World Heritage Site

World Heritage Site

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 which are elected by the General Assembly of States Parties for a four-year term.

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, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on November 16, 1972. Since then, 185 states have ratified the convention.

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

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 states. 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.ref> Criteria for Selection. World Heritage. Retrieved on 2006-10-14..

  • 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-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 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 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:

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 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

World Heritage Committee Session

The World Heritage Committee meets several times a year to discuss the management of existing World Heritage Sites, and accept the nominations from countries. A session, known as the World Heritage Committee Session, takes place annually where sites are 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 cities all over the world. With the exception of those held in Paris, 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 June1 July Paris
2 1978 5 September8 September Washington, D.C.
3 1979 22 October26 October Cairo & Luxor
4 1980 1 September5 September Paris
5 1981 26 October30 October Sydney
6 1982 13 December17 December Paris
7 1983 5 December9 December Florence
8 1984 29 October2 November Buenos Aires
9 1985 2 December6 December Istanbul
10 1986 24 November28 November Paris
11 1987 7 December11 December Paris
12 1988 5 December9 December Brasilia
13 1989 11 December15 December Paris
14 1990 7 December12 December Banff
15 1991 9 December13 December Carthage
16 1992 7 December14 December Santa Fe
17 1993 6 December11 December Cartagena
18 1994 12 December17 December Phuket
19 1995 4 December9 December Berlin
20 1996 2 December7 December Mérida
21 1997 1 December6 December Naples
22 1998 30 November5 December Kyoto
23 1999 29 November4 December Marrakesh
24 2000 27 November2 December Cairns
25 2001 11 December16 December Helsinki
26 2002 24 June29 June Budapest
27 2003 30 June5 July Paris
28 2004 28 June7 July Suzhou
29 2005 10 July17 July Durban
30 2006 8 July16 July Vilnius
31 2007 23 June1 July Christchurch
32 2008 2 July-10 July Quebec City


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