See the 'outstanding' UN World Heritage Sites named in 2015

Spanish missions in Texas, Hellenistic and Roman settlements in Turkey, and ancient pagodas and temples in South Korea are some of the latest locations to join the UN’s prestigious list of World Heritage Sites.

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, added 23 cultural sites to the list in 2015, bringing the total number to 802.

UNESCO also recognizes 197 natural world heritage sites.

To make the list, a committee must decide that each site has “outstanding universal value,” UNESCO spokesperson Roni Amelan said in an email to

Past inductees include the pyramids in Egypt and the Great Wall of China.

This year’s new inscriptions span from Europe to Asia and the Americas.

As 2015 comes to an end, here’s a look at some of the cultural sites that made the UN list this year:

The Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale, Italy

Situated on the Mediterranean island of Sicily, this series of nine religious and civic structures dates back to the 1100s, during the island’s Norman era.

According to UNESCO, this was a unique cultural moment in Sicily’s history: a time when Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard, and French people all lived together, influencing the island’s society, art, and architecture.

To this day, many structures from the time remain standing, including the two palaces, three churches, three cathedrals, and bridgethat UNESCO included in its heritage designation.

Flanked by palm trees, these structures feature intricate mosaics, domed roofs, and courtyards lined with archways.

“(The) architectural forms, structures, and materials … celebrate the fruitful co-existence of people of different origins,” the UNESCO website says.

Monrale Cathedral

Monreale Cathedral (UNESCO/CRID).

The Baekje Historic Areas, South Korea

Nestled in a mountainous region of mid-western South Korea, the Baekje Historic Areas include fortresses, royal tombs, and an ancient royal palace.

According to UNESCO, these historic structures date back to one of the earliest kingdoms on the Korean peninsula.

The Baekje Kingdom existed between 475 and 660 AD, during a time whenChinese, Japanese and Buddhist influences were spreading in the region.

A five-storey pagoda that watches over the Wanggung-ri archeological siteand the Gongsangseong Fortress, a sprawling mountain castle, are both among the eight Baekje sites UNESCO included on its list this year.

Five story pagoda in Wanggung-ri

Five story pagoda in the Wanggung-ri archeological site (UNESCO/Baekje Historic Areas Nomination Office).

Ephesus, Turkey

The Ancient City of Ephesus was once home to one of the “Seven Wonders of the World,” the Temple of Artemis.

Today, UNESCO says, little is left of the temple. However, the site of the ancient city remains rich in Hellenistic and Roman ruins.

“Ephesus surpasses most other ancient cities in intensity and fascination,” the document nominating Ephesus as a heritage site says.

The UNESCO-designated area covers a swath of land on Turkey’s western Aegean coast, which once served as a religious, cultural and economic centre.

Highlights include the crumbling Celsius Library and Temple of Hadrian, the House of the Virgin Mary, a pilgrimage site where some believe Mary spent her final days, and the Isa Bey Mosque, which still serves as a worship site today.

Isa Bey Mosque (UNESCO/Ephesus Museum Directorate)

Isa Bey Mosque (UNESCO/Ephesus Museum Directorate).

San Antonio Missions, U.S.

Spanish missionaries built these Catholic mission complexes in Texas’ San Antonio River basin in the 18th century.

The sites include whitewashed churches, a stone convent, as well as farmland, cattle grounds, a water system, workshops and wells, all sprawled across a 7.7-kilometre stretch of green grass and cacti.

Though the architecture is distinctly Spanish, UNESCO says the sites were also influenced by local aboriginal peoples, “interweaving the cultures of the Spanish and the Coahuiltecan and other indigenous peoples.”

This influence can be seen in the combination of Catholic and indigenous natural designs that decorate the churches, UNESCO says, as well as the aboriginal settlement near the central plaza.

Mission Concepcion Church

Mission Concepción church exterior (UNESCO/National Park Service).

Other locations that made the list this year:

  • The Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System, Mexico
  • The Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas), Jordan
  • The Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars, France
  • Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement, Denmark
  • The Climats, terroirs of Burgundy, France
  • The Cultural Landscape of Maymand, Iran
  • The Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape, Turkey
  • The Fray Bentos Industrial Landscape, Uruguay
  • The Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its surrounding sacred landscape, Mongolia
  • The Necropolis of Bet Sh’arim: A Landmark of Jewish Renewal, Israel
  • The Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site, Norway
  • Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
  • The Singapore Botanical Gardens, Singapore
  • Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Japan
  • Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus, Germany
  • Susa, Iran
  • The Forth Bridge, the U.K.
  • The par force hunting landscape in North Zealand, Denmark
  • Tusi Sites, China

View the full list of World Heritage Sites on the UNESCO website


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