Facts and figures about water and cultural world heritage

UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.


The UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes 812 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. These include 628 cultural, 160 natural and 24 mixed properties in 137 countries.

The ‘Quebrada de Humahuaca’ in Argentina was added to the World Heritage List in 2003. It follows the line of a major cultural route, the Camino Inca, along the spectacular valley of the Rio Grande, from its source in the cold high desert plateau of the High Andean lands to its confluence with the Rio Leone some 150 km to the south. The valley shows substantial evidence of its use as a major trade route over the past 10,000 years.

Xochimilco, lying 28 km south of Mexico City, Mexico, was added to the World Heritage List in 1987 along with Mexico City’s historic centre. With its network of canals and artificial islands, it testifies to the efforts of the Aztec people to build a habitat in the midst of an unfavourable environment. This site is the only reminder of the lacustrine landscape of the Aztec capital, ‘the Venice of the New World’.

The City of Bath in Avon, England, was added to the World Heritage List in 1987. Its hot bath, Aqua Sulis, constructed some 20 years after the Roman Conquest in 60-70 A.D., continues, under the name of Bath, to be a renowned spa. Its spring, which yields over 1,200,000 litres of water daily at more than 46oC, explains the lasting success of the small town of Avon. The Gard bridge in France is a Roman aqueduct which was added to the World Heritage List in 1985. The Gard bridge was built shortly before the Christian era to allow the aqueduct of Nimes (which is almost 50 km long) to cross the Gard river. The Roman architects and hydraulic engineers who designed this bridge, which stands almost 50 m high and is on three levels – the longest measuring 275 m – created a technical as well as an artistic masterpiece.

Set in the dense forests of the Kii Mountains in Japan overlooking the Pacific Ocean, 3 sacred sites – Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan – linked by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto, reflect the fusion of Shinto, rooted in the ancient tradition of nature worship in Japan, and Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan from China and the Korean peninsula. The sites (495.3 ha) and their surrounding forest landscape reflect a persistent and extraordinarily well-documented tradition of sacred mountains over 1,200 years. The area, with its abundance of streams, rivers and waterfalls, is still part of the living culture of Japan and is much visited for ritual purposes and hiking, with up to 15 million visitors annually. These 3 sites were added to the World Heritage List in 2004.

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras in the Philippines were inscribed to the World Heritage List in 1995. For 2,000 years, the high rice fields of the Ifugao have followed the contours of the mountains, they have helped to create a beautiful landscape that expresses the harmony between humankind and the environment.

James Island and related sites on the River Gambia (Gambia) provide exceptional testimony to the different facets of the African-European encounter, from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The River Gambia formed the first trade route into the interior of Africa and became an early corridor for the slave trade. This site has been on the World Heritage List since 2003.

The ancient city of Ashur, in Iraq, is located on the Tigris River in northern Mesopotamia in a specific geo-ecological zone, at the borderline between rain-fed and irrigation agriculture. The city dates back to the 3rd millennium B.C. From the 14th to the 9th centuries B.C. it was the first capital of the Assyrian Empire, a city-state and trading platform of international importance. It also served as the religious capital of the Assyrians, associated with the god Ashur. This city was added to the World Heritage List in 2003.

Information from:
the World Heritage Centre website

Source: UNESCO Water Portal, January 2006

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