Concluding remarks on youth participation within the notion of world heritage cities: multiple youth perspectives

First and foremost, thank you to everyone who has been reading my blog posts and following my journey.

In addition, special thanks to Monika and the whole OWHC team for their tireless support and especially for facilitating this amazing project and letting me be part of it.
Thank you also to the wonderful colleagues I had the pleasure to meet, with special thanks to Paula and Eloise.
Further, thanks to all the curious people on the road who shared their interest, perspectives, and dedication to the preservation of world heritage,
With a special focus on the participating cities, I had the chance to explore world heritage further, namely in the MENA region.
Yet, blogging and being on the road requires much more organizational skills than expected. 

Highlights: exchanging with people on the road and 

While the understanding of world heritage has often been described as very intangible and “far away” from people, it has always been described with a positive connotation and a certain national belonging.
When talking to young people, especially in hostels, we always received the highest level of interest and motivation and many curious questions.
As a result, I believe it is certainly facilitating the idea of mainstreaming young people’s involvement in the field of world heritage. Yet, certainly, there remains a huge lack of possibilities for “young people” to participate. While many world heritage cities have developed and managed to involve young people, it varies greatly depending on various factors. 
While this is my final blog post, this project has had a significant impact on my career path. I will forever remain a world heritage enthusiast and ambassador and aim to further explore novel ways for young people to engage in the preservation of world heritage!



Picturesque Amsterdam – a museum lover’s paradise

Amsterdam is simply unique and probably one of the most popular European capitals: youthful, laid-back, easygoing, and the perfect place for cultural enthusiasts. 
One respondent, claims it to be the perfect northern European city:  Bright, fresh, clean, and open-minded.
People I encountered point out the “culture of acceptance” as the city’s main perk. Yet, many have claimed the city has become too international and has become distant from the locals in recent years. Despite its skyrocketing housing prices, the city attracts millions of students every year. 
Yet, there seems to be a vacuum or even a conflict between cultural exposure and the city’s identity. 
Undoubtedly, the city’s identity astonishes tourists with its canals, picturesque architecture, and merchant houses. 

Therefore, Amsterdam is often referred to as the Venice of the North. To put it in numbers, there are 100 kilometers of grachten (canals), about 90 islands, and 1,500 bridges. UNESCO has designated the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, and Jordaan canal ring area of the 17th century as world heritage.

 I loved visiting some outstanding museums. At the Stedelijk Museum, which exhibits contemporary art, I enjoyed the exhibition on colonization and educated myself about the Dutch colonial past in Suriname and Indonesia. 

The Rijksmuseum and its exhibitions can not be missed.

In addition, I finally managed to visit the Anne Frank house (make sure to get tickets online in advance) This is the place, where Anne Frank hid for more than 2 years during WWII and where she wrote her infamous diary.

Later, I enjoy scrolling through the magnificent city and visiting the sights such as Dam Square, Royal Palace, the New Church and Waterloo Square.

Time has been too short, and I have unfortunately missed Almere and the chance to visit the Floriade. (Thanks and shotout to OWHC colleagues in Beemster, who have organized a free ticket)

Floriade is a world Horticultural Expo and is well known as the largest public event in the Netherlands. The 2022 event titled  ‘Growing Green Cities” reveals the need for rethinking the future of our cities and how we are going to life there in the future. 

Floriade, therefore, contributes to a dialogue and sparks ideas by bringing different countries, cities, and companies together to flourish the Green City of the Future. 



Brügge, the medieval fairy tale

“Brügge sehen und sterben,” as we say it in German, is a must-see for everyone. It even appears to be the most popular place to visit in Belgium.
I’m enjoying this beautiful sunny day in this marvelous city, but I’m a little concerned about how warm it is at the end of October.
While strolling through this wonderful medieval city alone is worth the journey, I highly recommend opting for a free walking tour. This allowed me to learn more about the legends and myths of the city, transcending a truly medieval atmosphere.
Yet, everything in the city seems to originate from medieval times, such as the beer culture and its secret recipes.
I feel that people truly enjoy the privilege of living in such a beautiful city.
Enthusiastically, the guide welcomes us: “Welcome to the most beautiful city worldwide.”
Brügge’s entire historical city is marked as a world heritage city.
We are strolling around the historic city center and visiting the main attractions:
Belfry (Belfort van Brugge)
Basilica of the Holy Blood
Church of Our Lady
Museums in the Dijver Mansions

When Brügge developed into an international trading hub, much wealth came to the city.
After the tour, I visit the historium which again allows you to deep dive into the medieval past. The museum is not only super insightful but an experience you will never forget.

