If Earth had a greatest hits list, it would look something like the roster of World Heritage Sites, which preserve the globe’s most significant locations. “These are very special places,” says Mechtild Rössler, director of the World Heritage Centre in Paris. “You see both cultural and natural beauty.” The list, which celebrated its 40th birthday last year, started with 12 places, and has expanded to nearly 1,100. Almost all are profiled in a new book, “World Heritage Sites: A Complete Guide” (Firefly, $35), now in its eighth edition. The list was developed by UNESCO, and while the U.S. withdrew from the U.N. agency last month, it still participates in the World Heritage program. Rössler shares some notable North American places.
Everglades National Park, Florida
South Florida’s massive wetlands preserves a complex ecosystem. Sometimes called a river of grass, it also has the largest mangrove forest in the Western Hemisphere. “It’s a sanctuary for very rare and threatened species, a subtropical wilderness reserve on the North America continent,” Rössler says. nps.gov/ever
Monticello and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpieces have drawn international attention since the moment they were constructed, Rössler says. “This is a very special site for the U.S. It reflects Jefferson’s personal aspirations for the character of the new American republic.” Jefferson’s home, Monticello, remains as he built it, with preserved Blue Ridge Mountain views. The university he designed recently restored its rotunda as part of its bicentennial celebration. monticello.org and virginia.edu
San Antonio Missions, Texas
A chain of five missions reflects how San Antonio once stood on the frontier of the Spanish Empire. While the Alamo’s best known for its role in Texas independence, the other missions are equally impressive, showing how the Spanish drew on natural and Native American symbols to bring Catholicism to its colonies. “There’s quite a linkage in this history,” says Rössler. nps.gov/saan
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