A couple of ancient Greeks first wrote about the seven wonders of the world, but most people would admit there are a lot more than seven places or things on this planet, whether ancient or modern, manmade or natural, alive or inanimate, that would leave them in awe and wonder.
The United Nations has identified 1,121 such sites, landmarks or areas that have cultural, historical, or scientific significance, exceptional natural beauty, biological diversity or other outstanding international importance and deserve special protection.
But 53 World Heritage Sites are considered in danger, threatened or already seriously damaged by deterioration, development, tourism, climate change, abandonment, war, natural disasters and other calamities.
These are some of those places.
Above, roseate spoonbills in the Florida Everglades. Descriptions of the sites are from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO.)
Wonders of the World That Are in Imminent DangerBamiyan Valley , Afghanistan
The cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley date back to the first to 13th centuries, and contain numerous Buddhist monastic ensembles and sanctuaries, as well as fortified edifices from the Islamic period. Two standing Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. This image shows the valley and the niches in the cliff where the Buddhas once stood.
Historic Center of Vienna
Vienna's historic city center is rich in architecture and Baroque castles and gardens, and features the late-19th-century Ringstrasse lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks. The area is in danger due to high-rise projects being built in the middle of the Austrian capital.
City of Potosi, Bolivia
Continuous and uncontrolled mining operations nearby threaten to degrade this 16th-century city that was in its time the world's largest industrial complex. The colonial city has superb monuments of an Andean Baroque architectural style that incorporates Indian influences, and an intricate system of aqueducts and artificial lakes.
National Parks and Reserves, Democratic Republic of the Congo
The rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are rich in biodiversity, with many rare species, primates, and elephants, and are the only refuge of the white rhino, which has been hunted to near extinction by rebel troops. Five of the country's national parks are listed as World Heritage Sites: the Garumba, Kahuzi-Biega, Salonga, and Virunga National Parks, and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, and all are listed in danger. Pictured is a young gorilla in Virunga National Park, where some 20,000 hippopotamuses live in the rivers, and birds from Siberia spend the winter. These parks have been at risk since the outbreak of the Great Lakes conflict in 1994, a mass exodus of over two million Rwandans in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Poaching for the exotic animal or ivory trade is harming the very existence of the wildlife.
Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Honduras
One of the few remains of tropical rainforest in Central America, this reserve has abundant and varied plant and wildlife. The mountainous landscape slopes down to the Caribbean coast, and over 2,000 indigenous people have preserved their traditional way of life here.
Illegal logging, fishing, land occupation, poaching and the reduced capacity of the government to manage the site, notably due to the deterioration of law and to the presence of drug traffickers, are threatening this richly diverse place.
Photo: Marcio Martínez/Wikipedia
Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia
Poaching, illegal logging, agricultural encroachment, and plans to build roads through this forest threaten the 6.1 million-acre site of exceptional biodiversity, made up of three national parks and home to many endangered species. Indonesia's highest volcano is here, along with stunningly beautiful forests, lakes, waterfalls, cave systems and steep rocky backdrops.
Above, protected Sumatran elephants bathe in the river in the region.
Photo: Sertan Yaman / Shutterstock
Samarra Archaeological City, Iraq
Samarra was the ancient capital of a major Islamic empire dating from 836 to 892 that extended from Tunisia to Central Asia. Because it was abandoned relatively early and thus avoided the constant rebuilding that usually occurs in longer lasting cities, Samarra has the best preserved plan of any ancient large city. Two mosques display unique Islamic architecture. Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, the property has been occupied by multi-national forces that use it for military operations. Eighty percent of the site remains to be excavated by archaeologists. Two other sites in Iraq are also in danger: Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat) and Hatra.
Old City of Jerusalem and Its Walls
As a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem has always been of great symbolic importance. The seventh-century Dome of the Rock, shown here, is among its 220 historic monuments, and is decorated with beautiful geometric and floral motifs. The Wailing Wall delimits the quarters of the different religious communities, while the Resurrection rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses Christ's tomb.
Threats to the site include the destruction of religious properties, urban development plans, deterioration of monuments due to lack of maintenance and responsible management, and the disastrous impact of tourism, UNESCO says.
