April 18th marks the International Day for Monuments and Sites declared by UNESCO in 1983. Most important element in UNESCO’s efforts in preserving the world’s cultural and natural heritage are the currently 1031 World Heritage Sites around the world managed by the World Heritage Centre. The following cartogram shows the global distribution of all sites, as well as splitting these by category in the smaller sized maps below the main map (802 cultural sites, 197 natural sites and 32 described as mixed properties):
While on the one hand many states and places aim for inclusion on the World Heritage Site list as it can help boost tourism, the official approval also comes with the cost and effort to preserving and protecting the site adequately which can be a costly and complicated issue. World Heritage Sites classified as being in danger are not only in crises struck regions, but can also be found in wealthy countries, as the case of Cologne Cathedral in Germany shows where a “High-rise building plan near the cathedral” was “threatening to inflict damage to the integrity of the property” with the risk of being delisted (which did not happen after the building plans were not put into reality). Another case in Germany, the building of a controversial bridge, even led to the cultural landscape of Dresden being removed from the list of heritage sites in 2009.
According to UNESCO, “to be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.
(i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
(ii) 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;
(iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
(iv) 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;
(v) 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;
(vi) 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);
(vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
(viii) 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;
(ix) 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;
(x) 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.”