America's UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are 24 places honored across our country
Have you explored Everglades National Park in Florida, seeking glimpses of crocodiles, manatees, and other wildlife?
Perhaps you’ve visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where essential chapters in the birth of the United States were written.
If so, you may not know that they’re among 24 places honored as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization throughout the country.
Natural Beauty and significant events
UNESCO designates natural destinations and cultural attractions “of outstanding universal value” and meets one or more of 10 criteria. Among these are to exhibit “exceptional natural beauty,” provide habitats for threatened species, and be associated with events of “universal significance.”
Among diverse places on the list are East Africa’s Serengeti region, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the pyramids of Egypt, and splendid castles and cathedrals throughout Europe.
From Parka to Pueblos, Architecture to Culture
UNESCO sites in the United States are equally varied. They range from alluring parks to an ancient pueblo, from architectural treasures to cultural icons. You might like to use them as a “wish list of places to visit in the future.
It’s no surprise that Everglades National Park is included on the UNESCO list. It’s the most significant tropical wetlands and forest wilderness in the country, the most significant mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, and the most important breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America. It’s also home to 36 threatened or protected species.
A Park on a Border
The setting is very different in the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which straddles the Rocky Mountains along the U.S.-Canadian border. It’s an area of soaring snow-capped mountains, high-altitude lakes, and rushing glacier-fed rivers.
Cedar hemlock forests and alpine tundra provide habitats for over 300 species of animals. The park serves as a symbol of goodwill between Canada and the U.S.
Bats and a Big Room
Bats are the primary residents of another site, which UNESCO recognizes its beauty and ongoing geologic activity that scientists may study. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico include some 100 limestone caves that form an other-worldly underground labyrinth.
Almost 4,000 feet long, one massive chamber is called the Big Room. Among names given to other caves are Kings Palace, Papoose Room, and Hall of the White Giant. The hundreds of thousands of bats that live in the caverns emerge around sunset to seek their evening meal.
Architectural Treasures Span the Gamut from the Taos Pueblo to …
Several very different architectural treasures share space on the UNESCO list. New Mexico also lays claim to the Taos Pueblo, a multi-storied reddish-brown adobe structure built between 1000 and 1450 AD by Tiwa Native Americans.
Tribal people still live in the area, some in the simple pueblo, with several feet thick walls for defensive purposes. The impressive north-side edifice, the largest multi-storied Pueblo structure still existing, is one of the most photographed and painted buildings in North America.
Thomas Jefferson’s architecture.
The vibe is very different in Virginia, where the home and “Academical Village” designed by Thomas Jefferson are among his many achievements. That says a lot about the man who authored the Declaration of Independence, served as third President of the United States and won plaudits as statesman, diplomat, Founding Father, and other public service capacities.
He also was a talented architect. Design features for his Monticello plantation house, and the complex that became the heart of the University of Virginia, attest to his success in melding traditions of European architecture with tenets of the self-government experiment that America represented.
Jefferson’s Academical Core serves as the historical and ceremonial center of his believed University. It’s based on his vision of a holistic learning environment that extends beyond the classrooms to an open lawn lined by trees and enclosed by interconnected buildings. UNESCO explains that both accomplishments serve as tangible evidence of “the ideas and ideals of Thomas Jefferson.”
One Building where History Was Written — Independence Hall
A much smaller but significant architectural treasure greets those who visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Completed in 1753 to house Pennsylvania’s Colonial Assembly, the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Second Continental Congress met, and the Constitutional Convention convened after the American Revolution.
It’s fitting that at another convention in the building in 1915 formal announcement was made of the formation of the League to Enforce Peace. That later led to the League of Nations and eventually the United Nations.
Some UNESCO sights are earthen mounds that conserve the story of humanity.
In contrast, some UNESCO World Heritage Sites are nothing more than earthen mounds. What they may lack in architectural splendor, they make up in terms of the story of humankind. Louisiana’s Poverty Point State Historic Site contains earthen ridges and mounds surrounding a central plaza. They were built by indigenous people between 1700 and 1100 BC.
According to archaeologists, the site may have served as a settlement, trading center, and/or a religious ceremonial place. UNESCO notes that the Poverty Point earthworks “bear exceptional testimony to a vanished cultural tradition, the Poverty Point Culture.” Humankind did not surpass the earthen construction “for at least 2,000 years.”
From earth mounds and a university lawn to an ancient pueblo and more modern building that played a leading role in the birth of the United States, UNESCO sites throughout the country have varied and very intriguing stories to tell.
When you go
To see a complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including those in the United States, log onto unesco.org.
After gallivanting throughout the United States and to more than 75 other countries worldwide and writing about what he sees, does, and learns, Victor Block retains the travel bug. He firmly believes that travel is the best possible education and claims he still has a lot to learn. He loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won several writing awards.