A place of special cultural or physical significance

UNESCO is a global programme that catalogues names and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity. The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee.

There are 962 World Heritage Sites located in 157 States Party. Of these, 745 cultural, 188 natural, and 29 mixed properties. By sites ranked by country, Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites with 48 sites, followed by Spain (44) and China (43). 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.

The Kingdom of the MayaThe World Heritage Committee has divided the countries into five geographic zones: Africa, Arab States (composed of most of the Middle East and North Africa), Asia and Oceania, Europe & North America (includes Canada and the United States) and Latin America & Caribbean.

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.

History – In 1954, the government of Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam (Aswan High Dam), an event that would deluge 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 and the Temple of Dendur was moved to New York City while the Temple of Debod was moved to Madrid.

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.

Selection criteria

Nominated sites must be of “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, 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”

To learn more please visit: unesco.org