World heritage sites

World Heritage Sites (WHS) are places of outstanding universal importance to humankind, both cultural and natural. Some sites have attributes which are both cultural and natural.

In 1972, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation) drew up the World Heritage Convention under which governments of member states identify such sites and put them forward to the World Heritage Committee to be inscribed on a list maintained by UNESCO.

Sites have to satisfy one or more of a list of criteria and also be assessed against tests of their authenticity and a management framework for their effective protection.

Once a WHS is inscribed, the 'state party' (UNESCO's terminology for the government) has a duty under the convention to protect, conserve, present and transmit WHS's to future generations. The are 962 WHS's in 190 member states including 745 cultural sites, 188 natural sites and 29 mixed sites. Examples include the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Gothic cathedrals and the historic centres of a number of cities.

The UK currently has 28 sites inscribed, a full list of which can be found on the UNESCO website.

Hadrian's Wall (part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire)

Hadrian's Wall was inscribed in 1987, meeting three of the UNESCO criteria as:

  • Bearing an outstanding testimony to a past civilisation
  • Being an outstanding example of a building and technology which illustrates a significant stage in human history
  • Being an outstanding example of land use which is representative of a culture

The part of the Upper German and Raetian frontier between the rivers Rhine and Danube was inscribed in July 2005 as an extension of Hadrian's Wall. At the same time, the name has changed to 'Frontiers of the Roman Empire WHS' as a trans-national WHS, containing initially Hadrian's Wall and the upper German frontier. Other parts of the frontier will be added in due course.

Those countries which have already declared their intention to put forward their sections of the frontier are Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia, as well as the Antonine Wall in the UK. The Frontiers of the Roman Empire WHS could in time embrace the line of the entire frontier of the Roman Empire from the Solway Firth to the Atlantic coast of Morocco.