2012 marks the 40th birthday of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, which to-date protects almost 1,000 sites of outstanding cultural and natural importance. Among these are some of the world’s most spectacular archaeological sites, from Angkor Wat and Hadrian’s Wall to the Pyramids at Giza and the ruins of Pompeii.
We have featured many of these monuments in the pages of Current World Archaeology; click here to read more about some of our favourites.
Celebrations were launched at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris in January and a range of events to mark the anniversary are scheduled throughout 2012, including conferences in Norway and China, a youth forum in Spain, and a commemorative ceremony in Germany.
Just last year, Global Heritage Fund launched the Global Heritage Network (GHN), an online early warning system that allows experts, archaeologists and travellers to track and monitor the state of the world’s most endangered sites using satellite technology. Click here to find out more.
The history of the Convention
The need to have an international agreement on how to protect heritage sites sprang from global concern over the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt in 1959, which threatened to flood the world-famous temples at Abu Simbel. UNESCO launched an emergency campaign funded by donations from 50 countries, highlighting our shared responsibility to preserve historic monuments.
The success of this campaign prompted others at Venice, at the 4,500-year-old settlement at Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan, and at Indonesia’s Borobodur Temple. A paper on how to safeguard cultural sites was subsequently drafted, and by 1972 the text had been agreed by all parties concerned. The Convention Concerning the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage was formally adopted at the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972.
World Heritage Sites – the list
Six years after the Convention was signed, member states drew up a preliminary list of sites of universal cultural and natural value. The initial list numbered just a dozen sites – including the 13th-century rock cut churches at Lalibela in Ethiopia and the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada – but it has been added to every June at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee.
Some 936 sites in 153 countries currently fall under its protection, and these will doubtlessly be joined by more this summer.