I have a fascination with World Heritage Sites. I can’t really explain why, but my logic says that if it is unique and worth preserving for posterity, then it must be worth seeing. With that in mind, I decided to put together what I believe to be 10 of the best world heritage sites in Italy.
When I was thinking about writing this, I was amazed when I started totalling up the number of sites I have visited around the world. For the most part, they have been impressive and I have rarely been disappointed.
The World Heritage Committee was established in 1976 and the first sites on the World Heritage List were added to the list in 1978. Each year more sites are added. There are currently 1073 sites on the list located in 162 countries. They are broken down as follows: 832 cultural sites, 206 natural sites and 35 mixed sites.
This is a walk down memory lane for me and I hope that you will enjoy the trip as well. These are some of my favourite sites.
The Best World Heritage Sites in Italy
The historic centre of Florence
Florence was built on an Etruscan settlement. During the Renaissance and the reign of the Medicis in the 15th and 16th centuries, it developed a strong economy and became a cultural centre. The centre covers 505 ha and it still has the 14th-century city walls as a boundary. The city is filled with magnificent examples of art, architecture and sculptures.
Venice and its Lagoon
Venice was founded in the 5th century and became a major seagoing power by the 10th century. It is spread across 118 islands and covers 50 000 km². It was one of the greatest capitals in the medieval world. There still is a wealth of art and architectural masterpieces throughout the city to explore.
Discover more: Venice 3 day city guide
Naples was established by the Greeks in 470 B.C. Visiting Naples is like travelling in a time machine with glimpses of the past all around you. From the piazzas, churches, monuments, cobbled streets and castles it is a treasure trove of artistic and historical sights. It is vibrant and colourful and exudes life. People either love it or hate it, there seems to be no middle ground. I love it!
City Guide: What to do in Naples
Herculaneum is the sister site to Pompei but is easier to explore and not as well known. It is a fascinating site to visit as it is so well preserved. It is also really close to Naples and easy to get to.
Planning: Visiting Herculaneum
Pisa in Tuscany is a historic town near the mouth of the Arno river. The main attractions are grouped together in the Campo dei Miracoli or the Field of Miracles. The Unesco accreditation is for the Piazza del Duomo where you will find a group of world-famous monuments. There are 4 significant medieval buildings – the cathedral, the campanile (leaning tower), the baptistery and the cemetery all of which are magnificent so it makes it a really easy city to go sightseeing in.
Santa Maria delle Grazie and The Last Supper
The refractory of the convent, in Milan, was begun in 1463 and remodelled at the end of the 15th century. On the north wall is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper which was painted between 1495 and 1497. He painted it directly on drywall which means it’s technically not a fresco (which is normally painted on wet plaster) even though it might look like it is. Due to the technique used the painting started decaying within years of completion.
City Guide: The Ultimate guide to Milan
Historic Centre of San Gimignano
San Gimignano is not far from Florence. It was an important town for pilgrims following the Via Francigena route to Rome. There were 72 tower houses built, but only 14 remain today. It is a beautiful little town and also has some interesting pieces of art dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. Try and add it to your Italian itinerary and you won’t be disappointed.
The Amalfi Coast
This coastline is breathtakingly beautiful. When you see it you can’t help but be in awe of the natural diversity and the physical beauty. The terrain is rugged with vineyards, orchards and houses dotting the slopes. Towns like Amalfi and Ravello have some amazing buildings and works of art to explore. It has so much to offer it is easy to get lost there for a week or more.
Gateway to the Amalfi Coast: Sorrento
Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna
Ravenna featured prominently in Italian history from the 5th century. It was the seat of the Roman Empire and then Byzantine Italy until the 8th century. There are 8 buildings that were built during the 5th and 6th centuries. They are filled with a mixture of both Christian and Eastern styled mosaics which are beautifully preserved and well worth seeing.
Historic Centre of Rome
Interestingly enough the classification also includes some of the properties owned by the Vatican that are outside the boundaries of the state.
Legend has it that Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC. It was the centre of the Roman Empire and then became the capital of the Christian world in the 4th century. The heritage status applies to the walls of the city and some of the main monuments including the Forum, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column and the Column of Marcus Aurelius. It also includes some of the religious and public buildings of papal Rome.
Rome: Top 10 Attractions
You don’t have to be a culture vulture or a history buff to enjoy the world heritage sites. Find the time to explore what is available locally. Unesco has a fabulously detailed site, but to be honest most of it is quite boring. It does, however, have a good list that you can use to explore further.
Compiling this list of the best world heritage sites in Italy brought back many happy memories of my visits to Italy. With everything that is happening in the world today who knows how much longer these amazing treasure will be around. Make the most of them while you can!
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