Aachen Cathedral at night

Aachen Cathedral at night ()

If you’ve ever read one of Stripes Europe’s amazing travel articles, you have probably seen us write about UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It sounds like an impressive distinction, but what does it even mean?

What is UNESCO?

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and was created in 1945. It’s headquartered in Paris and has 50 field offices around the world.

In 1972, the General Assembly of UNESCO adopted a convention called the “Recommendation concerning the Protection at National Level, of the Cultural and Natural Heritage.” This document defines what is “cultural heritage” and “natural heritage” which helps to outline the types of places that make the World Heritage Site listings.

How Does Something Become a World Heritage Site?

There is a five-step nomination and selection process when choosing a site. For a country to nominate a location, the country must have signed the aforementioned convention.

Countries create a “tentative list,” and from that list “nomination files” are created, then two Advisories Bodies evaluate a property.

After evaluation, a property’s final inscription is decided by the World Heritage Committee. A property must be of “Outstanding Universal Value, demonstrating international significance; it must ‘transcend national boundaries and be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.’” It must meet one of 10 heritage criteria requirements.

Facts and Stats about World Heritage Sites

There are currently 1157 Sites around the world.

Sites are designated as Cultural, Natural or Mixed.

Sites that are considered “in danger” are designated that way because they are in danger due to potential (or already occurring) damage to property from deterioration, lack of conservation policies, decline in populations, climate issues and more.

Germany has 51 World Heritage Sites. It was 52, but in 2009, the Dresden Elbe Valley was removed from the list due to “the building of a four-lane bridge in the heart of the cultural landscape which meant that the property failed to keep its ‘outstanding universal value as inscribed.’”

Next time you come across these intriguing inscriptions on your travels, take note. A significant amount of work goes into receiving such a designation.

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