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Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae

How the World Heritage list came about

The idea of creating an international movement for protecting heritage emerged after World War I. The 1972 World Heritage Convention developed from the merging of two separate movements, the first focusing on the preservation of cultural sites and the other dealing with the conservation of nature.

Borobudur Temple Compounds

Preserving Cultural Heritage

A number of events focused world attention on the need to act in response to threats to our precious heritage. The event that aroused particular international concern was the decision to build the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, which would have flooded the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilization.

In 1959, after an appeal from the governments of Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO launched an international safeguarding campaign. Archaeological research in the areas to be flooded was accelerated. Above all, the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were dismantled, moved to dry ground and reassembled.

The campaign cost about US$80 million, half of which was donated by some 50 countries, showing the importance of solidarity and nations' shared responsibility in conserving outstanding cultural sites. Its success led to other safeguarding campaigns, such as saving Venice and its Lagoon (Italy) and the Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro (Pakistan) , and restoring the Borobodur Temple Compounds (Indonesia).

Consequently, UNESCO initiated, with the help of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the preparation of a draft convention on the protection of cultural heritage.

Linking the protection of cultural and natural heritage

The idea of combining conservation of cultural sites with those of nature comes from the United States of America. A White House Conference in Washington, D.C., in 1965 called for a ‘World Heritage Trust’ that would stimulate international cooperation to protect ‘the world's superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry’.

In 1968, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) developed similar proposals for its members. These proposals were presented to the 1972 United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm.

Eventually, a single text was agreed upon by all parties concerned. The Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention) was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November, 1972. 

By regarding heritage as both cultural and natural, the Convention reminds us of the ways in which people interact with nature, and of the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

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