• Rose Smith

World Heritage Sites and Our Wish to Preserve History and Beauty

Pictured Above: The Alcobaça Monastery, World Heritage Site

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are plenty of impermanent and transient things in this world. Buildings get renovated and torn down in favor of new, updated ones. Destruction is a part of this world, but there also seems to be a pervading want to also preserve things that are special and sentimental to us. Just as we think Out with the old, in with the new, we also have a desire to keep some of that old stuff around. One of the most interesting, concerted efforts to preserve what we have is UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO (or the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) was formed in 1945 and officially put into place in 1946 (UNSECO). The idea came about in the middle of World War Two, where assorted Allied European countries convened in the United Kingdom to discuss how to reconstruct the education system once peace was restored. The council wanted to make an organization that embodied and nurtured a culture of peace and would perhaps prevent another world war from happening. Soon, different governments outside of Europe, including the United States, agreed to be a part of this organization, and the conference was created. The organization now currently boasts 193 members and 11 associate members.

UNESCO itself has plenty of functions and initiatives to promote peace through education, and the World Heritage sites are a part of that initiative. There are currently 1121 World Heritage sites in the world (UNESCO). The World Heritage initiative has been around since 1972, and it acts to provide a framework of preserving sites of “outstanding universal value” (Encyclopedia Britannica). These sites are divided into three categories: cultural, natural, and mixed sites. Cultural sites can encompass everything from a monumental sculpture to a major historical site or city. Natural sites encompass sites of outstanding beauty or is a host for endangered wildlife.

So, how does a world heritage site come to be? To get inscribed as a world heritage site, a country has to follow a five-step process (UNESCO). It starts with a state creating a tentative list of important natural and cultural landmarks within its boundaries. A set of sites taken from that list is then run through a set of advisory bodies and then through the World Heritage Committee at UNESCO. The landmark must then fall under one out of ten criteria (six cultural, four natural) to be approved for inscription and become an official site. After inscription, the site is able to enjoy a raised cultural awareness and encourages governments to preserve these sites. Sometimes, the committee also gives financial assistance and advice to countries to help preserve the site (UNESCO).

While some things never seem to last, we also seem to have an urge to preserve what we find important. The world heritage site initiative is an embodiment of trying to preserve culture and beauty so future generations can see it and learn from it. UNESCO was founded to help promote a culture of peace through education, and the World Heritage Site site embodies this through showcasing all the different landmarks that make countries special for the world to take in and enjoy.