World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, island, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO
) as of special cultural or physical significance (see list of World Heritage Sites). The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO
World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO
member states which are elected by the General Assembly. The programme 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 the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO
on 16 November 1972. Since then, 191 states parties have ratified the Convention, making it one of the most adhered to international instruments. Only Liechtenstein, Nauru, Somalia, South Sudan, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu are not Party to the Convention. As of 2002, 1007 sites are listed: 779 cultural, 197 natural, and 31 mixed properties, in 161 states parties. By sites ranked by country, Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites with 50 sites, followed by China (47), Spain (44), France (39), Germany (39), Mexico (32) and India (32). UNESCO
references each World Heritage Site with an identification number; however, new inscriptions often include previous sites now listed as part of larger descriptions. As a result, the identification numbers exceed 1,200 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.