Lake Turkana National Parks, Kenya
Three national parks here totaling nearly 400,000 acres serve as a stopover for migrant waterfowl and are major breeding grounds for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus and a variety of venomous snakes. The geology and fossil record represents major stages of earth's history and records of early human life. One deposit of fossil remains has contributed more to the understanding of paleo-environments than any other site in Africa.
A dam in Ethiopia is disrupting the flow and ecosystem of Lake Turkana, and the Kuraz Sugar Development Project poses further threat to the site.
Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna, Libya
Leptis Magna was enlarged and embellished by Septimius Severus, a Roman emperor who was born there. It was one of the most beautiful cities of the Roman Empire, with its imposing public monuments, harbor, market-place, storehouses, shops and residential districts. Ongoing conflict and instability in Libya, as well as armed groups present on the site, are causing damage.
Archaeological Site of Sabratha, Libya
This Phoenician trading post served as an outlet for the products of the African hinterland and was part of the short-lived Numidian Kingdom of Massinissa before the Romans came and rebuilt it in the second and third centuries A.D. Ongoing conflict and instability in Libya, as well as armed groups present on the site, threaten damage to the site.
Old Town of Ghadames, Libya
"The pearl of the desert" stands in an oasis, and is one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities in the world. Homes were designed with a ground floor used to store supplies, another floor for the family, and overhanging covered alleys that create what is almost an underground network of passageways and, at the top, open-air terraces reserved for the women. Ongoing conflict and instability in Libya, as well as armed groups on the site, threaten damage to this treasure.
Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus, Libya
This rocky massif in the Sahara has thousands of cave paintings in very different styles, dating from 12,000 B.C. to A.D. 100. It is yet another site in Libya endangered by conflict.
Rainforests of the Atsinanana, Madagascar
These six national parks along the eastern part of Madagascar are critically important for maintaining ongoing ecological processes necessary for the survival of Madagascar's unique biodiversity. Many species are rare and threatened, especially the primates and lemurs. Illegal logging and hunting of endangered lemurs (pictured) are the main threats.
Old Towns of Djenne, Mali
Inhabited since 250 B.C., Djenne became a market center and an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was one of the centers for the propagation of Islam. Its traditional houses, of which nearly 2,000 have survived, are built on hillocks to protect them from seasonal flooding. Insecurity is affecting the area and preventing the implementation of protective measures.
The Gulf of California, Mexico
These islands and protected areas, once dubbed the "Aquarium of the World," is a strikingly beautiful place with 244 islands, islets and coastal areas in Mexico's Gulf of California.
Rugged islands of high cliffs, sandy beaches and turquoise waters are home to an extraordinary number of fish species, 39% of the world's total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world's species of whales and dolphins. The threatened status is due to the current vulnerable situation of the nearly extinct vaquita, a type of porpoise, whose population has drastically declined mainly due to unsustainable illegal fishing practices.
Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia
The Nan Madol ruins represent the ceremonial center of the Saudeleur dynasty, a vibrant period in Pacific Island culture. It is a series of more than 100 islets that were constructed with walls of basalt and coral boulders. These islets harbor the remains of stone palaces, temples, tombs and residential domains built between 1200 and 1500. The site is threatened by siltation of waterways that is contributing to the unchecked growth of mangroves and undermining existing edifices.
Photo: © Osamu Kataoka via UNESCO
Land of Olives and Vines - Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir, Palestine
This series of farmed valleys features characteristic stone terraces, some irrigated for market garden production and others dry and planted with grapevines and olive trees.
The landscape had become vulnerable due to construction of a separation wall that may isolate farmers from fields they have cultivated for centuries.
Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, Peru
Chan Chan, the largest earthen city of pre-Columbian America, was the capital of the 15th-century Chimu Kingdom which ultimately fell to the Incas. A masterpiece of town planning, it reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by the city's division into nine citadels or palaces forming autonomous units.
Climate change, such as as changes in precipitation and drought cycles, humidity, water-table levels and ensuing soil chemistry will impact the conservation of the archaeological remains.
