UNESCO world heritage

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Global distribution of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (as of March 2018)

World Heritage is a name for monuments, groups and sites ( World Heritage Site ) and natural formation, geological and physiographical formations and natural sites ( World Heritage ) of outstanding universal value, the identification, protection and preservation by States parties to the so-called. "World Heritage Convention" by the UNESCO supported will.

According to the implementation guidelines for the World Heritage Convention, cultural and natural heritage are among the inestimable and irreplaceable goods not only of every people, but of all humanity. Because of their exceptional properties, parts of this heritage can be considered of exceptional universal value and therefore worthy of special protection against the increasingly threatening dangers.

The goods worthy of protection are entered in a list that was opened when they were added to the UNESCO cultural and natural heritage in 1978 . The World Heritage Committee decides on inclusion in the World Heritage List .

In Germany, the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) decides which sites will be nominated by UNESCO for inclusion in the World Heritage List. It has drawn up a handout for the implementation of the UNESCO World Heritage Program with recommendations and fact sheets on the importance and handling of existing and potential World Heritage sites.

German version of the World Heritage emblem

Origin and basis of the idea

Legal basis

The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict ( Hague Convention ) set international standards for the preservation of cultural heritage for the first time in 1954.

Basis for the protection of endangered not only by war but also by a spread of civilization cultural heritage and natural sites is in Paris adopted the Convention for the protection of cultural and natural heritage of the world of 16 November 1972, which entered into force 1975th In Germany it was ratified by federal law in 1977. The acceding states undertake to record, protect and preserve the world heritage on their territory themselves. At the same time, they assure each other of international cooperation and mutual help in fulfilling these tasks.

As of August 2017, 193 member states of the United Nations have joined . The convention was last ratified in 2016 by South Sudan and East Timor .


The term “cultural heritage” (héritage) goes back to Henri-Baptiste Grégoire , Bishop of Blois and French revolutionary, and was codified in the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of May 14, 1954:

"Damage to cultural property, belonging to any people whatsoever, means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world."

"Any damage to cultural property , regardless of which people it belongs to, means damage to the cultural heritage of all humanity, because every people makes its contribution to the culture of the world."

The impetus for the creation of the World Heritage Convention was the call of UNESCO on 8 March 1960 by the construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile threatened monuments in Nubia to save for posterity. The temples of Abu Simbel and Philae were demolished and rebuilt 180 m inland at a point 64 m higher. This campaign cost approximately $ 80 million. About half of the funds came from donations from 50 countries. Although Abu Simbel is a facade reconstruction , the monument value of this building was expressly emphasized.

Further security measures were taken, for example, at the lagoons of Venice or the archaeological ruins in Mohenjo-Daro in today's Pakistan . Together with ICOMOS and IUCN, UNESCO subsequently initiated the development of the World Heritage Convention. In addition, the idea of ​​the wonders of the world , which originated in antiquity, lives on here , which for many centuries fulfilled a similar function for tourism as the UNESCO World Heritage site today. The national and international coordination with regard to military and civil structures for the protection of the world cultural heritage is carried out by the organization Blue Shield International , based in the Dutch city of The Hague.

The protection of the world heritage should also preserve the particularly sensitive cultural memory, the growing cultural diversity and the economic basis of a state, a municipality or a region. Although there is also a connection between the destruction of cultural assets or world heritage and the cause of flight, as President of Blue Shield International Karl Habsburg-Lothringen explains during a deployment in Lebanon in April 2019: “Cultural assets are part of the identity of the people who live in a certain place. If you destroy their culture, you also destroy their identity. Many people are uprooted, often no longer have any prospects and as a result flee from their homeland ”.

At the World Heritage Conference in Brasilia in 2010 it was established that a “dark night sky for astronomy” is also an object worth protecting.

World Heritage Procedure

World Heritage Committee

The World Heritage Committee at its 39th meeting in Bonn in 2015

An intergovernmental committee for the protection of the cultural and natural heritage of exceptional universal value called the “ Committee for the Heritage of the World ” (World Heritage Committee) has been established within UNESCO .

