It all started in 1982, when a symposium organised by the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in Tunisia proposed observing an ‘International Day for Monuments and Sites’ across the world.

The same was approved by the Executive Committee and UNESCO, and at a UNESCO General Conference, a resolution was passed in November 1983 recommending that Member States examine the possibility of declaring 18 April each year “International Monuments and Sites Day”, a day that has since been traditionally called the World Heritage Day.

While practical suggestions on how to organise this day were provided by the Executive Committee to the National Committees, this day offers an opportunity to raise public awareness concerning the diversity of the world’s heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as to draw attention to its vulnerability.

Some of the suggestions for nationally organized activities to mark this event included:

  • Visits to monuments and sites, and restoration works, possibly with free admission;
  • Articles in newspapers and magazines, as well as television and radio broadcasts;
  • Hanging banners in town squares or principal traffic arteries calling attention to the day and the preservation of cultural heritage;
  • Inviting local and foreign experts and personalities for conferences and interviews;
  • Organizing discussions in cultural-centers, city halls, and other public spaces.
  • Exhibitions (photos, paintings, etc)
  • Publication of books, post-cards, stamps, posters
  • Awarding prizes to organizations or persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the conservation and promotion of cultural heritage or produced an excellent publication on the subject.
  • Inaugurate a recently restored monument
  • Special awareness raising activities amongst school children and youth
  • Promotion of “twinning” opportunities, defining areas for co-operation; exchange of speakers; organization of meetings and seminars, or the editing of joint publications.

Since then World Heritage day has been celebrated with the themes changing every year. Some of the previous World Heritage Day themes having included:

  • 2010: Agricultural Heritage
  • 2009: Heritage and Science
  • 2008: Religious heritage and sacred places
  • 2007: Cultural landscapes and monuments of nature
  • 2006: Industrial Heritage
  • 2005: 40th Anniversary of ICOMOS
  • 2004: Earthen Architecture and Heritage
  • 2003: Underwater Cultural Heritage
  • 2002: 20th Century Heritage
  • 2001: Save our historic villages

While this year, ICOMOS, the advisory body of UNESCO announced the theme to be the “Cultural Heritage of Water.”

With “Cultural Heritage of Water” being the theme this year, how to obtain it, how to store it, how to harness its power and conserve it, has been the focus.

The cultural heritage of water, relates not only to the technology and architecture that humankind has developed to manage, utilise and celebrate its life giving properties but also to those intangible values that have shaped our beliefs and practices.

In 2010, at a lecture by Simon Richard Molesworth, the honorary chairman of the executive committee of the International National Trusts Organization… international cooperation within the context of world heritage was the subject. Molesworth said a day dedicated to world heritage “offered an opportunity to raise public awareness about natural and cultural heritage”.

Celebrating the life of Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib and a talk on rethinking restoration in India were some of the highlights of World Heritage Day here today, with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture organizing an exhibition on Mirza Ghalib’s works with at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. Accompanying this will be a movie on the life of Ghalib by Sair-e-Nizamuddin. A ghazal recital by Begum Muneer Khatoon was organised at the India International Centre.

The capital’s National Museum, one of the country’s largest repositories of tangible heritage, listed its efforts at conservation. It organised a lecture by Professor K.V. Thomas, the Union Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.

Plans are afoot by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the State Archaeology Department to restore many of the city monuments, and work is in progress in Hauz Khas, Adilabad Fort and Lodhi Gardens.

A rethink on the way to restore and conserve the country’s heritage was the crux of the third Pupul Jayakar Memorial Lecture at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). The state INTACH chapters organised heritage walks in cities like Bengaluru, Amritsar, Chandigarh and in neighbouring Gurgaon.

In Gurgaon, the spotlight was on traditional water harvesting methods and monuments associated with storage of water. The capital and surrounding areas have several “baolis” or historical step wells which were used for storing water.

On this world heritage day, let us remember that water is one of the key resources required to sustain life and we should endeavour to obtain, store & conserve it in different ways.

* Source: ICOMOS, GDRC, Headlines India