The city’s beauty and fairy tale character will hopefully never fade. In such a tourist city, various innovations have been implemented to preserve or improve understanding of cultural heritage. In recent years, the city has sought to find new ways to understand and generate social value for tourists, which I have been testifying.




7 * WARSAW: 5 – 8 Sep

To reach my last stop – Warsaw -, I took a bus trip that allowed me to sightsee the calm and harmonious Polish countryside. Starting as a smaller settlement, the city’s importance rose when, in the late 16th century, Sigismund III decided to move here, together with his royal court. Since then, Warsaw never lost its role as the capital city – of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, until 1795, and subsequently as the seat of Napoleon’s Duchy of Warsaw. In the 19th century, the city industrialized itself and by the beginning of last century, it was one of the largest and most densely-populated in Europe.

[The reconstructed Old Town of Warsaw]


On the 1st of September of 1939, the first bombs were dropped on Warsaw, right after followed by a three-week-long siege. As the first big city to offer fierce resistance to Nazis, heavy losses happened: thousands were killed and about 12 per cent of all buildings were destroyed.

The five long years of occupation that followed brought even more despair and destruction. Nazis even drafted the Pabst Plan, a project that aimed to fully erase the city to build on top a “new german” one. That, fortunately, never happened, but intentional destruction happened on multiple occasions, to purposely attack Polish identity, culture and heritage.

Between 1942-1943, the Jewish Ghetto was built, the biggest ever established in the occupied countries. There, many perished and were deported to concentration and extermination camps. Destruction of the city and its people never ceased until the end of the war; right before it, the Warsaw Uprising, added an extra layer of rubble to the already fustigated city. By 1945, Warsaw was not much more than ash. 



As a recognizement of the detailed reconstruction work that Warsaw witnessed starting right after the cease fire, that contributed to the verification of conservation doctrines and practices, the city became a World Heritage one in 1980.



DAY 15: A Night Stroll

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a local civil engineer, Piotr, who did an evening tour with me through the main axes of the city. He showed me interesting reconstruction projects that often do not make more mainstream suggestions, but that illustrate well the city’s reconstruction post WWII and the different facets it took. 


[The first skyscrapper is Wrsaw, with the symbol of Polish Resistance / A residential building whose recently rehabilitation chose to uncover the signs of war in the façade]

DAY 16: Warsaw, the Fenix

My first full day in Warsaw, started with a visit to the reconstructed Old Town. After WWII, 90% of the buildings in Warsaw were damaged. The new government led a plan to reconstruct the city center using an historical approach. By 1966, all of the monuments of the old city were re-erected according to their appearance between the 14th and 18th centuries. Today, there is a small interpretation center that tells the story of how all of that was done, that truly deserves a visit.

The Heritage Interpretation Centre is located in one of these buildings that was carefully reconstructed, in a small, picturesque street, right below the Old Market Square. There, I not only learnt more about the state of the city in the aftermath of the war, through photographs and videos made in the months that followed, but also how this rose many questions on how to rebuild such a large settlement almost from scratch. 

[The photos of the reconstrution inside the exhibition]

Unwilling to gave up on Warsaw as the capital of the country, Polish people took the rapid reconstruction of the city as a task of national significance. The works started right after the liberation. Through the Decree of October 1945, the new communist government made all land within the administrative boundaries of Warsaw municipal property; a controversial measure that sped up the all process. Many architects, engineers, historians and sociologist were involved. The main guiding tools: Belloto’s veduti of the city, dating back to the 18th century, a debatable choice taken by the authorities, even though there was extensive footage kept from the pre-war and war periods. Some think this option better evoked the grandness of Warsaw in the eyes of those in power, as it coincided with a flourishing period of Enlightenment.

Through the exhibition, I also got to learn about Jan Zachwatowicz, who from 1946 onwards was in charge of the Warsaw Reconstruction Office and its Department of Architectural Heritage. Zachwatowicz undertook massive efforts to ensure an authentic reconstruction of the Old Town, refusing both a modernistic project or leaving the city like it was to serve as a memorial of all the destruction inflicted. From preserving original mansory that had survived structurally intact for later reconstruction to leading a surprisingly short completion of works – 4 years for the heart of the city only -, the architect left a tremendous contribution to its profession. Zachwatowicz was also the author of the Blue Shield – a symbol of protection that identifies cultural property to be protected in the event of armed conflict, ruled under the Hague Convention of 1954, the first international treaty to state the importance of safeguarding heritage under war, as a result of the catastrophic effects of WWII. During the rest of my stay in Warsaw, I saw copious amounts of this sign throughout the city.


