How the World Heritage List Came About
Heritage is a shared responsibility. What does that mean?
The World Heritage List came about as the result of a general conference of the UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) at its 17th session in 1972.
UNESCO in Action: The Florence Flood and the Aswan Dam
The early 1970s were a time when cultural and natural heritage was increasingly threatened with destruction, both by the traditional causes of decay, and by changing social and economic conditions, including urban development, population growth, and over-hunting.
UNESCO had led three significant rescue campaigns:
- Re-siting the Nubian Monuments in southern Egypt under threat of submergence by the construction of the Aswan Dam;
- Restoration of central Florence after flooding in 1966;
- Addressing the recurring problem of winter flooding in Venice;
As such, there was growing public consensus that some heritage was of outstanding importance and therefore worthy of preservation as part of the world heritage of mankind as a whole.
Principles Behind the World Heritage List
The list was based on several fundamental considerations:
- that heritage could be both cultural and natural;
- that each item of heritage was unique and irreplaceable;
- that each country in whose territory heritage lay had an obligation to safeguard it for posterity (both to its citizens and to the international community);
- that the study, knowledge and protection of heritage in various countries was conducive to mutual understanding between peoples;
- and that heritage had an important role to play in community life (social and economic), and needed to be an integral part of regional development and national planning at every level.
Heritage in Context
The idea of preserving heritage in its environment was identified by UNESCO as being important; this was almost certainly due to a growing awareness of the wrongs of the common 19th century practise of appropriating and relocating artefacts, and of the fact that many valuable environments, both man-made and natural, were being lost.
Heritage as an Asset
UNESCO was pioneering in identifying that heritage should be seen as an asset, rather than an obstacle in the face of national development. It also recognised that countries needed to take an active role in heritage preservation, and that both public and private entities needed to get involved, making the most of advances in science and technology. Many of these are principles now taken for granted.