Its 21 members are elected for a specific term by the General Assembly of the Contracting States.

The World Heritage Center , founded in 1992 by Bernd von Droste zu Hülshoff and managed until 1999, is the permanent secretariat of the World Heritage Committee and is organizationally integrated into the cultural sector of the UNESCO Secretariat in Paris. Its task is to implement, record, document and publish the resolutions made by the World Heritage Committee. It organizes the meetings of the General Assembly and the Committee, receives nominations for the World Heritage List, coordinates the monitoring of the World Heritage sites and organizes periodic reporting. It oversees the World Heritage Fund, coordinates international aid projects and supports the contracting states in implementing the goals and programs of the World Heritage Convention.

Three international expert committees to advise the World Heritage Committee: In the field of cultural heritage, these are the International Council on Monuments and Sites ( ICOMOS , International Council on Monuments and Sites) and the International Study Center for the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property ( ICCROM , International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), in the field of natural heritage, the International Union for conservation of Nature ( IUCN , International Union for conservation of Nature and natural Resources). They take part in the meetings of the World Heritage Committee in an advisory capacity.

Cities on whose territory there is a World Heritage have come together to form the Organization of World Heritage Cities , whose headquarters are in Québec .

Support measures for inclusion on the list

Aachen Cathedral , world cultural heritage since 1978, first world heritage site in Germany
Müstair Abbey , World Heritage Site since 1983, one of the first World Heritage Sites in Switzerland
Salzburg old town, world cultural heritage since 1996, one of the first world heritage sites in Austria

It is primarily a matter for each Contracting State to record, determine, protect and maintain the potential cultural and natural heritage sites in its territory by means of financial, artistic, scientific and technical measures. At the same time, the contracting states have recognized that this heritage is a world heritage which the international community as a whole must work together to protect.

Each State Party can apply to the World Heritage Committee for international support for cultural or natural heritage located on its territory. The committee decides according to Art. 11 No. 2 of the World Heritage Convention on the inclusion of new World Heritage sites in the “List of World Heritage” and checks whether the sites already listed still meet the criteria of the World Heritage Convention. It supports the 189 signatory states with technical and material assistance.

According to Art. 20, 22 of the World Heritage Convention, support can be granted for the goods included in the list in the following form:

  1. Investigations into the artistic, scientific and technical problems raised by the protection, the preservation in existence and value and the revitalization of the cultural and natural heritage;
  2. Provision of experts, technicians and skilled workers to ensure that the approved work is carried out correctly;
  3. Training of personnel and specialists at all levels in the field of recording, protecting, preserving the existence and value and revitalizing the cultural and natural heritage;
  4. Delivery of equipment that the state in question does not own or cannot acquire;
  5. Loans with low interest rates or interest free loans that can be repaid over the long term;
  6. Granting of lost grants in exceptional cases and for special reasons.

Financial support contributions are granted from the “Fund for the World Heritage”, which consists of contributions from the contracting states as well as private donations or bequests and collections for the benefit of the fund. Around 4 million US dollars are available annually for conservation and emergency aid measures at the sites. The World Heritage Committee decides on the allocation of resources from the World Heritage Fund. Usually, however, only part of the cost of the work required is financed by the fund. The own contribution of the supported state must amount to a substantial part of the funds used for each program or project, unless its funds do not allow this (Art. 25 World Heritage Convention).

Admission procedure

For each year, each contracting state may submit two proposals for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List. However, these proposals must have been on the list of proposals ( tentative list ) for at least two years , which each country stores at UNESCO and regularly updates.

Once a year, usually in early July, the World Heritage Committee meets to decide on the states' applications for membership. The committee can accept, reject or postpone proposals for the inclusion of sites and request further information from the requesting state. The UNESCO World Heritage List is published continuously.

