The cultural and natural heritage represents the reference point, the model, the identity of populations and is the legacy of the past to be conveyed to future generations.
What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is the universality of its application. The sites included in the World Heritage List belong to the peoples of the whole world, regardless of the territory in which they are located.
Each country has sites that are of local or national interest and are rightly a source of national pride. The 1972 Convention encourages the States Parties to identify and protect their heritage whether or not it is registered on the World Heritage List.
The difference between a World Heritage site and a national heritage site lies in the concept of “exceptional universal value”. The sites chosen to constitute World Heritage are selected for their specific characteristics, which make them the best possible example of the cultural and natural heritage of the whole world. According to the Convention, the States Parties recognise that the sites registered in the World Heritage List that are located in their territory, without detracting from national sovereignty and property rights, constitute a heritage “for whose protection it is the duty of the international community as a whole to co-operate”.
Without the support of other countries, some of the world’s most important cultural or natural sites could risk being damaged, or worse, disappearing, often due to the lack of the necessary funds for their conservation.
The Convention therefore represents an agreement, almost universally ratified, aimed at guaranteeing the intellectual and financial resources (within the limits of availability) necessary for the protection of the sites on the World Heritage List.
The World Heritage List reflects the richness and diversity of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
Contents and implementation
The idea of creating an international movement to protect heritage arose after the Second World War. In the Convention concerning the safeguarding of the world cultural and natural heritage of 1972, two distinct movements converge: the first focused on the protection of cultural sites, the other on the protection of nature.
The protection of cultural and natural heritage
A particular event aroused the awareness of the international community: the decision to build the Aswan dam in Egypt with the consequent flooding of the valley where the Abu Simbel temples stood, treasures of ancient Egyptian civilisation. In 1959, after an appeal from the Egyptian and Sudanese governments, UNESCO set up an international protection programme. Archaeological research was accelerated in areas that would have been flooded but, above all, the temples of Abu Simbel and Philae were dismantled, transported to dry ground and reassembled. The campaign cost around 80 million US Dollars; half of the sum was donated by about fifty countries in an important act of solidarity and shared responsibility for the protection of exceptional cultural heritage. This success paved the way for other protection campaigns, such as that to save Venice (Italy), Moenjodaro (Pakistan), and restore Borobodur (Indonesia).
The Convention concerning the safeguarding of the world’s cultural and natural heritage was approved by the UNESCO General Conference on 16 November 1972.
It takes into consideration both cultural and natural aspects of heritage and thus underlines the interactions between human beings and nature and the fundamental importance of maintaining a balance between the two.
The main advantage connected with the ratification of the World Heritage Convention is given by belonging to an international community which appreciates and protects the assets of universal importance, representative of a world with exceptional examples of cultural diversity and natural wealth.
The States Parties to the Convention join forces to protect the world’s cultural and natural heritage and thus express the common commitment to safeguard our legacy for future generations.
The prestige given by being a member of the Convention and having sites registered in the World Heritage List is often a catalyst and increases awareness of the protection of heritage.
In particular for developing countries, access to the World Heritage Fund is one of the main advantages related to the VI ratification.
Emergency aid may also be granted in the event of urgent actions necessary to deal with damage caused by natural disasters or due to human action. Today, the concept of World Heritage is well understood, so much so that the sites registered in the List attract international cooperation and heritage protection projects can receive financial aid from numerous different sources.
Furthermore, the management plans, requested at the time of inscription on the World Heritage List, represent a useful tool for defining adequate measures for the conservation of the site, for optimising the use of the human and financial resources available and for the monitoring procedures.
Finally, the inclusion of a site on the World Heritage List implies a greater awareness of the public towards the site and its exceptional values, also strengthening tourism activities. When these are adequately planned and organised in compliance with the principles of sustainable tourism, they can constitute a significant resource for the site and for the local economy.
The Convention defines the different types of site (cultural and natural) to be included in the World Heritage List, establishing the duties of the States Parties in identifying the sites and their role in safeguarding and conserving them.