[Jan Zachwatowicz / One protected building by the Blue Shield]

In the afternoon, I did a free walking tour around Muranóv, a neighborhood which used to be a part of the city ghetto. We started on the border of the Old Town and the old Warsaw Ghetto, around Krasinski Garden, which portrayed how Varsovian Jews had a story of persecution much older than the dark chapter of the 20th century. In a time when they were expelled from Warsaw, rich noblemen rented plots and wooden houses to the Jewish population in the back of their properties, already outside of the city. Krasinski is one of those cases. When the Warsaw Ghetto was established by the Nazis in late 1940, one of the main doors stood nearby and today it is still possible to see the patches covering bullets markets in the wall surrounding the garden.


[The wall of Krasinki still holds signs of the war / The previous place that used to be occupied by the Ghetto Wall / One of the memorials to the Ghetto resistants]

Muranóv itself was completely erased by the Nazis with explosives after the Warsaw Ghetto eradication in 1943, it was impossible to rebuilt it like the Old Town. Nowadays, even the road structure is different from what it used to be. The memory of the lost neighborhood and its heritage is celebrated here and there with small memorials but remains almost unnoticeable for those that are not informed on the topic.


DAY 17: The Jewish Ghetto

On my second day in Warsaw, I visited the Warsaw Rising Museum, to better understand how the Polish people fought for their independence, culture and city during the times of occupation. There had been a first uprising in 1943, right before its eradication by the Nazis, which was unsuccessful. On the 1st of August 1944, the remaining city was exhausted and willing to fight back one last time. Its underground resistance launched an operation to try to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. Supposed to last only one day, it took more than a month, ending up with the resistance’s defeat. The city, that had already been extensively bombed, saw even more inhabitants perish and became even more damaged damaged during these days of street confrontations. Just like the first, the Warsaw Rising failed its purpose but the exhibition tells its story day by day and highlights brave Varsovians that took part on it, including brave photographers and videographers that lost their lives in an attempt to document the damage made to the physical structure of the city.


[Original remains of the bombed Royal Castle / A replica of the sewage system of the city that was used to communicate and escape during the war]

In the afternoon, it was time to check some buildings that, impressively after so many decades, still await reconstruction in the city, some landmarks that were rebuilt after severe reconstruction and the few remains of the ghetto wall.

I passed by the St. John Cathedral, in the heart of Warsaw, which is a marvelous example of post-war reconstruction of heritage. Originally built in the 14th century, in Masovian Gothic style, it was almost erased during the Warsaw Rising in 1944, when the German army intentionally destroyed it – by placing explosives on the foundations of major landmarks. After the end of the war, it was rebuilt to look like it’s presumed original appearance, using 17th century illustrations and drawings. A similar approach was used at St. Anne Church, at the start of the Royal Route, which I also had the pleasure to visit.

[St. John’s Cathedral on the background]

My late afternoon was spent hunting for the few remains of the Warsaw Ghetto walls still remain, partly because Germans, after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, tried to eradicate all the evidence of their crimes, partly because they are a painful memory that was not always taken into consideration during the reconstruction of this area of the city in the 50’s and 60’s. 


[The Church of the Visitadines, rebuilt according a Belloto’s veduti / One of the few remains of the Ghetto Wall]


DAY 18: From Bellotto’s Veduti to a Reconstructed Capital

Last day in Warsaw and last day of the trip! I couldn’t leave the city without paying a visit to one of its more notable and grandiose reconstructions, the Royal Castle, originally built in the early 17th century, when the Masovian dukes moved the capital from Kraków to Warsaw. There, the first national constitution in Europe was signed in 1791. In 1939, the castle was targeted by Luftwaffe – the German Air Force – and, in 1944, detonated by the Nazis after the Warsaw Uprising. Reconstruction only happened between 1971-1974, financed by the Polish people, since the communist government that ruled Poland after the war showed resistance when it came to rebuild a building that was associated with monarchy.


[The magestic Royal Castle, with its Belloto’s collection]

After I passed through what remains from the Saxon Palace, one of the most impressive buildings in the Royal Way before WWII,also heavily destroyed during the war. The small fragment that remains now hosts a memorial. There are plans to reconstruct it soon, in a costly and majestic historical approach. As of now, it is a major example of the planned destruction Nazis performed in Warsaw – destroying heritage to weaken the enemy and their culture, memory and identity.

To finish my stay, I went up to see the city from above, making a last stop at the Palace of Culture and Science, a post-war building, a gift from Russia to the city in the 50’s. Looking in one direction, one can see the picturesque old town rebuilt, in the other the area where the ghetto used to be, where now there are big skyscrapers together with typical communist housing blocks built in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s: a striking contrast.


