A heritage site can be termed as an official location identified where pieces of political, military, social or cultural history have been preserved due to their cultural value. The sites are protected under the laws of the host nation but the status is awarded by a team from UNESCO with suitable sites submitted by party states annually.
To make it to the UNESCO list, sites are evaluated on a 10-point criterion that looks at the cultural and natural uniqueness of the place. The site must exhibit unrivalled creativity, portray a cultural practice, the buildings and landforms should show a stage in the history of man or earth.
Well, there are quite a number of UNESCO world heritage sites in Africa but I would like to narrow down on my focus which is Kenya. So far there are six marked heritage sites in Kenya though there is a long list of tentative properties that have been nominated to be considered.
There are three cultural sites and three natural sites listed in Kenya. The cultural sites include; Fort Jesus(2011), Lamu Old Town(2001) and the Mijikenda Kaya Forests(2008). The natural sites include; The Great Rift valley lake system(2011), Lake Turkana National Park(1997,2001) and Mount Kenya National Park(1997,2013).
Fort Jesus is located on Mombasa Island in the coastal region of Kenya. It was designed by Italian Giovanni Battista Cairati built in the 16th century by order of King Philip l of Portugal to guard the Old Port of Mombasa.
This was the only fort that was maintained by the Portuguese on the Swahili coast and is recognized as the first successful attempt by a Western power to establish influence over the Indian Ocean trade.
It has now become a tourist attraction standing high over the Mombasa Harbor. It has an excellent museum showcasing a lot of old instruments used many centuries ago. You can also spend a day exploring the gun turrets, battlements and houses within the fort.
Lamu Old Town
This is a small town on Lamu Island situated 341 kilometres (212 mi) by road northeast of Mombasa. It is Kenya’s oldest inhabited town and was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa founded in 1370. The town has had many visitors since the 14th century including Portuguese explorers, Turkish traders and the Omani Arabs.
Lamu has narrow streets that have remained unchanged and life in the markets and around the fort moves at the same pace as it always has since inception. There are no vehicles in the islands, the main mode of transport is the donkey and dhow cruises.
The people of Lamu have kept up to their traditions and customs built from the respect they have of their past. As a tourist destination, visitors spend their days in the town strolling along the waterfronts and narrow streets and relaxing in the beaches as life here tends to slow down per their culture.
Mijikenda Kaya Forest
The Mijikenda Kaya Forest heritage sites consist of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200km along the coast containing the remains of numerous fortified villages known as Kayas of the Mijikenda community of Kenya.
The forests are regarded as sacred sites. Though most of the villages were abandoned by 1940s, they are maintained by the Mijikenda council of elders and are preserved due to their rich cultural traditions.
The Great Rift Valley Lake System
The Kenya Lake System found at the floor of the Great Rift Valley where major tectonic and volcanic events have shaped this distinctive landscape. This system comprises three interlinked alkaline lakes and their surrounding territories.
The three lakes include; Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita and Lake Bogoria. They are hydro-geologically connected to each other through sub surface seepage of water. The alkaline in these lakes supports algae formation that serves as food for the flamingos.
This is home to the highest bird diversities in the world with 13 globally threatened bird species found here. It is one of the most important sites for the lesser flamingos with a record of around 4 million moving between these lakes. It is also a nesting and breeding ground for the great white pelicans.
There is also a sizable number of wild animals including the black rhino, Rothschild giraffe, lion, cheetah. Wild dogs among others. Activities in these areas for visitors include hiking, trekking, game viewing, photography, bird watching, guided walks along the lakes and community service
Lake Turkana National Park
This heritage site comprises three national parks located around Lake Turkana. This lake is the largest desert lake in the world covering over 250 kilometres long.
The park is used as a stopping ground for migratory birds and also forms a good breeding ground for the Nile crocodile which grow to massive sizes in his remote area. It is also a good breeding ground for hippopotamus and snakes.
There was recent fossil evidence unearthed at Koobi Fora deposit hence adopting the name ‘The cradle of mankind’. The components of this park include; Sibiloi National Park, Lake Turkana and Central Island.
Mount Kenya National Park
Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa at 5,199m. It is an ancient extinct volcano with 12 remnant glaciers on the mountain and four secondary peaks that sit at the head of the u-shaped glacial valleys.
The park was established to protect Mount Kenya, it’s wildlife and the surrounding environment. This forms a habitat for wild animals as well as a water catchment area.
If you happen to plan a safari to Kenya, you can opt to add any of the highlighted sites in your itinerary for a chance to learn about the Kenyan culture and as well as the preserved natural sites that have endless resources needed for the survival of different species and improve the livelihood of the surrounding communities.