A 3,000-year-old road that runs from Colombia to Chile and winds through four other countries along the way is officially seeking protection. The South American countries (Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, and Bolivia are also among them) have banded together to ask that 435 miles of the Qhapaq Ñan or "great road," be recognized as a World Heritage site, reports the New York Times, which puts the road's full original length at 20,000 miles. The road, which includes the last Inca rope bridge in existence, is one of 12 natural and cultural attractions the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is currently reviewing in Doha, Qatar.
"It's the most expansive piece of infrastructure relating to transportation in the New World," a Harvard professor explains, one that got its start as a trail system as far back as 1000 BC and was fully developed by the Incas in the 1400s—and used by conquistadors in the next century to overpower them. If designated a World Heritage site, portions of the Qhapaq Ñan would see special protections from threats that range from encroaching farms to communication towers and transmission lines. Other sites up for designation include parts of China's Silk Roads, Judean caves in Israel, a prehistoric cave in France, and the Rani-ki-Vav, or Queen’s Stepwell, in India. (Read more UNESCO stories.)