At its meetings, the committee also advises on the state of preservation of monuments that have already been included. It obtains expert opinions from ICOMOS, IUCN and ICCROM for technical advice. It checks whether a listed monument is threatened or endangered to such an extent that it no longer meets the criteria of the World Heritage Convention and is therefore placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger (so-called Red List ) or is completely deleted from the list. In order to determine any changes in the state of preservation, the sites are regularly checked. In addition, the signatory states must inform the World Heritage Committee of any changes to the sites.

In addition, a protection and conservation plan is required that is sufficient to ensure conservation.

Criteria of protection

Giza pyramids , cultural heritage site
Yellowstone National Park in the USA, natural heritage site
Holy Mount Emei Shan in China, cultural and natural heritage alike

The guidelines for the implementation of the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage contain the criteria according to which a site can be included on the list.

Fundamental is the concept of Outstanding Universal Value ( OUV ) as the central benchmark for the registration of a site. The extraordinary universal value, according to No. 49 of the guidelines, denotes a cultural and / or natural meaning which is so extraordinary that it penetrates national borders and is of importance for both present and future generations of all humanity. When deciding on inclusion, in accordance with No. 77 ff. Of the guidelines, in particular the overarching criteria of authenticity and integrity are checked (No. 79 to 90 of the guidelines).

Until the beginning of 2005, criteria for cultural and natural goods were kept separately and were numbered separately. Since then, they have been checked together for each property. Although the majority of World Heritage sites are still only designated as cultural heritage or only as natural heritage, as of 2019, 39 sites already meet criteria from both areas.

Heritage criteria:

  1. The goods represent a masterpiece of human creativity.
  2. The goods show, for a period of time or in a cultural area of ​​the world, a significant intersection of human values ​​in relation to the development of architecture or technology, large-scale sculpture, urban planning or landscape design.
  3. The goods represent a unique or at least extraordinary testimony to a cultural tradition or an existing or lost culture.
  4. The goods represent an excellent example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape that symbolizes one or more significant periods of human history.
  5. The goods represent an excellent example of a traditional form of human settlement, land or sea use that is typical for one or more specific cultures, or the interaction between humans and the environment, especially when it is threatened with extinction under the pressure of inexorable change.
  6. The goods are linked in a direct or recognizable way with events or traditional ways of life, with ideas or creeds or with artistic or literary works of exceptional universal importance. (The committee agreed that this criterion should generally only be used in conjunction with other criteria.)

Criteria for natural heritage:

  1. The goods have outstanding natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
  2. The goods represent exceptional examples of the main stages of the earth's history, including the development of life, essential geological processes in progress in the development of landforms, or essential geomorphological or physiogeographical features.
  3. The goods represent exceptional examples of significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of land, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems as well as plant and animal communities.
  4. The goods contain the most significant and typical habitats for the in situ conservation of biodiversity on earth, including those that contain threatened species that are of exceptional universal value for scientific reasons or for their conservation.

Protection area

When it is placed under protection, the exact area is also defined to which the world heritage status is to apply.

  • The core zone includes the actual world heritage site.
  • Most of the World Heritage Sites also have a buffer zone that surrounds the core zone.

Types of World Heritage Sites

Monreale Cathedral , part of a World Heritage Site

According to the criteria listed above, World Heritage sites are divided into:

Victoria Falls , cross-border world natural heritage site

Another division is based on the number of protected objects or areas:

Another division is made according to the number of countries involved:

World Heritage Lists

World Heritage Sites per State

World Heritage List

UNESCO maintains a World Heritage List, on which all World Heritage sites are recorded. As of 2019, this list includes 1,121 sites in 167 countries. Of these, 869 are listed as world cultural heritage and 213 as world natural heritage, a further 39 sites are listed as mixed cultural and natural heritage sites. 39 World Heritage sites are cross-border or transnational , i.e. assigned to two or more states.

Red List

The rice terraces in the Filipino Cordilleras , a world heritage that was on the Red List until the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2012 .

