The Power of Culture

30th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention

Nature and culture are inseparably intertwined. Our cultural identity is strongly influenced by the natural environment in which it develops. That is why culture and nature, and in particular the balance between the two, must be protected. This is the most important objective of the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage that was ratified by UNESCO on 16 November 1972. Since that time 175 countries have signed the convention.


The United Nations has declared the year 2002 the year of cultural heritage. The World Heritage Convention is also celebrating is 30th anniversary. In honor of this event and with the support of the Italian government, UNESCO is organizing an international Congress that will take place in Venice from 14 to 16 November. During the congress the last 30 years will be evaluated. But UNESCO wants to use the Congress to formulate policy for getting more assistance and financial support for managing the monuments from NGOs and in the private and public sector, for example.
In October and November there will also be six international conferences in Alexandria, Beijing, Dakar, Mexico, Paris and Strasbourg. A virtual Congress “World Heritage in the Digital Age” will link these six conferences. How new media and technology can be used to help protect and maintain world treasures will be investigated.


Successes will be celebrated, but the Congress in Venice must also be used to draw up a critical balance sheet, according to a statement made by Minja Yang, adjunct-director of the Centre for World Legacies, as quoted in the French newspaper Le Monde. This is why the Congress is being called “World Heritage 2002: Shared Heritage, Common Responsibility”. Countries that sign the treaty have the responsibility to preserve, maintain and protect their heritage. According to Yang these countries do not keep these agreements or are too late in doing so. This can be a question of a lack of capacity to do so, when countries are faced with poverty, war or natural disasters. However, there are many examples that prove that better circumstances offer no guarantee that the world legacies will be any better conserved. By doing too little to prevent pollution, mass tourism and uncontrolled urban construction, many countries contribute to the damage or loss of monuments and natural areas.
Of the 730 locations that are now included on the World Heritage List, 33 are on a special list: the “World Heritage List in Danger”.


Actually the list began with saving the Abu Simbel temples in Egypt, that were in a valley that would be flooded once the Aswan Dam was constructed. There was worldwide concern for these monuments and UNESCO set up an international campaign to save the temple by having them relocated. This provided the incentive for drawing up the treaty and set the example for several rescue campaigns, such as Venice, Munjodaro in Pakistan and the Borobodur in Indonesia.
The focus is not limited to artistic or heroic monuments. Artifacts that testify to history’s black days, such as Auschwitz in Poland, the slave deportation island Gorée in Senegal and the Memorial monuments in Hiroshima must also be preserved.
Since 1997 in addition to monuments UNESCO has also been protecting vulnerable cultural media: the “Memory of the World” list also contains manuscript, documents, music and photographs.


According to Klaus Hüfner, Chairman of the German UNESCO commission, the World Heritage Treaty can be the beginning of a world-wide politics of culture. In fact, the monuments included on the list no longer belong to the country in question, but have become a collective heritage. UNESCO strives to realize cultural equality that extends beyond national pride. “World Heritage is the positive side of globalization” says Francesco Bandarin, director of the Centre of World Heritage.

Le Monde
Die Tageszeitung
The Washington Times
Unesco Heute Online
Yahoo France
Les Journées européennes du patrimoine


UNESCO home page

World Heritage Centre

Official UNESCO site for world heritage

United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage

UNESCO site about the year of cultural heritage

The World Heritage List

List of all 730 World Heritage locations

Memory of the World programme

Web site about UNESCO’s Memory of the World program, which includes an extensive tour of a number of projects and a virtual exhibition about conservation

Organization of World Heritage Cities

Web site of the 200 cities with locations that are included on the World Heritage List

World Heritage 2002, Shared Legacy, Common responsibility

Web site for the Congress about the World Heritage Convention in Venice

UNESCO World Heritage Centre Virtual Congres

Six conferences commemorating the 30th anniversary of the World Heritage Treaty

A Brief History

The history of how the World Heritage Convention came into being

Nationale UNESCO Commissie

The Dutch UNESCO commission

UNESCO centrum Nederland

Individual foundation that works to help realize UNESCO objectives

UNESCO heute online

The German UNESCO commission


november 2002