UNESCO Sites - The Danube
A major waterway such as the Danube always attracts development and disputes; imagine the legacy of this great river, passing through Austria, Romania, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia, and the number of historically saturated sites that meet UNESCO World Heritage criteria. Keep counting!
Right on the river
Roll way, way back to Roman times and you’ll find the beginning of what UNESCO lists as the Old town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof. Situated on a bend in the Danube, Regensberg emerged as an influential trading center, the capital of Bavaria, and an imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire. All the investment this stature brought is evident in the various stately buildings, in architectural styles from Roman to Romanesque to Gothic and onward. It’s a must to cross the old Stone Bridge – spanning the Danube for well over 800 years!
The Danube flows through Austria next, and the area UNESCO calls the Wachau Cultural Landscape has vestiges of buildings from prehistoric times through the present, delightfully strewn among almost endless vineyards. Gentle natural beauty and a very long tradition of good food and wine make this stretch of the river between Melk and Krems a natural for a leisurely exploration of Austria’s history and culture along the Danube.
The Danube is what makes Budapest, Budapest: the river neatly articulates the two halves of this gorgeous city. The actual UNESCO citation is for Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue; there is so much of historical value and esthetic interest between the Roman ruins, the castle on the hill, the bridges, stately parliament buildings and the elegant boulevard, that there just wasn’t any other way to do it. Enjoy the view of one side from the other and see if you can pick a favorite view of Hungary’s capital city.
The Danube Delta, which is in Romania and is where this immense river finally flows into the Black Sea, is a natural World Heritage site thanks to the enormous number of birds and fish that call this enormous wetland area home; try 3,450 animal and 1,700 plant species! The Danube Delta is in better condition than any other in Europe, and is one of the largest. The bird watching is phenomenal, and you can also see various mammals who may be search of fish or fowl for a meal… This is a wonderful area to surround yourself in the natural wealth of Europe.
Off the river
While you’re traveling through the Danube Region, consider going overland to see some of these fascinating World Heritage sites:
One of the most singular and somewhat mysterious monuments from the Middle Ages is the Madara Rider. You’ll find him in northeast Bulgaria, a huge knight on horseback at odds with a lion. The amazing carving starts at a height of about 75 feet above ground on a practically vertical cliff. The composition of horse and rider with spear, dog, and lion has military overtones but is thought by some to be connected with a Thracian god.
“Re-use, recycle” applies even to Roman palaces. Emperor Diocletian, who ruled the Roman Empire in the late 3rd century AD, at the end of his career chose a prime spot in present-day Split, Croatia, to build his palatial seaside retirement home. What is so intriguing about the UNESCO Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian is how well builders of every era - Medieval, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque - have used parts of the palace to create the unique amalgamation of interlaced architectural styles that make up the city today.
Diocletian’s son-in-law Emperor Galerius also built an impressive complex, Gamzigrad-Romuliana, Palace of Galerius, south of the Danube in Serbia. UNESCO notes that the site is unusual in combining ceremonial and memorial uses; it was named after Galerius’ mother, who was a pagan priestess and had a temple devoted to her on the grounds. In addition to the requisite fortifications, there were baths and basilicas and a huge palace with multiple halls and classic Roman decoration in the form of frescoes and mosaics. Now an archeological site, Gamzigrad-Romuliana was in use until the 11th century.
Imagine a mining town that looks as if it’s out of a fairy tale, with elegant Renaissance and baroque buildings and squares winding up and down… you’re in the Historic Town of Banská Štiavnica and the Technical Monuments in its Vicinity in steeply hilly central Slovakia. The technical monuments refer to mining relics from the 11th century and onward, when the town gained its footing upon the discovery of a mother lode of gold and silver. Banská Štiavnica had its heyday during the Hapsburg period as the biggest mining center in the empire and today charms visitors with the vestiges its illustrious past.