World Heritage Sites
What determines a World Heritage Site Status, we try and Explain what is needed.
A World Heritage Site is determined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The move to have sites around the world declared a World Heritage Site started when an international treaty known as the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural Heritage was adopted by UNESCO in 1972.
A World Heritage site is selected as a landmark or area for having cultural, scientific, historical, or a form of physical significance. The purpose of making a landmark or area World Heritage site is to maintain the identity of the specific country and for the collective and preservative interests and intellectual history of humanity and the planet. The sites have been categorized into three different groups, cultural, natural, and mixed. Examples of cultural sites would be towns, archaeological sites, and sculptures, and paintings.
To date, there are 1121 World Heritage Sites. 869 of those are cultural, 213 are natural and 39 are mixed. The countries with the most sites are China and Italy. They each have 55 World Heritage Sites, 50 of which are cultural and 5 are natural.
What does it take to become a World Heritage Site according to UNESCO?
For Cultural Sites:
- The site represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and significance to culture.
- The site shows the important human values over a significant period of time, or within a certain cultural area, on architecture, technology, town-planning, landscape design, or monumental arts developments.
- The site must have a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or has since disappeared.
- The site is an example of a type of architecture, building, landscape, or technological ensemble which shows a significant stage in human history.
- The site is an example of land-use, sea use or traditional human settlement which represents a culture, or human interaction with the highly vulnerable environment
- The site is directly associated with living traditions or events, beliefs, or ideas, with artistic and literary works of incredible universal significance.
For Natural Sites:
- The site has a superlative natural phenomena or areas of incredible natural beauty or aesthetic importance.
- The site represents the major stages of Earth’s history. This includes record of life, significant geomorphic or physiographic features, or significant on-going geographical processes landform development.
- The site represents important on-going ecological and biological processes in environmental evolution and development of freshwater, communities of plants and animals coastal and marine ecosystems, and terrestrial.
- The site has an important and significant natural habitat for in-situ (original) conservation of biological diversity, including those habitats which have threatened species that have a universal value from a scientific or conservation perspective.
For Mixed Catergories: the site must have both cultural and natural significance
South Africa has 8 World Heritage Sites, these are:
- Cultural category
- Fossils Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs, which was declared a World Heritage site in 1999.
- Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, which was declared a World Heritage site in 2003.
- Robben Island, which was declared a World Heritage site in 1999.
- Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, which was declared a World Heritage site in 2007
- Khomani Cultural Landscape, which was declared a World Heritage site in 2017.
- Natural category
- Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, which was declared a World Heritage site in 2004
- Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park/ iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which was declared a World Heritage site in 1999
- Vredefort Dome, which was declared a World Heritage site in 2005.
- Barberton Makhonjwa Mountain Land, which was declared a World Heritage site in 2018
- Mixed category
- UKhahlamba/Drakensberg Park, which was declared a World Heritage site in 2000.
Cape Floral Region
The Cape Flora Region was inscribed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) World Heritage site in 2004. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee stated that the Cape Floral Region is one of “outstanding universal significance to humanity”. It is classified as under the Natural Heritage category. It is recognized as one of the six “Floral Kingdoms” of the world and is the smallest on the list. The Cape Floral Region is the flora kingdom to be in one country.
It is located in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa. It stretches over national parks, wilderness areas, forests, mountain catchments, and nature reserves. It covers an incredible surface land area of 78,555 km². Some of the protected areas it stretches over include the Cape Peninsula, Boland Mountain Complex, Table Mountain, De Hoop Nature Reserve, the Swartberg Mountains, Bossmansbos Wilderness Area, Tsitsikamma mountains, the Cederberg wilderness area. Owing to the fact that Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is located on the slopes of Table Mountain, which forms part of the Cape Floral Region, it makes it the first botanical garden to be a part of a World Heritage Site.
It is lauded as being the richest plant area in the world and a biodiversity hotspot – this is largely due to the fact that despite only forming only a small part of the world’s land area, 0,04% yet it makes up 3% of the plant species in the world; it makes up 20% of the flora in Africa even though it takes up less than 0.5% of the land in the African continent. In this region, you can find over 9 000 vascular plant species (land plants). The type of plants included in this number are flowers, mosses, ferns, trees, and fynbos varieties. Most of the plants (approximately 69%) are classified endemic (this means that they are only found in this particular area). The diversity of the plants within the Cape Floral Region place South Africa as one of the top countries when it comes to biodiversity.
