World Heritage – Exercise with a Map

The List of World Heritage of UNESCO is a prestigious collection of places and landmarks. Let’s look at them on the map and see if their number, diversity, and location will surprise us?!
Карта на Световното Наследство на ЮНЕСКО в Шри Ланка

Observation #1: A Huge Number

UNESCO World Her­it­age Site is a place or land­mark of an out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal value to human­ity. Or to be more spe­cific, it is a place or land­mark that meets at least one of the 10 cri­teria of the United Nation’s Edu­ca­tional, Sci­entific and Cul­tural Organ­iz­a­tion (UNESCO). For example, “(i) to rep­res­ent a mas­ter­piece of human cre­at­ive genius” or “(vii) to contain super­lat­ive natural phe­nom­ena or areas of excep­tional natural beauty and aes­thetic import­ance”.

As explained above, the World Her­it­age Sites are exclus­ive and hand-picked. The most logical expect­a­tion would be that they are also very rare. But that is not the case. Just a quick glimpse over the map is enough to recog­nize the abund­ance of World Her­it­age Sites. They stretch over the seven con­tin­ents and the five oceans, too!

Every UNESCO World Her­it­age Site brings an enorm­ous inter­na­tional prestige to the coun­tries where it is located. No sur­prise is hidden here. The coun­tries are com­pet­ing every year to inscribe as many as pos­sible sites in the List, just like they do every four years to win as many as pos­sible gold medals at the Olympiad.  

Since the adop­tion of the Con­ven­tion for Pro­tec­tion of the World Her­it­age (Novem­ber 1972) to this day (March 2020) there are in total 1121 prop­er­ties of an out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal value. The undis­puted winners are Italy and China with both 55 sites in the List. Closely after them is stand­ing Spain with 48 prop­er­ties, then Germany with 46 prop­er­ties, then France with 45 prop­er­ties and so on.

The symbols that are used to mark the World Her­it­age Sites resemble badges used by the coun­tries to show off. Some­times a country is so small, but the number of its World Her­it­age Sites is so large that the symbols com­pletely cover its ter­rit­ory. 

Observation #2: Different Colors

The major­ity of the sites is marked in orange but there are also lots of them in dark green. Appar­ently, there are two dis­tinct cat­egor­ies of World Her­it­age and they are: Cul­tural (in orange) and Natural (in dark green).

The World Cul­tural Her­it­age Sites are indi­vidual monu­ments of culture with their sur­round­ing area, as well as entire towns that rep­res­ent a his­toric urban land­scape, and even entire coun­tries (but please don’t gasp, it is only the Vatican). All those prop­er­ties have high his­toric value and demon­strate unique achieve­ment of human­kind. This cat­egory is also the home of the archae­olo­gical ruins and the pre­his­toric cave draw­ings. 

If we examine the map further, we would notice that the World Cul­tural Her­it­age follows along the coast­line of seas and oceans, voyages the great nav­ig­able rivers, and out­lines the moun­tain chains. In other words, the World Cul­tural Her­it­age tracks the foot­steps of the human civil­iz­a­tion.

Карта на Световното Наследство в Латинска Америка

The World Cul­tural Her­it­age in Latin America is located on the coast­line of Venezuela, Colom­bia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil while the World Natural Her­it­age occu­pies the interior of the con­tin­ent.  

World Natural Her­it­age Sites, on the other hand, are ter­rit­or­ies that contain standout phys­ical, bio­lo­gical, or geo­lo­gical fea­tures. They also shelter threatened species and protect their respect­ive hab­it­ats. These are typ­ic­ally national parks, reserves, botanic gardens or even zoo parks.

Examin­ing the map, it appears that the World Natural Her­it­age occu­pies the areas “spared” by the civil­iz­a­tion, usually in the interior of the con­tin­ents. We may also acknow­ledge that it com­prises of vast ter­rit­or­ies because almost every dark green mark is further away from other marks, such as the Grand Canyon or the steps of Kaza­kh­stan.

It is dif­fi­cult to spot them, but there are some World Her­it­age Sites which are marked with a circle half in orange and half in dark green. These prop­er­ties belong to a third cat­egory called World Mixed Her­it­age. They meet at least one cri­terion for cul­tural and one for natural her­it­age. It is exactly these sites that are rare. They are in total 39, thus dif­fi­cult to spot. A nearer example of mixed her­it­age is Ohrid with the Ohrid lake in the Repub­lic of North Mace­do­nia.

