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Travel stories + tips from seasoned explorers

What exactly is a World Heritage Site?

October 7, 2019

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When you travel anywhere in the world, maybe the first thing you do is a Google search for “what to see in…” Chances are you’ll stumble across a landmark that boasts its title as a World Heritage Site. That sounds official, important, worthwhile… but what exactly is a World Heritage Site?

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.  – UNESCO

Passed down from generations long ago, heritage refers to the traditions and artifacts that endure the test of time as representative of a specific culture. Just as families pass down treasured keepsakes, entire nations and cultures maintain their identity through icons and customs deemed as their truest ambassadors.

In 1945, in the aftermath of the two world wars and their destruction, the United Nations formed its Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Its goal was to protect cultural icons in future events of war or natural disaster.

Putting it to the test

In the 1950s, the Egyptian government decided to build the Aswan High Dam because of the annual flooding of the Nile River. When the UN discovered that the dam would result in the flooding of the ancient Abu Simbel temples, an international campaign was launched. Over 50 countries donated a total of about $80 million to have the temples transported to higher ground.

In 1966, after a devastating flood in Venice, Italy, UNESCO rallied countries around the world to donate again to help with preservation and restoration costs for the city.

Then and now

The first list of twelve World Heritage Sites was published in 1978. Since then, the list has grown to now include 878 sites around the world, including not only monuments and landmarks, but also national parks, customs like dances and tea ceremonies, and even entire cities.

The main goals of the World Heritage Centre are to protect and preserve sites of significance around the world. Its actions include creating and enforcing plans in case of danger, soliciting the participation of local populations in heritage preservation, and bringing awareness to the importance of the work.

To be included on the list, a nominated site or tradition must be considered of “outstanding universal value” and meet one of the ten criteria written within the UNESCO operational guidelines.

Italy alone boasts 50 cultural sites and five natural sites, many of which are highlighted in Adagio Travel’s tours: Consider the Trulli of Alberobello, the city of Matera, and the Amalfi Coast itself, among many others.

Croatia is home to ten World Heritage Sites, including the historic city of Dubrovnik, featured in Adagio Travel’s newest tour destination.

Preserving the past

The UNESCO World Heritage List is a shining example of humanity’s deep connection to culture and heritage, passed on through centuries via monuments, traditions, and landscapes. As we move further into an age of technology and rapid change, standing at the foot of one of the world’s most prized keepsakes may remind us of our past and carry us into a more beautiful future.

Check it off your bucket list