world’s beauties: many of us, anxious to find exotic paradises, don’t know that not too far from home there might be one of the marvels of the world …Incredulous? Sceptical? Well, take a look at the UNESCO World Heritage List: from Argentina to Russia, from Portugal to Vietnam, from Australia to Zimbabwe, the world is full of wonders waiting to be discovered… and often they are not very far from us!
brief history: the idea of creating an international movement for protecting cultural properties in different countries emerged after World War I. The event, which aroused particular international concern, was the decision to build the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, which would flood the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilisation. In 1959, after an appeal from the governments of Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO decided to launch an international safeguarding campaign. Archaeological research in the areas to be flooded was accelerated. Above all, the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were dismantled, moved to dry ground and reassembled. The campaign cost about US$80 million, half of which was donated by some 50 countries, showing the importance of nations sharing responsibility in conserving outstanding cultural properties. Its success led to other safeguarding campaigns, such as those of Venice in Italy and Borobodur in Indonesia to name just two. Subsequently, UNESCO initiated the preparation of a draft Convention on the protection of cultural heritage.
linking culture & nature: the most significant feature of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is that it links together the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties. Nature and culture are considered complementary and cultural identity strongly related to the natural environment in which it develops.
how does it work: the Convention defines the kinds of natural or cultural properties which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List and that may then have access to international financial assistance. The application for a property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List must come from the country itself and is examined by the World Heritage Committee according to a list of selection criteria. The credibility of the World Heritage List stems from the countries' regular reporting: - on the condition of their properties, - on measures taken to preserve them, and - on their efforts to raise public awareness of their cultural and natural heritage. If a country is not fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, it risks having its properties deleted from the World Heritage List.
facts: in July 2004 the World Heritage List included 788 properties with 611 cultural, 154 natural and 23 mixed properties in 134 States. The list is updated every year at the meeting of the World Heritage Committee.
sites in danger: a variety of dangers due to natural causes or human intervention - looting, war, natural disasters, etc. - are constantly threatening properties inscribed in the World Heritage List. As a result of this, some properties on the World Heritage List have been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, which entitles them to special attention and emergency conservation action. As of July 2004, 35 properties were included in this list.
success stories: armed conflict is a major threat to some properties. Several properties that were damaged in this way have been successfully restored thanks to their inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Here are two examples of successful restorations:
committed tourism: tourism is one of the leading global industries and one of the major migratory movements in modern society, producing significant impacts on resource consumption, pollution, and social systems. On the other hand, tourism is a unique tool for awareness building and learning for guests and hosts alike. Sound natural and cultural environments are its basic assets, while peace is one of its basic requirements. In this sense, tourist industry can highly contribute to preserve world heritage. The management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity, and life support systems are the basic principle of sustainable tourism.
- the Old City of Dubrovnik in Croatia, the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’, dotted with beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings which had withstood the passage of centuries and survived several earthquakes. In November and December 1991, when seriously damaged by artillery fire, the city was immediately included in the List of World Heritage in Danger. With UNESCO providing technical advice and financial assistance, the Croatian Government restored the facades of the Franciscan and Dominican cloisters, repaired roofs and rebuilt palaces. As a result, in December 1998 it became possible to remove the city from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
- the Wieliczka Salt Mine, near Cracow, Poland, was inscribed in 1978 as one of the first twelve World Heritage properties. This great mine has been actively worked since the 13th century. Its 300 kilometres of galleries contain famous works of art with altars and statues sculpted in salt, all of which were seriously threatened by humidity due to the introduction of forced ventilation at the end of the 19th century. The property was placed on the List of the World Heritage in Danger in 1989. During nine years of joint efforts by both Poland and the international community, an efficient dehumidifying system was installed, and the Committee, at its session in December 1998, had the satisfaction of removing the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
heritage dogwatches: private individuals, non-governmental organisations, or other groups may draw the World Heritage Committee's attention to existing threats. In other world, everybody can be part of the World marvels dogwatch!