World Heritage Site

World Heritage Site
Logo of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee
Site #86: Memphis and its Necropolis, including the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt)
Site #114: Persepolis, Iran
Site #174: Historic centre of Florence in Tuscany (Italy)
Site #447: Uluru (Australia)
Site #483: Chichen Itza in Yucatán (Mexico)
Site #540: Historic Centre of St. Petersburg and its suburbs (Russia)
Site #705: Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains (China)
Site #747:Historic Quarter of the City of Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance. The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 states parties[1] which are elected by their General Assembly.[2]

The program catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity. Under certain conditions, listed sites can obtain funds from the World Heritage Fund. The programme was founded with the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage,[3] which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on November 16, 1972. Since then, 186 states party have ratified the convention.

As of 2011, 936 sites are listed: 725 cultural, 183 natural, and 28 mixed properties, in 153 States Parties.[4][5] Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites to date with 47 sites inscribed on the list. UNESCO references each World Heritage Site with an identification number; but new inscriptions often include previous sites now listed as part of larger descriptions. As a result, the identification numbers exceed 1200 even though there are fewer on the list.

While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located, UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.




In 1954, the government of Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam (Aswan High Dam), an event that would flood a valley containing treasures of ancient Egypt such as the Abu Simbel temples. UNESCO then launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign. The Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.[6]

The cost of the project was US$ 80 million, about $ 40 million of which was collected from 50 countries. The project was regarded as a success, and led to other safeguarding campaigns, saving Venice and its lagoon in Italy, the ruins of Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan, and the Borobodur Temple Compounds in Indonesia. UNESCO then initiated, with the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a draft convention to protect the common cultural heritage of humanity.

Convention and background

The United States initiated the idea of combining cultural conservation with nature conservation. A White House conference in 1965 called for a ‘World Heritage Trust’ to preserve "the world's superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry." The International Union for Conservation of Nature developed similar proposals in 1968, and they were presented in 1972 to the United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm.

A single text was agreed on by all parties, and the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972.

Nominating process

A country must first take an inventory of its significant cultural and natural properties. This is called the Tentative List, and is important because a country may not nominate properties that have not already been included on the Tentative List. Next, it can select a property from this list to place into a Nomination File.

At this point, the file is evaluated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the World Conservation Union. These bodies then make their recommendations to the World Heritage Committee. The Committee meets once per year to determine whether or not to inscribe each nominated property on the World Heritage List, and sometimes defers the decision to request more information from the country who nominated the site. There are ten selection criteria – a site must meet at least one of them to be included on the list.

Selection criteria

Until the end of 2004, there were six criteria for cultural heritage and four criteria for natural heritage. In 2005, this was modified so that there is only one set of ten criteria. Nominated sites must be of "outstanding universal value" and meet at least one of the ten criteria.[7]

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, fresh water, 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"

Legal status of designated sites

UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site provides prima facie evidence that such culturally sensitive sites are legally protected pursuant to the Law of War, under the Geneva Convention, its Articles, Protocols and Customs, together with other treaties including the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and international law.

Thus, the Geneva Convention treaty promulgates:

"Article 53. PROTECTION OF CULTURAL OBJECTS AND OF PLACES OF WORSHIP. Without prejudice to the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954,' and of other relevant international instruments, it is prohibited:[8]

(a) To commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;
(b) To use such objects in support of the military effort;
(c) To make such objects the object of reprisals."


There are 936 World Heritage Sites located in 153 States Party. Of these, 725 are cultural, 183 are natural and 28 are mixed properties. The World Heritage Committee has divided the countries into five geographic zones: Africa, Arab States (composed of Middle East and North Africa), Asia-Pacific (includes Australia and Oceania), Europe & North America (includes Canada and the United States) and Latin America & Caribbean.

Russia and the Caucasus states are classified as European, while Mexico is classified as belonging to the Latin America & Caribbean zone, despite its location in North America. The UNESCO geographic zones also give greater emphasis on administrative, rather than geographic associations. Hence, Gough Island, located in the South Atlantic, is part of the Europe & North America region because the government the United Kingdom nominated the site.

The table below includes a breakdown of the sites according to these zones and their classification:[9]

Zone Natural Cultural Mixed Total
North America & Europe 73 432 11 516[10]
Asia-Pacific 52 142 9 203 [10]
Africa 35 43 4 82
Arab States 4 63 1 68
Latin America and the Caribbean 32 62 3 97
Sub-Total 196 742 28 966
less duplicates* 13 17 0 30
Total 183 725 28 936

* Because many sites belong to more than one country, duplicates exist with counting them by country and within a region. Wikipedia page with table with by country statistics found here: Table of World Heritage Sites by country

See also

  • Wonders of the World
  • Table of World Heritage Sites by country
  • UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists


  1. ^ According to the UNESCO World Heritage website, States Parties are countries that signed and ratified The World Heritage Convention. As of November 2007, there are a total of 186 states party.
  2. ^ "The World Heritage Committee". UNESCO World Heritage Site. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  3. ^ Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage
  4. ^ World Heritage List, UNESCO World Heritage Sites official sites.
  5. ^ Twenty-seven new sites inscribed, UNESCO World Heritage Sites official sites.
  6. ^ Brief History, UNESCO World Heritage Sites official sites.
  7. ^ "Criteria for Selection". World Heritage. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  8. ^ UN General Assembly (1979 [8 June 1977]). "UN Treaty No. 17512" (PDF). Treaty Series. Volume 1125-1 UN. p. 27. 
  9. ^ Stats
  10. ^ a b The Uvs Nuur basin located in Mongolia and Russia is here included in Asia-Pacific zone.

External links

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