There are 1,154 UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout the world. Each of them offers a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of complex civilizations, empires, and religions. This series offers an in-depth overview of five of the most intriguing UNESCO World Heritage sites from around the world, from Iraq to Brazil. Each lavishly illustrated program goes far beyond the typical tourist experience by incorporating the insights of the latest scholarship and research.
Justin M. Jacobs, associate professor of history at American University, is the author of several books, including The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures. He is also the host of a 24-episode series on UNESCO World Heritage Sites for The Great Courses.
Please Note: Individual sessions are available for purchase.
February 15 Samarra and the Abbasid Caliphate
Once the thriving capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, Samarra in the 9th century A.D. served as the center of an Islamic empire that stretched from northern Africa to Central Asia. Its striking spiral minaret serves as an enduring reminder of the Great Mosque that once enclosed this sacred ground along the banks of the Tigris River. Jacobs focuses on Samarra’s rare preservation of Islamic art, architecture, and city plans from the heyday of the Abbasid Caliphate.
February 22 Angkor Wat
The magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia marks the rise of the Khmer Empire in Southeast Asia and its incorporation of Indic cultural influences into the architecture of the largest religious monument in the world. Jacobs also explores how Angkor Wat later became a center of Buddhist worship, a symbol of French imperial pretensions, and finally an icon of the modern Cambodian nation.
March 1 Philippine Rice Terraces of Ifugao
The photogenic rice terraces of Ifugao appear to rise endlessly into the clouds of the northern Philippine highlands and defy the laws of gravity. Yet their painstaking construction in a very short space of time speaks to the creative industry of hardy immigrants responding to new and unexpected pressures. Jacobs examines when and how the terraces were built, the social networks that guided their maintenance, and common misperceptions about their origins.
March 8 Sacred Sites of Tibet
The city of Lhasa is filled with monuments that are considered to be sacred within the religious traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Jacobs provides an in-depth look at three of the most important: the Jokhang Temple, the Potala Palace, and the Norbulingka Park. Jacobs’ virtual journey through these sites reveals the history of Tibet, its diverse cultural influences, and complex relationship with China.
March 15 Brasilia, the Utopian Capital of Brazil
Built from scratch in the 1950s, the modernist city of Brasilia was designed to express new ideas about urban living and city planning while relocating the national capital from the coast to a more centrally positioned site in the Brazilian highlands. Jacobs surveys Brasilia’s carefully designed downtown landscapes and creative solutions to urban housing, all meant to synchronize in harmony with one another and provide a progressive model for a better world.