World Heritage Site

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Environment

A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a specific site (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that has been nominated and confirmed for inclusion on the list maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 State Parties (countries) which are elected by the General Assembly of States Parties for a fixed term. (This is similar to the United Nations Security Council.)

The programme aims to catalogue, name, and conserve 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, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972. Since then, 184 (as of July 2007) States Parties have ratified the convention.

As of 2007, a total of 851 sites are listed: 660 cultural, 166 natural, and 25 mixed properties, in 142 States Parties. UNESCO references each World Heritage Site with a unique identification number; but new inscriptions often include previous sites now listed as part of larger descriptions. As a result, the numbering system currently ends above 1200, even though there are fewer on the actual list.

Each World Heritage Site is the property of the country on whose territory the site is located, but it is considered in the interest of the international community to preserve each site for future generations of humanity. The protection and conservation of these sites are a concern of all the World Heritage countries.



In 1959, the government of Egypt decided to build the Aswan High Dam, an event that would flood a valley containing treasures of ancient civilization such as the Abu Simbel temples. UNESCO then launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign, despite appeals from the governments of Egypt and Sudan. The Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece-by-piece.

The cost of the project was approximately US $80 million, about $40 million of which was collected from 50 different countries. It was widely regarded as a total 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, Sweden.

A single text was ultimately agreed on by all parties involved, 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 all 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. The World Heritage Centre offers advice and help in preparing this file, which needs to be as comprehensive as possible.

At this point, the file is independently evaluated by two organizations: 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 States Parties. There are ten selection criteria that a site must meet to be included on the list.

Selection criteria

Site #86: Memphis and its Necropolis, including the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt).
Site #86: Memphis and its Necropolis, including the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt).
Site #114: Persepolis (Iran).
Site #114: Persepolis (Iran).
Site #307: The Statue of Liberty (United States).
Site #307: The Statue of Liberty (United States).
Site #389: Studenica monastery (Serbia)
Site #389: Studenica monastery (Serbia)
Site #438: The Great Wall of 10,000 Li (China).
Site #438: The Great Wall of 10,000 Li (China).
Site #444: The Ksar of Aït Benhaddou (Morocco).
Site #444: The Ksar of Aït Benhaddou (Morocco).
Site #483: Chichen Itza in Yucatán (Mexico).
Site #483: Chichen Itza in Yucatán (Mexico).
Site #540: Historic Centre of St. Petersburg and its suburbs (Russia).
Site #540: Historic Centre of St. Petersburg and its suburbs (Russia).
Site #723: Cultural Landscape of Sintra (Portugal).
Site #723: Cultural Landscape of Sintra (Portugal).
Site #772: The Banaue Rice Terraces in the mountains of Ifugao (Philippines).
Site #772: The Banaue Rice Terraces in the mountains of Ifugao (Philippines).
Site #776: The Shinto Itsukushima Shrine of Miyajima, Hiroshima (Japan).
Site #776: The Shinto Itsukushima Shrine of Miyajima, Hiroshima (Japan).
Site #936: The Cueva de las Manos in a remote region of Patagonia (Argentina).
Site #936: The Cueva de las Manos in a remote region of Patagonia (Argentina).
Site #960: Geghard Monastery (Armenia).
Site #960: Geghard Monastery (Armenia).

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.

Cultural criteria

  • I. "to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius";
  • II. "to exhibit 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. "to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared";
  • IV. "to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history";
  • V. "to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change";
  • VI. "to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria)";

Natural criteria

  • VII. "to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance";
  • VIII. "to be outstanding examples 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. "to be outstanding examples 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. "to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-site conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation."


There are currently 851 World Heritage Sites located in 142 State Parties. Of these, 660 are cultural, 166 are natural and 25 are mixed properties. Further site classification includes the classification of the State Parties among five geographic zones: Africa, Arab States (composed of northern Africa and the Middle East), Asia-Pacific (includes Australia and Oceania), Europe and North America (specifically, USA and Canada), and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Note that Russia and the Caucasus States are classified as belonging to the Europe and North America zone.

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 since it was the United Kingdom which nominated the site.

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

Zone Natural Cultural Mixed Total  %
Africa 33 38 3 74 9%
Arab States 3 58 1 62 7%
Asia-Pacific 45 126 11 182 21%
Europe & North America 51 358 7 416 49%
Latin America & Caribbean 34 80 3 117 14%

World Heritage Committee Session

The World Heritage Committee meets several times a year to discuss measures on the management of existing World Heritage Sites, and accept the nominations from interested countries. A session, known as the World Heritage Committee Session, takes place annually where sites are officially inscribed on the World Heritage List, after presentations made by the IUCN and/or ICOMOS, and deliberations made among the State Parties.

The annual session takes place in various cities all over the world. With the exception of those held in Paris (France), where the UNESCO headquarter office is located, only State Parties who are members of the World Heritage Committee have the right to host a future Session, pending approval by the Committee, as well as provided that the concerned State Party’s term will not expire before it hosts the Session.

Session Year Date Host city State party
1 1977 27 June– 1 July Paris Flag of France France
2 1978 5 September– 8 September Washington, D.C. Flag of the United States United States
3 1979 22 October– 26 October Cairo & Luxor Flag of Egypt Egypt
4 1980 1 September– 5 September Paris Flag of France France
5 1981 26 October– 30 October Sydney Flag of Australia Australia
6 1982 13 December– 17 December Paris Flag of France France
7 1983 5 December– 9 December Florence Flag of Italy Italy
8 1984 29 October– 2 November Buenos Aires Flag of Argentina Argentina
9 1985 2 December– 6 December Paris Flag of France France
10 1986 24 November– 28 November Paris Flag of France France
11 1987 7 December– 11 December Paris Flag of France France
12 1988 5 December– 9 December Brasilia Flag of Brazil Brazil
13 1989 11 December– 15 December Paris Flag of France France
14 1990 7 December– 12 December Banff Flag of Canada Canada
15 1991 9 December– 13 December Carthage Flag of Tunisia Tunisia
16 1992 7 December– 14 December Santa Fe Flag of the United States United States
17 1993 6 December– 11 December Cartagena Flag of Colombia Colombia
18 1994 12 December– 17 December Phuket Flag of Thailand Thailand
19 1995 4 December– 9 December Berlin Flag of Germany Germany
20 1996 2 December– 7 December Mérida Flag of Mexico Mexico
21 1997 1 December– 6 December Naples Flag of Italy Italy
22 1998 30 November– 5 December Kyoto Flag of Japan Japan
23 1999 29 November– 4 December Marrakesh Flag of Morocco Morocco
24 2000 27 November– 2 December Cairns Flag of Australia Australia
25 2001 11 December– 16 December Helsinki Flag of Finland Finland
26 2002 24 June– 29 June Budapest Flag of Hungary Hungary
27 2003 30 June– 5 July Paris Flag of France France
28 2004 28 June– 7 July Suzhou Flag of the People's Republic of China China
29 2005 10 July– 17 July Durban Flag of South Africa South Africa
30 2006 8 July– 16 July Vilnius Flag of Lithuania Lithuania
31 2007 23 June– 1 July Christchurch Flag of New Zealand New Zealand
32 2008 2 July- 10 July Quebec City Flag of Canada Canada

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