What is World Heritage?

From the Banks of the Danube in Budapest and Mexico's archaeological site of Chichen Itza, to South Africa's stunning Cape Floral Region, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are treasures of humanity prized by historians, ecologists and art lovers, as well as by their own communities.

UNESCO (United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was founded soon after the Second World War to promote co-operation between nations by sharing knowledge and promoting culture.

The event that aroused particular international concern was the decision to build the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, which would have flooded the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilization. In 1959 after an appeal from the Egyptian and Sudan governments, UNESCO launched a successful international campaign to save the temples by moving them at considerable cost to higher ground.

This led in 1972 to the adoption in Paris of a UNESCO Convention for the Protection and Preservation of the world’s most valued cultural and natural sites. Six years later the first sites, after meeting the strict criteria set out in the Convention, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, including Yellowstone National Park and the Galapagos Islands.

Today there are 962 World Heritage Sites listed in 157 countries divided into three categories – cultural, natural or mixed. UNESCO works to identify, protect and preserve these sites around the world. If a site is threatened, UNESCO creates a plan – and often provides funding – to ensure the sites preservation.

UNESCO World Heritage Site listing is an honor not easily obtained and imposes an obligation on the host country to protect and preserve the sites for present and future generations.

Learn more about UNESCO and the incredible work they are doing by visiting www.whc.unesco.org

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