The United Nations (UN) is an international organization aimed at facilitating co-operation between the world’s countries on a wide variety of topics. This travel topic covers the variety of interesting UN headquarters and sights all over the globe.
The United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II by the victorious powers, as a de facto replacement of the League of Nations, which had been founded after World War I with initially a much broader mission, but failed due to, among other things, its less than universal membership (the U.S. never joined, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union left or were expelled in the 1930s). The UN’s structure and bylaws still reflect that fact, as is evidenced by their seat in New York, and the composition of the Security Council (whose permanent members were World War II allies — the U.S., Russia, China, France and the U.K. — but are now often at loggerheads).
Most countries have some presence at the UN, even if they have relatively little other diplomatic presence abroad. Many UN agencies operate behind the scenes to establish global standards (such as the International Civil Aeronautics Organisation for passports or the Universal Postal Union for postal service) which affect travel and communication worldwide.
UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, maintains the UNESCO World Heritage List of more than a thousand global destinations, along with lists of creative cities and intangible cultural heritage.
UN Headquarters New York, 1st Ave at 46th St, New York City, USA, ☏ +1 212-963-4475. The UN HQ sits on an 18-acre site between 42nd and 48th Streets, and between First Avenue and the East River. It is noted for its gardens and outdoor sculptures. There is a charge for the tours of the General Assembly and Secretariat but you can visit the Visitor’s Lobby for free (although you do have to pass through a security checkpoint). There are two levels to the lobby area which includes a gallery, a gift shop, and a bookshop. If just visiting the lobby, don’t join any queues once you’re in the lobby—just find your way around. There is little in the way of signs to tell you where you can go—this is the UN: well-meaning but not well organized. Free; guided tours $11.50 adults, $8.50 seniors, $7.50 students, $6.50 children (6-14).
Palais des Nations (UN Office at Geneva), 14 Avenue de la Paix, Geneva, Switzerland, ☏ +41 22-917 48 96, ✉ email@example.com. Open daily Apr-Oct 10AM-noon and 2PM-4PM; Jul-Aug 10AM-5PM; the rest of the year M-F 10AM-noon and 2PM-4PM (except over the Christmas period). It was built to house the League of Nations. The Palais is worth visiting just to take in the magnificent Assembly Hall, in addition to the large collection of public art, the library, and the landscaped grounds. It is the second-largest UN Headquarters in the world. Fr. 12 each for adults. (groups of 20 adults or more qualify for a 20% discount; private tour of 1-14 adults Fr. 127.50; Fr. 10 each for students, senior citizens, and disabled persons; Fr. 4 for schoolchildren; free for children under six years old). Passports are required for entry.
UN Office at Vienna, Vienna, Austria, ☏ +43-1 26060-3328. The home of many UN organisations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency. Guided tours are offered in English or German three times a day, and there’s a chance you may get to observe a meeting in progress. You’ll need photo identification (ie, passport) to be allowed inside.
UN Office at Nairobi (UN Complex Gigiri), United Nations Ave, Nairobi, Kenya, ☏ +254 20 762 3798, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Sitting between the Karura Forest and the US Embassy, it houses international organisations such as the UN Environmental Programme, UN-HABITAT and is the basis of all UN operations in Africa. Africa’s first completely carbon- and water-neutral building was opened here in 2011. Guided tours allow tourists to see the major buildings and gifts from member states and walk along a nearby nature trail, while learning about the history and work of the UN.
Peace Palace, Carnegieplein 2, The Hague, Netherlands, ☏ +31 70 3024137, ✉ email@example.com. The Peace Palace was built in 1913, to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which was hoped to provide a means to legally settle international disputes. World War I broke out just a year later. Today the Peace Palace also houses the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial body of the UN, which settles disputes between countries only. €9.50 for guided tour. Visitors Center and audio tour is free.
UNESCO House, Place de Fontenoy, Paris, France. Headquarters of UNESCO, the organisation which designates World Heritage sites. There is a museum on-site, and there are occasionally temporary exhibitions about international culture and heritage.
United Nations Memorial Cemetery (재한유엔기념공원), 93, UNpyeonghwa-ro, Nam-gu, Busan, South Korea 부산광역시 남구 유엔평화로 93. The only official United Nations cemetery in the world, it serves to honor the memory of soldiers from 16 nations who fought and died under the UN.
United Nations Peace Plaza. Just west of the Temple Lot. This memorial features a beautiful sculpture of a young girl releasing a dove to symbolize the hopes and dreams represented by the United Nations. It is billed as the only monument in the U.S. dedicated specifically to peace outside of the UN’s headquarters in New York.
