My Thoughts on UNESCO World Heritage Sites

27 March 2013

Downtown Le Havre, France
Until I studied abroad I had never even heard of the organisation called UNESCO, let alone a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, if I hadn't been placed in this particular city, I probably would have never heard this term. But, as fate would have it, I ended up studying abroad in Le Havre, France and according to UNESCO, the entire city is a "world heritage site".

Roland of Bremen, Germany
So, of course, in preparation for my study abroad I came across this term. UNESCO World Heritage Site? Wtf does that mean? Wikipedia time!

Basically, from what I've gathered, UNESCO is an extension of the United Nations that seeks to promote international peace through cultural understand. Some of the main goals of the organization include: "attaining quality education for all and lifelong learning, addressing emerging social and ethical challenges, fostering cultural diversity, a culture of peace and building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication."

One of the ways they "foster cultural diversity" is by deeming certain places (natural or man made) as being world heritage site.

The Great Wall of China
Of course, there's the obvious benefit of naming something as a "world heritage site" in that the government of that country will probably allocate more money towards that site, thus ensuring that it is preserved. Imagine if no one ever stopped and said "Hey guys, that big wall over there is probably significant to the history of our nation and our people's culture. Maybe we shouldn't take it apart for building materials." We'd have no Great Wall of China! In that respect, I think it's incredibly important that we as humans take time to reflect and appreciate these historic places and put them down on paper as being significant.

Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, Italy
And from a tourist point of view, world heritage sites are great for helping you plan a trip. If you're to going to a foreign country but not too sure how to pass your time, I've found that looking at a list of world heritage sites is a great way to get inspiration. When I visited Rome I made a day trip out to Tivoli where the villa of Emperor Hadrian still stands. I would have never thought to visit this city if I wasn't aware of UNESCO. This  trip ended up being one of my favorite days of my whole time studying abroad. I've also used this technique for several other trips and so far to date I've been to 29 out of 962 sites!

But then, on the down side, sometimes these world heritage sites can be very boring. Don't get me wrong, as I stated before, I think it's very important to preserve the cultural heritage of a nation. However, as I realized with my trip to Kronborg Castle, not every UNESCO site is that interactive. In fact, I walked into the courtyard and around the castle and finished the entire attraction in about 30 minutes. This was after taking an hour long train from Copenhagen just to see this castle! Even though it was cool to say that I had seen the castle that inspired Shakespeare's Hamlet, I wasn't sure it was worth the price (money and time wise).

The city of Budapest, Hungary
Another little thing about UNESCO sites that irk me is the fact that they are heavily biased towards "western" nations. That is to say, over half of all UNESCO sites are located in Europe or North America. Most predominately, many of the sites are in Italy. It would be nice to see some other nations be recognized as having cultural heritage, especially ones that could use the boost of tourism brought along with being name as a world heritage site.

Have you ever been to a world heritage site before? Why not look at the list- you may have been to one and not even realized it!

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  1. I find that Unesco site density is highest wherever the Romans were for some reason.

    I've been to all three of the Danish Unesco sites(I'm not counting Ilulissat Icefjord since it's in Greenland) and my rating of them is as follows:
    1. Jelling Stones, Mounds, & Kirke. There is also a free museum across the road dedicated to the history of the site.
    2. A tie between Roskilde Domkirke and Kronborg Slot. I loved the castle and the history inherent but the cathedral is closer to CPH and easier on the bank account AND the interior wasn't gutted by the Swedes lol.

    My favourite Unesco site that I've been to is Karnak Temple(I think the actual Unesco term is Ancient Thebes and its necropolis).

    Anyways, neat article!

    1. Wow, I just looked up the Karnak Temple. That looks amazing!

      Also, you're right, they really do seem to follow the path of the Romans. I'd love to see some more in South America!

      Thanks for reading!