Емблемата на Световното Наследство на ЮНЕСКО

World Her­it­age Emblem

The emblem of the World Her­it­age is a circle trans­form­ing into a square. The square stands for the achieve­ment of the human skill and inspir­a­tion, while the circle stands for the gifts of nature. The square remains us for the archi­tec­ture and the circle – for the planet. It is also round and sym­bol­izes the global pro­tec­tion. As a whole the emblem speaks for the inter­de­pend­ence of the world’s natural and cul­tural diversity.

Observation #3: Complex Numbering

By looking at the map, do you think that the num­ber­ing of the World Her­it­age Sites is more than con­fus­ing? Does it cause a com­plete dis­or­i­ent­a­tion? Prob­ably the answer is yes and the reason is the usage of numbers and letters and their repe­ti­tion every­where.

Карта на Европа с отбелязани обектите на ЮНЕСКО

The prop­er­ties of the World Transna­tional Her­it­age are marked with a black arch under the circle. They can be cul­tural, natural, or mixed her­it­age. 

In order to crack the logic behind the num­ber­ing you must con­sider that UNESCO is an agency of the United Nations and thus it is organ­ized primar­ily by coun­tries. And so, World Her­it­age Sites are numbered sep­ar­ately country by coun­tries, start­ing always form number 1 accord­ing to the year of inscrip­tion. On the reverse side of the map there is an over­whelm­ing table with the list of all sites with their com­plete names.

And what about the letters? There is a fourth cat­egory called World Transna­tional (some­times Trans­bound­ary) her­it­age. As the name sug­gests these are sites that spread over the ter­rit­ory of more than one country. Each Transna­tional site has a unique mark with letters in order of the alpha­bet accord­ing to the year of inscrip­tion: A, B, C … Z, and then AA, AB, AC and so on. The mark is placed in each rel­ev­ant county.

Observation #4: An Invisible Threat

Under spe­cific cir­cum­stances, World Her­it­age Sites could be removed from the List! They could be de-listed! This is pos­sible if their authen­ti­city or com­plete­ness has been com­prom­ised for a number of reasons: the lack of main­ten­ance; or large and rapid devel­op­ment of the cities; destruc­tion due to the mass tourism; or the accord­ance of unex­pec­ted natural dis­asters such as large fires, earth­quakes, vol­canic erup­tions, change of the sea level etc.

If a World Her­it­age Site faces such threats, it is inscribed in the so-called The List of the World Her­it­age in Danger.

Despite the vast range of threats, the most common is the destruc­tion due to a local armed con­flict. Looking at the map we could verify that the heist con­cen­tra­tion of sites in danger is in fact in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Yemen, Kongo and some other heated spots on the planet.

The prop­er­ties inscribed in The List of the World Her­it­age in Danger are marked with a red arch above the circle. They can be cul­tural, natural, or mixed her­it­age. 

Observation #5: Where is Bulgaia

In Bul­garia are inscribed 10 prop­er­ties in the World Her­it­age List of UNESCO. From them 7 are part of the Cul­tural Her­it­age: Boyana Church (1979), Madara Rider (1979), Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo (1979), Thra­cian Tomb of Kazan­lak (1979), Ancient City of Nesse­bar (1983), Rila Mon­as­tery (1983), and Thra­cian Tomb of Sveshtari (1985); 2 are part of the Natural Her­it­age: Pirin National Park (1983,2010) and Srebarna Nature Reserve (1983); and 1 prop­erty of the Transna­tional Her­it­age: Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpath­i­ans and Other Regions of Europe (2007,2011,2017). 

Take the quiz and learn more about them!

Whenever I travel I always look for geographical maps, which I would like to buy as souvenirs. Rarely I choose tourist maps; ideally I would prefer reprints of old maps, or manuscript illuminations. I am not interested in their accuracy, but of their expressiveness, and often there is a drawing of a cool whale in the sea ;) If you don’t know what I am talking about, check my Instagram and see some of my favourite finds. I also like maps which are infographics. The map of the World Heritage of UNESCO is exactly of this kind. I order it every year, and I could look at it for hours. Order it, too!

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Petar Petrov

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My name is Petar and I write articles 📝 about cultural heritage and run this website.

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World Heritage – Exercise with a Map


World Heritage – Exercise with a Map

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