There are 12 UNESCO World Heritage properties in Switzerland. These have been designated as such and protected for their cultural and natural importance.
Tectonic Arena Sardona
Over millions of years the collision of Africa and Europe caused the formation of the Alps. Huge forces pushed rock layers on top of one another, folding and splitting them. Older rocks ended up on top of younger ones. At the Tectonic Arena Sardona, you can see the result of these processes clearly, showing us how mountains were formed.
Monte San Giorgio
Monte San Giorgio is located on the Italian-Swiss border between the Swiss Canton of Ticino and the Italian region of Lombardy.
At the end of the 19th century, this area was heavily mined. A significant number of fossils dating back 240 million years were discovered!
Back then Monte San Giorgio's rocks formed a sub-tropical lagoon on the edge of an ancient sea, the Tethys Ocean. These conditions caused the remains of various life forms to undergo a long process of fossilisation. At this site there are 5 fossilisation layers when most only have one.
More than 20,000 fossils from reptiles to fish have been extracted and many are on display at the fossil museum in Meride.
Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch
The Aletsch Glacier is a huge river of ice spanning over 23km from its formation in the Jungfrau region (4000m) down to the Massa Gorge (2500m). It is accessible from Fiescheralp, Bettmeralp and Riederalp in the Aletsch Arena within the Valais region. As the longest glacier in the Alps, to mark its significance, the area has been designated UNESCO Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch World Heritage Site.
Entlebuch Biosphere Reserve
This area (400 square km) is known as the “Wild West” of Lucerne. Unspoilt moorlands, idyllic Alpine pastures, craggy karst formations and wild mountain streams. The flora and fauna found here are of international importance. Enjoy walking trails, mud baths, satellite-guided hiking and field trips there.
Convent of St. John, Müstair
This religious site was founded as a monastery by Charlemagne in the 8th century and later converted into a convent.
The complex features many different architectural styles and houses treasures from more than 12 centuries including mural paintings from the Early Middle Ages, Romanesque frescoes and the oldest, once colourfully painted, monumental statue of Charlemagne.
To this day, the convent is home to a community of nuns who live according to the Benedictine ideal of prayer and work.
Convent of St. Gallen
This convent is celebrated for its Baroque eighteenth-century cathedral and the abbey library, one of the oldest and most beautiful libraries in the world.
The library has collections dating from as early as the 8th century. This includes 170,000 priceless books and 2,000 medieval manuscripts. Over 400 volumes are more than 1,000 years old. The impressive building these are housed in today was built in the eighteenth century.
La Chaux-de-Fonds & Le Locle
In the nineteenth-century, watchmaking developed from a craft into an industry in La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle (located in the north-western canton of Neuchâtel). The buildings in the cities reflect this development.
Both cities suffered from fires in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Almost half the population at this time were employed in the watch industry. Consequently, when it came to rebuilding, the new town planning was based on the clock-making industry. For example, houses and workshops shared the same premises so the top floors of buildings had south-facing windows to catch the light. There is lots to spot in the architecture of these historic cities.
Three Castles of Bellinzona
These castles are a great example of medieval fortifications which formed a barrier right across the Ticino valley floor to halt the advance of enemies. The site has always been an important site of defence dating back to the Roman times. Most of what we see today was built by the Dukes of Milan in the fifteenth century. At this time, they were fortifying against the Swiss but once Bellinzona joined the Swiss confederation, the castles fell into disrepair and its only in the twentieth century that they were restored.
Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces
The Lavaux area has been cultivated by man since the 11th century. Locals adapted to a hostile environment taking advantage of the "triple sun" effect: the rays from the sky, the rays reflected from the lake and, the nightly release of heat captured in the vineyard walls during the day. The skills of viticulture have been passed from generation to generation for over a millennium.
Today this area comprises of over 10,000 vineyard terraces, and 14 winegrowing villages. It is best know for the "Chasselas" variety.
The old town of Bern
The medieval old town of Bern is protected by UNESCO - its charming cobbled streets and ornate drinking fountains charm visitors everytime. There is plenty to do - visit the bears (the symbol of Bern), take a guided tour of the clock tower, and be sure to visit the cathedral and town hall. On rainy days, the Lauben provides 6km of covered arcades for shoppers and in the evenings unwind in one of the unique cellar restaurants.
The Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina landscapes
This railway is a masterpeice of structural engineering. The Albula line, running between Thusis and St. Moritz, was completed in 1903. The Bernina line, running between St. Moritz and Tirano, was completed in 1910. The overseers of this project planned the route in such a way that travellers would get the best and most dramatic views possible. Highlights include the Landwasser Viaduct and the Circular Viaduct near Brusio.
Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps
There are 111 UNESCO protected sites of this kind (from a selection of 1000 sites) in six countries, 56 of which are situated in Switzerland. Thanks to their location, partly or fully submerged in water, their remains are extremely well preserved. Dendrochronology has been used to determine the age of the wooden structures allowing archaeologists to create a picture of the villages over long periods of time. Finds made from stone, pottery and especially organic materials (wood, textiles, plant remains) give fascinating insight into life between 5,000 and 500 BC.
You are not able to visit the sites as they are either located under water or covered by layers of sediment on dry land. But finds are displayed in numerous special exhibitions, museums, and archaeological parks.
The architectural work of Le Corbusier
The latest in this list to be designated UNESCO. The work of Le Corbusier is spread over seven countries. Two out of seventeen sites are located in Switzerland: La Petite maison au bord du lac Léman in Corseaux and l'Immeuble Clarté in Geneva.
Le Corbusier was part of the Modern Movement which, during the 20th century, saw the invention of a new architectural language, modernised techniques and responded to the needs of modern society. These sites demonstrate a radical break from the styles, design methods, technologies, and construction practices of previous centuries.
For further details on all these sites, click here
If you are interested in visiting any of the UNESCO sites this year, you will find discount vouchers on entrance fees and special offers within your booking information pack.