The Importance of Our World Heritage Designation
“The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” – UNESCO
On July 5, 2015, the World Heritage Committee inscribed San Antonio’s five Spanish colonial Missions on the World Heritage List.
The five Missions became the nation’s 23rd World Heritage inscription, taking their place among other great American historic and cultural institutions, such as the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall, in addition to natural treasures,
including the Grand Canyon, and world wonders, like the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal. The Missions, which are the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S., are the third World Heritage designation in the U.S.
since 1995 and the first in Texas.
UNESCO designation is a catalyst for socio-economic change, with increased visitation and tourist spending. According to the U.S. Travel Association, $928 billion was generated by domestic and international travelers in 2014, placing tourism as one of our nation’s largest economic generators and spurring an additional $1.2 trillion in other industries. Locally, the impact will be even more significant, as tourism is one of the city’s top five industries, providing one of every eight jobs and more than $12 billion annually. By 2025, the World Heritage Site economic impact on San Antonio and Bexar County is expected to generate an additional $44 to $105 million in activity and create more than 1,100 jobs.
San Antonio River
The Missions’ important connection to the river was not lost in the UNESCO World Heritage application process. The justification for considering all the missions in one application was predominately based on the linkages between the missions along the San Antonio River and the importance of having the river-fed acequia system.
The historic downtown San Antonio River Walk is a short distance away from Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as The Alamo. The southern extension of the San Antonio River Walk, known as the Mission Reach, connects to the other four Spanish Colonial missions. While traveling the river along the Mission Reach, you will encounter “portals” from the river to Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada. These portals help illustrate the vital role the river played in our early history.
The Missions survived for decades, creating a distinctive culture that blended native traditions with newly adopted Spanish ways. Communally, the missions have shaped the personality of San Antonio, now the nation’s seventh-largest city, as a melting pot of Latino, Native American and Western cultures.