The UNESCO World Heritage Sites is an important benchmark that provides recognition, protection and preservation to areas of natural and cultural heritage. The World Heritage Sites are located across the world, belonging to different countries, people and cultures. India has a total of 42 World Heritage Sites. The Hoysala Temples were the most recent addition to the list in 2023, taking the count to 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Karnataka.
What is the UNESCO World Heritage List?
The international body UNESCO grants legal protection to an area or landmark that then becomes a part of the World Heritage List. These landmarks or regions have either cultural, scientific, historical, natural or any other form of significance. They are unique, historically or geographically demarcated and hold a special importance. These can be monuments, buildings, deserts, cities, structures, ruins, mountains, lakes, wilderness areas and more. The site thus entails an impacting contribution and influence on humanity, is a part of the intellectual legacy or it can be a place of remarkable beauty.
How does an area or landmark become a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List? The first step is for the country to identify its site in a document called the Tentative List. From the Tentative List, the country can now place the site for nomination in the Nomination File. This File is then evaluated and the World Heritage Committee then meets once a year to determine which site can be included in the List. There are around 52 sites from India on the Tentative List currently. Out of these there are quite a few from Karnataka as well.
Natural and Cultural Heritage of Karnataka
Karnataka is a leading state of India, known for both its culture, as well as, technology. A land of ancient temples, ruins, empires, dynasties and monuments, the state is also blessed with several important rivers and lakes. On one hand it has a rich artistic and cultural heritage, and on the other, it is home to the Silicon Valley of India. Therefore, it is no surprise that some of the most iconic and landmark heritages of the country, hail from the state of Karnataka. Here is taking a look at all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Karnataka.
The Group of Monuments in Hampi, in the Vijayanagara District were included in the World Heritage Sites in 1986. Hampi, was the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. The empire is considered one of the most powerful and influential rules in the region dating from 1343-1565. Today, the ruins of the city bear testimony to the glorious past, with stunning architecture, monuments and sculptures. With more than 500 temples, halls, water reservoirs, mandapas, bastions, treasury buildings, royal complexes and more, the ruins and monuments of Hampi are an archeological and historical treasure. Situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, some of heritage structures that are a must-visit include, Hemakuta Hill Temples, Vitthala Temple, Hazara Rama Temple, Elephant Stables, Queen’s Bath, Lotus Mahal, Hampi Bazaar, Archeological Museum, various canals, residential areas, aqueducts, military barracks and more.
The Group Monuments of Pattadakal are located in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka. The structures and monuments here were built during the reign of the Chalukya dynasty in 18th century CE. This site was included in the World Heritage Sites in 1987. Pattadakal was also known as the ‘City of Crown Rubies’ and the village is situated on the banks of the Malaprabha River. Pattadakal village itself has 9 temples and a Jain sanctuary. The temples are a striking example of the Badami Chalukya architectural style. Some of the best places and structures to visit in Pattadakal include Sangameshwara Temple, Virupaksha Temple, Mallikarjun Temple, Chandrasekhar Temple and more. These temples are renowned for their intricate carvings and designs on pillars and walls that depict the stories from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The heritage structures and monuments are located in the area from Badami to Aihole and is around 23 km in length. From Bangalore one can visit Pattadakal, along with Badami and Aihole over a weekend trip.
The Western Ghats cut across the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Also called the Sahyadri Mountains, the Western Ghats were included in the World Heritage Site List in 2012. The entire stretch of the ghats is home to a total of 39 national parks, reserve forests and wildlife sanctuaries. Karnataka has ten of such demarcated natural properties that are either forests, sanctuaries or national parks. Some of the best places to visit in Karnataka that are a part of the Western Ghats, are Dandeli, Madikeri and Coorg. The Western Ghats are a natural haven and have earned a much-deserved place on the heritage list. This can be judged by its sheer impact on the biodiversity of the region. It is estimated that the Western Ghats has more than 7000 flowering plant species, 130 plus mammals, more than 500 bird species and more than 300 species that are globally threatened.
The Hoysala Temples are the latest and most recent entry on the World Heritage List from Karnataka. The temples were a part of the Tentative List since 2014, however they officially became a part of the List in September 2023. The Sacred Ensembles of Hoysala include the temples of Chennakesava, Hoyasaleshwara and Keshava Temple situated in Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur in Karnataka. The Hoysala Temples date to between the 12th and 13th century, built during the reign of the Hoysala Empire and are a classic example of Dravidian and Nagara style of architecture. The statues that are stone carved, along with the stunning sculptures, intricate carvings and the star shaped platforms form the main highlight of these temples.
Here are some of the sites that have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
Monuments at Srirangapatna
Srirangapatna is a popular tourist spot for history buffs. Located close to Mysore, this island on the river Cauvery gets its name for the town’s famous Ranganathaswamy Temple. Srirangapatna was once the capital of the state of Mysore and hence is home to some of the best heritage sites from the period. The monuments that merit a visit include the Srirangapatna Fort, Daria Daulat Bagh, Gumbaz of Tipu Sultan and the Jama Masjid. One can also visit the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. The monuments of Srirangapatna have been nominated and are on the World Heritage Tentative List since 2014.
Forts and Monuments of the Deccan Sultanate
The Deccan Sultanate remained one of the powerful kingdoms of southern India for a long period of time. Their monuments and forts are spread across four areas, namely Bidar, Bijapur, Gulbarga and Hyderabad. The architecture resulted in a beautiful blend of Islamic and Hindu designs.
Gulbarga was the capital of the Bahmani Kingdoms and includes heritage sites, such as the Gulbarga Fort, Gumbad and the seven tombs and the Great Mosque. Bidar was the next or second capital of the kingdom. One must visit the Bidar Fort, Bahamani tombs, Madrasa Mahmud Gawan and the Badri Shahi tombs. Bijapur became an important center after the Bahmani Sultanate disintegrated. It has the Gol Gumbaj, as well as, canals, gates, forts, palaces, tombs and more. The monuments of the Deccan Sultanate have been on the World Heritage Tentative List since 2014, and there is hope that soon they will be included in the list.
The megalithic site of Hire Benakal is in the Koppal district of Karnataka. It has 400 megalithic funerary monuments that can be dated between the Neolithic period and the Iron Age. It is also the largest ancient burial ground or necropolis in southern India. These megalithic monuments are called morya gudda in Kannada, meaning the ‘hill of the Moryas’.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Karnataka, as well as, the sites on the Tentative List are monuments and places of historical, architectural or natural brilliance. They are also some of the leading tourist destination sites for travelers and adventurers.