The World Heritage List of UNESCO distinguishes natural heritage from cultural heritage. Natural heritage includes natural monuments (physical and biological formations), geological and physiographical formations and natural areas. In short, these "natural" sites, as they are called, do not depend on man’s involvement. As for cultural heritage, this includes monuments and structures with architectural or artistic value, that are interesting in terms of their integration or sites that combine the work of man and nature. The definition of cultural heritage therefore highlights the fundamental link between man and his environment.
World Heritage sites belong to every world population, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. The loss, through deterioration or disappearance, of any of these most prized assets constitutes an impoverishment of the entire world’s heritage.
In 1972, an agreement was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which aimed and still aims to identify and protect heritages possessing a universal value. The Convention defines the link between culture and nature, integrates notions of development and conservation and strives for international solidarity. The sites on the World Heritage List have the duty to raise awareness about their landscape and to protect it.
In 1976, a World Heritage Committee was formed, composed of representatives of 21 Party States. The committee is responsible for the implementation of the Convention and decides whether a site can be listed. Switzerland was elected to the World Heritage Committee in 2009 for 4 years. The respect of cultural diversity and the active participation of our country’s population make Switzerland a sensitive partner, understanding of the importance of heritage conservation and benefiting from vast experience.
The World Heritage List includes 981 properties of cultural and natural heritage that the World Heritage Committee considers to have outstanding universal value. These include 759 cultural, 193 natural and 29 mixed properties in 160 Party States. The universal value of these properties is based on 10 criteria whether they are of natural or cultural value. Each site must meet at least one of these ten criteria for its universal value to be acknowledged.
In Switzerland, 11 properties are listed: Cultural properties: Rhaetian Railway in the heart of the Albula and Bernina landscapes (2008), the Benedictine Convent of Saint-Jean-des-Soeurs in Müstair (1983), The Convent of St. Gall (1983), Chaux-de-Fonds / Locle watchmaking zoning (2009), Lavaux, vineyard terraces (2007), prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps in six countries (2011), three castles, the defensive wall and battlements in the town of Bellinzona (2000) and the Old City of Bern (1983). Natural properties: The Jungfrau-Aletsch Swiss Alps (2001), the Swiss tectonically active area of Sardona (2008) and Monte San Giorgio (2003).