UNESCO World Heritage Sites

In 1972 the United Nations (UN) developed a committee that identified sites around the world that they considered of vital importance to maintain the culture and natural landscape of the country. This was called the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Committee.

The first project for the committee was started initially in 1954 when funds were raised by the member countries to move Abu Simbel and Philae Temples in Egypt and protect them from the flooding of the Aswan High Dam. This was the catalyst for the formal formation of the committee and in 1965 a conference to develop a “World Heritage Trust” set the wheels in motion to form the organisation that we know today.

 
 


CRITERIA FOR BEING LISTED AS A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

There are 10 criteria for being added to the list and each site must tick at least one of these as well as being seen as providing “outstanding universal value”:

Cultural criteria
(i) “represents a masterpiece of human creative genius”
(ii) “exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design”
(iii) “bears a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared”
(iv) “is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history”
(v) “is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change”
(vi) “is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance”

Natural criteria
(vii) “contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”
(viii) “is an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features”
(ix) “is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, and communities of plants and animals”
(x) “contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation”

UNESCO


HOW ARE SITES ADDED TO THE LIST?

Each year more sites are added to the list. There are currently 1,092 World Heritage Sites located in 153 countries. This is broken down into 814 cultural sites, 203 natural sites, and 35 mixed sites. To be listed the site must first be added to the tentative list by the country that it is located in. The country must be a member of World Heritage Convention. Each year 20-30 sites from the tentative list are selected to be added to the official list. This selection process takes a number of years and can cost the host country considerable amounts of money in their bid to be added to the list. As well as adding to the list, locations can be removed if they are seen to be altered and therefore no longer meet the criteria for listing.

WHERE WERE THE FIRST UNESCO SITES?

The committee initially identified 12 locations across the world which were added to the list in 1978:

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  • L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (Canada)

  • Nahanni National Park (Canada)

  • City of Quito (Ecuador)

  • Galápagos Islands (Ecuador)

  • Simien National Park (Ethiopia)

  • Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela (Ethiopia)

  • Aachen Cathedral (Germany)

  • Historic Centre of Krakow (Poland)

  • Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mine (Poland)

  • Island of Gorée (Senegal)

  • Mesa Verde National Park (United States)

  • Yellowstone National Park (United States)



WHO LOOKS AFTER UNESCO SITES?

The sites are not owned or managed by UNESCO or the UN. Most are either owned and managed by local government or by private land-owners. It is their responsibility to manage the site and its visitors.

ARE WORLD HERITAGE SITES WORTH THE EFFORT?

As far as I am concerned these sites are worth visiting. Even if they are part of a bigger itinerary they provide a good starting point for exploring the country. Many provide valuable insight into the history and development of the area with well designed information and visitor centres.
The only drawback of the designation is that some places are now tourist hotspots which causes its own problems from weakened local infrastructure and the sheer volume of visitors. Visitor management is part of the application process but this doesn’t always address the full, unforeseen scale of visitors.
As the number of sites increases year on year there is some question as to the validity of their selection. Whilst they are stunning and valuable locations, do they fulfill the core criteria of providing “outstanding universal value”


UNESCO World Heritage Site Links

The list below is a ‘living’ list of World Heritage Sites which will be updated regularly. The links lead to the posts about each site and again will be added to as each article is published.


BELGIUM

Historic centre, Bruges 

CHINA

Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang 

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, with the terracotta warriors Xi'an 

The Great Wall of China

Old Town of Lijiang

Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing 

Temple of Heaven: an Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing 

Dazu - Buddhist rock carvings from 9th-13th century located in Chongqing municipality

Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang

Three parallel rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas: Gaoligong and Yunling Mountains, Nujiang | Baimang-Meili and Haba Snow Mountains, Red and Qianghu Mountain, Diqing | Laowoshan, Nujiang and Diqing | Laojunshan, Lijiang

Historic Centre of Macao

Shilin South China Karst, in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi Provinces

EGYPT

St Catherine Area

FRANCE

Paris, Banks of the Seine

Cathedral of Notre Dame

Le Harve

Belfries of Belgium and France: Belfry of the Church of St-Eloi, Dunkerque| Belfry of the Town Hall, Dunkerque | Belfry of the Town Hall Boulogne-sur-Mer | Belfry of the Town Hall Calais |

GERMANY

Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square

Cologne Cathedral

GREECE

The Old Town of Corfu

ICELAND

Þingvellir National Park

Katla Geopark

Reykjanes Geopark

Surtsey

Vatnajökull National Park - Dynamic Nature of Fire and Ice

IRELAND

Skellig Michael

ITALY

Amalfi Coast

Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Torre Annunziata

Historic Centre of Naples


JAPAN

Himeji Castle

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)

Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration


JORDAN

Petra

Wadi Rum Protected Area


MALTA

Megalithic Temples of Malta

Malaysia

Langkawi Geopark

MOROCCO

Medina of Marrakech


POLAND

Historic Centre of Warsaw

Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mine

Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp

Krakow Historic Centre


SOUTH KOREA

Changdeokgung Palace Complex, Seoul

Jongmyo Shrine, Seoul


SWEDEN

The Laponian area in Lapland


SWITZERLAND

The Old Town of Berne

Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn above Interlaken

Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes


UKRAINE

Kiev: Saint Sophia Cathedral and Related Monastic Buildings, Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra


UNITED KINGDOM

City of Bath 

Blaenavon Industrial Landscape in Wales 

Blenheim Palace near Oxford 

Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey, and St Martin's Church 

Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape

Derwent Valley Mills, Derbyshire 

Dorset and East Devon Jurassic Coast

English Riviera Geopark

Maritime Greenwich

Frontiers of the Roman Empire: Hadrian's Wall 

Ironbridge Gorge near Telford 

Kew Gardens 

The Lake District

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

Neolithic Orkney  - Skara Brae, Maeshowe, Standing Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brogdar

North-west Highlands Geopark

Shetland Geopark

Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites

Studley Royal Park near Ripon and Harrogate 

The Tower of London

Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church 


UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Everglades National Park