Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in the world. ‘Ciao, we’re Italy and we have so many world heritage sites we can’t even remember some of them’.
There’s an active volcano included on the list, several entire cities (not even mentioning the Holy See), towers, villas, villages, coastlines. And all that would be just fine if the Italians weren’t responsible for several other country’s Heritage Sites as well – you Romans, you know who you are!
Two options: you either get all resentful and knock the entire gorgeous country off your ‘must see’ list: or you take it on the chin, be thankful for their comprehensible Latin based languages and sanitation systems and go visit.
I’m taking the latter option I think. So here are some UNESCO World Heritage Sites you will know and some you might be a bit surprised by.
Italy rules, and the rest of us just need to suck it up obviously!
Is an active volcano. I don’t know about you but the combination of being in Sicily and being the tallest mountain in Italy and an active volcano is oddly compelling. When I say active I don’t mean this is the adventure holiday of a lifetime and you might very well find yourself running from rivers of molten lava – it rumbles a bit, mostly. But all that activity gives the soil round and about tremendous fertility so foodies are bound to want a piece of this action because the local produce is splendid and the cooking style is amazing – plus you get to look at an ‘active’ volcano and come away a few kilos heavier but relatively unscathed.
THE MEDICI VILLAS, TUSCANY
To be honest, between the 15th and 17th century, the Medici were as gadabout as the Romans when it came to proprietorial: ‘oh, is that art and grandeur and splendour and beauty, we’ll have it’. What is slightly silencing is their attention to land and cultivation. So for every magnificent artwork and dishonest dealing they ploughed a furrow (or had someone do it for them). As a result The Medici Villas in Tuscany are grand and extravagant but they’re also a fascinating insight into a less ephemeral legacy that this strangely appealing dynasty sought to create.
THE HOLY SEE, ROME
credit: Benson Kua
If you aren’t impressed by St. Peter’s and the mighty art collection and libraries you could only dream about, you’ve got to love the Swiss Guards. They have to be Swiss, Catholic, unmarried and trained in tactics – who actually came up with those rules? This is where the Pope lives and (not to be confused with The Vatican City) has been the centre of Christianity for centuries. Whatever your faith or otherwise it’s unbelievable to see so much pomp and wealth in such a small space. Also it has Rome just outside if you like pizza.
‘See Naples and die’, bit extreme? But its historic centre is one of the largest in the world and its links to the Borgias (by marriage and intrigue) seafaring importance and fiercely independent nature make this cusp of Italy and Sicily city fascinating.
Close to Naples, and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the world, Pompeii is indescribably moving. When Vesuvius erupted in 79AD it literally petrified an entire city, I don’t know anyone who has been to Pompeii who hasn’t come away changed. You can look at the streets and houses and see it as an archaeological site, or you can witness the tiny elements of humanity that were so swiftly devastated. However, you view Pompeii it will live with you forever.
THE AMALFI COAST
credit: Dr. Jaus
The beautiful Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is one of those places people imagine they can keep to themselves. Just to say, ‘Duc d’Amalfi’. Historically it’s wildly interesting (in a way that Italy seems to have corralled, how come the rest of the world is so dull, maybe it’s to do with poisoning – answers please). But back to the Amalfi Coast, it also has an amazing climate and if you visit in Spring or Autumn you miss the crowds and you can have the beaches and crags and cliffs (almost) to yourself.
BOTANICAL GARDENS, PADUA
Historically and scientifically the Botanical Gardens in Padua are the most significant in the world. There’s even a wall to stop plants being stolen – back in the 16th century, plant theft isn’t such a thing nowadays. These gardens are the origin of almost all our contemporary medicine and a rare insight into what it must have been like to pioneer in this field in Medieval Europe.
HADRIAN’S VILLA, TIVOLI
One of the most perfect and imperfect UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy, Hadrian’s Villa is even now a ‘work in progress’. A retreat for the Emperor Hadrian, a place of conspiracy and politicising and – as you’ll discover – much more. On-going excavations are still uncovering underground tunnels and passages. The fact that there was a postal service from Rome (about 20km away) to Tivoli and a court, obviously mattered a little when it came to doing Roman Empire business back in the day.
PIAZZA DEI MIRACOLI, TUSCANY
So you thought you should visit Tuscany because you knew a bit about the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’, well see you and raise you. It’s just one of the edifices that make up the ‘Field of Miracles’ and astonish millions of visitors every year. Oddly it’s the Medieval Cathedral that dominates this hugely sacred site and the famous ‘leaning’ tower is a mere adjunct. But if you want to send silly snapchats, this is the place to do it.
Okay, I had a few words and millennium of history to deal with. I did my best and really what can I say? Italy has 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you honestly just have to go and see some for yourself.