What to expect from the Cape Floral Region according to UNESCO?
- Incredible ecological and biological processes because of the Fynbos vegetation which is a unique feature of the Cape Floral Region
- The plant reproductive strategies which are special to this region and are adaptive to fire, patterns of seed dispersal by insects, and the patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation that is found in the flora. These features of the Cape Flora Region have contributed immensely to science and are regarded as having outstanding value.
If you would like to get close and comfortable with areas in the Cape Floral Region, here are some areas to stay in that have various accommodation options:
- Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve located in the Eastern Cape.
- Boland Mountain Complex in the Stellenbosch, Western Cape.
- Boosmanasbos Wilderness Area near Swellendam, Western Cape.
- Boulders Beach in Simons Town, Western Cape.
- Cederberg Wilderness Area in Cederberg, Western Cape.
- De Hoop Nature Reserve in Overberg, Western Cape.
- Groot Winterhoek Wilderness outside of the town of Tulbagh, Western Cape.
- Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Newlands, Western Cape.
- Swartberg Mountain Complex near the Karoo, Western Cape.
- Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town, Western Cape.
Protection and management of the area
- The region is managed by three conservation agencies: South African National parks (SANParks), CapeNature (Western Cape), and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency.
- The region currently faces threat from aggressive alien species and fires.
- Long term threats to the region are structural development due to the substantial population growth in the Cape Peninsula and surrounding coastal areas resulting in land degradation and habitat loss, and climate change.
- To get an idea of the responsibilities that these agencies have: CapeNature which is a government organization that is set as being responsible for the conversation of biodiversity in the Western Cape province. The organization works closely with UNESCO. They take part in many protections aimed at activities such as preventing fires, ensuring responsible tourism, eco-friendly urban development, and managing invasive species.
Other interesting facts
- The area is also enhanced and made special by the freshwater and marine environment within the Region. It is home to 11 000 marine animal species. This number includes 35000 marine animal species which are endemic. It also includes 560 vertebrate species which include 142 reptile species.
- The region is home to 12 of South Africa’s endemic plant families and 160 endemic genera.
- The Cape Flora Region is home to two rare and endangered Table Mountain Ghost Frog and the Geometric Tortoise
- The climate in the Region is described as semi-Mediterranean. It is characterized by cool and wet winters and dry hot summers in the western regions whereas the eastern regions get averagely rainy summers.
Conservation International has designated the area as one of the 35 world areas that are biodiversity hotspots. This means that the region has a high conservation value.
The Vredefort Dome, also known as the Vredefort Crater, is located right in the heart of the Free State province of South Africa. It is described as being the oldest astrobleme (or meteorite impact structure) on Earth dating back to over 2,023 million years ago, second to it is the Sudbury impact structure which is found in Canada. At the time that the impact happened, scientists say that there was only one living thing at the time which was algae. Other than that, there were no traces of human, animal or plant life around the area. It is also the largest and deeply eroded impact with a 190km radius; however, it is currently getting smaller due to erosion. It was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 2005 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization under the natural heritage category for its geologic interest. This made it South Africa’s seventh World Heritage Site. The organisation referred to it as a geological phenomenon.
The Dome has, within it, geological strata which make up the middle and upper zones of the earth’s crust. There are classical characteristics to indicate when a structure is an astrobleme which is found in the Vredefort Dome. An astrobleme has a multi-ring structure that has been formed by an impact scar showing the transformation of crystal structures, shatter cones of force which were created by the impact, and lastly the effect of shock metamorphism of rocks. Within this ring is a rock called granitic gneiss rock which was impacted by the force and created deep fractures in the underlying rock. The impact melted the rock which flowed down into the cracks which created the ridges of hard dark known as the granophyre dykes. These are different from the normal geological dykes where the molten rock goes upwards through the cracks. The reason that it called a dome is due to the rock layers which are bent into a shape resembling an upside-down bowl.
