UNESCO's newest World Heritage sites

Did your last vacation include a visit to a masterpiece of human creative genius? Or to an area of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance?

If so, you may have visited a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List, perhaps the most prestigious preservation list in the world.

The newest sites include Saudi Arabia's Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah; the Erbil Citadel, a fortified settlement in the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq; Japan's Tomioka Silk Mill; the Van Nellefabriek (Van Nelle Factory) in the Netherlands; an initial section of the Silk Roads known as the Routes Network of Tian-Shan Corridor (crossing through Kyrgyzstan, China and Kazakhstan); and the ancient West Bank village of Battir.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee is naming cultural and natural treasures to the organization's prestigious World Heritage List during its meetings through June 25 in Qatar. Members are also considering adding some World Heritage Sites to its much smaller compilation of sites in danger.

From 1978 through 2013, 981 natural and cultural sites around the world have been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

Think Yellowstone National Park or Mount Fuji.

The site must be of outstanding universal value, and it must also meet at least one of 10 criteria such as "representing a masterpiece of human creative genius," containing "exceptional natural beauty" or being an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement.

The UNESCO committee is expected to name more World Heritage Sites over the next week.

The UNESCO List in Danger

World Heritage Sites at risk of damage or destruction are sometimes added to the committee's list of sites in danger, and that's what happened with the West Bank village of Battir, a few miles outside Bethlehem.

The hills where Battir's ancient terraces are located date back some 2,000 years to Roman times. Some of the terraces are irrigated for market garden production and others are planted with grape vines and olive trees. The landscape is in danger of being damaged by Israel's plans to build a barrier through the area. The wall "may isolate farmers from fields they have cultivated for centuries," according to a UNESCO press statement.

Prior to this month's meeting, there were 44 sites on the endangered list, including spots in Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The committee added two other sites to the List of World Heritage in Danger this week. One is Bolivia's City of Potosi, which is threatened by mining operations. Tanzania's Selous Game Reserve was added to the danger list because of widespread poaching that has caused a serious decline in the wildlife populations there, including a 90% drop in the elephant and rhinoceros population since 1982.

At the same time, Tanzania's Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara were removed from the danger list due to improved management and safeguards.

Nations sometimes spend years developing their pitches to qualify for the World Heritage List, and they must convince the UNESCO committee that they will protect their sites and support them financially.

U.S. not a power player at UNESCO

The United States doesn't have much sway over UNESCO decisions anymore. That's because the U.S. government withdrew its dues and other financial contributions to UNESCO in 2011 after the agency admitted the Palestinian government as full members representing a country. After failing to pay its dues for two years, the United States lost UNESCO voting rights in 2013 per the agency's rules.

You can also check on Twitter at @UNESCO or #WorldHeritage to see the announcements as they are posted.

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