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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

The best new World Heritage Sites to visit from the UAE

Of the 19 new sites were inscribed in July, 6 are easily reachable from the UAE

A traditional well in the Qasr Sahood neighbourhood of the Al Ahsa Oasis, Saudi Arabia. Francois Cristofoli
A traditional well in the Qasr Sahood neighbourhood of the Al Ahsa Oasis, Saudi Arabia. Francois Cristofoli

Al-Ahsa Oasis, Saudi Arabia

Less than 300 kilometres from the UAE border with Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest date palm oasis. Al-Ahsa (or Al-Hasa) oasis is named after its surrounding region and comprises dozens of natural springs with over 2.5 million date palms covering 12,000 hectares.

A sea of palm trees at the Al Ahsa Oasis in Saudi Arabia. Francois Cristofoli
A sea of palm trees at the Al Ahsa Oasis in Saudi Arabia. Francois Cristofoli

More than a million people live in the area, which has both modern development and ­archaeological ruins, about 65km from the sea. Some of the settlements here date back to the Neolithic period. There are canals, mud-built wells and homes, historic fortresses and mosques.

Inside part of the vast Al Ahsa Oasis in eastern Saudi Arabia. IPOGEA
Inside part of the vast Al Ahsa Oasis in eastern Saudi Arabia. IPOGEA

Drive for 7 hours, or fly in 12 hours 45 minutes, from Dubai to Hofuf with Saudia (www.saudia.com) via another airport in the country. Rooms at the Al Ahsa InterContinental cost from 582 Saudi riyal (Dh570) per night, including taxes.

Qalhat, Oman

About 20km north of Sur on the coast of Oman, the ancient city of Qalhat was developed as a major port between the 11th and 15th ­centuries. The city, which has been on Unesco’s tentative list since 1988, was originally surrounded by inner and outer walls and, despite there not being much left of it, the agency says the 60-acre site “bears unique testimony to the trade links between the east coast of ­Arabia, East Africa, India, China and South-East Asia.”

The Bibi Maryam Mausoleum at Qalhat, Oman. MHC
The Bibi Maryam Mausoleum at Qalhat, Oman. MHC

Marco Polo visited in the 13th century, referring to it as Calatu, and Ibn Battuta travelled there in the 14th century. Its decline started in 1507 when it was seized by the Portuguese.

Fly to Muscat from Abu Dhabi in 1 hour 10 minutes, and drive 2 hours to Sur. Muscat’s Sundus Rotana costs from 51 Omani riyals (Dh487) per night, including taxes.

Thimlich Ohinga, Kenya

Close to the shore of Lake Victoria in south-west Kenya, Thimlich Ohinga, as it is called in the local Dholuo language, means “frightening dense forest settlement” in English, and is a drystone walled settlement dating from the 16th century. Structures like these were typical of the first ­pastoral communities of the region, ­serving as ­protection for people and livestock, and ­defining social status. Such ways of life ­persisted until the middle of the 20th century, and according to Unesco, “Thimlich Ohinga is the largest and best-preserved of these ­traditional enclosures.”

Entrance at Kochieng enclosure, Kenya. Ephraim Mwangi / National Museums of Kenya
Entrance at Kochieng enclosure, Kenya. Ephraim Mwangi / National Museums of Kenya

Thimlich Ohinga, north-west of the town of Migori, is an 8-hour, 400km drive in a 4x4 from Nairobi, or a 4-hour, 200km drive from Kisumu. Nairobi is a 5-hour direct flight from Abu Dhabi and Kenya Airways offers return flights from Dubai to Kisumu via Nairobi from Dh2,125 return, including taxes.

Caliphate city of Medina Azahara, Spain

The hall of Abd al-Rahman III at the Madinat al-Zahra Archaeological Site. M Pijuan
The hall of Abd al-Rahman III at the Madinat al-Zahra Archaeological Site. M Pijuan

In Andalusia, 8km west of Cordoba in southern Spain, the 10th-century Caliphate city of Medina Azahara was built by the Umayyad dynasty as the seat of the Caliphate of Cordoba. Most of it was damaged or destroyed during a civil war in 1009 to 1010, and it remained forgotten until it was rediscovered in the early 20th century, but Unesco says it still represents “a complete urban ensemble featuring infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water systems, buildings, decorative elements and everyday objects. It provides in-depth knowledge of the now vanished western Islamic civilisation of Al-Andalus, at the height of its splendour”.

Aerial view of the Caliphate City of Medina al-Zahara in Spain. M. Pijuan
Aerial view of the Caliphate City of Medina al-Zahara in Spain. M. Pijuan

Medina Azahara is 8km west of Cordoba. Etihad and Emirates fly direct to Madrid in 7 hours; from there it is a 1-hour 45-minute high-speed train trip to Cordoba, where there are several charming hotels from Dh300 per night.

Victorian and Gothic Art Deco architecture of Mumbai, India

After decades of wrangling and local campaigning, Mumbai’s spectacular Victorian and Art Deco architecture has finally been given more protection. The two waves of development, which happened in the 19th and 20th centuries, “transformed the city from a fortified trading outpost to the first city of India”, says Unesco.

An aerial view of the Kala Ghoda streetscape and its neo-Gothic architecture in Mumbai, India. Jehangir Sorabjee / Abha Narain Lambah Associates
An aerial view of the Kala Ghoda streetscape and its neo-Gothic architecture in Mumbai, India. Jehangir Sorabjee / Abha Narain Lambah Associates

The incorporation of local elements into both colonial schools of architecture created unique styles including Indo-Gothic and Indo-Deco. Most of the property is clustered around the Oval Maidan and the eastern end of Marine Drive, where the largest collection of Art Deco buildings outside of Miami is clustered.

Various airlines fly direct to Mumbai in 4 hours; stay at the Taj Mahal Palace, a heritage structure in itself, from 14,500 Indian rupees (Dh732) per night, including taxes.

Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

Located in the Germus mountains of south-­eastern Anatolia, this site is a cluster of megalithic enclosures erected by hunter-gatherers who lived there between 9,600 and 8,200BC. Thought to have been used in connection with funerary rituals by one of the first-settled communities on earth, they have distinctive T-shaped pillars carved with images of wild animals, and, argues Unesco, “provides insight into the way of life and beliefs of people living in Upper Mesopotamia about 11,500 years ago.”

Eastern Turkey Tours can arrange trips from Ankara, Arsan from Gaziantep. Fly from Abu Dhabi to Gaziantep (8 hours 20 minutes) or Sanliurfa (12 hours 45minutes) with Turkish Airlines or Pegasus via Istanbul.

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Read more:

How a citizen-led initiative in Mumbai led to an Unesco World Heritage Site inscription

Unesco's world heritage list for 2018 revealed

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