A Heritage Site is a place of physical or cultural significance. Our culture and natural heritage are inspirational, irreplaceable and the very source of life. They are our legacy from the past which we need to pass on to our future generations. They are places of beauty and wonder; mystery and grandeur memory and meaning. Hence it becomes extremely important to preserve these places. A World Heritage Site is a place that belongs to the whole world irrespective of the territory where it is present. These places are voluntarily nominated by Signatory Nations and approved based on their exceptional and cultural significance to be included in the List by the World Heritage Committee.
The World Heritage Committee was set up in 1965 as a trust to conserve the World's natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire human citizenry. The World Heritage Committee is responsible for identifying and helping to conserve the natural and cultural sites which have global significance. The World Heritage Committee does not make a random list of all sites of national significance. Instead it is a single global list of all those sites that have "significant universal value". There are a total of 21 countries with 185 signatories that have signed the convention, with the United States of America taking a leadership role in the working of the Convention. The purpose of the World Heritage Convention is to enhance understanding and appreciation on a worldwide basis and seek international co-operation to conserve and preserve relatively small number of natural and cultural places around the world that have formally been recognized to have provided universal value to humanity.
UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization which is a body that encourages the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. The history of UNESCO's association with World Heritage Sites dates back to 1954. The government of Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam which would have flooded a valley that contained the treasures of ancient Egypt like the Abu Simbel temples. UNESCO then launched a worldwide campaign to preserve the Abu Simbel and Philae temples which were then taken apart and reconstructed at a higher location. UNESCO then initiated alongwith the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a draft proposal to protect the common cultural heritage of humanity. In 1965, the United States initiated the idea of combining natural conservation with cultural conservation and set up the "World Heritage Trust" which was later adopted by UNESCO in a General Conference of UNESCO on 16th November, 1972.
For a Heritage Site to be included under the World Heritage List, it has to first and foremost be of "outstanding and universal value" and also meet one out of the 10 selection criteria prescribed by UNESCO. This includes 6 criteria for cultural sites and 4 for natural resources which were combined in 2005 under a single heading.
As of 2011, there are 936 listed under the World Heritage Site list. Of these, cultural sites are 725, natural 183, and mixed properties 28, in 153 States party. Italy has 47 sites under the world heritage list which is the largest number to date.
There are several benefits of Listing a World Heritage Site, both for the country in which it is located as well as the local people and visitors. Some of the benefits of such a listing are:
Among the cultural sites, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal are outstanding examples of cultural achievements of mankind. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Galapagos Islands, and Serengeti National Park are among the world's greatest natural treasures.