[The Palace of Science and Culture / The view from above]

Nevertheless, Warsaw filled me with a lot of hope regarding what is now sadly happening once more, in the neighbouring Ukraine. Seeing what can be done when people unite to safeguard their common history, re-ignited my trust that after the 20th century and all its tragedies, some lessons were learnt and we are now, colectively, in a position to take cultural heritage protection as a serious affair, with true social and economical implications, and not just like a good-to-have that can be forgotten during times of conflict!

[With Piotr, local civil engineer, and my my long-time friend Marharyta, an ukranian architect, at a milk bar, tasting some Polish traditional food]

6 * KRAKÓW: 3 – 5 Sep

After a long night bus ride, I crossed borders to reach my sixth stop: Kraków! The city that already had the capital status is nowadays the second-largest in Poland. The capital of the country until 1596, Kraków has been throughout the centuries an important focal point for academic, economic, cultural and artistic life.

[A view of the castel hill in Kraków]


At first glance, the history of Kraków during WWII seems hard to believe. Even though, similarly to many other cities in the country, it witnessed a ghetto being built and all the pain and fear that followed during the hard years of the war, Kraków was  miraculously spared of mass destruction.

Kraków surrendered to the German Armed Forces without a fight, on the 6th September 1939. Only 6 days later, the German armed forces announced Kraków as an urdeutsche stadt (in English, an ancient german city), based on forged historical research, as the city was a strategical hub for agriculture and light industry than was seen as very useful by the Nazis.

Even at the end of the war, with Germany forced to leave the city behind due to the advances of the Red Army, the city survived an eventual intentional process of destruction by the Nazis, as unfortunately many other cities went through. Why? The reason does not seem to be fully known.


[The Barbican / On my way to the Old Town]


In 1978, Kraków became a World Heritage City as the Old Town surrounded by the Planty park, together with Wavel Hill, the town of Kazimierz and the suburb of Stradom were included on the first UNESCO World Heritage List. Barely modified since the Middle Ages, the historical city center holds various unique buildings such as the Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica and it is encircled by a fortification complex that still includes some of the original gates to the city. 


DAY 13: A Spared City, but the Kazimierz

I arrived in Kraków very early on a Saturday morning, which allowed me to kickstart my visit to the city with a lonely walk around its center. Walking from the main train station to the old town, makes one wonder if he or she is going back in time. All seems to have been kept untouched by many, many centuries and it is impossible not to feel fortunate, enjoying a rare opportunity to witness an almost untouched town, walkable, where all little details were taken care of, in stark contrast with its new parts, recently built around it. 

I entered the heart of the city through one of its main gates, right by the Barbican – a fortified outpost, part of the medieval walls, in marvelous red brick and Gothic-style. From there, only for a couple of minutes, I reached the Main Square, drafted based on the 1257 founding charter granted by Prince Boleslaw, that for long was the largest in medieval Europe – its sides are 200m long. 


[The beautiful Renaissance style façade of the Cloth Hall / The shops inside]

In the middle of it, stands the Cloth HallSukiennice, in Polish – , once a major center of international trade. During the 15th century, when Kraków was still the capital of Poland, one could find exotic imports there as well as salt from the Wieliczka Salt Mine nearby. However, its importance decreased after the capital was transferred to Warsaw. Nowadays, the lower floor still hosts commerce but the top one became part of the museums of the city.

On the opposite side of the square, there is St. Mary’s Basilica, an important example of Polish Gothic architecture. The interiors are astonishing and richly decorated, with a rich blue ceiling where stars were painted, typical of its period. On Sunday mornings, a cornet player can still be seen playing on top of one of the towers, announcing that mass will soon start. 

In the afternoon, I headed to the southern outskirts of the Old Town, to KazimierzOriginally a separate city allowed by King Casimir the Great – from whom it took its name – in the 14th century, it was a place where ethnic Polish and Jewish cultures coexisted. However, during WWII, Jews living in Kraków were forced to relocate to Podgórze, just across the river, to the ghetto created by the German occupation forces. 


[The interiors of Saint Mary’s Basilica / The memorial chairs at Zgody Square]

Today, traces of the ghetto are minimal, since the area was so beaten up that after the war, its reconstruction was mainly made from scratch. However, there are still many memorials witnessing the history of the neighborhood and how so many people were crowed, starved and forced to do slave work there. 

Some are more obvious, like the lonely chairs at Zgody Squaretoday’s Bohaterów Getta Square –, each one representing thousands of jews that were here forced to gather and wait for their deportations, specially during the extermination of the ghetto between June 1942 and March 1943. 

