Namibia’s Heritage Sites

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Compiled Sanet van Zijl

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage is both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.

Namibia currently has two World Heritage Sites: The Namib Sand Sea and Twyfelfontein.

To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. There must also be a reliable system in place for site protection and management. Of the 10 criteria, 6 are for culture and 4 are for nature.

Twyfelfontein

Namibia’s first World Heritage Site (status awarded in 2007), Twyfelfontein (meaning doubtful fountain), is a massive open-air art gallery that is of great interest to international rock-art connoisseurs. The 2000-plus rock engravings, estimated to be 6000 years old, represent one of Africa’s largest and most noteworthy concentrations of rock art.

It is believed by many that the creators of the rock art were the medicine people or shamans, who incised their engravings as a means of entering the supernatural world and recording the shaman’s experience among the spirits. The rock engraving process could prepare the shaman for a state of trance by the repetitive chipping and concentration of energy. Etched into the rock are thus stories within stories, eternalized as our legacy of the past.

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Rock art at Twyfelfontein. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

Namib Sand Sea

Namib Sand Sea is the only coastal desert in the world that includes extensive dune fields influenced by fog. Covering an area of over three million hectares and a buffer zone of 899,500 hectares, the site is composed of two dune systems, an ancient semi-consolidated one overlain by a younger active one.

The desert dunes are formed by the transportation of materials thousands of kilometres from the hinterland that is carried by river, ocean current and wind. It features gravel plains, coastal flats and rocky hills within the sand sea, a coastal lagoon and ephemeral rivers, resulting in a landscape of exceptional beauty. Fog is the primary source of water in the site, accounting for a unique environment in which endemic invertebrates, reptiles and mammals adapt to an ever-changing variety of microhabitats and ecological niches.

Apart from its two World Heritage Sites, Namibia also boasts a list of National Heritage Sites- these include Cultural and Natural sites.

An important site of natural heritage or cultural heritage can be listed as a National Heritage Site by the National Heritage Council on behalf of the government or as a World Heritage Site by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO. The National Heritage Council catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of Namibia (or humanity in the case of UNESCO). Currently Namibia has 119 sites declared as National Heritage Sites.

Desert Storm

Dune Belt. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

Some of the most well known National Heritage Sites in Namibia are:

The Fish River Canyon

The Fish River Canyon of southern Namibia is the second largest canyon in the World after the Grand Canyon of the USA. It consists of a northern upper and a southern lower canyon. From the first waterfall north of the northernmost viewpoint, to a point opposite the Chudaub trigonometrical beacon, the canyon is 56 km long, measured along the river course. The lower canyon is between 460 and 550 m deep and 5 km wide, whereas the upper canyon is only 160 to 190 m deep, but 8 km wide.

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Fish River Canyon. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

The Petrified Forest

Although the occurrence of petrified wood in rocks of the lower Karoo Sequence is not uncommon, the “Petrified Forest” 45 km West of Khorixas is the biggest accumulation of large petrified logs in southern Africa. The logs are in an excellent state of preservation and the Petrified Forest is a declared National Monument, and no samples may be taken. The logs occur at the 280 Ma old base of the Permian Ecca Group of the Karoo Sequence and have been deposited in an ancient river channel. The matrix carrying the logs is brownish, cross-bedded sandstone.

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Petrified Forest. Photo ©Elzanne Erasmus

The Quiver Tree Forest

The Quiver Tree Forest (Kokerboom Woud in Afrikaans) is a forest and a well-known tourist attraction of southern Namibia. It is located about 14 km north of Keetmanshoop, on the road to Koës, in the Gariganus farm. It comprises about 250 specimens of Aloe dichotoma, a species of aloe that is also locally known as “quiver tree” (Afrikaans: kokerboom) because Bushmen use its branches to make quivers. The forest is spontaneous; the tallest quiver trees are two to three centuries old. The forest was declared a national monument of Namibia on June 1, 1995.

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Quiver Tree Forest. Photo ©Ron Swilling

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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