What is a World Heritage Site?

Adapted from a compilation by Wikipedia

What is a World Heritage Site?

A World Heritage Site is a landmark which has been officially recognised by the United Nations - specifically by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Sites are selected on the basis of having cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and these are legally protected by international treaties. UNESCO regards these sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.

More specifically, a World Heritage Site is an already classified landmark on the earth, which by way of being unique in some respect as a geographically and historically identifiable piece is of special cultural or physical significance (such as either due to hosting an ancient ruins or some historical structure, building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, or mountain) and symbolizes a remarkable footprint of extreme human endeavour often coupled with some act of indisputable accomplishment of humanity which then serves as a surviving evidence of its intellectual existence on the planet.

What does World Heritage Site status mean?

Any listed site is elevated through multilateral declaration by UNESCO as a universally protected zone, practically conserved for posterity, against inherent risk of endangerment from human or animal trespassing, unmonitored / uncontrolled / unrestricted access or threat by natural or accelerated extinction owning to local administrative negligence.

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, in 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.

Nomination of World Heritage Sites

Sites have to be nominated by the state party of the country in which they are located, evaluated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the World Conservation Union and then approved by the World Heritage Committee against at least one of ten selection criteria (see below).

The World Heritage Programme catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common culture and 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 the World's Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972. Since then, 192 states parties have ratified the convention, making it one of the most adhered to international instruments.

 

 

As of July 2016, 1,052 sites are listed: 

Cultural 814
Natural 203
Mixed 35
in 165 countries

According to the sites ranked by country, the greatest number of World Heritage Sites are located in: 

Italy 51
China 50
Spain 45
France 42
Germany 41
India 35
Mexico 34

 

Zone or Region Cultural National Mixed Total
Europe & North America 426 63 10 499
Asia & the Pacific 173 62 12 247
Latin America & the Caribbean 96 37 5 138
Africa 48 37 5 90
Arab States 73 5 3 81
Sub-total 816 204 35 1,055
Less duplicates 2 1 0 3
Total 814 203 35 1,052

Intangible Cultural Heritage

UNESCO established its lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008, when the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage took effect, to draw attention to the importance of safeguarding intangible heritage, which UNESCO has identified as an essential component and as a repository of cultural diversity and of creative expression. This recognises the value of intangibles such as tradition, custom and cultural spaces and the local actors who sustain these forms of cultural expressions with the aim of ensuring the better protection of important intangible cultural heritages worldwide, and greater awareness of their significance, through a compendium of the different oral and intangible treasures of humankind worldwide.

The programme compiles two lists: the longer Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity comprises cultural "practices and expressions help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance;" the shorter List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding is composed of those cultural elements that concerned communities and countries consider require urgent measures to keep them alive. 

Zone or Region Cultural National Mixed Total
Europe & North America 426 63 10 499
Asia & the Pacific 173 62 12 247
Latin America & the Caribbean 96 37 5 138
Africa 48 37 5 90
Arab States 73 5 3 81
Sub-total 816 204 35 1,055
Less duplicates 2 1 0 3
Total 814 203 35 1,052

The Criteria for Selection

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.

These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working tool on World Heritage. The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself.

Until the end of 2004, World Heritage sites were selected on the basis of six cultural and four natural criteria. With the adoption of the revised Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, only one set of ten criteria exists.

Operational Guidelines (year) Cultural criteria Natural criteria
2002 (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) (i) (ii) (iii) (iv)
2005 (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) (vii) (viii) (ix) (x)

 

Selection 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);
(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-situ     conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of     outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

The protection, management, authenticity and integrity of properties are also important considerations. Since 1992 significant interactions between people and the natural environment have been recognized as cultural landscapes. 



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