Others less, like the little pharmacy, now a museum on the corner of the same square: the Eagle Pharmacy. Established in 1909, it sold medicine both to Jews and to Poles. At the beginning of WWII, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, the son of the founder, a Roman Catholic, managed to get permission from German authorities to keep his business open and stay in the recently formed ghetto. 

Soon, the pharmacy became a meeting point for the Jewish intelligentsia, where attempts to resist and to smuggle food were organized. Pankiewicz also bravely hid people inside during mass deportations on multiple occasions. 

After the war, he kept running the pharmacy but, in the 50’s, it was nationalized under communist rule. Nowadays, an effort to recover its interiors to their state during the war was made and the building is now a branch of the Museum of Krákow. Inside, one can discover not only the different rooms that the pharmacy encompasses but also a complete exhibition that tells more about the harsh history it witnessed.

DAY 14: An Imploded Concentration Camp

The second day in Kraków was time for more visits to sites that speak about the impact of WWII in the city, its story, its people and heritage. I made my first stop of the day at the first building of the Jagiellonian University. Founded in 1364 by King Casimir III, the Great, it is the oldest university in Poland. The original campus, located in the main city center, has a long history. During WWII, a handful of teachers were arrested here by the German occupation forces, in an attempt to weaken the institutions that represented Polish identity and culture.

[The minimal design of the Schindler’s Factory]

In the afternoon, I got back to the outskirts of the city, near Kazimierz once again, to visit two other important historical sites. First, the Schindler’s Factory, which became famous due to the 1993 Spielberg’s movie. The industrial building, now also a museum, host the exhibition “Kraków under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945”, a very comprehensive collection of information and artifacts arranged in an interactive and compelling way. There, one can learn how the city changed radically during the war years, the laws passed by the German Nazis through the months that made like more and more unbearable for the inhabitants of the city and some hints of its state by the end of the conflict.


[Some rooms of the permanent exhibition, that I visited with my local Couchsurfing host, Piotr]

Later on, it was time for a bike ride to the Plászow Concentration Camp, a forced labor, transitional camp through which many Jews from Krakow passed by. Nowadays, not much remains, just a couple lesser buildings of the complex and a major memorial, erected in the middle of the now green empty field, in 1964.

[The Grey House, one of the few remains at the entrance of Plászow Concentration Camp]

DAY 15: The Wavel Castle under the Nazi

With one morning left on the city, I did one last walk to visit the Wavel Castle. In one of the banks of the Vistula river, stands the millennial castle and its nearby cathedral, firstly built in the 9th century, by the first historical rulers of Poland. 


[The route to the Wavel Castel / Inside it, with the multi-stylistic cathedral on the background]

House to many dynasties throughout time – including foreign ones – it was also the accommodation choice preferred by Hans Frank, the assigned Governor General of Nazi German-ocuupied Poland. Many efforts had been made in the previous decades to establish the castle as a main symbol of the recently formed Republic of Poland, through two main architectural reconstruction projects done by leading polish architects of the early 20th century, profoundly supported by the local population.

However, during the occupation, the complex suffered major alterations to fit the eccentric lifestyle led by Frank – inconsiderate additions were added to the hill, over important archeological remains, to host his entourage and important art pieces and items that were part of its interiors were either destroyed, altered or looted. Today, after many interventions to restore the splendor of the castle, it is open to visitors and hints perhaps on how, in the middle of a razed Poland, Kraków somehow managed to survive in what we could describe as good shape.

Brussels: European Capital, Art Nouveau, and a melting pot of cultural heritage

First and foremost, I have to admit that I have not only traveled to Brussels as a tourist but that the city has indeed become my current hometown in the last few months. Contrary to its many stereotypes of being an ugly or dangerous city given the social problems, I absolutely love Brussels. Why? 

  1. Brussels is incredibly green with loads of parks. To fact-check, 50% of the city is classified as green space. 
  2.  Cultural exposure: Strolling around Brussels, you are constantly exposed to historical monuments, sites, and beautiful architecture. Needless to say, Brussels prides to have gastronomic delicacies from everywhere. In addition, you find the multicultural confluence of heritage from different countries. A statue of Nasreddin Hodja of Turkey surprised me while strolling through the Turkish district of Schaerbeek (near Gare du Nord). A piece of the Berlin Wall can be found next to the European Parliament.

However, despite its international residents, I have felt that the city is an ethnically segregated one.

The well-known gems: Grand Place and the Atomium

Undoubtedly, the Grand Place is Brussels’ most important gem, exposing the city as a world heritage site and attracting thousands of visitors daily. 

I am meeting Paula, who is in charge of the restoration of the Grande Place.

She shows me around the neo-Gothic “La Maison du Roi,” which perfectly reflects the heritage of the city and is probably the best starting point to fully understand the history of the place and how it has transformed throughout the last decades.

