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Understanding UNESCO World Heritage List, selection and global impact

With the addition of Santiniketan, India now has 41 official world heritage sites. Italy has the highest number of heritage sites at 58

Procession to enter Rabindra Bhavana complex on Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary, at Santiniketan (Photo: ANI))

Procession to enter Rabindra Bhavana complex on Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary, at Santiniketan (Photo: ANI))

BS Web Team New Delhi
The Unesco World Heritage list comprises places around the world that hold cultural and natural value. On Sunday, September 17, Santiniketan was inscribed on this list by the global body. The new addition was announced via a post on X (formerly Twitter) from Unesco's official page. The decision was made during the 45th World Heritage Committee meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Santiniketan is located in West Bengal and is well-known as the site where poet Rabindranath Tagore built Visva-Bharati over a century ago.
India has a long list of World Heritage Sites. With the latest addition, the total number of Unesco heritage sites in India is 41. These include famous spots like the Taj Mahal and Western Ghats.
Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who had worked on preparing a dossier, told PTI, "We had worked on the dossier in 2009 and, maybe time wasn't right then, but we always believed in the beauty of Santiniketan, and today we feel vindicated seeing it in the Unesco list."

How are heritage sites chosen?

To make it onto the world heritage site, a place must be a unique landmark with cultural or historical significance. It should also stand out and be identifiable. Therefore, heritage sites can be anything from ancient ruins, islands, lakes, or wilderness areas to sculptures and buildings.
Unesco does have ten criteria places must meet to make it onto the list on its official website. The list goes as follows:
  1. A masterpiece of human creativity: Sites that represent exceptional human creative achievements.
  2. Important interchange of human values: Places that show the exchange of human values, whether through architecture, technology, art, or town planning, over time or within a specific cultural region.
  3. Unique testimony to a cultural tradition: locations that provide a unique or exceptional insight into a living or extinct cultural tradition or civilisation.
  4. An outstanding example of human history: Sites that serve as exceptional examples of a specific stage or stages through their architecture, technology, or landscape.
  5. An outstanding example of a traditional settlement or land/sea use: Places that exemplify a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use representative of a culture, particularly when facing irreversible changes.
  6. Tangibly associated with living traditions: Sites directly associated with living traditions, beliefs, events, artistic works, or ideas of outstanding universal significance, often in conjunction with other criteria.
  7. Superlative natural phenomena or aesthetic importance: Locations containing exceptional natural phenomena or areas of extraordinary natural beauty and aesthetic value.
  8. Significant stages of Earth's history: Sites representing major stages in Earth's geological history, including landform development, geological processes, or significant physiographic features.
  9. Ongoing ecological and biological processes: Places showcasing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, marine ecosystems, and communities of plants and animals.
  10. Crucial natural habitats for biodiversity conservation: Locations containing the most vital and significant natural habitats for the in-situ conservation of biological diversity, especially habitats with threatened species of universal scientific or conservation value

A global strategy

Initially, the global body followed the 1972 Convention for the Protection of World Heritage Sites. However, 22 years later, in 1994, the "global strategy" was adopted. This was done to ensure that the list was more "representative, balanced and credible". Earlier, the list had focused too heavily on historical places within Europe. In the 410 list, 304 were cultural sites, 90 were natural, and only 16 were mixed.
Since adopting the global strategy, the number of countries signing onto the list increased from 139 to 10 178. Moreover, the Unesco World Heritage Site Committee's members have also increased from 33 to 132.
The World Heritage Site Committee also cooperates with advisory boards and every state party to the World Heritage Convention to ensure the list is diverse and reflects the world's heritage.

Which country has the most number of Heritage sites?

Italy has the most heritage sites at 58, followed by China with 56 and Germany at 51. India is fifth on the list of countries with 41 heritage sites.
Places with less heritage sites are mostly island nations with one or two sites, such as Tuvalu and Nauru.

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First Published: Sep 18 2023 | 12:58 PM IST

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