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”:
(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”
(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”
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:
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.
Historic centre, Bruges
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
St Catherine Area
Paris, Banks of the Seine
Cathedral of Notre Dame
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 |
Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square
The Old Town of Corfu
Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Torre Annunziata
Historic Centre of Naples
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
Wadi Rum Protected Area
Historic Centre of Warsaw
Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mine
Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp
Krakow Historic Centre
Changdeokgung Palace Complex, Seoul
Jongmyo Shrine, Seoul
The Laponian area in Lapland
The Old Town of Berne
Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn above Interlaken
Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes
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
Frontiers of the Roman Empire: Hadrian's Wall
Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City
Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites
Studley Royal Park near Ripon and Harrogate
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Everglades National Park