Did you know Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world?
UNESCO, the United Nations for Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, establishes each year and handful of sites around the globe, World Heritage Sites since 1972. That means those unique and diverse sites are landmarks that have some cultural, historical or scientific value that is important to humanity and they should be legally protected by international treaties. By accepting the World Heritage Site label, the countries where the site is located, promises to carry on the mission established by UNESCO to safeguard the site and promote the awareness around it.
As the UNESCO Committee said: “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”
Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world with 51 sites; 47 cultural and 4 natural sites.
By going to Italy and cross the country from North to South with train I got the chance to come across many of those UNESCO World Heritage Sites.Here are the Cultural World Heritage Sites I passed by and their amazing history and heritage:
Only one hour away from Naples, the ruins of Pompeii “provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world”. Despite the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 that destroyed a lot of the town, there are still a lot of remains of that ancient Roman civilization that show us how they used to live. As I walked through the streets well structured, pass by the very first pedestrian crosswalks ,the houses, temples and theaters , I could see how smart and sophisticated they were , how they were managing their city and how they gave importance to art, religion and politics. We did lean from that civilization and it is indeed important to preserve that past.
Assisi, the hilly medieval city few hours away from Rome, is a Religious town since it is the birthplace of the Franciscan Order. As a matter of fact, the day I visited the city the Pope was in the Basilica and so nobody was allowed to go in the premises. You will see there the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli that was built around Chapelle Porziuncola to preserve the Chapelle.
- Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci(1980)
I went to Milan few years ago and I had the chance to be able to see “The Last Supper” by Da Vinci. It is impossible to get a ticket as an individual and you have to go with a tour. They make you go to a small room first and then to the big room with the painting on. The first room looks like the disinfestation rooms that you see in the movies. You can’t stay in front of the masterpiece for too long but they give you enough time to appreciate it.
- Costiera Amalfitana(1997)
The Amalfi Coast is formed by small villages that are clinging to the mountain. The bus ride between the villages through the very curvy road can be hard to handle for some people but the view is priceless. The famous villages that you can go to with the SITA bus are Sorrento, Positano, my favorite, Amalfi, Ravello and Salerno. Each village will dazzle you with its colorful houses, breathtaking costal view and amazing food. ‘Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution.”
Florence, symbol of the renaissance is an open air museum. No need to go inside any monument; the walk through the city is the way to see the beauty of the 600 years of artistic work. Here is a 2 day walking guide to admire that chef d’oeuvre.
Start at the Train Station from where you can see the Church of S Maria Novella. Take the small pedestrian streets to get to San Lorenzo Basilica and Palazzo Medici. You can quickly go inside both monuments if you want; but again I don’t think it’s worth it. However take a moment to admire the San Lorenzo Basilica from outside and go to the courtyard of Palazzo Medici to see the David by Donatello. Then, head to San Lorenzo Food and Flea Market. The covered food market is the perfect stop for lunch and the flea market is the perfect place for some souvenir purse shopping. After that cultural break, walk to the Duomo and the Baptistery. The entrance to the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is free but to go up the Duomo you will have to get tickets in advance. In front of the Duomo, in the middle of the Piazza you will see the Baptistery and the east door of it called Gate of Paradise. The Duomo Piazza and the Cathedral are just breathtaking. The Piazza next to it via the pedestrian passage of Via de Calzaiuoli is where is Piazza Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi, a lodge full of inspiring statues . Palazzo Vecchio is not an impressive palace if you have been to Versailles. You can easily skip it. You can seat at one of the cafes on that square like the Rivoire Café to take a moment to absorb all that beauty. Walk then towards Ponte Vecchio by passing by Uffizi Gallery Courtyard where you can admire statues and check out the work of the painters in the courtyard. You can admire the sunset from there or even better from the bridge next to it Ponte Trinite. The neighborhood of San Spirito next to those bridges is not that touristy yet and is full great locals’ restaurants and bar. Great way to finish that first walking tour day.
Start you day at Galleria dell Academia. Make sure you bought your ticket in advance as the line can get very long very fast. The museum is fairly small and the main attraction is the Statue of David by Michelangelo. David is enthroned in the middle of the museum. To see the rest of the museum, you should follow that 2 h guide– click here. You should then walk towards Via de Tomabuoni the shopping street of Florence for why not shopping session. Then cross that Ponte Trinite to go to Pitti Palace. The ticket will allow you to visit the palace, the exhibition, the Boboli Garden and the Bardini Garden. The only attractions worth visiting, I believe. The palace is beautiful and you will get the feel of the grandeur of the Italians monarch. The Boboli gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a cave on the corner of the garden; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence. You can go up the small narrow street of old Florence, classified UNESCO World heritage to go to Giardino Bardini Gardens. The Building is a museum and has a very interesting exhibiting. The gardens are bigger than Boboli garden and majestic. Finish your walk uphill at the Forte di Belvedere where you will have the best view of Florence and the sunset. For dinner you can head across the Arno River to Santa Croce.
I had the chance to stay in the old town defined by the Aragonese walls where the streets are narrow but full of life with its shops, busy cafes, pizza places and churches (Naples has 448 churches). The old town life doesn’t stop at night as it is close to the university and the students gather in the piazzas to enjoy a drink. By the bay you can enjoy the port and the castles or you can go up the hill to have the view of the whole Naples and Mt Vesuvius.
- Historic Center of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura(1980)
Capital of the Christian world since the 4th century, Rome is an open air museum with monuments of antiquity like the Colosseum, the complex of the Roman and the Imperial Forums, construction from Renaissance and Baroque periods like Piazza Novano and Pizza del Popolo and civil and religious buildings like Capitoline Hill.
