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Lehigh Valley Live: Think historic Moravian Bethlehem is a world wonder? How you could help make it official.

January 13th, 2021 |

Written by Sara K. Satullo for Lehigh Valley Live

Bethlehem’s historic Moravian settlement is on the U.S. UNESCO World Heritage site short list and it needs help earning the nomination.

Bethlehem’s almost 15-acre historic Moravian settlement first landed on the U.S.’s tentative nomination list in 2016 after 14 years of advocacy.

It’s an arduous process to even be considered to join the UNESCO — United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization — list of more than 1,100 sites worldwide. The U.S. boasts just 24, two of them in Pennsylvania: Independence Hall and architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

Historic Moravian Bethlehem would love to become the 25th American attraction.


On Monday, the tourist destination appeared in a Federal Register notice Monday seeking public input on the next potential nomination to the World Heritage List.


Nominees on the tentative list vie to be one of the two sites the U.S. Department of Interior can nominate each year to be selected by UNESCO. New additions to the list cannot be nominated for at least a year.


World Heritage sites do not receive funding, but the designation signals to travelers that these are must-see tourist destinations. Some of the spots include the pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China.


Officials hope inclusion would elevate Bethlehem’s reputation as a Colonial-era historic site.


“Located in the heart of downtown Bethlehem, the site’s original architecture along with its town planning across 14.7 acres, 10 structures, several ruins and a cemetery, stands today as a reflection of and tribute to the resilience of a community built on universal human ideals that are essential and relevant to this day,” Historic Bethlehem Museum & Sites said in a press release.

Bethlehem’s Moravian settlement preserves some of the most important structures and sites relating to Moravians “in the New World and is significant as an outstanding example of Moravian architecture and town planning. The settlement played a key role in both the international and American Moravian communities,” the release states.


Bethlehem’s World Heritage Commission’s been pursuing the international honor since the city landed on the shortlist in 2016.


As Historic Bethlehem’s Executive Director Charlene Donchez Mowers has fought to get Bethlehem onto the nomination list, she’s networked internationally with other Moravian communities and they’ve joined the effort. A delegation from Denmark visited Bethlehem in 2015.


Historic Bethlehem is working with the Moravian community of Herrnhut, Germany, to extend the 2015 World Heritage listing of Denmark’s historic Moravian community Christiansfeld to Herrnhut, Bethlehem and possibly other historic Moravian communities around the world.


The comment period for the nomination is open through Jan. 26. Letters of support can be mailed to: Jonathan Putnam, Office of International Affairs, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240 or by email to:

The U.S. proposed the World Heritage Convention to UNESCO in 1972. The World Heritage Program promotes local and international cooperation with the aim of preserving national and cultural heritage.


Nominations for the U.S. World Heritage site designation are at the discretion of the assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife parks, but there is no set schedule. The World Heritage Committee’s rules limit countries to two nominees a year.


Since 2011, there has been a prohibition on the U.S. paying dues to UNESCO or the World Heritage fund, which does create uncertainty about American’s ability to make nominations.


In 2012, the Moravian settlement was designated as one of the nation’s approximately 200 National Historic Landmark Districts.

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