UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Logo of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee

A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a site (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that is on the list maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 state parties[1] which are elected by their General Assembly for a four-year term.[2] A world heritage site is a place of either cultural or physical significance.

The programme 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, 185 state parties have ratified the convention.

As of 2008, 878 sites are listed: 678 cultural, 174 natural, and 26 mixed properties, in 145 states.[4][5] Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites to date with 43 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.

Each World Heritage Site is the property of the state on whose territory the site is located, but it is considered 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, 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.[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. The World Heritage Centre offers advice and help in preparing this 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

Natural criteria


There are 878 World Heritage Sites located in 145 State Parties. Of these, 679 are cultural, 174 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 North Africa and the Middle East); Asia-Pacific (includes Australia and Oceania); Europe and North America (specifically, the USA and Canada); and Latin America and the Caribbean. Russia and the Caucasus states are classified as European.

The UNESCO geographic zones also don't 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 government of the United Kingdom which nominated the site.

The table below includes a breakdown of the sites according to these zones and their classification:[8]

Zone Natural Cultural Mixed Total  % State Party with inscribed properties
Africa 33 40 3 76 9% 27
Arab States 4 60 1 65 7% 16
Asia-Pacific 48 125 9 182[9] 21% 27
Europe & North America
(including Israel & Russia)
54 372 9 435 50% 49
Latin America & Caribbean 35 82 3 120 14% 25
Total 174 679 25 878 100% 145

Lists of World Heritage Sites


  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 185 state parties.
  2. "The World Heritage Committee". UNESCO World Heritage Site. http://whc.unesco.org/en/comittee/. 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. http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  8. Stats
  9. The Uvs Nuur basin located in Russia and Mongolia is here included in Asia-Pacific zone.

External links

Template:Lists of World Heritage Sites

Template:United Nations

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