Did you know that April 18 is World Heritage Day? Well, I didn’t either until recently; a shame because I’ve been a grateful beneficiary of the fantastic World Heritage Program throughout my travels.
What is the World Heritage Program?
The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage program identifies and protects important places around the world. The World Heritage Program created The List. Buildings, historic cities, cultural landscapes or archaeological sites that have not only local significance, but historical and cultural meaning to the entire world go on The List. There are currently 1031 properties on UNESCO’s List. They are labeled as cultural (802), natural (197), or mixed sites (32).
World Heritage day serves “to raise the public’s awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability,” according to the International Council on Monuments and Sites. ICOMOS is an international organization dedicated to preserving monuments and other sites around the world.
UNESCO World Heritage sites have long been part of my travels. From the Mission Trail of San Antonio near my current home in Texas to the Tower of London, I’ve sought sites on The List. I consider it my personal bucket list. Case in point: Cuba has 9 designated World Heritage sites. As a result of a bit of planning, I managed to visit 3 of them. When arranging a journey, the first thing I do is check The List for World Heritage sites near my destination. Often a site on the WH list sparks the desire to travel to an area in the first place.
Especially relevant today: of the 1031 properties on the World Heritage list, 48 are considered to be “in danger”. The World Heritage in Danger List serves to inform the world about sites that are threatened in various ways, and to encourage action on the part of governments and people like you and me to reduce risks to the sites and to restore them.
How does a site get on the World Heritage in Danger list?
In all of the ways you would expect. Due to natural disasters (such as earthquakes and flooding) and pollution (including nutrient pollution in Everglades National Park), by unchecked tourism and neglect (through lack of local funding or knowledge), and through war and armed conflict. Bamiyan in Afghanistan came tragically to the world’s attention in 2001 following the destruction by the Taliban of two standing Buddha statues. In addition, the gorgeous preserved ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra, which have stood for 2000 years in Syria, have more recently been the target of ISIS’s cultural war against the West.
Finally, UNESCO’s World Heritage sites have enriched my life beyond measure. While nothing beats a visit to a site on The List for regaining your sense of awe, it also connects you to our world, its history and its people. Later this summer I’ll head back to the Netherlands to stay with a woman who lives in Amsterdam just steps from the seventeenth-century canal ring area, another World Heritage site. So, twenty five years after my first visit I will return to one of my favorite cities. While there, I will be sure to celebrate World Heritage Day.
How to celebrate World Heritage Day
- Check out the World Heritage interactive list.
- Read about some the sites to educate yourself and connect with the awe I mentioned.
- Learn about the destruction of Palmyra.
- View photographs from 380 sites at Our Place’s galleries.
- Find out more about the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
- Pass it on: use the #WorldHeritageDay hashtag on social media to spread awareness of the program.
- Visit a site near you or make travel plans with a site or two at the core of your journey.
Which World Heritage sites have you visited? Any favorites?