UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It helps preserve and protect those places on the planet – both cultural and natural – that are regarded as being of exceptional significance to mankind. This may seem a tall order, but since 1972 the World Heritage Convention has brought together the protection of both natural and cultural treasures, which were previously separate concerns. Today, around 190 countries adhere to the Convention, with over 1,000 properties listed.
World Heritage sites are dotted all over the globe, with cultural sites outnumbering the natural ones. Some are transboundary, some are mixed, some are in danger – perhaps from natural disasters or wars. Fortunately, thanks to UNESCO’s help, sites such as Dubrovnik’s old city and the archaeological park at Angkor in Cambodia, which were once classed as ‘in danger’, are no longer under threat.
Visiting places of historic, cultural or natural interest is often one of the things we remember most about a holiday. Who could fail to be moved by the early residents of Pompeii frozen in time after Vesuvius erupted, or marvel at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada? The locations that make up the UNESCO World Heritage list are likely to be on many people’s bucket lists, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Park, and historic, exotic Istanbul. The thought that any of these places could decay or even disappear is inconceivable, the effect of such a loss diminishing the world’s heritage. It is therefore good to know that some of our most important landscapes and cultural sites will still be there for our descendants to enjoy, thanks to the work of UNESCO and the countries who adhere to the Convention.
So when you’re planning a holiday, don’t forget to take a second look at some of the visits and excursions that are on offer and keep your eyes open for the words ‘UNESCO World Heritage site’. Their heritage transcends boundaries – it is a universal one that belongs to all of us, past, present and future, and something to be enjoyed and treasured.
For further information visit: whc.unesco.org/