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Picking (and politicking) our past

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Once the World had Seven Wonders, there are 1,000 ‘World Heritage’ sites.

It’s not supposed to be about being ‘beautiful’. To be listed as a Unesco “World Heritage” site, a location must represent “outstanding universal value” as expressed in one or more of 10 cultural or natural criteria. The emphasis is intended to be on uniqueness and historical value.

In practice though, the listings emerge from the messy sort of process that picks the winners in seaside beauty contests. A site can be nominated only by a UNESCO member – or members, if it spans more than one country.

A committee with a rotating membership meets once a year to decide which applicants deserve to be listed. They are guided in their deliberations by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the World Conservation Union and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property.

The process can take years. Successful applicants are listed on approval; those found “not suitable” usually cannot reapply. Two intermediate states of limbo are available for cases that require additional information or substantial revision in order to be reconsidered.

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