UNESCO World Heritage

The UNESCO World Heritage Convention protects natural and cultural sites of outstanding universal value. To date, Switzerland has 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites, nine cultural and four natural heritage sites.

View of the Lavaux vineyards on the shores of Lake Geneva
The narrow, stone-walled 11th-century terraced vineyards of Lavaux demonstrate an ingenious use of local resources. © www.diapo.ch / Régis Colombo

UNESCO has set itself the mission of protecting cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value. Since 1978, it has maintained a list of such sites, which already number over 1,100 worldwide. Thirteen of these are in Switzerland. There are nine sites of cultural importance (buildings of particular architectural merit, entire towns, and sites that bear witness to the emergence of industrialisation). The remaining four are sites of outstanding natural value.

The first three Swiss sites to be included on the UNESCO list in 1983 were the Library and Monastery Complex of St Gallen, with its Baroque cathedral and library containing 170,000 books spanning 12 centuries, the Old City of Bern, with its medieval architecture, and the Benedictine Convent of St John in Müstair (canton of Graubünden), which houses Switzerland's most impressive series of figurative murals.

Next to join the list, in 2000, were the Three Castles of Bellinzona (canton of Ticino), and their medieval defensive walls and ramparts, and in 2001 the Jungfrau-Aletsch region (cantons of Bern and Valais), the largest contiguous glaciated area in the Alps. In 2003, UNESCO World Natural Heritage status was granted to the pyramid-shaped Monte San Giorgio (canton of Ticino) and its repository of 250-300 million-year-old fossils. In 2007 it was the turn of the Lavaux vineyard terraces (canton of Vaud), which stretch for 30 kilometres and are an outstanding example of a centuries-long interaction between people and their environment.

The Albula and Bernina lines of the Rhaetian Railway, which are a prime example of civil engineering achievements in harmony with the landscape, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. The Swiss Tectonic Arena of Sardona (cantons of Graubünden, St Gallen and Glarus), a mountain formation covering over 32 thousand hectares that emerged from the collision of the African and European continental plates, was added to the list the same year. 2009 saw the addition of the watchmaking town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, which illustrates the close connection between watchmaking and town planning in the industrial history of the late 18th century.

In 2011, 56 locations on lakeshores, riverbanks and marshes bearing the remnants of prehistoric pile dwellings dating from around 5,000 BCE to 500 BCE became World Heritage sites.

The two most recent additions to the list are spread out in various locations in several countries. In 2016, the architectural works of Le Corbusier were added. Recognised as a contribution to modernism, the Swiss architect's works can be found in seven countries on three continents. Since 2021, two Swiss forest reserves have been listed as part of the World Heritage Site of ancient and primeval beech forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe.