What is World Heritage?

Italy-Pisa (H)

By Asgeir Pedersen April 18, 2016

The World Heritage Sites programme is administered by UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states elected by the General Assembly.

In 1959, the Egyptian and Sudanese governments requested UNESCO’s help to save 3000 years old monuments and temples of ancient Nubia from an area that was to be flooded by the projected Aswan Dam. This was a major project unprecedented in UNESCO’s short history. Thanks to international funding and expertise from five continents, a total of 22 monuments and architectural complexes were dismantled, relocated and reassembled over a twenty-years span.

1972 – World Heritage Convention

The success of this campaign inspired the development and adoption in 1972 of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The Nubian monuments from Abu Simel to Philae were inscribed in 1979. The first 12 sites, among them L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, were inscribed in 1978. Currently the World Heritage List counts 1,007 sites (July 2014).

All countries that have signed the convention are eligible to submit sites via its State Party, first to be put on the Tentative list. The candidates are then evaluated by two organizations reporting to UNESCO, their advisory bodies: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). They make a recommendation to the World Heritage Committee, which in turn votes annually at the General Assembly on which sites will be inscribed on the World Heritage list. In order to be nominated as World Heritage, a site must have outstanding universal value corresponding to at least one of ten criteria as stipulated by UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention.


See also World Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value