My Personal A to Z of Spain, U is for UNESCO

In 1954, the government of Egypt announced that it was to build the Aswan Dam, a project that proposed to flood a valley containing priceless treasures of ancient civilizations. Despite opposition from Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign, over fifty countries contributed and the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.

Building on this international success the United States then came up with the idea of combining cultural conservation with nature conservation and a White House conference in 1965 called for a World Heritage Trust to preserve ‘the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature developed similar proposals in 1968 and they were presented in 1972 to the United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm. A single text was agreed and the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’ was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16th November 1972.

Roman Theatre Merida

Today there are eight hundred and seventy-eight listed sites and it isn’t easy to get on the list and to do so a nomination must satisfy impressively difficult criteria which in summary consist of cultural criteria:

to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; to exhibit an important interchange of human values; to bear a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition; to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or landscape; to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement; to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance,

and natural criteria:

to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; to be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth’s history, to be outstanding examples representing significant ecological and biological processes; to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-site conservation of biological diversity.

It is hardly surprising that with forty-seven listed sites Italy has the most but for those who think of Spain as nothing more than a country of over developed Costas with concrete condominiums, marinas and golf courses it might be a shock to learn that Spain has forty-three sites and is second highest in the exclusive list.

Each new trip to Spain includes visits to World Heritage Sites so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that out of the forty-three sites on the UNESCO list (second only to Italy with forty-seven) I have now been to twenty and that is nearly half of them.

Philip IV and the Palacio Real

In 2005 I went to Barcelona in Catalonia and saw the works of Antoni Gaudi, Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau. Then in 2008 I saw the Historic Centre of Cordoba, the Caves of Altamira in Cantabria, the Old Town and Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella and the Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville. In 2009 in the motoring holiday around Castilian cities it was the Old Town of Segovia and its Roman Aqueduct, the Walled Town of Cuenca, the Historic City of Toledo and the Old Town of Ávila. This trip in 2011 added Cáceres, Mérida and Aranjuez and also Trujillo which for the time being is only on the tentative list.


Even before I knew anything about World Heritage Sites it turns out that I have visited two more in the days of my beach type holidays. Although, to be absolutely fair, when I went to these places neither of them were yet on the list. In 1988 I holidayed on the island of Ibiza which was accepted onto the list in 1999 in recognition of its biodiversity and culture and the following year I went to Tenerife and took a cable car ride to the top of Mount Tiede, a national park that was accepted to the list in 2007.

Even though they weren’t World Heritage Sites at the time I visited them I am still going to count them but the final two might be a bit dubious – but anyway here goes. In 1984 while driving back through Spain from Portugal I drove with friends through the city of Burgos which was accepted in that year because of its Cathedral and in Galicia in 2008 while visiting Santiago de Compostela I managed to drive over parts of the Pilgrim Route, which exists on the list separately from the old city itself.

10 responses to “My Personal A to Z of Spain, U is for UNESCO

  1. And your favourite is?


  2. Surprised to see I have visited most of those too!

    Love that last photo. Either you haven’t mentioned the Alhambra or you haven’t been.

    Regarding your previous commenter, mine will always be Cordoba. There is nothing to beat it IMO.


  3. O would love to make it my quest to see all 878 of them in my lifetime! Judging from your list, I’ve been to a few too!


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