World Heritage site

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The World Heritage Centre of the UNESCO maintains a list of world heritage sites with the aim to catalogue sites of particular natural or cultural importance to the whole of mankind. The list currently includes 679 cultural sites, 174 natural sites and 25 mixed sites distributed across every continent except Antarctica.


The list was opened to candidates for inclusion (as proposed by State parties) by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972, after the signing of the Convention Converning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage[1] (commonly referred to as the "World Heritage Convention"), which essentially stated that World Heritage sites, while remaining the property of their respective State Party, are considered to represent a common interest for all States ratifying the Convention.

The first sites were approved in 1978. In the period from 1987 to 1993, a study by the International Council On Monuments and Sites revealed that significant imbalances existed within the list, notably with over-representation of Europe and cultural (as opposed to natural) importance. For this reason, in 1994, a new "Global Strategy for a Balanced, Representative and Credible World Heritage List was launched with the aim to "to broaden the definition of World Heritage to better reflect the full spectrum of our world’s cultural and natural treasures and to provide a comprehensive framework and operational methodology for implementing the World Heritage Convention."[2].

Since the launching of the ongoing Global Strategy, the number of countries that have signed the World Heritage Convention has risen to 178, and new categories for World Heritage sites have been created, and the World Heritage Centre has decided to limit the number of nominations that can be presented by a single State Party. As of 2007, the list contains 851 sites belonging to 142 State Parties; these are 660 cultural, 166 natural, and 25 mixed in terms of importance.

Inclusion criteria

Sites are selected for inclusion in the World Heritage list based on a set of ten criteria, six regarding cultural importance, and four regarding natural importance. These were originally numbered separately, but were later renumbered by the latest Operational Guidelines (2005) in the following order:[3]

Cultural criteria

  • Criterion I. "to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius";
  • Criterion 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";
  • Criterion 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";
  • Criterion 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";
  • Criterion 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";
  • Criterion 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)";

Natural criteria

  • Criterion VII. "to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance";
  • Criterion 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";
  • Criterion 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";
  • Criterion 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."

Selection process

The process required for a site to become a World Heritage site starts with the State Party that hosts the site. Each country which ratifies the World Heritage convention has drawn up a list of sites on its territory deemed worthy of inclusion. It is from this national "Tentative List" that the country selects a site to nominate as a World Heritage candidate (sites not on the "Tentative List" cannot be nominated) and, with advice from the World Heritage Centre itself, prepares a "Nomination File" for it. The file is then reviewed independently by two different agencies, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the Word Conservation Union (WCU), that make their recommendation in favour or in opposition of inclusion to the committeee of the World Heritage Centre, which ultimately passes judgement on the matter of inclusion based on the inclusion criteria above. The committeee meets in yearly sessions, and in each session only a limited number of sites can be included in the list. The committee can also postpone its decision in order to request more information to be included in the Nomination File before passing judgement.

List of World Heritage sites

The World Heritage Centre categorises World Heritage sites in five regions, based on where the State Party that owns a given site is located:

WHC region Defined to include Natural sites Cultural sites Mixed sites Total % See list
Africa Sub-Saharian Africa only 33 38 3 74 9% Catalogue of World Heritage sites in Africa
Arab States Middle East and Northern Africa 3 58 1 62 7% Catalogue of World Heritage sites in the Arab States
Asia-Pacific All of Asia except Turkey, Australia and Oceania, plus the Uvs Nuur Basin even if it is included in Russian territory 45 126 11 182 21% Catalogue of World Heritage sites in Asia-Pacific
Europe and North America All of Europe including overseases territories, Turkey, Russia and the Caucasus states, plus Canada and the USA, but excluding Mexico 51 358 7 416 49% Catalogue of World Heritage sites in Europe and North America
Latin America and Caribbean The continental and insular Americas south of the USA, starting with Mexico 34 80 3 117 14% Catalogue of World Heritage sites in Latin America and Caribbean

External links


  1. - Full convention text on the official UNESCO WHC website. Retrieved on August 20, 2007.
  2. - Global Strategy page on the official UNESCO WHC website. Retrieved on August 20, 2007.
  3. - Criteria page on the official UNESCO WHC website. Retrieved on August 20, 2007.