UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are places that have been recognized by UNESCO for their cultural and/or physical significance. These places come in many forms, with examples including mountains, forests, monuments, buildings, and even cities. A specialized agency of the United Nations, UNESCO deems it important to protect the places that it has designated as World Heritage Sites, believing them to be important to the greater good of mankind. Aiding the organization in its effort are 190 member states, or States Parties, as they are known. These are countries which have ratified the World Heritage Convention and have agreed to protect and/or nominate specific sites within their national territories.

History

History
History

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The specialized agency was established on November 16, 1945 and carries out a variety of activities. Many of these activities are culturally oriented, as is the case with the designation of World Heritage Sites. Early on, one of UNESCO’s most defining moments was its role in saving the Great Temple of Abu Simbel and other treasures of ancient Egypt. In 1954, the government of Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam. The building of this dam was set to flood the valley that was home to the Abu Simbel Temple. Both it and the Philae Temple were taken apart and moved to a higher location before being reassembled. Also moved was the Temple of Dendur. It was relocated to New York City and is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another major UNESCO achievement was its designation of Yellowstone National Park as a World Heritage Site. This occurred in 1978, and the park has since served as the national park concept that is being carried out worldwide. Two years prior its designation as a World Heritage Site, Yellowstone had already been designated by UNESCO as an International Biosphere Reserve.

Types of Sites

Types of Sites
Types of Sites

There are three main types of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These types, or categories, are Cultural, Natural, and Mixed. Examples of Cultural sites include Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Stonehenge in the UK, the Taj Mahal in India, and Spain’s Historic City of Toledo. Examples of Natural sites include Iguazu National Park in Argentina and Brazil, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest in Kenya. As for the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that fall into the Mixed category, examples include Guatemala’s Tikal National Park, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru, and Palau’s Rock Islands Southern Lagoon. 

Criteria

For a place to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, it must first and foremost be a place of "outstanding universal value." Once this is decided upon, the site in question must then meet at least one out of an additional ten different selection criteria. Examples of such criteria would be a site’s ability to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius or its containment of superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance. Tentative lists are made for new sites, and there are also lists for sites that are currently being nominated for World Heritage Site consideration. It should be noted that while UNESCO prefers to add places to its list of World Heritage Sites, there is sometimes the need to delist specific sites. This occurs when a designated site has not been properly managed or protected. Sites that UNESCO is particularly concerned about are put on the list of World Heritage in Danger. Those whose situations are not improved are then prime candidates for delisting. An example of a delisted site is the historic city of Dresden, Germany, which was delisted in 2009 when a four-lane highway was built through the heart of the cultural landscape. The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman was the first ever site to be delisted because of the decision to reduce the size of the sanctuary by 90%. Thankfully, very few UNESCO World Heritage Sites have been delisted.

Number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Currently, there are 962 properties on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These properties are found around the globe in 157 States Parties. When you break down the numbers, there are 745 Cultural sites, 188 Natural sites, and 29 Mixed properties. Italy leads the way in terms of the total count with 47 sites. Spain comes in second with 44 sites and China third with 43 sites. Rounding out the top five are France (38) and Germany (37). The UNESCO website contains a full list of World Heritage Sites, and explanations for their selection.

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