UNESCO adds acutely endangered world heritage sites to its list of endangered world heritageadded. It is of secondary importance whether the admission is intended to give those responsible a signal to do more to preserve the goods, or whether a state asks for international support because it is overwhelmed with the protective measures. The aim of inclusion in the Red List is the establishment of specific catalogs of measures to restore the value that originally led to inclusion in the World Heritage List. This also applies to the prevention of looting, art theft and conflict-related destruction (bombings, demolitions, graffiti, etc.) and the creation of current inventory lists in museums, archives and cultural sites. UNESCO and its partner organizations such as Blue Shield in association with ICOMOSare active on site for this purpose. As of 2017, 54 World Heritage Sites are on the Red List, including all World Heritage Sites in Libya, Syria and the Palestinian Autonomous Territories.


Two sites were finally removed from the list of World Heritage by 2017:

The first such decision concerned the Arabian oryx wildlife sanctuary in Oman . It was delisted in 2007 after the reserve was reduced by 90% to produce oil there. The oryx population has therefore decreased from 450 to 65 animals since 1996.

The second deleted site is the Dresden Elbe Valley cultural landscape , which was put on the list of endangered world heritage sites in 2006 because of the plans to build the Waldschlößchenbrücke . In 2009 the title was revoked because construction had begun.

Endangering the UNESCO World Heritage status

The remains of the already destroyed Buddha statues from Bamiyan are still endangered and therefore belong to the red list of endangered world heritage .

There is no protection guarantee for the listed sites through the World Heritage Convention, at least as long as the signatory states have not decided to transform them into national law . UNESCO does not have any sanctioning options for violations (with the exception of deletion from the World Heritage List, which, however, gives up the protection goal).

According to a study published in April 2016 on behalf of the WWF, every second World Heritage site is threatened. This meant a significant increase compared to previous years. The main reason for this is that their protection is subordinated to economic interests. The situation is particularly problematic in Central and South Africa, South and East Asia, the Pacific region, Latin America and the Caribbean. Furthermore, the destruction of cultural assets and identity-building sites is one of the primary goals of modern asymmetrical warfare today. Therefore, terrorists, rebels or mercenary armies deliberately smash archaeological sites, sacred and secular monuments and plunder libraries, archives and museums. To prevent such acts is Blue Shieldactive. "No-strike lists" are also drawn up in order to protect the cultural assets from air strikes.

So far, in the vast majority of cases of conflict, a solution that is acceptable to UNESCO has been found. The corresponding willingness to compromise on the part of those responsible in the region exists primarily because they are aware that the title “World Heritage” has a secondary function in addition to its actual (culture and nature preservation) function, namely that of promoting tourism (see also World Heritage in Germany ). However, for example, the destruction of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan (which at that time were not yet listed as World Heritage) could not be prevented by UNESCO protection, nor could the 90% reduction in the size of the wildlife sanctuary of the Arabian oryx (Deletion from the 2007 World Heritage List) in favor of natural gas and oil production.

On the other hand, the international attention for World Heritage sites is sometimes used as an instrument because they hope to gain advantages in other conflicts.

Conflicts in Germany

Dresden Elbe Valley 2012
  • In July 2004, Cologne Cathedral was added to the Red List of World Heritage in Danger. The city of Cologne initially continued its construction policy in the vicinity of the cathedral. In talks between UNESCO and the city administration, an agreement was finally reached: a free zone on both sides of the Rhine will now protect the validity of the cathedral, and buildings near the free zone should not exceed a height of 60 meters. Thus, the cathedral was removed from the red list in July 2006.
  • The Dresden Elbe Valley was entered on the Red List in July 2006 because, according to the expert opinion, the four-lane Waldschlößchenbrücke “irreversibly divides the contiguous landscape of the Elbe arch into two halves at the most sensitive point [...]”. After the bridge was still being built, the Dresden Elbe Valley lost the title of World Heritage Site due to a decision by the World Heritage Committee on June 25, 2009. A new application of the site with changed borders and based on other criteria was not ruled out.

