Why Chester should be a UNESCO World Heritage site

-Credit: (Image: Louise Colebourn)
-Credit: (Image: Louise Colebourn)


Chester is a city known the world over for its wide range of heritage attractions, from the picture postcard timber Rows to the ancient City Walls. Throw in a Roman amphitheatre and Roman artefacts aplenty in places such as the basement of Pret a Manger and the city surely qualifies for the prestigious status of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Chester-based travel writer and Green Badge tourist guide David Atkinson told CheshireLive that he believed Chester was on a par with the Taj Mahal in India and Machu Picchu in Peru, which are among the top World Heritage sites across the globe. David, who runs the Dark Chester tour, said the city is more than worthy of World Heritage Status.

READ MORE: Urgent action needed to protect iconic Chester Rows, says city's MP

He said: "I would certainly support any bid for Chester to be given World Heritage Status. It is up there with the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu, especially for The Rows.

"What already amazes visitors to Chester is the way you can stroll through every period of history from the Romans to the Victorians in a 90-minute walking tour. Essential to the tour is a visit to the Rows, the covered walkways at first floor level, which are a unique feature of the city.

King Charles Tower on Chester's historic city walls
King Charles Tower on Chester's historic city walls -Credit:CheshireLive

"Other cities have Roman walls but nowhere else has Chester's medieval Rows."

Sam Dixon MP, who has just been re-elected as Member of Parliament for Chester (though this time in the new Chester North and Neston constituency) is determined to see the city's Rows awarded World Heritage Status, with Chester positioning itself as 'world-class retail, culture, and heritage organisation'.

She told CheshireLive last year: "I have an ambition to make Chester a top retail and tourism destination, including recognition for our iconic Rows. I think everyone agrees there is a real opportunity for Chester to position itself as a world-class retail, culture, and heritage destination, and Chester’s Rows play a big part in this as home to the country's oldest shop front.

"The Rows represent a rich history of human activity. Generation upon generation has built upon the legacy of those before them, all within the Rows structure.

"As the nature of human activity has changed over the centuries, the Rows have organically adapted while maintaining their unique and distinctive character. Recognition for the Rows would be an important way to celebrate the history of our city while promoting the future of Chester as a top travel destination.

"I want to work with the property owners, businesses and residents of the Rows to establish the best way to give Chester and, in particular, its historic core, the recognition it deserves."

Walking through the historic streets of Chester is like journeying back in time through different eras. In fact, you can barely move for ancient and listed buildings and monuments in the city with a history spanning 2,000 years.

Other places across the UK which have been previously awarded this hallowed status include Stonehenge, the city of Bath, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Wrexham, and the Lake District.

Eastgate Row South
Eastgate Row South

When it comes to what Chester can bring to the World Heritage Status table, there's also the majestic cathedral complete with the remains of the original Benedictine abbey founded in 1092. Chester is also home to a host of historic pubs, including the Victoria on Watergate Row North, a listed building which dates back to 1269.

There's the oldest shopping centre in the country and possibly the world in the form of the iconic Rows. Then there's a near complete circuit of the city available for those who fancy a stroll along the world famous City Walls, parts of which date back to medieval and Roman times.

Chester is also home to the oldest racecourse in the world, having been founded in the reign of Henry VIII in 1539. And National Geographic wrote that Chester deserved to be on everyone's radar for a visit due to its extensive attractions.

Deva Roman Discovery Centre, which is run by the Big Heritage social enterprise alongside Sick to Death, was among the attractions singled out for praise. The writer Sarah Barrell commended it for "blending technology with ancient archaeology" in looking at the history of Roman Chester and how it has shaped the city today.

And let's not forget the following Chester gems:

  • The Eastgate Clock, erected in 1899 to mark Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee, looks down on the site of the original entrance to the Roman fortress of Deva. The clock, along with its structure and the gateway, was designated as a Grade I listed building on 28 July 1955

  • St John the Baptist Church, which was the city's cathedral from 1075 to 1541, dates back as far as the year 689 and is one of the oldest churches in the country, close behind one in Canterbury which was built in 597. It could well also be one of the oldest in the world still used for worship

  • Chester Castle was founded by William the Conquerer in 1070 and was the administrative centre of the earldom of Chester

  • St Olave's Church tucked away on Lower Bridge Street is a link to the days of Vikings living and working in the city

  • The Bear and Billet on Lower Bridge Street, built in 1664 as the townhouse of the Earl of Shrewsbury. John Lennon's grandmother, Annie Jane Millward, was born there in 1873

Chester certainly has a lot to shout about when it comes to world-leading heritage, so isn't it high time the city was given World Heritage Status?

The Eastgate Clock in Chester -Credit:Cheshire West and Chester Council
The Eastgate Clock in Chester -Credit:Cheshire West and Chester Council

Meanwhile, back in 2021, the former chair of city business group, Chester BID, Katrina Kerr told CheshireLive that Chester 'had everything going for it' in terms of securing World Heritage Status. This came after the news that Liverpool had been stripped of its World Heritage Status, with one of the reasons given being the development of the city's North docks along with Everton's Bramley Moore Dock stadium plans.

Katrina Kerr said: "We are a hugely historically significant city - with architecture spanning from Roman times and splendid examples of every period since then all encapsulated within the city walls.

"The Rows are an obvious, and much cited contender. Utterly unique and a testament to a civilisation gone by - they visually encapsulate a moment in time."

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So just what attributes would the city need to demonstrate to be in the running for World Heritage Status? The Government would need to first add it to a tentative list of potential new sites worthy of this status before submitting a nomination.

The nomination would then need to be evaluated by two advisory bodies mandated by the World Heritage Convention: the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It would then need to be considered by the World Heritage Committee.

Well, to be in the running for this prestigious status, Chester would need to be deemed to be of 'outstanding universal value' and to meet a minimum of one of the 10 selection criteria below set out by UNESCO.

  1. To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius

  2. To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design

  3. To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared

  4. To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history

  5. To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change

  6. To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria)

  7. To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance

  8. To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features

  9. To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals

  10. To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation

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