Italy has long enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most historically significant countries in the world, and with good reason – it’s was the birthplace of the sweeping Roman Empire for a start! Fittingly, the Bel Paese is home to a whopping 51 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is the most of any other country in the world and three more than the second runner-up, China.
In fact, the country has so many globally recognised historical sites that they decided not to put forward any candidates for the 2016 UNESCO World Heritage shortlist. So yes, Italy has so many UNESCO sites that they decided it was only fair to give the other countries a shot!
What’s the deal with UNESCO status?
UNESCO sites are accredited by the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which became part of the UNESCO General Conference in the 1970s. To be considered as a World Heritage site, a destination has to define its culture or country in some way, be it through archeology, architecture, that natural environment, etc. In short – a UNESCO site somehow distills a certain part of a country’s way of life into a tangible reality. It allows you to taste, see, feel, smell and hear a part of what makes Italy Italy.
If you’re heading to Italy for a holiday and keen to sample a few of its choicest UNESCO sites, you may want to include the following destinations on your itinerary:
Milan is renowned for the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie that is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper painting, both of which date from the 1400s. Remember to book tickets before you go!
Venice was chosen as an architectural masterpiece – built on 118 separate islands, this structural marvel is home to many impressive buildings, including the Doge’s Palace and Basilica San Marco.
The Cinque Terre is set amidst some of the world’s most dramatic coastal scenery and has been deemed iconic enough to receive UNESCO World Heritage status, due to its role in preserving a traditional way of life that has existed for millennia. In fact, the Italians are so serious about maintaining Cinque Terre’s natural and cultural wonders that the entire region has been declared a park – towns and all!
Rome is filled to the rafters with ancient Roman monuments, including the famous Colosseum, Roman forum, ancient markets, and Roman baths. In fact, you can barely make your way down a cobbled street without walking in the steps of a pope or emperor!
Florence has a dense historic centre that is crammed full of priceless art works and monuments to the vibrant Renaissance period. This includes the baptistery and bell tower on the Piazza del Duomo, as well as Brunelleschi’s Dome at the gothic cathedral, not to mention the surfeit of art works by the greats like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Giotto!
Pisa’s Field of Miracles, as the Piazza del Duomo is commonly known, is home to one of the best-preserved groupings of Romanesque buildings in all of Europe, including the world-famous leaning Tower of Pisa!
San Gimignano used to be the epicentre of trade for pilgrims on their way to Rome along the Via Francigena route. Here modern-day visitors can enjoy the region’s distinct medieval atmosphere and marvel at the 14 surviving towers that form part of the walled hill town’s architectural heritage.
Siena was one of Europe’s most affluent cities between the 1100s and 1400s, and still retains its classic Gothic appearance. Built as an work of art that was meant to merge seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, the entire of city of Siena fans out from the fan-shaped piazza, Piazza del Campo – a must-visit for any history buff.
Assisi is renowned as being the hometown of Italy’s patron saint, as well as the birthplace of the Franciscan order. This Umbrian hill town watches over many priceless medieval art works and remains an important pilgrimage destination to this day.
Pompeii was buried under 6 metres of pumice and ash as the result of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in 79AD, and was rediscovered in 1599 as the result of an extensive excavation that revealed exceptionally well-preserved relics. This amazing find gave modern historians and archaeologists a deeper insight into the everyday lives of the ancient Romans, and today visitors are able to step back in time to walk among Roman homes, forums, amphitheatres and brothels that were literally frozen in time.
The Amalfi Coast comprises some of Italy’s most scenic stretches of shoreline and is home to a plethora of quaint medieval villages that hold countless works of art and architecture that hark back to its heyday as maritime republic in the middle ages.
Sicily, along with sister island Sardinia, have six UNESCO sites between them, including Baroque towns, Greek and Roman sites and prehistoric sites – all of great archeological importance.
The list of sites to see in Italy is absolutely endless! Add it to your list in every destination between sampling gelato and taking your morning coffee on the piazza! Have you visited a UNESCO site in Italy?