Niokolo-Koba National Park, Senegal
Located along the banks of the Gambia river, the forests and savannas of this park are home to diverse wildlife, including antelopes, chimpanzees, lions, leopards, elephants, numerous birds, reptiles and amphibians. The site is harmed by poaching and endangered by plans to construct a dam on the Gambia river just upstream from the property. The dam threatens to stop the flooding of the grassland which is essential to sustain wildlife.
Medieval Monuments in Kosovo
Recognized for its Byzantine-Romanesque ecclesiastical culture that developed in the Balkans between the 13th and 17th centuries, these churches and monasteries display a distinct style of wall painting. Difficulties in its management and conservation stem from the region's political instability.
Photo: mastapiece/ Shutterstock
East Rennell, Solomon Islands
This southernmost island of the Solomons in the western Pacific is part of the largest raised coral atoll in the world. A major feature of the island is the brackish Lake Tegano, home to many endemic species. The island is mostly covered with dense forest and a natural laboratory for scientific study. Harmful logging is affecting the ecosystem.
Ancient City of Damascus, Syria
Conflict in Syria threatens Damascus, one of the oldest cities in the world, founded in roughly 5,000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, it was the center of a flourishing craft industry, specializing in swords and lace. The city has some 125 monuments from different periods of history - one of the most spectacular is the eighth-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads, pictured here. Five other historic sites in Syria are also in danger due to conflict in the country.
Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi, Uganda
Most of this site is agricultural, farmed by traditional methods. At its core on the hilltop is the former palace of the Kabakas of Buganda, built in 1882. Four royal tombs now lie within the main building, a major example of an architectural achievement in organic materials, principally wood, thatch, reed, wattle and daub. The site's main significance lies, however, in its intangible values of belief, spirituality, continuity and identity.
In 2010, a fire ravaged the tombs. Youth apprentices from the Buganda community are helping with the reconstruction, overseen by elders who guide them in traditional building techniques. Despite several delays, the reconstruction process is slowly progressing.
Photo: Lazare Eloundou Assomo/UNESCO
Maritime Mercantile City, Liverpool, England
The historic center of Liverpool and its docklands are a testimony to the development of the city as one of the world's major trading spots in the 1700-1800s. It bears witness to the important role of the city in the growth of the British Empire as a major port for the mass movement of people, including slaves and emigrants from northern Europe to America.
The proposed construction of Liverpool Waters, a massive $7 billion redevelopment of the historic docklands that could take 50 years, will significantly alter the skyline.
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Large numbers of elephants, black rhinoceroses, cheetahs, giraffes, hippopotamuses and crocodiles live in this immense sanctuary, which measures 50,000 square kilometers and is relatively undisturbed by human impact. Widespread poaching is decimating wildlife populations on the property, especially elephants and rhino, whose numbers have dropped by almost 90% since 1982, when the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Southern Florida's "river of grass" contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America. The variety of its water habitats has made it a sanctuary for a large number of birds and reptiles, as well as for threatened species such as the manatee. Reduced water inflows have caused serious degradation of its aquatic ecosystem and pollution is causing harmful algae growth, loss of marine habitat and a subsequent decline in marine species. Pictured is a purple gallinule, a type of rail that uses its large feet to walk across lily pads.
Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz, Uzbekistan
The Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz, located on the Silk Road in southern Uzbekistan, is over 2,000 years old and contains a collection of exceptional monuments and ancient quarters which bear witness to the city's secular development, its peak, under the rule of Amir Temur and the Temurids in the 15th-16th century. The area is threatened by over-development of tourist infrastructure in the site. Pictured is a mausoleum in historic Shakhrisabz.
Photo: beibaoke / Shutterstock
Coro and its Port, Venezuela
Coro is the only surviving example of a rich fusion of local traditions with Spanish Mudejar and Dutch architectural techniques. One of the first colonial towns (founded in 1527), it has some 602 historic buildings. The city was damaged by unusual rains in late 2004 and early 2005.
Historic Town of Zabid, Yemen
Zabid's domestic and military architecture and its urban plan make it an outstanding archaeological and historical site. Besides being the capital of Yemen from the 13th to the 15th century, the city played an important role in the Arab and Muslim world for many centuries because of its Islamic university. The site is suffering from serious deterioration.
Photo: Claudiovidri / Shutterstock