Despite being a scientific world of wonder, this world heritage site is also surrounded by beautiful bushveld, forest areas, riverine and savannah ridges. There is also small amounts of animal and plant life. To experience its natural beauty, you can take a walk through the 60km Vredefort Meteorite trail which has different and unusual walking paths that show you the changes in the ecosystem as a result of the Dome. The trail also exposes tourists to memorials from the Anglo Boer War and San rock art. Other fun and incredible surrounding activities include river -rafting, river tubing, rock climbing, horse riding and archery. The Vredefort Dome centre finds home in parts of the Free State. These would be the best places to stay if you are interested in viewing the Dome:
- The “Fort of Peace”, as the name translates, is a largely agricultural centred town in the province. The small quiet town is popular for its countryside feel, scenic farms and overall natural beauty.
- This is the largest area in the province and is known as the tourist hub of the Free State. It is located on the banks of the Vaal River. It is in the 5km buffer zone of the Vredefort Dome.
- This area is also largely agricultural. It is located approximately 49 km from the Vredefort Dome.
Protection and management
Local and international policy documents such as the National Environment Management Act and the World Heritage Convention Act play a central role in how the site is protected and managed. The protection of the site has meant that mining or prospecting is prohibited within the Vredefort Dome and its buffer zone. The site is managed by the Vredefort Dome Steering Committee, Vredefort Dome Inter-Provincial Task Team, and other environmentally-focused organisations. Despite the conversation efforts, the committees and local owners have expressed concerns about the destruction that infrastructure developments could cause in the future
Other interesting facts
- It takes up about 30111 hectares in area space.
- The era in which the impact happened is known as the Paleoproterozoic Era,
- It is the second-oldest crater known on Earth – the oldest being the Suavjärvi crater in Russia.
- It is known to be the world’s greatest single energy release event. Although this seems interesting from the perspective of science, it also resulted in large, devastating effects on the earth such as evolutionary changes.
- It has great educational value as it provides important evidence of the geological history of the Earth and understanding how the planet evolved.
- Scientists estimate that the meteorite must have been approximately 10km wide.
- The meteorite is the same size, if not larger, than that one of the great natural wonders of the world Table Mountain which is located in Cape Town, Western Cape.
- Scientists originally thought that the dome, which is in the centre of the crater, was created by a volcanic explosion.
Barberton Makhonjwa Mountain Land
Barberton Makhonjwa Mountain Land, also known as the Barberton Mountains of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, is the first United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site of the Mpumalanga province, South Africa. It was given its title as a World Heritage site in 2018 under the natural category, which made it South Africa’s tenth World Heritage Site. What makes it a World Heritage Site? The mountain has the oldest and best-preserved volcanic and sedimentary rock on Earth. According to scientists, it is one of the world’s oldest geological structures. it is estimated to be around 3.5 billion years old meaning it dates back to the Paleoarchean which is a geological era within the Archaean Era. This era refers to the first time on Earth that life was formed. Besides its enormous geological value, it also has a beautiful landscape filled with both ecological and biological processes. The Mountain Land is located right within what is called the Barberton Centre of Endemism. A centre of Endemism is described as an area where restricted-range species overlap – in other words, it is filled with unique ecological species. UNESCO has ultimately recognised it for its evidentiary value of earth’s history, its natural beauty, geological structures and ecological diversity.
The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountain Land is made of multiple mountains and hills. These mountains have been nicknamed by locals as the “Genesis of Life”. The nickname is because of the presence of the oldest rock deposits on earth. This World Heritage Site covers an area of 120 by 60 kilometres. These mountains and hills have altitudes above sea level of between 600 and 100 meters. Within the mountains and hills are caves filled with pieces of rock art belonging to the San people. The Kaapvaal Craton which is on the Eastern side of the mountain ranges is the oldest piece of the Earth’s crust that formed during the Archean period. The Craton, according to the scientist, provides proof that Africa and Australia were once one mass before the continents disintegrated. Rocky hills are not the only attributes it has, there are also forested values and grassy values.
