Actualizado: 17 sept 2019

In a general meaning the term cultural landscape could be defined as diverse geographic areas (gardens, cultivated areas, sacred places, mountains, etc.) associated with historical events, traditional activities, persons, spiritual traditions and other characteristics and values.

The different cultural landscapes around the world are the result of the interaction over the time between man and the natural environment in multiple ways (for example: use of the land for agriculture, ranching, shepherding, spiritual rituals, neglect areas, embellishment of cities, climate change, etc.).

In the World Heritage system, cultural landscape could be defined as the interaction of humans with the environment in symbiosis with the tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The human geographers define a cultural landscape as “a concrete and characteristic product of the interplay between a given human community, embodying certain cultural preferences and potentials and particular set of natural circumstances”. (Wagner and Miskell, quoted in Fowler, 1999. Pg. 56).

Around the world there are a lot of different kinds of landscape with tangible, intangible and natural values, but to be nominated to the World Heritage List it is necessary that the interaction of the communities and the environment could be consider as Outstanding Universal Value. This interaction is based on the “special relation” between communities and nature that arise of the traditional knowledge about the sustainable land-use that protect the biodiversity and permit the balance of the ecosystems.

In the last century, inappropriate development, mistaken decisions and policies upon an important number of landscapes in risk, but in the past some Governments and communities were aware of the importance of protecting the natural-cultural areas, for example, in China in 748 AD, the Tang Emperor ordered to protect the Nine Bend River (in the Wuyi Mountain) and he forbidden fishing, felling of trees and limited the construction of religious buildings. This prohibition has survived continuously to the present day, and in 1999 this cultural landscape was nominated World Heritage Site by UNESCO for cultural, scenic and biodiversity values.

In the end of 19th century, principally in Europe, it developed various conservationist and naturalist movements raised awareness in the importance protecting nature and the landscape. For example, in France (1853) under the influence of a group of painters it was created the first nature reserve: Fontainebleau’s forest. In 1864, the conservationist George P. Marshall published “Man & Nature” where he analyzed the key concept about the protection of the nature.

This was the beginning, later under UNESCO different recommendation and documents were signed by the state members to achieve the protection of nature, culture and landscapes. Thus, with the aim to protect this significant heritage in 1992 the World Heritage Convention become in the first international legal instrument to recognize and to protect cultural landscape.


  • UNESCO, 1972. Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Paris: UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

  • UNESCO, 2003. Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage. Paris: UNESCO. http://whc.unesco.org/en/guidelines/

  • Fowler, Peter, 2003. World Heritage Cultural Landscape 1992-2002, World Heritage paper, nº 6. Paris. UNESCO World Heritage Center.

  • UNESCO World Heritage Center, 2007. World Heritage: Challenges for the Millenium, Paris. UNESCO World Heritage Center.

  • World Heritage Center. Cultural Landscape (on-line). http://whc.unesco.org/en/culturallandscape

  • Mitchell. N et. Al, World Heritage Cultural Landscapes. A Handbook for Conservation and Management. UNESCO, 2009.

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