A historic opera house in Germany, 450-feet high coal slag heaps in northern France and the iconic landscape of Rio de Janeiro are some of the sites that have been added to the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Twenty-six endangered sites in all became the latest entrants on the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites--a result of the 36th meeting of the World Heritage Committee, held in St. Petersburg, Russia. A total of 20 cultural sites, five natural sites and one mixed natural and cultural site were inscribed during the session.
Also among the newly-recognized sites was the birthplace of Jesus and the Church of the Nativity. The controversial decision, sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, was approved despite misgivings by churches in charge of the basilica. The centuries-old basilica is located in a part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank where the Palestinians have self-rule and they see UNESCO's decision as validation of their rights to the territory.
The World Heritage designation protects nearly 1,000 of the world's most stunning cultural and natural sites. The addition on UNESCO's prestigious list means the sites receive international monitoring, increased exposure and funding for preservation.