You have probably come across UNESCO World Heritage Sites, during your travels or while planning your next holiday. There are more than 1000 such sites scattered all over the world and most countries have at least one. There are some countries that have an astonishing number of UNESCO sites and with a whopping 55 such sites, Italy tops that list. Before talking about some of those sites, let’s understand what exactly is a UNESCO world heritage site.
UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – a specialized agency of the United Nations. The organization selects landmark sites from all around the globe that have universal value to humanity (be it cultural or natural), to protect them for future generations. Being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not only helps its conservation, but also boosts its tourism value. It is worth noting that every year new sites get added to the list and the numbers we mentioned may change.
There are only two countries in the world that have more than 50 UNESCO world heritage sites – Italy and China. As of 2020, both the countries have 55 each. Italy has 5 natural and 50 cultural sites and visiting all the sites in one trip can be quite challenging. Therefore, we have selected the top 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit on your next trip to Italy.
The historic centre of Italy’s capital Rome, which Italy shares with the Vatican City, was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1980. Some of the most celebrated sites in Rome are Colosseum, Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain.
Colosseum – The Colosseum is a giant amphitheatre, built around 70 AD as a gift to the Roman people. With over 80 entrances, the amphitheatre had a seating capacity of about 50,000 spectators, and hosted games like gladiator combat.
Roman Forum – The historical site of Roman Forum was the vibrant heart of ancient Rome where people mingled and which was a venue for religious ceremonies, public meetings and criminal trials. Some of the sites to visit in the Roman Forum include the Temple of Antoninus Pius, Temple of Castor and Pollux, Temple of Saturn, Arch of Septimius Severus, the Curia, Temple of Vesta, House of the Vestals and Arch of Titus.
Pantheon – One of the most well-preserved monuments of ancient Rome is the Pantheon, a former Roman temple turned Catholic church. Built around 128 AD, it functioned as a Pagan temple until 609 AD, when it was converted to a Christian Church by Pope Boniface IV.
Trevi Fountain – At 26m tall and 49m wide, Trevi Fountain is Rome’s largest and most popular fountain. According to a legend, if you throw one coin in the fountain, you will return to Rome, throw two coins and you will fall in love with an Italian, and throwing three coins will get you married to that person. This is the reason why you see so many people tossing coins into the fountain. It is estimated that every day, 3000 euros are tossed into the fountain by visitors, which goes towards a charity to help the poor and homeless.
Venice and its lagoon have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, and even if you haven’t been to Venice, you have probably seen it in numerous movies or television shows. Since its inception, Venice has been one of the most important seaports.
Today, Venice is known for its romantic gondola cruises, architectural heritage and photogenic atmosphere. The city has only one main road and some side streets which makes its canals the primary means of transportation. Some of Venice’s must visit sites are St Mark’s Square and Basilica, Palazzo Ducale (also known as Doge’s Palace) and Rialto Bridge.
St. Mark’s Square (also known as Piazza San Marco or La Piazza) is the largest square in Venice, and is located at the end of Venetian waterway. In the heart of the square lies the St. Mark’s Basilica.
Doge’s Palace was the official residence of the Doge (chief magistrate) of Venice during the Venetian Republic. It is next to St. Mark’s Basilica.
The Rialto stone arch bridge (or Ponte di Rialto) is the oldest of four bridges of Venice’s Grand Canal and has seen several rebuilds since its inception. You can enjoy majestic views of the bridge, while dining at one of the numerous restaurants that line the Grand Canal.
Florence’s historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. The city is known for its abundance of Renaissance art and architecture. Some of its must visit sites include Piazza del Duomo, Florence Cathedral, the Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi.
The impressive Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) is the center of Florence. The square is dominated by structures like the massive Florence Cathedral, Giotto’s Bell Tower and The Baptistery of St. John. You can climb up to the top of the dome of Florence Cathedraland for an amazing view of the cityscape of Florence.
Piazza della Signoria is an L shaped public square known for its display of various Renaissance sculptures including a copy of Michelangelo’s David. Overlooking the square is Palazzo Vecchio – a historic town hall. Loggia dei Lanzi is a building located on a corner of Piazza della Signoria and is a popular open-air sculpture gallery.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cinque Terre (which in Italian means five lands) is a cluster of 5 picturesque villages in the Italian Riviera – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. The Cinque Terre region can be characterized by its colourful buildings, impressive history, hilly terrain and excellent seaside views.
While all the five villages command a beautiful setting and offer amazing views, the village of Riomaggiore is particularly known for its beautiful sunsets, botanical garden and bird watching centre. Manarola is surrounded by vineyards that produce the excellent Cinque Terre wine – Sciacchetra. Corniglia, which is also surrounded by vineyards has only one drawback – it has no direct access to the sea, but then, it has the only lookout from where you can see all the five villages at once. The northernmost village, Monterosso al Mare is the only one that has a proper beach.
The archaeological areas of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997. One of the most deadly volcanic eruptions that ever occurred on earth, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed Pompeii and killed around 2,000 people. Pompeii had remained abandoned for centuries, when a group of explorers rediscovered it and found the city almost intact underneath a thick layer of volcanic debris. Archaeologists have since uncovered buildings, human skeletons and household goods like loaves of bread that got preserved in the volcanic ash.
Some of Pompeii’s must-see attractions include the House of the Faun, Forum at Pompeii, Amphitheatre of Pompeii and Temple of Apollo.
The ruins of Pompeii are one of the world’s most fascinating (some would also say eeriest) archaeological sites and a reminder of how defenseless we are from wrath of mother nature.
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