United Nations Plaza, San Francisco/Civic Center-Tenderloin (at Market St and Hyde St). The UN Charter was signed in the Civic Center in 1945, and this plaza was constructed in honor of its ideology and is ironically over the site of the original San Francisco City Cemetery. Designed by architect Lawrence Halprin, and completed in 1975, this is a three acre red-bricked pedestrian plaza. Brick columns inscribed with UN members country names line the plaza, and the UN Fountain sits at its center. Intended to be a visual gateway to the Civic Center, it is often habituated by the city’s homeless, but has a compact and diverse Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The United Nations Art Collection is a collective group of artworks and historic objects donated as gifts to the United Nations by its member states, associations, or individuals. These artistic treasures and possessions, mostly in the form of “sculptures, paintings, tapestries and mosaics”, are representative “arts of nations” that are contained and exhibited within the confines of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, United States, and other duty stations, making the UN and its international territories a “fine small museum”.
Member states follow a protocol for presenting official gifts to the United Nations. Procedures, speeches, and ceremonies, such as the unveiling of these gifts, are conducted and coordinated by the Protocol and Liaison Service. Ideally, every member nation can only present one offering, and member nations are responsible for the installation of the offered artifacts.
The official gifts to the United Nations by its member states epitomize the ideals, significance and values of the UN as an international organization.
The complex contains gardens, which were originally private gardens before being opened to the public in 1958. The complex is notable for its gardens and outdoor sculptures. Iconic sculptures include the “Knotted Gun”, called Non-Violence, a statue of a Colt Python revolver with its barrel tied in a knot, which was a gift from the Luxembourg government and Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a gift from the Soviet Union. The latter sculpture is the only appearance of the “swords into plowshares” quotation, from Isaiah 2:4, within the complex. Contrary to popular belief, the quotation is not carved on any UN building. Rather, it is carved on the “Isaiah Wall” of Ralph Bunche Park across First Avenue. A piece of the Berlin Wall also stands in the UN garden.
Other prominent artworks on the grounds include Peace – a Marc Chagall stained glass window memorializing the death of Dag Hammarskjöld – the Japanese Peace Bell which is rung on the vernal equinox and the opening of each General Assembly session, a Chinese ivory carving made in 1974 (before the ivory trade was largely banned in 1989), and a Venetian mosaic depicting Norman Rockwell’s painting The Golden Rule. A full-size tapestry copy of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, by Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach, is on the wall of the United Nations building at the entrance to the Security Council room. In 1952, two Fernand Léger murals were installed in the General Assembly Hall. The works are meant to merely be decorative with no symbolism. One is said to resemble cartoon character Bugs Bunny and U.S. President Harry S. Truman dubbed the other work “Scrambled Eggs”.
Two large murals by Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari, entitled Guerra e Paz (War and Peace) are located at the delegates hall. The works are a gift from the United Nations Association of the United States of America and Portinari intended to execute them in the United States. However, he was denied a visa due to his communist convictions and decided to paint them in Rio de Janeiro. They were later assembled in the headquarters. After their completion in 1957, Portinari, who was already ill when he started the masterpiece, succumbed to lead poisoning from the pigments his doctors advised him to abandon.
In 1964, a 15 foot by 12 foot stained glass window by Marc Chagall entitled Peace was donated to the United Nations by its own staff members and by Chagall himself to commemorate Dag Hammarskjöld, who served as United Nations Secretary-General from 1953 until his death in 1961. The stained glass memorial contains numerous symbols representing love and peace themes.
In 1952, a pair of Fernand Léger murals was installed in the General Assembly Hall.
War and Peace, two paintings by Brazilian artist Candido Portinari. It does not feature any weapons, but instead features the suffering of victims from war, which illustrates the barbarity of combat. The contrast between the elements of chaos and harmony show how important it is to maintain peace and attempt to end violent conflicts.
In 1985, as a representative of the United States, then first lady Nancy Reagan presented a mosaic to the United Nations to celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary. The Golden Rule mosaic was a creation of Venetian artists and was based on a painting by Norman Rockwell. Depicting people of all races, religion, creed and hue, the mosaic imparts the message to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
The Japanese Peace Bell was presented to the United Nations in June 1954 by the United Nations Association of Japan. It was cast from coins collected by people from 60 different countries including children, and housed in a structure resembling a Shinto shrine, made of cypress wood. The bell is rung twice a year: on the first day of Spring, at the Vernal Equinox, and on 21 September to coincide with the opening of the General Assembly.
In 1959, a bronze statue promoting the slogan Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares was donated by the Soviet Union to the United Nations. It was sculpted by Evgeniy Vuchetich to represent the human wish to end all wars by converting the weapons of death and destruction into peaceful and productive tools that are more beneficial to mankind.
In 1996, Sphere Within Sphere by sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, was presented as a gift to the UN by Lamberto Dini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy.
A life-size tapestry copy of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, by Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach, is displayed on the wall of the United Nations building in New York City, at the entrance to the Security Council room.
Single Form is a sculpture done by Barbara Hepworth in 1964 as a memorial to the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld after his death in an air crash in Africa in 1961.