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World Heritage is a Terrible Thing To Waste

Model of Castello Estense - Ferrara

When I first started to visit Italy the last thing on my mind was UNESCO. I was more interested in the vineyards of Tuscany, the fashions of Milan and the food of Emilia Romagna. Over the last 20 +years my trips to Italy have been an on going journey to discover the Italy of my family and friends and along the way I realized that I had visited 20 UNESCO Italian World Heritage sites. Something I now know to be very special.

As of 2020, there are 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy making Italy among the top three countries with the most World Heritage Sites with another 2 sites on the 2020 UNESCO World Heritage tentative list. These include one of the great spas of Europe at Montecatini Terme and the Padova Urbs Picta ("Padua painted city"), 9 sites around the city of Padova preserving significant 14th century paintings, in particular the work of Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel which I have seen with great amazement.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was established in 1972 to encourage the identification and preservation of the cultural and natural heritage sites around the world that are considered to be of significant value to humanity. Places with outstanding natural or cultural merit that deserve the protection of our world community. The World Heritage list includes more than 1000 sites in 185 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The US is home to 24 sites (including the Statue of Liberty, the Pueblos of Taos, Grand Canyon National Park, Smoky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park, the Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings and Independence Hall ). For a complete and up-to-date World Heritage List, ordered by country and followed by the number of locations and the year of inscription click here.

Unfortunately World Heritage status is no guarantee of protection. Tourist related activities and time all take a toll on the preservation of World Heritage sites. The Galapagos Islands was placed on UNESCO’s lesser known list – the List of World Heritage in Danger. I now make it a priority to visit, re-visit or add at least one or two UNESCO sites every time I travel to Italy. I appreciated them in the past for their historical significance and remarkable beauty. I now appreciate them as our legacy and a source of inspiration for future generations. Although the COVID pandemic has caused my Italian travels to be on hold, I am planning now what to add to my list. Here are the sites I have visited, some multiple times. All are highly recommended.

Assisi - the Basilica of San Francesco and other Franciscan Sites

Padua - Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden)

Milan - Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci

City of Verona

Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto

Crespi 'Ada in Lombardia

Ravenna - early Christian Monuments and Byzantine mosaics

Ferrara and the Po Delta

Florence - historic center

Rome - historic center, Vatican and properties of the Holy See

San Gimignano - historic center

Siena - historic center

Pienza - historic center

Mantua and Sabbioneta

Modena, Cathedral, Pizza Grande, Torre Civica

Medici Villas and gardens in Tuscany

Pisa - Piazza del Duomo


Val d'Orcia

Venice and it's Lagoon

As well as these sites that have been noted on UNESCO's tentative list

Parma - historic center

Orvieto - historic center

Pavia - historic center with Certosa

Lake Maggiore

Padua - Urbs Picta and Scrovegni Chapel

Bologna - porticos

Volterra - historic center and landscape

Prosecco Hills

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