As a first-timer, while on holiday in a foreign city of course sightseeing is the first step for every tourist, regardless of the corner of the world. Perhaps a free walking tour, which is becoming more and more popular among tourists worldwide is the best way to explore any city center and find out about other tourist attractions and places worth visiting nearby. Although at some point during this experience it is likely to find oneself on one of the cities main streets, crowded with tourists, shops, and restaurants which could be on a bigger or smaller scale located anywhere in the world. On the contrary, certain buildings in many cities worldwide have the power to transport the visitor back to the times and places where some historic events took place. These buildings are known as heritage buildings.

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Heritage Buildings teach locals and tourists about a town’s history. Photo by Justine Camacho on Unsplash

Facing the rapid changes being implemented in the built environment and the way how cities change, preserving these kinds of buildings becomes a necessity in order to preserve each city’s individual character and cultural identity while entering time more global than ever. These are, of course, assets for a city from the point of view of the tourist sector: Would Athens have attracted so many tourists for so many years without the Acropolis (listed by UNESCO since 1987)? Would Rome be such a touristic destination all year round if the Colosseum (Listed by UNESCO since 1980) was not there? Remember it is not only about the buildings themselves, but the events these represent.

Hence architecture uses heritage buildings somehow to contribute to telling the story of a place in a much more interactive way than historical documents. Not all however necessary come together with beauty or architectural richness and would be spotted by tourists from afar. Heritage buildings and the importance of these can probably be split into two groups. On one hand, some of these do attract visitors due to architectural value, architectonic elements, and style or character of the building itself. Others, however, enhance the historic value of the city. Buildings listed in this second group can show how history has had an impact on the place, how site-specific architecture once was in a certain city or area, or be representative for historic events that have taken place in a certain city.

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The input of heritage buildings is to be considered in the local economy and the tourist sector. Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash

Having spoken of heritage buildings in European capitals so far lets however take towns, in which heritage buildings are literally those helping to put the city on the map for foreign visitors: Take Sintra, in Portugal where the Pena National Palace (listed by UNESCO since 1995) is located. Located in the Portuguese Riviera, on clear days it is even possible to spot the castle, due to the fact that it is located atop a hill, from the city of Lisbon. Would so many people think the city is otherwise worth a visit, if the Palace, is the former royal family’s residence would not have been preserved in this city? Or lets perhaps take a place everyone will know although unaware of the exact historical reasons making a site famous: What about the city of Pisa in Italy, put in the map by the Piazza Dei Miracoli (Listed by UNESCO since 1987) where the Leaning Tower of Pisa is located. For those unaware of it, the complex was an important Centre of European Medieval art and is in addition not only historically interesting but also architecturally among the finest complexes in the world.

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Sunset above the city of Granada, showing how heritage sites enhance the community. Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

However, beyond the tourist attraction, heritage buildings add other values. The sense of community and cultural identity of the cities among the inhabitants is enhanced by buildings of such value. More often than not, heritage buildings remind of the cities’ prosperous times. Furthermore, heritage buildings can also serve as a reminder of other values, although perhaps not shared by all, still, a part of the cities’ or towns’ history, making it possible to learn from the past. Take for instance the city of Granada in Spain and the Alhambra, Generalife, and Albayzín (listed by UNESCO since 1994), which are representative of the Moors period of Spain, during which numerous bloody battle took place in those sites, nowadays cultural and artistic centers and touristic attractions for local and foreign visitors in Spain. In addition, heritage buildings often play a key role within urban regeneration plans in former industrial areas, also offering tours and educational opportunities. The industrial heritage site of the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex (listed by UNESCO since 2001) in Germany is exemplifying for these types of projects.

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Local family visiting the industrial heritage site of the Zollverein Coal Mine

Truth is nevertheless, given the fact that many heritage buildings have a relationship with religious institutions or past and current political figures and monarchical dynasties, controversy is likely to appear at this point. First of all, although heritage buildings can help boost local economies and the tourist sector financial investment is of course also necessary due to the special needs of restoration and care which some ancient historical construction materials and construction techniques come together with. Some might already be against this if there is an interesting alternative for investment. Others furthermore will strongly argue with the idea of preserving heritage buildings, a representative for a cities’ hard time or somehow honoring those responsible for these situations.


Europe's most beautiful buildings listed by the UNESCO Eupedia © 2004-2019 Retrieved from:

WHY HERITAGE IS AN IMPORTANT COMMUNITY ASSET. (n.d.) Perth Heritage Retrieved from:

Remøy H. Wilkinson S. Heritage building preservation vs sustainability? Conflict isn’t inevitable. (November 28th 2017) The conversation. Retrieved from: preservation-vs-sustainability-conflict-isnt-inevitable-83973

La Alhambra y el Generalife Brief History (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://www.alhambra-

Alba Calabozo is an architect, design and arts enthusiast having recently graduated from the University of Navarra in Spain. She is specialized in the field of architectonic restoration and rehabilitation. Writing about architecture is her way to share some food for thought while looking for her next career step beyond a traditional career path of an architect.