Have you ever had the opportunity to ride in a gondola on Venice’s Lagoon? Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Visit the Statue of Liberty in New York City? Admire India’s Taj Mahal? Or even dive in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef? Though all these incredible locations are very different from each other, they do share one common element—they are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

World Heritage Sites are locations selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as important cultural or natural sites to preserve for posterity. These places vary from a rainforest to a mountain, an architectural wonder to a monument, or an ancient structure to a modern marvel.

To become a World Heritage Site, a country nominates a location as a cultural, natural, or historical landmark, and then submits a statement to the UNESCO advisory review committee requesting the location be considered a World Heritage Site. The nomination must state which of the ten UNESCO selection criteria the site meets, and why the location is “judged important to the collective interests of humanity” (whc.unesco.org).

For example, the beautiful Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, the inspiration for the Disneyland castle, is not a World Heritage Site. It has been on the tentative nomination list since January 2015 and is still under review for historical importance. In comparison, the blue agave fields of Tequila, Mexico were nominated in 2006 and deemed a World Heritage Site in 2013. The review board determined that the site met the standards of cultural importance as the location for manufacturing tequila, a product representing Mexico’s national identity.

There are currently 1,073 sites from 167 countries listed on the UNESCO interactive map. You can spend hours looking at this map and the protected landmarks, reading about their importance to the world, and discovering which sites are endangered. This site lists the twelve oldest World Heritage Sites, established in 1978, including the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador and Yellowstone Park in the United States. It also shows the most recent 2017 additions to the list, including Strasbourg Cathedral and City Center in France, as well as W-Arly-Pendjari Complex, a wildlife park in Niger. Another way to discover heritage locations is to look up sites by country. For example, Italy has the most World Heritage Sites at fifty-three, one of which is the city of Rome established as a site in 1980.

No matter how you explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, whether in person or online, the variety of sites is exciting. The number is continually growing, confirming the fascination the world has with its past and our hope for retaining that beauty in the future. World Heritage Sites are vitally important reminders that the world is a remarkable place.

Laurie Weisler