You’ll sometimes see us on the cruise blog referring to UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Everyone likes to mention a UNESCO World Heritage Site whenever they can, because it signifies an area of importance, something that is culturally or historically noteworthy. But we, as writers and people who try to paint a picture of the world, sometimes get complacent when we use the term. We assume you know what a UNESCO WHS is, and why UNESCO is the authority on these landmarks and destinations.
So in case you don’t, here’s a rundown and a brief history of the organisation.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in the formation of the United Nations and all of the sub-divisions because it’s a mess of acronyms and dates. I’m not even exaggerating – here’s a list of some of the acronyms involved in the formative years: ICIC, IIIC, IBE, CAME, UNCIO, ECO/CONF…
That’s all genuine, and it all led to the formation of UNESCO in 1945. UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and it is a special branch of the UN dedicated to promote collaboration between nations in five fields: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and culture and information.
As part of the culture field, the World Heritage List was first agreed on in 1972 to protect these important sites, and it was ratified in 1975. As of 2013 there are 981 sites listed – 759 of these are cultural, 193 are natural and 29 are mixed. There are ten criteria, and a site must fulfil at least one of these criteria:
1) To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius
2) 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
3) To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared
4) 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
5) 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
6) 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)
7) To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance
8) 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
9) 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
10) To 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.
It’s quite the list, but it ensures a definitive guide to the most important places on the world, so it has to be. So if you didn’t know before, you’ll at least now know why we always like to mention if somewhere on your cruise itinerary has been recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
By Ian Lewis