Tomorrow is World Heritage Day, when the most important historic and natural sites around the globe celebrate their extraordinary heritage.
The concept of World Heritage dates back to 1972, when the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) began identifying the world’s most special places, each with its own outstanding value. Today there are 981 World Heritage Sites around the globe, including many well-known visitor destinations such as the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Wall of China. But if you live in Edinburgh you have a World Heritage Site right on your doorstep.
The streets of the Old and New Towns are truly exceptional in their architectural quality, with around 4500 listed buildings within the site. Breathtaking is not a word often used to describe living city centres, yet it is frequently applied to this area, the main part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site.
It is this sheer beauty that draws almost four million visitors to Edinburgh every year. When visitor surveys ask what enjoy doing while here the answer is consistent – over 90 per cent say simply walking around the city is their favourite activity.
While Edinburgh is the envy of many other cities, our historic buildings and streets have not survived intact by accident. We can enjoy the World Heritage Site today because the council, the government and above all the residents of the city took action. In 1969 more than 1500 volunteers took to the streets to survey the condition of the Georgian New Town, the first step towards properly recognising the city’s importance, which ultimately led to World Heritage status in 1995.
But World Heritage status is more than just a badge or a source of pride – it is a way of achieving a wide range of results that enrich our daily lives. Edinburgh World Heritage works to ensure that the city centre World Heritage Site is of value to everyone in city. Our partnership projects not only conserve and restore historic buildings but also give new life to the neglected corners of the city centre, such as the Scotsman Steps or the underside of the Regent Bridge. We show how historic buildings can be made energy efficient and tell the stories of the Old and New Towns for residents and visitors.
Tomorrow is the day to be a tourist in your own city: explore the closes or climb up Calton Hill, but most of all, simply admire and take pride in our city’s wonderful World Heritage Site.
• Adam Wilkinson is director of Edinburgh World Heritage