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World Heritage SitesA UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance. The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 state parties which are elected by their General Assembly.

The program catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity. Under certain conditions, listed sites can obtain funds from the World Heritage Fund. The programme was founded with the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on November 16, 1972. Since then, 186 state parties have ratified the convention.

As of 2010, 911 sites are listed: 704 cultural, 180 natural, and 27 mixed properties, in 151 States Parties. Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites to date with 45 sites inscribed on the list. UNESCO references each World Heritage Site with an identification number; but new inscriptions often include previous sites now listed as part of larger descriptions. As a result, the identification numbers exceed 1200 even though there are fewer on the list.

While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located, UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.

In 1954, the government of Egypt decided to build the Aswan Dam (Aswan High Dam), an event that would flood a valley containing treasures of ancient Egypt such as the Abu Simbel temples. UNESCO then launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign. The Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.

The cost of the project was US$ 80 million, about $ 40 million of which was collected from 50 countries. The project was regarded as a success, and led to other safeguarding campaigns, saving Venice and its lagoon in Italy, the ruins of Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan, and the Borobodur Temple Compounds in Indonesia. UNESCO then initiated, with the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a draft convention to protect the common cultural heritage of humanity.

The United States initiated the idea of combining cultural conservation with nature conservation. A White House conference in 1965 called for a ‘World Heritage Trust’ to preserve "the world's superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry." The International Union for Conservation of Nature developed similar proposals in 1968, and they were presented in 1972 to the United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm.

A single text was agreed on by all parties, and the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972.

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