World Heritage Criteria

To qualify for inscription on the World Heritage List, nominated properties must have values that are outstanding and universal.

The Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention provide guidance to the World Heritage Committee in deciding which nominations should be included on the List.

These Guidelines state that nominations should be based on cultural, natural and/or mixed cultural and natural criteria

World Heritage Convention defines cultural heritage as:

  • MONUMENTS: architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;
  • GROUPS OF BUILDINGS: groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;
  • SITES: works of man or the combined works of nature and of man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological points of view.”

Cultural Landscapes represent the “combined works of nature and of man“.

They are illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal.

Cultural landscapes include diverse examples of the interaction between humans and the natural environment and fall into three main categories:

  • (i) the clearly defined landscape designed and created intentionally by man;
  • (ii) the organically evolved landscape; and
  • (iii) the associative cultural landscape.

For a property to be included on the World Heritage List as cultural heritage, the World Heritage Committee must find that it meets one or more of the following criteria, the test of authenticity and be adequately protected. Sites nominated should therefore:

  • i. represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; or
  • ii.exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; or
  • iii. bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared; or
  • iv. be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history; or
  • v. be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement or land-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change; or
  • vi. be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance (the Committee considers that this criterion should justify inclusion in the List only in exceptional circumstances and in conjunction with other criteria cultural or natural);

Natural Criteria

World Heritage Convention, defines natural heritage:

  • (i) “natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;
  • (ii) geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation;
  • (iii) natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.”

For a property to be included on the World Heritage list as natural heritage, the World Heritage Committee must find that it meets one or more of the following criteria and fulfils the conditions of integrity. Sites nominated should therefore:

  • i. be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features; or
  • ii. be outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals; or
  • iii. contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; or
  • iv. contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

(A more detailed description of World Heritage natural and cultural criteria can be found in: UNESCO. Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. World Heritage Centre.