Musee de Roi

You can truly feel how the people working there, and their tireless efforts  foster the preservation of world heritage. Seven bronze UNESCO logo plates e. The grand place line is indicated bye pinpoint towards the grand place.  Do not miss out on the little, narrow streets and hidden, picturesque bars around the square.

Another must-see is definitely the Atomium, constructed in 1958 for the Brussels World’s Fair; it is located outside the city of Brussels. Yet the futuristic structure shall not be missed. 

Preserving European history

Another interesting aspect of the city is its “center” of European history. Immerse yourself by not only visiting the European district’s institutions but also participating in cultural activities. Here you will also find the museum of European history.

It is a very visitor-friendly, interactive museum—definitely worth a visit. This museum explores the paradoxes of Europe and its many facades. In addition, the horrors of war are discussed. … This aspect of the museum very much appealed to me because it prompts us to consider the question, “What is Europe?”

Another must-do is The Parliamentarium in the European Parliament, which takes you through European history and integration and looks into what the world and work of a European politician could look like.

I am talking to my contact, who works for the Commission on Cultural Policy.

We discuss the city of Brussels, and she explains its specific role as a world heritage city. She argues that in Brussels, cultural heritage is constantly renegotiated and is home to different communities. Given the political landscape and the impact of the organizations’ presence, youth in Brussels are generally much more active in the sphere of heritage. This simply makes world heritage more accessible and easier to follow.

During my time in Brussels, I hope I can take part in it and contribute to it. 🥰🤗



Heritage through the eyes of the locals

Throughout our travels we were exploring, discussing and thinking about how relationships with heritage differ from region to region. It’s not straightforward or universally the same. People’s relation to their heritage depends on many factors – the way a country industrially developed, their place in the world hierarchy of power, the prevailing political ideologies and religious beliefs and much more.

Since we’ve been travelling for more than 17 months in the past 2 years we could compare this relationship throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. For the purpose of this article, however, we’ve decided to only focus on the regions we travelled to within our OWHC travel scholarship.

Since we began our travels in Slovenia and Germany, let’s start at home. As we’ve observed, Europeans mostly see their heritage as something which has to be preserved, “locked” away, studied and maybe exhibited to tourists. Just think about how many churches also serve as tourist attractions, how many old royal buildings are now museums or galleries and how the historical centres of European cities mostly only serve tourists.

On the other side, however, we had a completely different experience in Turkey and Iraq. There, history and the present go hand in hand. Historical centres are usually home to very traditional and conservative communities and are less developed than modern outskirts. Citadels, old architecture, bazaars and mosques are sometimes reconstructed, and sometimes not. However, an underlying theme to all of these places is that they are still deeply woven into the daily lives of the inhabitants of the city. Be it shopping at centuries-old bazaars, bathing in historical hammams, dining in traditional restaurants or praying in mosques from the early days of Islam – history and the present day are not separated.

At this point a question arises – is heritage something which has to be locked down and preserved, or is it something which changes with every society inhabiting a certain time and space? We hope we will gain more answers to these questions while we continue our 10-month trip from Germany to Taiwan!


Similarities in Ohrid and Berat, through an architectural prism

When we see a panorama from Ohrid and Berat side by side, we can clearly form an idea that both share really similar, if not, the same architectural language.

I’d say that is mainly a product because both of the cities were in the late Ottoman empire, even in the same Ohrid-Epir region. Both cities have a similar climate, are built on terrain with an elevation, and share a rich historical image from ancient times. Today they’re both UNESCO-protected regions and have aspirations to be growing touristic centers.


UNESCO Sights on the Way

After visiting the Safranbolu, the next UNESCO Heritage city on our list was Bam in Iran. However, because of the protests taking place in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini as well as the limited internet access that followed, we decided to change our plans and skip visiting Iran. Nevertheless, instead of Iran we then unexpectedly visited the Kurdish region of Iraq and also travelled to Saudi Arabia sooner than planned and have already visited quite a few new UNESCO Heritage sites.

Even before leaving Turkey, we managed to see two new Heritage sites, Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia and Diyarbakır Fortress.

We’ve wanted to go to Cappadocia for some time but were afraid of the high prices and crowds of tourists during this peak travel season. The Capadoccia region actually has 7 different valleys easily accessible by foot. Because most tourists come for just a few days and drive only to the main sights, they are completely empty and more beautiful than you can imagine (photos or videos really can’t capture the extraordinary nature). The fairy chimneys or phalluses, as some describe them, were made by wind and water erosion and the holes and caves were built during the Roman times for living, storage and churches. All in all, we had a great time and were surprised by how beautiful and tranquil nature is, and how few people explore the region behind the museum and the air balloons.

