"Of the five hundred or so sites on the planet that qualify for World Heritage status (that is, a site of global historical or biological significance), only thirteen satisfy all four of UNESCO's criteria for listing, and of those special thirteen places, four--almost a third--are to be found in Australia."
--Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country, pp. 204-5.
I came across this sentence in my reading yesterday, and it has intrigued me. For one thing, how many World Heritage sites have I been to? I took a look at the list and counted. I've been quite the world traveler of late, so I thought I'd accumulate a pretty fair total.
Seven. That's all. (I'm only counting ones I've been to since I graduated from college. If I counted back to eighth grade and before, I might be able to add one or two others.) They are Brugge (Belgium), Paphos (Cyprus), Suomenlinna (Finland), Durham Cathedral (UK), Fountains Abbey (UK), Hadrian's Wall (UK), Edinburgh (UK).
Any notion of using this as a tourism checklist is scotched by a number of factors: the size of the list (690 properties), the rate at which new properties are added to the list (61 last year), and the location of some of them (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Libya). Still, it helps identify places of universally recognized interest, and I probably will make an effort to see more and more of them in my travels.
I find it somewhat funny that none of the places I've been is in the US. The National Park Service does maintain a list of places it would like to have as World Heritage sites; I've been to a handful of those.
Let's get interactive for a change. How many World Heritage sites have you been to? I'm curious. Drop me an e-mail and let me know. (It's not too hard to go through the list, since you can skip over countries you've never been to.)
As for the original Bryson quote that led me down this path, I think it's in error. There are 4 criteria for being named as natural sites. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Australian sites he describes as meeting all 4 criteria. But of the 690 sites, 529 are cultural, 138 are natural and 23 are mixed. So I think it would be closer to say that of the 138 natural ones, only thirteen satisfy all 4 criteria (though even that I haven't verified).