The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes a World Heritage Site as a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, island, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) of special cultural or physical significance. Nine designated cultural sites exist in the United States, ranging from the Midwest to the far reaches of the U.S. umbrella in Puerto Rico.
These sites must fit one of several criteria to be considered a heritage site. Until 2004, the sites were selected based on six criteria for a cultural site and four criteria for a natural site. After 2004 however, the criterion were combined making a total of 10 for both types of sites. Now, these landmarks must meet at least one of the ten according to the Operation Guidelines. Visit WHC.Unesco.org/en/criteria/ to see a full list of the selection criteria. If history and culture are what you seek while traveling, consider visiting some of these important sites on your next trip:
9. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
As the largest and earliest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (13 km Northeast of St. Louis, Illinois) aligns with two of the 10 criteria. The first of which is Criterion iii; ‘bearing a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared’; that being the cultural, religious and economic center of the earliest Mississippian traditions.
The size, layout and structure of the settlement (including private and public buildings) demonstrated the existence of a pre-urban society that operated with exceptional organization. Being able to organize labor, agriculture and trade means the Cahokia Mounds also fall under criterion iv; ‘illustrating a significant stage in human history’. As a point of reference for studying the years of 900 – 1,600 Cahokia was the largest settlement in America for centuries to come. While largely populous, Cahokia also includes the largest prehistoric earthwork in the United States with mounds covering over five hectares (ha) at 30 meters high.