Monasteries in Kosovo

Visoki Dečani Monastery

In 2006 Serbia-Montenegro applied to expand the World Heritage Site of Dečani Monastery , which was named in 2004, to include three further Serbian Orthodox monasteries in Kosovo , which is striving for independence , and to use the title Serbian Medieval Monuments in Kosovo and Metohija for the site in future . The reason given was, among other things, that the territory of Kosovo and Metohija represented "the center of the medieval Serbian state". They were its "heart - both territorial and spiritual -". Despite being guarded by the KFOR peacekeeping forces , theChurch of the Blessed Virgin of Ljeviša was arson. In 2006, the World Heritage Committee approved the expansion, but immediately put the site on the Red List and adopted the more neutral name Medieval Monuments in Kosovo . The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo is now responsible for protection .

Preah Vihear Temple

Preah Vihear Temple

In 2008, the Preah Vihear Temple , located on the border between Cambodia and Thailand , was added to the World Heritage List. According to a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1962, the temple is on the territory of Cambodia. The approval originally given by Thailand to the nomination as Cambodian World Heritage had to be withdrawn after protests by the opposition in the Thai parliament. A few days later, soldiers from both countries moved up on the border. There has been no major armed conflict so far, but isolated incidents have already resulted in the death of some soldiers.

Battir Terraces near Jerusalem

Land of Olives and Vines - Battir Cultural Landscape

In May 2012, the Palestinians applied to include the Battir Terraces , which are south of Jerusalem on the ceasefire line. Right there, Israel is planning to build a section of a protective fence . In June 2014, UNESCO added the area to both the World Heritage List and the Red List of World Heritage in Danger. In January 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court banned the construction of the wall.

World Heritage Day

World Heritage days Worldwide ( English World Heritage Days ) held on different days by different organizations.

The monument protection organization ICOMOS has been celebrating April 18 as the International Day for Monuments and Sites since 1982 .

The World Heritage Day in Germany has been held since 2005 every year on the first Sunday in June. Each World Heritage site hosts a central celebration. Switzerland has put the annual World Heritage Day on the second Sunday of June.

World Wonders Project

In June 2012, the search engine group Google started the so-called World Wonders Project together with UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund , Getty Images and Our Place , in which users can virtually visit 132 world cultural heritage sites in 18 countries using Google Street View images. The offer, which aims to provide a service for the preservation of the world cultural heritage, is enhanced with the help of additional explanations, images, 3D models and YouTube videos as well as downloadable teaching material.

See also

 Wikipedia: WikiProjekt UNESCO-Kultur- und -naturerbe - Wikipedia internal specialist editorial office on the topic UNESCO culture and natural heritage