In Diyarbakir, we took part in a Youth Exchange about Islamophobia for 10 days, together with peers from Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. It was a great experience exploring this historical city! It is the “capital” of Kurds in Turkey, with a conflicting past. The last clashes in 2016 left the old city centre, including much of the UNESCO-protected fortress destroyed, but it’s rapidly coming back up again. The site includes the 5.8 km-long city walls of Diyarbakir with their various towers, gates, buttresses, and 63 inscriptions, as well as the Inner fortress, also known as çkale and featuring the Amida Mound. It is really magical to sip tea and watch the people strolling and the children playing as the golden light illuminates the fortress and the city walls which are supposed to be the longest complete defensive walls in the world after the Great Wall of China.

Leaving the beloved country that is Turkey, we made our way across the border with Iraq, to the northern Kurdish region of the country. Our first stop was Erbil, the biggest city in the region, where we met some new friends who took us to an opera concert in the old citadel, organised by the Czech consulate there. Located in the historical city centre of Erbil, on a hill overlooking the always lively main square and the enchanting old Bazaar, it was a magical thing to experience on our first evening in the city. The 5th millennium BC is the first indication of human settlement in the area around the citadel. The citadel’s original fortifications were eventually replaced with homes, but the continuous wall of tall 19th-century house façades still gives the appearance that an unassailable stronghold dominates the city.

From Iraq, our journey continues to Saudi Arabia, more specifically, its Eastern province, which is home to the biggest oasis in the world, the Al-Ahsa Oasis. The oasis is an important area in terms of its unique nature and geography, historically and economically. It is actually home to the largest conventional oil field in the world, the Ghawar Field and with 2.5 million palm trees it is also responsible for a large amount of Saudi date production, with the country being the second largest date producer in the world. The mix of oil production facilities and neverending palm forests is truly a unique sight.

Economics aside, the oasis presents evidence of human settlement in the Gulf region from the Neolithic until today. It possesses unique historical evidence of the continued human habitation in the area with the unique construction of fortresses, mosques, wells, and a network of open-air canals, which show a unique way of distributing water through the centuries. The historical buildings somehow act in harmony with a truly outlandish-looking geography of huge orange rocks scattered around the desert landscape. We were even lucky enough to join a tour to a hard-to-reach Al-Asfar lake, which is surrounded by sand dunes and nothing like we’ve ever seen before.

Changing our plans and leaving Iran out was a hard decision to make. Nevertheless, it’s definitely a country we plan on visiting when the situation allows it. Taking everything into account, our spontaneous adventures in Iraq and additional time in Saudi was an opportunity that we otherwise wouldn’t have and the Heritage sights that we saw before on during this time are memories that will undoubtedly not be forgotten.

5 * VIENNA: 31 – 2 Sep

Fifth stop: Vienna! The capital of Austria is a city of culture and history. By the Danube, the city’s first traces of human settlement trace back to 500 BC. From the 15th century onwards, it was also the house of the Habsburgs, a royal dynasty that ruled for hundreds of years and played a pivotal role in the history of Europe. Its marvelous Baroque beauty hides hints of the impact WWII had on the city and on the country. 

[A view of the historical city center of Vienna]


Vienna was annexed by the Nazis in 1938, right before the beginning of WWII, in an ostentatious parade that counted with the presence of Hitler, who was himself austrian born. The occupation – known in German by Anschluss – lasted until the end of the war and brought tremendous suffering and loss. Local jews were persecuted and deported and the city was besieged and bombed a couple of times both by the Americans and the British, specially by the end of the conflict. 

After the end of the war in Europe, similarly to Berlin, Vienna was divided and governed by the winning allied forces – which is depicted in the famous 1949 movie The Third Man – for ten long years, until 1955.

[Karlskirche by Fischer von Erlach]


The Historic Centre of Vienna was classified by UNESCO in 2001, as it beautifully showcases the medieval and Baroque architecture and urban planning that characterizes central european cities. Vienna, for many years the capital of the long lasting Austro-Hungarian Empire, is also an important place when it comes to intangible heritage since it has been a major focal point for musical creation since the 16th century, being the city of famous composers like Mozart and Beethoven.  



DAY 10: The Ringstrasse

In the latter part of the 19th century, Vienna was in need to expand its dense urban medieval perimeter. The medieval walls of the city were demolished and a new, major boulevard – the Ringstrasse – was built, surrounding the historical town. This major project encompassed noble, representative public buildings and enabled the city to incorporate the developing suburbs, resulting in the quick enlargement of the capital.

