The first time I visited one of California’s beautiful redwood parks, I was awed by the massive trees that lined the soft dirt paths of the forest. They towered over me, reaching hundreds of feet into the air, and filled the air with their sweet, woody scent. Of all the places I’ve been to, the California Redwood National and State Parks are among my favorites. Luckily, these redwood forests are protected by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as one of their World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO is an organization dedicated to bringing sustainable peace and cultural appreciation to the world’s nations. One of the ways they work toward their goal is by creating international solidarity through World Heritage Sites. These sites exist to promote understanding and cultural diversity and to preserve places that are important to the world both culturally and as natural landmarks.

In 2016, UNESCO added 21 new locations to its list of World Heritage Sites, bringing the list up to 1,052 total sites. Every World Heritage Site is selected because it meets at least one of ten specific criteria. Of the newly inducted sites, 12 were added based on their cultural value, 6 on their natural value and 3 on both their cultural and natural value.

One of the new sites is the archaeological site of Philippi in northeastern Greece, which was selected for its cultural value. It is the ruin of a walled city that was founded in 356 BCE. The city was heavily influenced by Roman culture following the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE and later by the spread of Christianity around 50 CE.

Another new site, the Revillagigedo Archipelago, selected for its natural value, is a chain of four islands and their surrounding waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The islands are the peaks of volcanoes that are part of a larger underwater mountain range. Both the islands and their surrounding waters act as a home for the abundant wildlife in the area.

The Ahwar of southern Iraq, selected for both its cultural and natural values, is comprised of three archeological sites of ancient Sumerian ruins and four wetland marshes surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The site is a “refuge of biodiversity” and includes locations that were once part of ancient Mesopotamian cities.

The full list of newly inducted sites can be viewed here.

I’ve already checked off the Redwood National and State Parks from the World Heritage List…who knows, maybe I’ll add a few more checks in my lifetime.

Did You Know?

Currently, Italy and China lead the UNESCO World Heritage List with 51 and 50 sites, respectively. Of these, some of the more well-known sites include the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the (fair) city of Verona, Pompeii, the Great Wall, the site of Xanadu and sections of the Silk Road.

Image credit: California Department of Parks and Recreation