In collaboration with the
International Astronomical Union

World Heritage List

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico. Photograp

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico. Photograph © Clive Ruggles

UNESCO’s World Heritage List (WHL) includes over a thousand sites and landscapes distributed throughout the world, selected by UNESCO for having an outstanding significance that transcends cultural boundaries and will persist down the generations into the future. The majority are cultural properties, but some are natural places and a few are recognized in both respects. To be selected, not only must a site be important but also a plan must be presented and endorsed by the relevant country for its maintenance and exploitation.

The concept of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), value that transcends cultural boundaries and will persist indefinitely into the future, is fundamental in UNESCO’s efforts to identify cultural sites worthy of inclusion on the World Heritage List. Basically, OUV is the term of recognition for the value cultural or natural properties need to manifest in order to be inscribed on the WHL.

Astronomical heritage offers a profound new vision that has important implications for the more effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention and for helping State Parties create credible nomination dossiers. It raises valuable new heritage concepts, combines different categories of cultural heritage in previously unrecognised and unexplored ways, and highlights hitherto unrecognised types of linkage between cultural and natural heritage. The principal aspects of this vision are applicable more broadly to science heritage in general, and indeed also to technology heritage.

Sites connected to astronomy that are already on the World Heritage List

In 2008, members of the IAU’s Astronomy and World Heritage Working Group, later to become IAU Commission C4 on World Heritage and Astronomy, examined UNESCO’s World Heritage List for sites connected to astronomy. The resulting list is shown below. What perhaps stands out most is that the great majority of the sites listed are not related to modern scientific astronomy or its history. See also the Thematic essay on indigenous uses of astronomy.

Country Established World Heritage Site With Possible Connections to Astronomy
  No. Name
Argentina 936 Cueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas
Australia 447 Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Bolivia 567 Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture
Bolivia 883 Fuerte de Samaipata
Botswana 1021 Tsodilo
Cambodia 668 Angkor
Chile 715 Rapa Nui National Park
China 881 Temple of Heaven: An Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing
China 441 Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
China 1003 Longmen Grottoes
China 439bis Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang
China 707 Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa
Columbia 744 San Agustín Archeological Park
Columbia 743 National Archeological Park of Tierradentro
Egypt 88 Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae
Egypt 86 Memphis and its Necropolis—The Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur
Egypt 87 Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis
Ethiopia 12 Tiya
Ethiopia 15 Aksum
France 83bis Palace and Park of Versailles
France 85 Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley
Greece 392 Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae
Greece 595 Pythagoreion and Heraion of Samos
Greece 530 Delos
Greece 941 Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns
Greece 517 Archaeological Site of Olympia
Greece 491 Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus
Greece 393 Archaeological Site of Delphi
Greece 404 Acropolis, Athens
Guatemala 64 Tikal National Park
Guatemala 149 Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua
Honduras 129 Maya Site of Copan
India 246 Sun Temple, Konârak
India 243 Ellora Caves
India 244 Elephanta Caves
Indonesia 592 Borobudur Temple Compounds
Ireland 659 Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne
Iran 114 Persepolis
Italy 787 The Trulli of Alberobello
Italy 94 Rock Drawings in Valcamonica
Italy 829 Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata
Italy 831 Archaeological Area of Agrigento
Kenya 801bis Lake Turkana National Parks
Korea 977 Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites
Lebanon 294 Baalbek
Mali 119 Timbuktu
Mali 516 Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons)
Malta 132bis Megalithic Temples of Malta
Mexico 714 Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco
Mexico 415 Historic Centre of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Albán
Mexico 791 Pre-Hispanic Town of Uxmal
Mexico 414 Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan
Mexico 483 Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen-Itza
Mexico 411 Pre-Hispanic City and National Park of Palenque
Mexico 412 Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco
Mexico 631 El Tajin, Pre-Hispanic City
Mexico 939 Archaeological Monuments Zone of Xochicalco
Mexico 1061 Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche
Norway 352 Rock Art of Alta
Peru 548 Río Abiseo National Park
Peru 700 Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana
Peru 274 Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu
Peru 273 City of Cuzco
Peru 330 Chavin (Archaeological Site)
South Africa 985 uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park
Sudan 1073 Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region
Sweden 557 Rock Carvings in Tanum
Syria 23 Site of Palmyra
Togo 1140 Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba
Turkey 448 Nemrut Daǧ
United Kingdom 373bis Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
United Kingdom 795 Maritime Greenwich
United Kingdom 514 Heart of Neolithic Orkney
USA 27 Mesa Verde National Park
USA 353 Chaco Culture
USA 198 Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Uzbekistan 603 Samarkand – Crossroads of Cultures
Zimbabwe 306 Matobo Hills
Zimbabwe 364 Great Zimbabwe National Monument

See also:

Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative

ICOMOS–IAU Thematic Studies

Preparing a nomination dossier