Web links

Commons : World Heritage  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Convention for the Protection of the World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage of November 16, 1972 (German version)
  2. UNESCO Center for the World Heritage: Guidelines for the Implementation of the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Final version of June 2, 2017.
  3. Handout of the Conference of Ministers of Education of the Länder on UNESCO World Heritage, Resolution of the Conference of Ministers of Education of October 12, 2017
  4. BGBl. 1977 II p. 213, 216
  5. The UNESCO World Heritage List: Admission Procedure Against the Background of Current Initiatives Scientific Services of the German Bundestag , elaborated on February 16, 2017.
  6. List of acceding states on the UNESCO website , accessed on August 27, 2017 (English).
  7. cf. Hans Haider "Misuse of cultural goods is punishable" in Wiener Zeitung on June 29, 2012.
  8. ^ Karl von Habsburg on a mission in Lebanon. Retrieved July 19, 2019 .
  9. Jyot Hosagrahar: Culture: at the heart of SDGs. UNESCO courier, April-June 2017.
  10. ^ Rick Szostak: The Causes of Economic Growth: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Springer Science & Business Media, 2009, ISBN 978-3-540-92282-7 .
  11. At its 34th meeting, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee confirmed the study on astronomy and world heritage, accessed on August 4, 2010 on the website of the Kuffner Observatory .
  12. Criteria quoted according to the guidelines for the implementation of the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (PDF; 468 kB) in the translation of the German UNESCO Commission, Section II.D., Numbers 77 and 78.
  13. UNESCO Center for the World Heritage: Guidelines for the Implementation of the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Final version of June 2, 2017
  14. a b World Heritage List by category: Mixed Properties. In: https://whc.unesco.org/ . UNESCO World Heritage Center, accessed January 31, 2019 .
  15. ^ World Heritage List by category: Cultural Properties. In: https://whc.unesco.org/ . UNESCO World Heritage Center, accessed January 31, 2019 .
  16. World Heritage List by category: Natural Properties. In: https://whc.unesco.org/ . UNESCO World Heritage Center, accessed January 31, 2019 .
  17. ^ World Heritage List: Transboundary. In: https://whc.unesco.org/ . UNESCO World Heritage Center, accessed January 31, 2019 .
  18. a b World heritage across borders. In: www.unesco.de. German UNESCO Commission, accessed on January 31, 2019 .
  19. a b World Heritage List. UNESCO World Heritage Center, accessed July 8, 2019 .
  20. World Heritage List. German UNESCO Commission, July 10, 2017, accessed on August 27, 2017 .
  21. Rüdiger Heimlich, Martin Gehlen: Syria: The cultural property is in danger. Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger from August 24, 2012.
  22. ^ List of World Heritage in Danger. UNESCO World Heritage Center, accessed August 27, 2017 .
  23. ^ Protecting people through nature - Natural World Heritage sites as drivers of sustainable development. (PDF) WWF, March 31, 2016, accessed June 30, 2016 (English).
  24. Every third natural world heritage site in danger. WWF Germany , October 1, 2015, accessed June 30, 2016 .
  25. Unesco World Natural Heritage: Environmentalists fear for the world's crown jewels. In: Spiegel Online. April 6, 2016, accessed June 30, 2016 .
  26. Cf. Isabelle-Constance v. Opalinski: Shots at civilization. FAZ from August 20, 2014.
  27. See Peter Stone: Inquiry: Monuments Men. Apollo - The International Art Magazine, February 2, 2015; Mehroz Baig: When War Destroys Identity. Worldpost of May 12, 2014; Fabian von Posser: World Heritage sites bombed, cultural treasures hawked. Die Welt from November 5, 2013; Rüdiger Heimlich: Desert City Palmyra: Protect cultural heritage before it is destroyed. Berliner Zeitung from March 28, 2016.
  28. Kunibert Wachten : Expert opinion on the visual effects of the 'Waldschlösschenbrücke traffic train' on the UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Elbe Valley Dresden'. (PDF; 3.5 MB) RWTH Aachen University , Chair and Institute for Urban Development and Regional Planning, accessed on May 3, 2015 .
  29. Press release of the German UNESCO Commission .
  30. Decision and press release by the World Heritage Committee (both in English).
  31. Application documents ( memento of March 16, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (English) for inclusion in the World Heritage, section Proposal for Extension 2006 , original quotations in English.
  32. Decision 30COM 8B.54 of the World Heritage Committee (English).
  33. ^ Judges rule 8-1 that communique with Cambodia unconstitutional ( Memento of February 23, 2009 in the Internet Archive ).
  34. ^ Troops 'to leave border temple' .
  35. Der Standard , Dead in skirmishes on the border with Thailand , April 3, 2009.
  36. ^ A Palestinian Village Tries to Protect a Terraced Ancient Wonder of Agriculture .
  37. Page of UNESCO: Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines - Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir .
  38. ^ Israeli Supreme Court rules against separation wall in Battir @ maannews.net / eng, accessed January 17, 2015.
  39. April 18 - History. ICOMOS, accessed on December 1, 2018 (English).
  40. whes.ch: World Heritage Days .
  41. World Wonders Project: Google shows us the sights of the world , t3n , accessed on June 13, 2012.