The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountain Land is located in a diverse area, which means you may get the opportunity to spot some wildlife such as eland, elephant, hippopotamus, impala, cheetah, zebra, jackal, blue wildebeest, ostrich, caracal, and red hartebeest. Other common activities in the area include walking, horse riding, cycling, hiking, cultural tours, geological adventures, museums, and birding. To get the opportunity to immerse yourself with all of this, the best areas to stay would be:
- The Mountainlands Nature Reserve area.
- Songimvelo Wilderness Nature Reserve.
- Nkomazi Wilderness Nature Reserve.
- Barberton Private Nature Reserve.
Protection and Management
The area and the reserves found within are protected by various laws aimed at protecting environmental rights, the two important ones being the National Environment Management: Protected Areas Act and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency Act. No mining or mineral exploitation is allowed in the area. These laws unfortunately only protect the portion of the land that falls within the formally protected area. The management plans indicate that Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, Geological Society South Africa, South African Heritage Resources Agency, Barberton Tourism and Biodiversity Corridor, and local municipalities are some of the institutions that are responsible for the protection and management. A third of the World Heritage site is located outside of the formally protected areas on private land. Most of this land is used for the production of timber, agriculture and tourism. These require a different system of protection and management, most of which is linked to the people who own property and live in those areas along with the designated organisations.
Other interesting facts
- The two brothers, Fred and Henry Barber are credited for starting the gold rush after they discovered gold in mountains in the early 1880s. This discovery leads people from far and wide to the area which ultimately lead to the town being developed. Barberton is named after them and their cousin, Graham Barber.
- The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountain Land is not completely located in South Africa. Only 80% of it is in South Africa, whereas 20% is located in Swaziland.
- In April 2014, a group of scientists reported finding evidence of the largest terrestrial meteor impact event to date near the area. The impact is estimated to have possibly happened around 3.26 billion years ago and the impact is around 37 and 58 kilometres wide.
- Extra-terrestrial organic material was found in the volcanic rocks at the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountain Land. This happened in May 2019.
- Early Stone Age artefacts from approximately 1 million years ago have been found on the Songimvelo Game Reserve which is found in the area.
- It is the only place on earth where the development of early earth and the evolution of life can be studied.
uKhahlamba Drakensberg-Park is located in the KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The name, when directly translated from the South African languages of isiZulu and Afrikaans means Barrier of Spears – Dragon’s Mountain. This name captures the sheer cliffs and peaks, and the atmosphere of the Drakensberg. The Park covers an area of over 2400 square kilometres and includes the Royal Natal National Park which is the provincial park of KwaZulu-Natal. The uKhahlamba- Drakensberg Park is a part of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park. The other half of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park is located in the Kingdom of Lesotho (this half is known the Sehlathebe National Park). The Maloti-Drakensberg Park was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in November 2000. UNESCO selected the site due to its incredible natural beauty, golden sandstone ramparts, pillars, caves, rock pools, cliffs, sculpted arches and rock shelters. The extremely diverse habitats of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg-Park include over 250 endemic plants (plants unique to the place) and a variety of internationally-important plants.
At the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, you will also find the largest group of rock paintings in Sub- Saharan Africa made by the San people with over 500 mountain caves decorated in rock art. The San people have been recognised as the indigenous people of the southern parts of the African continent. They represent the essence of the deep history of the area. The rock paintings made by the San people depict animal and human life such as hunting, dancing, eland and rhebok images, fighting, spirituality, and rainmaking. These images tell stories of over a period of thousands of years. There are estimated to be over 35000 individual images thorough out the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. It is said that the oldest painting is over 2400 years old.
Amongst the rock paintings is the diverse ecological wonder that remains preserved. These other notable parts of the Park include the large wildlife such as tiny duiker, eland, antelope species, baboon, mountain reedbuck; Sani Pass, the Amphitheatre which is a 5km high-wall of sandstone; the Spioenkop Battlefield; and the Tugela Falls which is the second tallest waterfall in the world. The area is also the perfect environment for hikes, fly-fishing, bird-watching, swimming, painting and riding.
The Drakensberg area is divided into four different areas: Bergville and the Northern Drakensberg; Himeville, Underberg and the Southern Drakensberg; Winterton and the Central Drakensberg; and East Griqualand and Umzimkhulu. To explore the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park and all its offerings, it is suggested that you stay at one of the many of the hotels, bed &breakfasts, self-catering chalets, bungalows, cabins and lodges around the Drakensberg area.