States are encouraged to integrate cultural and natural heritage protection programmes into planning tools, to ensure sufficient personnel and suitable services within the sites, to undertake scientific and technical research for conservation.
The Convention establishes the obligation of States to regularly report to the World Heritage Committee on the conservation status of registered sites. It also encourages raising public awareness of world heritage sites and improving their protection through information and education programmes. It also establishes the methods of management and use of the World Heritage Fund and the conditions for receiving international financial assistance.
The Convention defines the functions of the World Heritage Committee, the methods for electing members, the duration of the mandate and the list of advisory bodies.
The Committee meets once a year and is made up of 21 representatives of the States Parties to the Convention elected by the General Assembly for a term of up to six years. It is responsible for the application of the Convention, establishes the use of the World Heritage Fund and grants financial aid at the request of the States Parties. It is the Committee that decides whether a site will be inscribed on the World Heritage List; it may also postpone its decision and request the proposing State to provide more information.
The Committee reviews reports on the state of conservation of registered sites and asks the States Parties to take specific measures when a site is not properly managed. It also decides when to register or remove a site from the endangered World Heritage List and finally can also decide to remove a site from the World Heritage List.
These are the countries that have joined the World Heritage Convention. They identify and propose the sites to be included in the World Heritage List. The States Parties are responsible for the conservation of the values of the sites declared as World Heritage and report periodically on their conditions.
The General Assembly
It includes all States party to the Convention. It meets once every two years during the ordinary session of the UNESCO General Conference to elect the members of the Committee, to examine the accounts of the World Heritage Fund and to make decisions on the main policy lines.
World Heritage Committee
It is the intergovernmental committee responsible for applying the Convention. It is assisted by a Secretariat (World Heritage Centre) which implements the decisions and makes use of the technical-scientific advice of some international reference organisations.
The World Heritage Centre
Established in 1992, the World Heritage Centre is the contact and coordination point, within the UNESCO, for everything related to World Heritage and acts as the Secretariat of the Committee, organising statutory meetings, developing and proposing the policy lines and ensuring the implementation of the Committee’s decisions, in collaboration with the States Parties and with the advisory bodies.
Alongside the States Parties to the Convention and the Advisory Bodies, the Centre also carries out the following activities:
- receives, records, verifies, files and transmits the proposals for inscription on the World Heritage List to the Advisory Bodies;
- organises and coordinates the monitoring of the property of the World Heritage List;
- coordinates international assistance and implementation of the Committee’s programmes and projects;
- promotes knowledge of the World Heritage and the Convention through the dissemination of information to the general public.
The advisory bodies of the World Heritage Committee are ICCROM ( International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Among their main activities, the advisory bodies:
- support the World Heritage Centre in preparing the documentation for the Committee;
- verify the state of conservation of World Heritage properties and examine requests for international assistance;
- evaluate the properties proposed for inclusion in the World Heritage List, submitting reports to the Committee (ICOMOS and IUCN);
- provide expert advice on conservation of cultural sites and training (ICCROM).
Cultural and natural heritage
The Convention (Articles 1 and 2) defines the types of heritage that can be registered on the World Heritage List:
- monuments: architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;
- groups of buildings: groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;
- sites: works of man or the combined works of nature and man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view.
- natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;
- geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation;
- natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.
- In addition, the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the Convention identify two further areas:
In addition, the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the Convention identify two further areas:
- mixed heritage (cultural and natural): heritage that corresponds in part or in full to both definitions of cultural and natural heritage;
- cultural landscapes: cultural properties that represent the “combined works of nature and of man” designated in Article 1 of the Convention. They are illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal.
The Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention constitute the fundamental tool for the implementation of the Convention.
Prepared for the first time in 1977, the Guidelines are periodically updated to implement the decisions of the World Heritage Committee. The document provides the criteria and procedures for inscribing sites on the World Heritage List; establishes the methods for verifying the conservation status of the inscribed sites, for the activation of International Assistance by the World Heritage Fund, the conditions that determine the inscription of the sites on the List of endangered heritage and further information and instructions for all related obligations.