Explore natural beauty and cultural wondersMay 03, 2022 02:31PM ● By Victor Block
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 important chapters in the birth of the United States were written.
Both of these are among 24 places throughout the country honored as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
UNESCO designates natural destinations and cultural attractions that are “of outstanding universal value” and meet one or more of 10 criteria, including exhibiting “exceptional natural beauty,” providing habitats for threatened species, or association with events of “universal significance.” Other destinations on the list include East Africa’s Serengeti region, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Egyptian pyramids, and great castles and cathedrals throughout Europe.
UNESCO sites in the United States are equally varied. They range from alluring parks to an ancient pueblo and from architectural treasures to cultural icons.
Everglades National Park
It’s no surprise that Everglades National Park is on the list. It’s the largest tropical wetlands and forest wilderness in the country, the biggest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere and the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America. It’s also home to 36 threatened or protected species.
Bats are the primary residents of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, which UNESCO recognizes for both its beauty and ongoing geologic activity. This site has 100 limestone caves that form an other-worldly underground labyrinth. The hundreds of thousands of bats that live in the caverns emerge around sunset to seek their evening meal.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
The setting is very different in the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which straddles the Rocky Mountains along the U.S.-Canada 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.
A much smaller but no less significant architectural treasure greets those who visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Completed in 1753 to house Pennsylvania’s Colonial Assembly, it is where the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Second Continental Congress met and the Constitutional Convention convened after the American Revolution.
In 1915, the formal announcement was made of formation of the League to Enforce Peace. That later led to establishment of the League of Nations and eventually the United Nations.
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 estimated to have been built between 1000 and 1450 AD by Tiwa Native Americans.
Tribal people still live in the area. 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.
Monticello & University of Virginia
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-governance that America represented.
Jefferson’s academical core continues to serve as the historic and ceremonial center of his 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.”
The Poverty Point State Historic Site
In contrast, some UNESCO World Heritage Sites are nothing more than earthen mounds, but what they may lack in architectural splendor, they make up in terms of the story of humankind. The Poverty Point State Historic Site in Louisiana contains earthen ridges and mounds surrounding a central plaza. They were made 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.” The earthen construction “was not surpassed 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 have varied and very intriguing stories to tell.
To see complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, visit www.whc.unesco.org or call the UNESCO New York Liaison Office at 917-810-9030.