Protection and Management
Protection and management are largely guided by the World Heritage Convention Act, National Environmental Management Act and the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife policies, amongst other legislation. The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park has 12 protected areas which were established between the years of 1903 and 1973. Some of the conservation areas are the Cathedral Peak Forest, Monks Cowl State Forest, Royal Natal National Park, and Giant Castle Nature Reserve. The Park is cited as having one of the most effective conservation management programmes. Four of the areas are proclaimed Wilderness areas (which is nearly 50% of the Park) – these areas are largely unaffected by human settlement and development. The Park is also on the List of Wetland of International Importance. The List is established under the Ramsar Convention. It is aimed at conservation and sustainable use of wetlands that have important ecological functions and economic, scientific and cultural value.
Despite the large conversation efforts, the Park is still highly vulnerable to other external land uses such as plantation forestry, agriculture and eco-tourism. Other natural causes that impact the land include fires, invasive species, and social erosion. There have been efforts to mitigate this such as agreements between local organisations and community and Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife. One of the biggest problems remains the lack of formal protection of the mountain ecosystem that found over the Lesotho border – this makes the threats worse.
Other interesting facts
- It is the largest mountain range in South Africa.
- Thababa Ntlenyana is the highest peak in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. It is 3482m high.
- uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is home to some of the most worlds most endangered species such as the bearded vulture and Cape Vulture.
- The Maloti-Drakensberg Park range of mountains, which uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park forms a part of, is the main water production area in Southern Africa.
- The higher peaks of uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park are made mostly of basalt rock, whereas the lower ones are mainly sandstone.
- The area is classified as an Important Bird Area and is a crucial part of the Lesotho Highlands Endemic Bird Area.
- It is recognised as a Global Centre of Plant Diversity and endemism.
There are more than 24 different species of snakes in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park
Examples of popular World Heritage sites:
- Cultural category
- Sydney Opera House in Australia
- The Great Wall in China
- The Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia in Colombia
- Palace and Park of Versailles in France
- Piazza del Duomo, Pisa in Italy
- Historic Centre of Warsaw in Poland
- Island of Saint-Louis in Senegal
- Tower of London in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- Natural category
- Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
- Okavango Delta in Botswana.
- Galapagos Islands in Ecuador
- Great Himalayan National Park Conversation Area in India
- Mount Kenya Natural Park/Natural Forest in Kenya
- Lake Malawi National Park in Malawi
- New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands in New Zealand
- Grand Canyon National Park in the United States of America
- Mixed category
- Maloti-Drakensberg Park in Lesotho and South Africa
- Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche in Mexico.
- Ibiza, Biodiversity, and Culture in Spain.
- St Kilda in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island.
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the United Republic of Tanzania.
Visit iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa's very first Heritage Site
- Home of the Hippo -
Reasons to visit iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa's very first World Heritage Site
iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers numerous reasons for a visit. One being its sheer size and beauty. Nowhere else can one enjoy both a Bush and a Beach experience within a world heritage site, not to mention the abundance of wildlife. The town of St Lucia is nestled in the heart of this magnificent world heritage site and is the ideal place from where to discover and explore.
St Lucia and its surrounds has one of the largest free-roaming Hippo populations in South Africa. This in itself is truly an amazing and splendid sighting that you will never forget. Pristine Beaches as far as the eye can see, numerous access points into the varying parks that constitute iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and let's not forget the warm tropical weather year-round.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is massive and covers an area of 3280 square kilometers. What could one possibly do while in the area:
- Explore the numerous Parks - and enjoy the abundance of wildlife
- Snorkel at Cape Vidal or Sodwana
- Scuba dive in Sodwana or Cape Vidal
- Go Whale Watching or enjoy Turtle Tours
- Go on a Estuary boat cruise and witness Hippos and Nile Crocodiles
- Explore Mhkuze Game Reserve, Western Shores or Eastern shores of the park
- Deep-Sea Fishing, Cycle Tours, Zulu Cultural Tours or Birding Tours
- Self-guided walking trails
The options are endless and hopefully, you too will be able to enjoy this magnificent area one day.