Swiss Alpes Jungfrau-Aletsch

The 12 Swiss sites listed as world heritage

Switzerland is known for its mountains and landscapes, but that is not all the country of Heidi and William Tell has to offer. With 12 sites listed by UNESCO, the country is also renowned for its cultural heritage. Under the United Nations convention designed to protect the world's cultural and natural heritage of 'exceptional universal value', over the years nine Swiss sites have been listed for their cultural dimension and three for their natural beauty.

The last Swiss site to be added (in July 2016) to the prestigious list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)  is in fact a series of Le Corbusier's works in different locations. The work of the Swiss architect, which was part of the modernist movement in architecture, has been awarded special recognition in seven countries and has joined the eleven other Swiss sites listed since 1983.

1. Old town of Bern (1983)

Not only is Bern the capital of Switzerland, its old town has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983. The old town with its six kilometres of arcades testifies to medieval urban monumental architecture. The ancient streets, with their curiosities such as the Clock Tower (Zytglogge), Prison Tower (Käfigturm) and cathedral (Münster) nestle jewel-like in a meander of the River Aare at the centre of the city of Bern.


2. Three Castles of Bellinzona (2000)

A group of fortifications and castles earned Bellinzona its listing as a World Heritage Site in 2000. An important line of defence since the Roman occupation, three castles and their fortifications are imposing reminders of the past. In medieval times the castles of Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro and their fortifications closed off the Ticino valley and were used to control transit traffic and the route leading to the Saint Gotthard pass.

Castle Montebello and Sasso Corbaro in the background
Castle Montebello and Sasso Corbaro in the background © Switzerland Tourism

3. Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes (2008)

The Rhaetian Railway railway line between the Albula and Bernina passes is a feat of railway engineering that winds its way through the mountains of Graubünden over elegantly designed viaducts and through serpentine tunnels. The innovative Switzerland that developed the country's railway culture, and the Switzerland of traditions shaped by its wild natural beauty are personified in the legendary red trains that have been running on 120km of line from Thusis to Tirano since 1889.

Alp Grüm
Alp Grüm © David Gubler

4. La Chaux-de-Fonds/Le Locle, Watchmaking Town Planning (2009)

The story of the cities of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle is one shaped by fire. Rebuilt in a design born from consensus between private and public interests, the towns which were the cradle of the watchmaking industry are unique in their architecture, which sought to maximise light, and in their urban planning, which facilitates movement around the towns. La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle illustrate developments from the industrial age at the end of the 18th century to the present, and how the watchmaking tradition shaped the urban landscape.

La Chaux-de-Fonds
La Chaux-de-Fonds © Switzerland Tourism

5. Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces (2007)

Rising steeply out of the vastness of Lake Geneva, the narrow vineyard terraces of the Lavaux winegrowing region stretch for nearly 30 kilometres along the shore from the Chateau de Chillon to the eastern outskirts of Lausanne in the Vaud region. Retained by stone walls since the 11th century, the vineyards of Lavaux have been tended by generations of winegrowers and enclose 14 well-preserved villages.  The site is an outstanding example of a centuries-long interaction between people and their environment.

Lavaux © Switzerland Tourism

6. Monte San Giorgio (2003)

The pyramid-shaped, wooded mountain of Monte San Giorgio beside Lake Lugano is regarded as the best fossil record of marine life from the Triassic period, concealing a sequence of fossil treasures deposited some 240 million years ago.   Because the lagoon was near land, the remains also include fossils of land reptiles, insects and plants. The fossils are on display in Meride, where the 2.5 metre long saurian Ticinosuchus greets visitors to the museum.

Monte San Giorgio © Ticino Turismo
Monte San Giorgio © Ticino Turismo

7. Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch (2001)

The impressive landscape of the Jungfrau-Aletsch region has played an important role in European art, literature, mountaineering and alpine tourism. The spectacular high-altitude landscape, with its imposing series of peaks, valley systems and the longest glacier in the Alps, exist in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature, which hosts a diverse flora suited to a range of altitudes from Mediterranean steppe to high arid mountain habitats.

The region, which extends over 82,400 hectares, is of outstanding universal value both for its beauty and for the wealth of information it harbours about the formation of mountains and glaciers, as well as ongoing climate change. Listed in 2001, it is also the first site in the Alps to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage for its unique landscape of outstanding natural beauty.

Märjelensee © Switzerland Tourism

8. Abbey of St Gall (1983)

The Abbey of St Gall is a unique ensemble of historical buildings reflecting 12 centuries of continuous activity, with a magnificent baroque cathedral at its heart. St Gallen's landmark monastic complex was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 along with its library and archives. The Abbey Library, also called the Seelenapotheke (healing place of the soul) currently houses 170,000 books. 50,000 of these are housed in the Baroque hall, where the 2,700 year old Egyptian mummy Shepenese is also to be found. The heart of the library's collection consists of 2,100 manuscripts of which some are on display in the library's exhibitions.

St Gall
St Gall © Switzerland Tourism

9. Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona (2008)

The Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona in the north-eastern part of the country covers a mountainous area of 32,850 hectares and features seven peaks that rise above 3,000m.  The reliefs evidence continental friction between Africa and Europe over several million years, making it possible to visualise the history of the formation of the Alps. The Glarus Alps,  glaciated mountains rising dramatically above narrow river valleys,  are a dramatic display of the process by which geological sections overlap, wrinkle and thrust upwards.

Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona
Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona © Switzerland Tourism

10. Benedictine Convent of St John in Müstair (1983)

The Convent of Müstair, which stands in a valley in the canton of Graubünden, is a good example of Christian monastic renovation during the Carolingian period.  It has Switzerland's most significant series of figurative murals, painted around 800 AD, along with Romanesque frescoes and stuccoes. The convent, considered by archaeologists and historians to be of great historical importance, is still a religious centre for Benedictine nuns, who are preserving a way of life founded on prayer and work.

Benedictine Convent of St John in Müstair
Benedictine Convent of St John in Müstair ©

11. Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps (2011)

The 111 pile-dwelling sites in six different countries connected with the Alps encompass the remains of prehistoric settlements.  Over half of the sites are located in Switzerland on lake shores, along rivers or in wetlands. The sites bear the traces of human existence dating back 7,000 years and provide insight into life in prehistoric times during the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Alpine Europe and the way communities interacted with their environment.

Prehistoric Pile dwellings site in Bevaix-Treytel © Fabien Langenegger

12. The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier (2016)

Two of the 17 sites comprising this transnational serial property are in Switzerland: the Villa “Le Lac” in Corseaux on the shore of Lake Geneva and the Clarté building in Geneva. Le Corbusier, one of the major figures in the internationalisation of architectural practice, was instrumental in meeting the challenge to come up with new architectural techniques to respond to the needs of society in the 20th century. Le Corbusier, whose work spans half a century, began his 'recherche patiente' in the towns of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle as early as 1905. 

Clarté building in Geneva
Clarté building in Geneva © Claudio Merlini

More info :