouan, a monumental white limestone structure built at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, is considered to be representative of the nation’s maritime architectural tradition. It was added to the list, along with the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony on Mathildenhöhe in Germany, a 19th-century center for “emerging reform movements” in architecture, arts and crafts. The site of a series of fresco cycles painted between 1302 and 1397 by notable Italian artists such as Giotto and Guariento di Arpo in Padua, Italy, also made the list.

The Ḥimā Cultural Area, located in a mountainous area of southwest Saudi Arabia, along an ancient desert caravan route, contains a collection of rock inscriptions and petroglyphs spanning the last 3,000 years. It was put on the list on Sunday. So were China’s Maritime Silk Road port city Quanzhou, India’s Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple, and the Trans-Iranian railway, which connects the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

The addition of Quanzhou means that China is now home to 56 World Heritage sites. Only one other country, Italy, has more of them. UNESCO is expected to continue adding new World Heritage sites through July 28.

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