World Heritage Convention

What is the World Heritage Convention?

The Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972.

It is currently the most recognised international treaty around the world thanks to the ratification of 190 States parties and in its 40 years of history has inscribed 981 sites on the World Heritage List.

It is an effective instrument of international cooperation for the protection of the cultural and natural heritage which has outstanding universal value. Without the support of other countries, some of the world's outstanding cultural and natural sites would deteriorate or, worse, disappear, often through lack of funding to preserve them.

The Convention defines the categories of natural or cultural sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List. The Convention sets out the duties of States Parties in identifying potential sites and their role in protecting and preserving them. By signing the Convention, each country pledges to conserve not only the World Heritage sites situated on its territory, but also to protect its national heritage. The States Parties are encouraged to integrate the protection of the cultural and natural heritage into regional planning programmes, set up staff and services at their sites, undertake scientific and technical conservation research and adopt measures which give this heritage a function in the day-to-day life of the community.

To be World Heritage Site isn't a purpose, it is an instrument to protect, to disseminate the value and preserve our heritage with outstanding universal value. To be included in the World Heritage List is a permanent commitment.

The World Heritage List includes 981 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considered as having outstanding universal value.
These include 759 cultural, 193 natural and 29 mixed properties in 160 States Parties.

The origins of the World Heritage Convention

The first initiatives to protect valuable heritage sites all over the world emerged after World War II. It's in 1959 when the idea of creating an international movement to protect heritage at an international level started up with the Aswan High Dam project in Egypt.

The decision to build the Aswan High Dam would have flooded the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilization.
To conserve them UNESCO promoted an international safeguarding campaign. Archaeological research in the areas to be flooded was accelerated. Above all, the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were dismantled, moved to dry ground and reassembled.

The campaign cost about US$80 million, half of which was donated by some 50 countries, showing the importance of solidarity and nations' shared responsibility in conserving outstanding cultural sites. Its success led to other safeguarding campaigns, such as saving Venice, Moenjodaro (Pakistan) and restoring Borobodur (Indonesia).

At the same time appeared the first movements in order to safeguard the natural heritage in the same field of international responsibility. This idea came from the United States of America. The White House Conference in Washington, D.C., in 1965 called for a 'World Heritage Trust' that would stimulate international cooperation to protect 'the world's superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry'. In 1968, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) developed similar proposals for its members.

These two movements were fused in the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage that was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972.

The most significant feature of this Convention is that it links together in a single document the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties. The Convention recognizes the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

Spain ratified the Convention in 1982, and until today, with 44 sites inscribed in the World Heritage List, it's the third State with more heritage sites in the world.

How has evolved the World Heritage Convention?

Adoption of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage year. This unique international treaty links for the first time the concepts of nature conservation and preservation of cultural properties, recognizing the way people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

The World Heritage Convention formally takes effect upon ratification by the first 20 States Parties. The List of World Heritage in Danger is created to draw attention to properties needing special international consideration and priority assistance. The World Heritage Fund is established to assist States Parties identify, preserve and promote World Heritage sites through both compulsory and voluntary contributions.

The World Heritage Committee develops selection criteria for inscribing properties on the World Heritage List, and draws up Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, setting out among other principles those of monitoring and reporting for properties on the List. Ecuador's Galapagos Islands becomes the first of twelve sites to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Spain ratifies the World Heritage Convention.

The first Spanish sites are inscribed in the World Heritage List: Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada; Burgos Cathedral; Historic Centre of Cordoba; Monastery and Royal Site of the Escurial, Madrid and Works of Gaudí.

With 377 sites inscribed in the first twenty years of the Convention, the World Heritage Centre is established to oversee the day-to-day management of the Convention. Cultural landscapes, a new category of sites, are added, making the Convention the first legal instrument to recognize and protect.

The Committee adopts the Global Strategy for a Balanced, Representative and Credible World Heritage List, aimed at addressing the imbalances on the List between regions of the world, and the types of monuments and periods represented. The Strategy marks the progression from a monumental vision of heritage to a much more people oriented, multifunctional and global vision of World Heritage. The Nara Document on Authenticity is adopted, recognizing the specific nature of heritage values within each cultural context.

On the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Convention, the Committee adopts the Budapest Declaration on World Heritage, inviting all stakeholders to support World Heritage conservation through four key Strategic Objectives (the '4 Cs'): Credibility, Conservation, Capacity building and Communication. The World Heritage Partners Initiative, known today as PACT, is launched to encourage public-private partnerships and set in place a framework through which a wide range of institutions as well as individuals can contribute to the conservation of World Heritage sites around the world.

The World Heritage Committee adds a fifth 'C' - Community - to its Strategic Objectives, highlighting the important role of local communities in preserving World Heritage.

The 40th Anniversary of the adoption of the World Heritage Convention was celebrated around the World and the 16th November becomes the International World Heritage Day.