What is a World Heritage Site?
Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations.
All countries have sites of local or national interest, but world heritage sites are a little different. These are sites which can be descibed to have ‘outstanding universal value’ and for whose protection it is the duty of the international community as a whole to cooperate. The World Heritage List comprises sites that reflect the wealth and diversity of the Earth’s cultural and natural heritage.
The event that sparked the creation of this list was the decision to build the Aswan dam in Egypt. This would have flooded the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilization. UNESCO launched an international safeguarding campaign which eventually accelerated research in the areas to be flooded, and relocation of the Abu Simbel and Philae temples. This campaign cost $80 million and 50 countries contributed half of it. Consequently, UNESCO initiated, with the help of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the preparation of a draft convention on the protection of cultural heritage.
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. The criteria are regularly revised by the World Heritage Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself.
- represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
- 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, townplanning or landscape design;
- bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
- be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
- 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;
- 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);
- contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.