About the World Heritage
The World Heritage List was established by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in 1972. Cultural heritage sites and landmarks inscribed on the list are selected on the grounds of their unique cultural or natural significance. It is a requirement that listed sites are protected and preserved for the future. All natural and cultural heritage sites that are inscribed on the list must be representative of a unique cultural heritage or a natural habitat that tells us something about the history of humanity, carries unique biological significance or bears witness to major stages in the Earth’s development.
The list is intended to protect the world’s natural and cultural heritage. In 2018, the list included 1092 sites in 167 countries – 209 of them are natural heritage sites like the West Norwegian Fjords.
There are eight World Heritage Sites in Norway. Only the West Norwegian Fjords have been granted world heritage status on grounds of its natural significance.
The West Norwegian Fjords
The West Norwegian Fjords were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2005. The area was found to meet two principal criteria: exceptional natural beauty and a significant, diverse range of landscape formations associated with the innermost reaches of two of the longest and deepest fjords in the world. The cultural landscape adds an extra dimension that enhances the overall significance of the area. The West Norwegian Fjords World Heritage Site is made up of two distinct areas approximately 120 kilometres apart on the Norwegian west coast: the Geirangerfjord with surrounding areas to the north and the Nærøyfjord with surrounding areas to the south.
The Geirangerfjord site includes the Geiranger–Herdalen Landscape Protection Area, the Kallskaret and Hyskjet nature reserves, Geiranger village and three fjords: Geirangerfjord, Sunnylvsfjord and Tafjord.
Geology, landscape formations and natural beauty
The Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord are classic examples of fjord landscapes, and the enormous height differences and the short distance from sea to summit mean that the area’s natural diversity is significant. The climatic and geological conditions are exceptional, and they clearly show how during the last Ice Age the glaciers formed the current landscape. On their journey towards the sea, the ice re-moulded the V-shaped valleys into U-shaped valleys with steep mountain sides.
These are young, active landscapes where the forces of nature continue to shape the terrain. The areas are considered to form an important ‘natural history laboratory’ because they may increase our knowledge about the formation of landscapes, and about the ways that climate changes affect nature.
When awarding World Heritage status to the West Norwegian Fjords, UNESCO wrote that the areas along the Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord are considered to be among the most beautiful fjord landscapes on Earth. The exceptional natural beauty stems from the narrow valleys with their crystalline rockfaces that extend from the bottom of the fjord to heights of 1400 metres above sea level.
The glaciers and the glacial lakes, the waterfalls that tumble down from the precipitous mountain sides and the numerous rivers that make their way from the mountains through deciduous and coniferous woods and onwards down to the fjord, make this a beautiful and unique landscape.
The diversity of other natural phenomena, such as underwater moraines and marine mammals, enhances the experience of nature. UNESCO also point out that the abandoned farms and summer farmsteads add an important human and cultural aspect to the dramatic landscape.