With 51 cultural and natural sites, Italy is top of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Italy has always been a popular destination for travelers all around the world thanks to its remarkable history, stunning landscapes and rich culture. Add the Italian lifestyle and hospitality as well as the delicious Italian food and you have got all ingredients for your perfect cultural holidays.
The following five destinations and sights, which have been declared World Heritage by UNESCO, are not to be missed when travelling in Italy:
Rome, the city on the seven hills, can look back at over 2,700 years of history. Capital of the largest empire of antiquity, capital of the Christian world – and today capital of Italy. Centre of the Western world in its times of prosperity, the city received mighty works of architecture, temples, theatres, forums, victory arches and boulevards under the reign of its emperors. Evidence of this prestigious history in antiquity and the Renaissance can be found on every street corner in Rome. A visit to the eternal city is never disappointing. Think of the old Chinese proverb: Better to have seen it once, than to have heard of it a hundred times…
The historic center of Rome and the Holy See, including the Vatican and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, were first inserted in UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1980.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper at the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan
In the same year 1980, also Leonardo’s da Vinci’s The Last Supper became part of UNESCO’s World Heritage, being one of the most famous and most admired works in all of art history. It was completed after three years in 1498 and covers an end wall of the monastery’s dining hall. The mural portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him.
Unfortunately, the process of decay, which already started soon after its creation, only allows a faint glimpse of its original beauty. Since Leonardo worked on the painting very slowly, he could not use the usual fresco technique, by which one painted on fresh plaster. Instead, he painted over a mix of oil and tempura, as one would for a panel painting, and underestimated the dampness of the brick wall. Thus, restoration work started soon after Leonardo died in 1519. In 1652 the monks cut a door into the wall below the Christ figure and the original was often badly damaged by restorations. Napoleon’s troops turned the refectory into a horse stall. During the last war a protective barricade of sand bags rescued the painting. In 1999 the last restoration work was completed, but moisture, mold and changes in temperature continue to afflict the painting. Work must be done on the painting time and again due to environmental influences.
Square of Miracles Pisa and the Leaning Tower
The Square of Miracles, a World Heritage site since 1987, is recognized as an important center of European medieval art and one of the finest architectural complexes in the world. It is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The building was intended to be a free-standing bell tower for the associated cathedral. On 9 April 1173 the first stone of the tower was laid. Shortly before the third storey was completed, the first tilt of the tower was noticed. For this reason, the construction of the tower was interrupted for about 100 years. To balance out the leaning, the next four floors were built at a slant on purpose. After the construction was yet again interrupted, the construction of the tower was completed in 1372. The tower has a total height of 54 m and has seven bells, which, however, may not ring due to the danger of collapse. Galileo Galilei is said to have used the tower for experiments.
Castel del Monte
World Heritage since 1996, this impressive castle thrones majestically atop a hill in the Apulian Murgia, 540 m above sea level and 18 km away from the city of Andria. Eight corners, eight towers, an octagonal inner courtyard – probably the most mysterious construction of the Middle Ages combines the mysticism of the number eight and presents its visitors with riddles. The number eight stood for the imperial rule, but also for the resurrection of Christ after the seven days of creation. Some researchers have even made connections with the proportions of the Great Pyramid of Giza. There are no moats, no raw bridges, no servant’s quarters or stables: The purpose of the imposing grounds and the reasons for their construction by order of the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick II remain unknown. In addition, it is uncertain if the emperor ever even saw the Castel in person. It was built in the middle of the 13th century and Frederick II died in the year 1250. Despite this, a plethora of speculations surround the Castel. They rang e from its interpretation as a hunting castle to a storage place for the state treasures. None of this, however, has been proven. Visitors can experience the unique mysticism along the winding hallways of the building.
The Botanical Garden in Padua
This botanical garden was founded in 1545 for the study of medicinal plants. It is the oldest university botanical garden in the world, which still exists today at its original location. Around 6,000 plants grow here: medicinal plants, as well as exotic, poisonous and carnivorous species. The botanical garden has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. Currently, the oldest plant is a dwarf palm that was planted in 1585 and is called the ‘Goethepalm’, because Goethe mentions it in his, ‘The Metamorphosis of Plants’. This palm is located in a small greenhouse. A ginkgo and a magnolia from the middle of the 17th century also flourish there, which are considered the oldest examples of their kind in Europe.