How many modern cities can say they’ve been built around ancient monuments and they have been able to preserve and promote that heritage? You can add to that heritage the beauty from sites like the Fountain of Trevi or the Spanish Steps. To have energy to visit those sites make sure to have enough past and wine.
San Gimignano is a Tuscan gem. It is a medieval hilltop town. I had the chance to walk through the old narrow passages of that medieval town; the small shops have great souvenirs. You can see the triangular Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza del Duomo where you will found painters working on their art. What you will see a lot on those paintings is towers; indeed the patrician families who controlled the town built around 72 tower-houses as symbols of their wealth and power, however only 14 have survived. Go towards the walls, and it is a high town you will get to enjoy the view of all the nearby wineries.
- Historic Center of Siena(1995)
I took a tour of that city and met the guide at the main square Piazza del Campo. “This Tuscan city developed on three hills connected by three major streets forming a Y-shape and intersecting in a valley that became the Piazza del Campo.” Piazza del Campo is the home to Siena’s Horse race called Palio. That race, organized twice a year, see ten of the seventeen contrada or districts of the city circle the narrow piazza three times or usually 90 seconds after which there is only one jockey left on his horse. The palio maintains the rivalry that exists between all the contrada and reanimate all the passion people have for their contrada. We then had and chance to visit the Contrada’s Museum for Contrada of Aquila (Eagle) and learn the history behind that contrada. We then headed to Piazza del Duomo to admire the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta; what a majestic cathedral. We finally walked through the historic center of Siena that has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site to get to Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico.
The Boboli Gardens that you can visit with Pitti Palace are the proof of a sensibility for landscape aesthetics that was developed during Renaissance. The Boboli Gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up the garden you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a bizarre cave on the corner of the garden, the Buontalenti Grotto; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence showing the Florentine Mannerist style in a magical and beautiful way.
- Piazza del Duomo, Pisa(1987)
The Piazza is the place where all the Pisa must see are including the famous leaning tower of Pisa that “had a great influence on monumental art in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century.” You can go inside the tower and while going up you can feel the tower is leaning. You will always be attracted to the walls which makes the walking up the stairs a little bit difficult. From the top of the tower, you will have an amazing view of the Piazza and its monuments, the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Cemetery as well as the whole city.
- Cinque Terre (1997)
Cinque Terre has a “cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value. The layout and disposition of the small towns and the shaping of the surrounding landscape, overcoming the disadvantages of a steep, uneven terrain, encapsulate the continuous history of human settlement in this region over the past millennium.” Cinque Terre National Park situated in Northern Italy, is probably the most famous hiking area in Italy. Trails connect the colorful fisherman villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. The most popular trail is the Blue Trail; it will take you to the perfect hiking journey in that Rainbow Land.
- Venice and its Lagoon(1987)
“Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.”
Take a half a day tour of some Venetian Lagoon islands Murano, Burano and Torcello. The boat takes the San Marco Canal and passes along the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and Arsenale to get to Murano. Murano is famous for its glass manufacturing industry. Hence, we got to see a Glassmaking master at work in a factory. It was impressive to see how one can in just few minutes make an animal out of a liquid glass. We then went to Burano, famous for its lace and colorful fisherman houses. It was magical to be able to walk along all those colorful houses. You start your walk at the main square Piazza Galuppi, where you can visit the church of S. Martino, and then walk along the canal to discover the picturesque bright island. The tour ended with the 3rd island Torcello, the first center of civilization in the estuary. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the cathedral and the Church of S. Fosca.
See Venice like locals:
By the St Mark Square area you will see the Bridge of Sighs. You will pass by the uncompleted church of the Pietà by Canaletto but unfortunately it is in restoration and you can’t go inside for now. Then go to the Famous St Mark Basilica, admire the St Mark’s Clock Tower right next to it. You can go visit the tower and learn about the clock machinery by reserving in advance and go on top of St Mark Campanile Bell Tower. That elevator ride is worth it. You will have a beautiful view of St Mark Square and Venice in general. Visit the Dodge Palace or Palazzo Ducale. While visiting the palace you will pass inside the Bridge of Sighs and you will be able to see Venice from the inside.
Get a Vaporetto Ticket and ride along the Grand Canal. You will get to see all the Venetian style buildings like Palazzo Balbi, Ca Rezzonico by artist Canaletto or Ca D’oro, the 15th Century Gothic Palace and the Venice Casino, the world’s oldest casino built in 1638 and the beautiful city architecture. Hop on Vaporetto No 2 and go to island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Situated in front of St Mark Square. The Church of the same name built in the 16th Century, has a bell tower that gives you a great view of Venice.
Don’t lock yourself in the museums and explore the Dorsoduro neighborhood by foot instead. Start your walk at Rialto Bridge. The Bridge is being restored but you can still enjoy one side of it. Walk along the canal to get to San Toma Vaporatto Stop. From there you can walk towards Frari Church inside of which you can see art from Venetian artist Titian. Along the walk you can see the Ca Fasconi University and Scuola Grande di San Rocco Museum where all the arts in the building are from artist Tintoretto. Around the same neighborhood, by Squero San Trovaso you can pass by a little construction site; it’s where they make the gondolas. Walk towards the end of the island, Punta della Dogana, to go to see the Guggenheim garden. Gorgeous. Visit the Santa Maria della Salute Church and just relax by sitting on those stairs and admire the Grand Canal. Cross the Accademia Bridge and go to La Fenice Theater. If you have time, go see a representation at night. If not, you can take a tour of the inside during the day. If they are having rehearsals some parts of the theater will be closed.