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Garajonay National Park

Old City of Salamanca

General Archive of the Indies

Old Town of Cáceres

Poblet Monastery

Úbeda

Baeza

Emerita Augusta

Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe

Camino de Santiago

Doñana National Park

Pyrénées – Mont Perdu World Heritage Site

Historic Walled Town of Cuenca

Llotja de la Seda

Las Médulas

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Music: Green Forest,Riot; YouTube Audio Library

A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, island, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance . The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states which are elected by the General Assembly.

The programme catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity. Under certain conditions, listed sites can obtain funds from the World Heritage Fund. The programme was founded with the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972. Since then, 191 states parties have ratified the Convention, making it one of the most adhered to international instruments. Only Liechtenstein, Nauru, Somalia, South Sudan, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu are not Party to the Convention.

As of 2014, 1007 sites are listed: 779 cultural, 197 natural, and 31 mixed properties, in 161 states parties. By sites ranked by country, Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites with 57 sites, followed by China (47), Spain (44), France (39), Germany (39), Mexico (32) and India (32). UNESCO references each World Heritage Site with an identification number; however, new inscriptions often include previous sites now listed as part of larger descriptions. As a result, the identification numbers exceed 1,200 even though there are fewer on the list.

In 1954, the government of Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam (Aswan High Dam), an event that would deluge a valley containing treasures of ancient Egypt such as the Abu Simbel temples. UNESCO then launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign. The Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece. Meanwhile, the Temple of Dendur was moved to Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Temple of Debod was moved to Parque del Oeste in Madrid.

The cost of the project was US$80 million, about $40 million of which was collected from 50 countries. The project was regarded as a success, and led to other safeguarding campaigns, saving Venice and its lagoon in Italy, the ruins of Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan, and the Borobodur Temple Compounds in Indonesia. UNESCO then initiated, with the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a draft convention to protect the common cultural heritage of humanity.

The United States initiated the idea of cultural conservation with nature conservation. A White House conference in 1965 called for a ‘World Heritage Trust’ to preserve “the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature developed similar proposals in 1968, and they were presented in 1972 to the United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm. Under the World Heritage Committee signatory countries are required to produce and submit periodic data reporting providing the World Heritage Committee with an overview of each participating nation’s implementation of the World Heritage Convention and a “snapshot” of current conditions at World Heritage properties.

A single text was agreed on by all parties, and the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972.