WORLD HERITAGE SITES
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex or city) that is listed by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as of special cultural or physical significance. The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 state parties which are elected by their General Assembly. The programme catalogue names and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity.
In 1872 the Yellowstone National Park was established as a national park in the United States, and one hundred years later, during the Nixon administration, it was proposed to the World Heritage Committee or ‘World Heritage Trust’ and was accepted widely, and is the national park concept being carried out worldwide.
In 1954, the government of Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam (Aswan High Dam), an event that would deluge a valley containing treasures of ancient Egypt such as the Abu Simbel temples. UNESCO then launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign. The Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location and put back together piece by piece, and the Temple of Dendur was moved to New York.
The cost of the project was US$ 80 million, about $40 million of which was collected from 50 countries. The project was regarded as a success and led to other safeguarding campaigns, saving Venice and its lagoon in Italy, the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan and the Borobudur Temple compounds in Indonesia. UNESCO then initiated, with the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a draft convention to protect the common cultural heritage of humanity.
As of 2012, 962 sites are listed: 745 cultural, 188 natural and 29 mixed properties in 157 state parties. Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites with 47 sites inscribed on the list. UNESCO references each World Heritage Site with an identification number; but new inscriptions often include previous sites now listed as part of larger descriptions. As a result, the identification numbers exceed 1200 even though there are fewer on the list.
While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located, UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
World Heritage Sites in India
The World Heritage Sites in India recognized by the UNESCO are 29 in number, as of 2012. These are places of importance of cultural or natural heritage as described in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, established in 1972. India’s first two sites inscribed on the list at the Seventh Session of the World Heritage held in 1983 were the Agra Fort and the Ajanta Caves. Over the years, 27 more sites have been inscribed, the latest site inscribed in 2012 being the Western Ghats. Of these 29 sites, 23 are cultural sites and the other six are natural sites. A tentative list of further sites/properties submitted by India for recognition includes 33 sites. The present heritage sites in India are the following:
- Agra Fort
- Ajanta Caves
- Ellora Caves
- Taj Mahal
- Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
- Sun Temple, Konark
- Kaziranga National Park
- Keoladeo National Park
- Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
- Churches and Convents of Goa
- Fatehpur Sikri
- Group of Monuments at Hampi
- Khajuraho Group of Monuments
- Elephanta Caves
- Great Living Chola Temples
- Group of Monuments at Pattadakal
- Sundarban National Park
- Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks
- Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi
- Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi
- Qutub Minar and its Monuments, Delhi
- Mountain Railways of India
- Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya
- Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka
- Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park
- Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)
- Red Fort Complex
- The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
- Western Ghats
A country must first take an inventory of its significant cultural and natural properties. This is called the Tentative List. A country may not nominate properties that have not already been included on the Tentative List. Next it can select a property from this list to place into a Nomination File.
At this point, the file is evaluated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the World Conservation Union. These bodies then make their recommendations to the World Heritage Committee. The Committee meets once per year to determine whether or not to inscribe each nominated property on the World Heritage List, and sometimes defers the decision to request more information from the country which nominated the site. There are ten selection criteria; a site must meet at least one of them to be included on the list.
Until the end of 2004, there were six criteria for cultural heritage and four criteria for natural heritage. In 2005, this was modified so that there is only one set of ten criteria. Nominated sites must be of “outstanding universal value” and meet at least one of the ten criteria.
UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site provides prima facie evidence that such culturally sensitive sites are legally protected pursuant to the Law of War, under the Geneva Convention, its Articles, Protocols and Customs; together with other treaties including The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict and international law.