I spent my first day in the austrian capital walking along this main axis and got the opportunity to visit some of the magnificent buildings and parks that surround it. I started at Karlskirche, a major example of Baroque and of the spirit of the counter-reformation. This church is a major project by probably the most relevant Baroque austrian architect, Fischer von Erlach. From the top of its cupula, it is possible to admire the Vienna’s city center and how it stays course and coherent in a beautiful overlap between the different architectural styles that shape the city.


[The magnificient Baroque decor inside the church]

Then I continued my trip around the Ringstrasse to admire other buildings like the Wiener Staatsoper – the famous opera house, destroyed during WWII and reopened in 1955 with Beethoven’s “Fidelio” -, the Austrian Parliament – currently going through works in accordance to its original project – or the Wien Rathaus – the magnificent city hall building in neo-Gothic style.

DAY 11: Traces of Annexed Austria

My second day in Vienna was dedicated to visiting traces of the Anschluss, a very challenging period of occupation for the city and its inhabitants. My morning started at the Augarten, a public garden in the northern limit of the historical center that used to be a noble property and today is a extense public garden. 

In the middle of the greenery, two massive structures disrupt the landscape: the Flak Towers. These enormous constructions were erected by the Nazis as anti-aircraft defense during WWII, resourcing to slave labour. Vienna was not the only city getting them: both Berlin and Hamburg were also equipped with a couple of them. Even though their immediate purpose was to block Allied offensives, there were plans to revamp and make them major symbols of Nazi power once the war ended.


[On my way to the Augarten / One of the Flak Towers]

Nowadays, it is interesting to reflect upon how each people and each city dealt and deals with this somehow “uncomfortable” heritage. The majority of these towers in Germany were either partially or totally destroyed right after the end of the war as they evoke the dark times of the war and the destruction it caused, while in Austria, most of them still stand, serving as a memorial and a public awareness tool for the harsh aftermath of conflicts in cities. 

In the afternoon, I strolled around the city center and entered the Stephansdom – the city’s cathedral. From there, I walked through the thigh knit and classically harmonious settlement surrounding the royal Habsburg complex, passing by the Judenplatz – that used to be the center of the Viennese Jewish community in the Middle Ages – to check the site-specific that was built there – a petrified library, where books cover are not readable and where it is impossible to enter, remembering the cultural loss and the identity attack suffered by the jews during Nazi rule.


[A passage in the city centre / Judenplatz]

I ended my walk near the Albertina museum, where I made a last stop to appreciate one of the Hrdlicka Memorials. These small sculpted ensembles, created by the homonymous sculptor, evoke the many ways Austria witnessed suffering during the occupation and the war. The ones in the picture, in Albertinaplatz, use stone sourced using forced labour in Mauthausen, a concentration camp near Linz.


[The Royal complex / The Hdrlicka Memorial in Albertinaplatz]

DAY 12: A Divided City

I could not finish my days in the Austrian capital without a visit to Schönbrunn Palace, the major summer residence of the Habsburgs. Together with its sumptuous gardens, the ensemble has been inscribed in the UNESCO list for World Heritage Sites since 1996. The building that can be seen nowadays has an original Baroque project, by same architect as the previously mentioned Karlskirche, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, but the full complex nowadays is the result of a sum up of many interventions throughout the centuries.


[The Schönbrunn Palace / The Baroque fountains / The Gloriette]

Curiously, after the war and during the Allied occupation period that followed (1945 – 1955), the palace was used for both the British Delegation to the Allied Commission for Austria and for the headquarters for the small British Military Garrison present in Vienna, before becoming a museum again with the reestablishment of the Austrian Republic.

Back to the city center after lunch, I visited a beautiful church – Dominkanerkirche – that illustrates Austrian Baroque well – white and intricate. Before leaving for my next stop, I still had time to meet Regina Wiala-Zimm, the International Relations Officer for the City of Vienna that cooperates directly with OWHC, and a fellow traveler, Stefan Župan.


– Heldenplatz – 

In front of the royal palace of the Habsburgs, the famous Hofburg, there is this significant square. In 1938, when the Nazis occupied Austria, Hitler did an impressive parade and speech here to show its power and announce the annexation of the country.

[Heldenplatz nowadays]

– Stephansdom – 

The cathedral of Vienna, a magnificent gothic church, suffered tremendously during WWII. Damaged during bombing, as Germans were retreating from the city by the end of war, intentional destruction was planned. Viennese german command Sepp Dietrich ordered the soldiers to “fire a hundred shells (at the cathedral) and leave it in just debris and ashes.” Luckily, a subordinate disregarded the order and more destruction was spared. After the war, efforts to reconstruct it started immediately.


[The Stephansdom / The Canova inside]