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  • A World Heritage Site is a place of cultural or natural heritage "considered to be of outstanding value to humanity," according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the group that oversees the selection and preservation of these valuable places.

    As of 2016, there were 1,052 properties on the World Heritage list: 814 of cultural significance, 203 of natural significance, and 35 of mixed value. Each year, nations that choose to participate may nominate sites to be added to the list. A committee evaluates the nominations and decides whether they should be included. Listed properties must meet at least one of 10 criteria. Examples of the criteria include that a site represent a "masterpiece of human creative genius," or that it is an area of "exceptional natural beauty." Participating nations agree to maintain and protect listed sites.

    The images in the gallery show several World Heritage sites as seen from orbiting satellites. These sites represent a cross-section of the types of places included on the list. To view all of the World Heritage sites and find more information and images, go to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention site.

    Satellite images in the gallery are courtesy of GeoEye Foundation.

    1. Which images in the gallery are examples of heritage sites of cultural importance? Why are they valuable?

      Amsterdam, Giza, London, Mesa Verde, and Thebes are places of cultural and architectural importance.

      • Amsterdam is important for its historic Defence Line, which controls seawater as a fortification. 
      • Giza is home to Egypt's most impressive pyramids and the Sphinx. 
      • The Tower of London is a structure with both historical and architectural importance. 
      • The ruins of ancient cliff dwellings built by Native Americans are in Mesa Verde. 
      • Temples, tombs, and palaces from the height of ancient Egypt stand at Thebes.
    2. Which of the images in the gallery represent heritage sites listed for their natural importance, and why are they valuable?

      The geyser Old Faithful, Victoria Falls, and the Grand Canyon are natural wonders.

      • Old Faithful is a geyser in Yellowstone National Park that is famous for eruptions that occur every 92 minutes. 
      • Victoria Falls, straddling the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is a spectacular waterfall on the Zambezi River. 
      • The Grand Canyon is a gorge cut by the Colorado River that reveals geology over a period of 2 billion years.
    3. Do you agree that the places chosen as World Heritage sites are of "outstanding value to humanity"? Why or why not?

      Answers will vary! Students may want to consider:

      • Who benefits from the resources of a World Heritage Site? How?
      • How might World Heritage Site designation impact the site itself and the surrounding community?
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    cultural heritage Noun

    traditions and customs of a specific population.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    heritage Noun

    cultural or family background.

    orbit Verb

    to move in a circular pattern around a more massive object.

    Encyclopedic Entry: orbit
    satellite Noun

    object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.

    UNESCO Noun

    the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

    Encyclopedic Entry: UNESCO
    World Heritage Site Noun

    location recognized by the United Nations as important to the cultural or natural heritage of humanity.