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UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit in Italy

Author: Charlotte Boswell

Renowned for its rich history, traditional cultures and breathtaking landscapes, it is not surprising Italy is home to the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. These sites not only showcase Italy's cultural and natural diversity but also serve as a testament to the country's significant contributions to art, architecture, and civilization. Take a read as we explore some of the most iconic UNESCO sites in Italy, each offering a unique glimpse into the country's past and present.

1 Historic Centre of Rome

Roman Forum, Rome

The Historic Centre of Rome is a testament to the city's enduring history and influence on the world. Founded on the banks of the Tiber in 753 B.C., Rome became the centre of the Roman Empire before becoming the capital of the Christian world in the fourth century. From the awe-inspiring Colosseum to the magnificent Roman Forum, and the iconic Pantheon, this area is a living museum of ancient Rome. The inclusion of the Vatican City, an independent state within Rome, adds spiritual significance to this UNESCO site, which houses St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

2Sassi di Matera

Sassi di Matera
Sassi di Matera

The Sassi di Matera are two districts in Matera which are well-known for their ancient cave dwellings that have been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. Dating back over 9,000 years, the complex labyrinth of homes, churches, and caves interconnected by winding alleyways create a captivating, otherworldly atmosphere. The unique rock-hewn architecture of the Sassi, with its simple and rustic facades, reflects the harmonious integration of man-made structures with the natural landscape. Over the centuries, the Sassi have undergone significant transformations, from their humble origins as prehistoric dwellings to later becoming a bustling medieval city, to the restoration of the 1980s.

3Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre
Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Located on the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region of Italy, ‘Cinque Terre’ translates to ‘Five Lands’ and refers to five picturesque coastal villages that are known for their natural beauty and pastel-coloured buildings that cling to the dramatic cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The towns that make up the Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare; all of which offer a prime location along with traditional trattorias and sweeping views. The layout and disposition of these beautiful villages, and the shaping of the surrounding landscape, encapsulates the continuous history of human settlement in this area.

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4Pompei & Herculaneum

Pompei Ruins

Located in southern Italy’s Campania region, the archaeological areas of Pompei and Herculaneum are two of the country’s most poignant UNESCO sites. These ancient Roman towns were frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, offering an unparalleled glimpse into daily life in antiquity - the remarkably preserved buildings, frescoes, and artifacts tell a compelling story of Roman civilization. Pompei which was buried in 79 A.D. is home to the Villa of the mysteries, the city’s amphitheatre, the Catholic pilgrimage site of the Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Rosary boasts excellent mosaics and a grand cupola.

5 Historic Centre of Florence

Florence skyline
Florence skyline

Situated in the beautiful region of Tuscany, Florence is a city steeped in art and culture. The Historic Centre of Florence was designated UNESCO status in 1982 due to its significance as a cradle of the Renaissance and a place of immense cultural and historical value. The city is home to world-famous treasures, including the Uffizi Gallery, housing masterpieces by artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli, as well as the Florence Cathedral and its iconic dome designed by Brunelleschi, the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti which was once the home to the powerful Medici family.

6 Historic Centre of Siena

Siena skyline
Siena skyline

Another Tuscan UNESCO site is the Historic Centre of Siena, a medieval gem renowned for its Gothic architecture and the famous Piazza del Campo, where the Palio horse race takes place twice a year. Siena's historic centre is a living example of medieval urban planning and is home to masterpieces like the Duomo di Siena, one of Italy’s most illustrious Gothic cathedrals that majestically rises in the city square, and the Torre de Mangia, a tower built between 1338 and 1348 which visitors can now climb to enjoy spectacular views of Siena and the surrounding countryside.

Images of Morocco

Images of Puglia

Less visited than other parts of Italy, Puglia is a region rich with southern Italian charm, white-washed coastal towns and unique villages. Located in the heel of Italy’s boot, this 10-day itinerary encompasses Puglia and Basilicata’s well-known highlights as well as regional hidden gems.

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7 Venice Lagoon

Venice Lagoon
Venice Lagoon

Founded in the 5th century, the enchanting city of Venice, often referred to as the ‘City of Canals’ is one of Italy’s most beloved destinations. Venice and its Lagoon are a masterpiece of urban planning and engineering, with its intricate network of canals and historic architecture. The city became a major maritime power in the 10th century and the venetians controlled a large trading empire, including parts of Greece, up until the 18th century. Today Venice still possesses a large number of outstanding and iconic sites such as Piazza San Marco, Palazzo Ducale and the Rialto Bridge.

8 Porticoes of Bologna

Bologna skyline
Bologna skyline

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Porticoes of Bologna are an integral part of the city’s architectural and cultural heritage. Made from wood, stone or brick, these covered walkways that stretch almost 40 kilometres throughout the city, are an iconic element of Bologna's urban landscape. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the Bologna porticoes serve both functional and aesthetic purposes. Functionally, the porticoes provide shelter from the weather, offering respite from the strong sun or rain. They have been a vital part of the city's infrastructure, enabling residents and visitors to traverse the city comfortably throughout the year whilst encapsulating centuries of Bologna’s history, culture and charm.

9 UNESCO Sites in Sicily

Ancient Theatre of Taormina
Ancient Theatre of Taormina

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, is home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites that showcase its rich history, culture, and natural beauty. Located on the southern coast, the Archaeological Area of Agrigento, also known as the Valley of the Temples, is a site that features a stunning collection of well-preserved Doric temples dating back to the ancient Greek period. Further up the eastern coast lies Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano. This UNESCO site can be explored by foot or by visiting one of the slope’s local wineries. Other UNESCO designated sites in Sicily include the Historic Centre of Syracuse, Villa Romana del Casale, the Baroque towns of Val di Noto and the Aeolian Islands.

10 The Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast was designated UNESCO status in 1997 due to its outstanding natural beauty, cultural significance and historical importance. Renowned for its breathtaking coastal landscapes, with rugged shorelines, picturesque villages with pastel-coloured homes clinging to the steep cliffs, Roman villas and lush terraced gardens, the region has attracted artists, writers, and travellers for centuries. Towns such as Ravello, Positano and Amalfi showcase historic and architectural treasures such as the Duomo di Amalfi and Villa Rufolo and are also known for their lemon cultivation. The terraced lemon groves are important aspects of the Amalfi’s culture and economy, as well as creating a unique landscape.

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