The Most Spectacular Unesco World Heritage Sites in Italy

The ruins of the Roman Forum in Rome are a must-see
The ruins of the Roman Forum in Rome are a must-see | © Sergey Borisov / Alamy
Anya Schukin

Italy boasts more World Heritage sites than any other country in the world. Its 51 designated cultural and natural landmarks make up over 5% of Unesco’s global list, and another 40 spots are currently up for consideration as possible additions. We take a look at the most breathtaking heritage sites the country has to offer.

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1. Archaeological areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata

Archaeological site, Ruins

Landscape view of ancient Pompeii town with Vesuvius volcano background, Italy
© Martin Molcan / Alamy
Year of inscription: 1997

Why it qualified: “When Vesuvius erupted on 24 August 79CE, it engulfed the two flourishing Roman towns of Pompei and Herculaneum, as well as the many wealthy villas in the area. These have been progressively excavated and made accessible to the public since the mid-18th century. The vast expanse of the commercial town of Pompei contrasts with the smaller but better-preserved remains of the holiday resort of Herculaneum, while the superb wall paintings of the Villa Oplontis at Torre Annunziata give a vivid impression of the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthier citizens of the Early Roman Empire.” – World Heritage Convention

2. Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico), Padua

Botanical Garden

Paduas Orto Botanico, the worlds oldest academic botanical garden, with (right) the greenhouse of the Goethe palm
© Hilke Maunder / Alamy
Year of inscription: 1997

Why it qualified: “The world’s first botanical garden was created in Padua in 1545. It still preserves its original layout – a circular central plot, symbolising the world, surrounded by a ring of water. Other elements were added later, some architectural (ornamental entrances and balustrades) and some practical (pumping installations and greenhouses). It continues to serve its original purpose as a centre for scientific research.” – World Heritage Convention

3. Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie


Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan
© Oleg Proskurin / Shutterstock
Year of inscription: 1980 Why it qualified: “The refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie forms an integral part of this architectural complex, begun in Milan in 1463 and reworked at the end of the 15th century by Bramante. On the north wall is The Last Supper, the unrivalled masterpiece painted between 1495 and 1497 by Leonardo da Vinci, whose work was to herald a new era in the history of art.” – World Heritage Convention

4. City of Verona

Architectural Landmark

Statue of Juliet, with balcony in the background. Verona
© Alesia Dmitrienko / Alamy
Year of inscription: 2000

Why it qualified: “The historic city of Verona was founded in the first century BCE. It particularly flourished under the rule of the Scaliger family in the 13th and 14th centuries and as part of the Republic of Venice from the 15th to 18th centuries. Verona has preserved a remarkable number of monuments from antiquity, the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and represents an outstanding example of a military stronghold.” – World Heritage Convention

5. Costiera Amalfitana

Natural Feature

© Boris Stroujko / Alamy
Year of inscription: 1997

Why it qualified: “The Amalfi Coast is an area of great physical beauty and natural diversity. It has been intensively settled by human communities since the early Middle Ages. There are a number of towns such as Amalfi and Ravello with architectural and artistic works of great significance. The rural areas show the versatility of the inhabitants in adapting their use of the land to the diverse nature of the terrain, which ranges from terraced vineyards and orchards on the lower slopes to wide upland pastures.” – World Heritage Convention

6. Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia

Cemetery, Historical Landmark

Tomba, tumulus mounds, Etruscan Necropolis, necropolis Banditaccia, UNESCO World Heritage Site - ECA46N
© imageBROKER / Alamy
Year of inscription: 2004

Why it qualified: “These two large Etruscan cemeteries reflect different types of burial practices from the ninth to the first century BCE and bear witness to the achievements of Etruscan culture, which, over nine centuries, developed the earliest urban civilization in the northern Mediterranean. Some of the tombs are monumental, cut in rock and topped by impressive tumuli (burial mounds). Many feature carvings on their walls, others have wall paintings of outstanding quality. The necropolis near Cerveteri, known as Banditaccia, contains thousands of tombs organized in a city-like plan, with streets, small squares and neighbourhoods. These provide the only surviving evidence of Etruscan residential architecture. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as Monterozzi, contains 6,000 graves cut in the rock. It is famous for its 200 painted tombs, the earliest of which date from the seventh century BCE.” – World Heritage Convention

7. Historic Centre of Florence

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

Florence, Uffizi. Image shot 03/2019. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy
Year of inscription: 1982

Why it qualified: “Built on the site of an Etruscan settlement, Florence, the symbol of the Renaissance, rose to economic and cultural pre-eminence under the Medici in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its 600 years of extraordinary artistic activity can be seen above all in the 13th-century cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), the Church of Santa Croce, the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, the work of great masters such as Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and Michelangelo.” – World Heritage Convention

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8. Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany

Building, Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

Artimino, Tuscany, Italy, amazing landscape view of beautiful landmark Medici Villa La Ferdinanda or Cento Camini facade amongst green olive trees
© Jakobusvide / Alamy
Year of inscription: 2013

Why it qualified: “Twelve villas and two gardens spread across the Tuscan landscape make up this site, which bears testimony to the influence the Medici family exerted over modern European culture through its patronage of the arts. Built between the 15th and 17th centuries, they represent an innovative system of construction in harmony with nature and dedicated to leisure, the arts and knowledge. The villas embody an innovative form and function, a new type of princely residence that differed from both the farms owned by rich Florentines of the period and from the military might of baronial castles. The Medici villas form the first example of the connection between architecture, gardens and the environment and became an enduring reference for princely residences throughout Italy and Europe. Their gardens and integration into the natural environment helped develop the appreciation of landscape characteristic Humanism and the Renaissance.” – World Heritage Convention

9. Historic Centre of Rome

Architectural Landmark

The Pantheon temple of Roman Gods and church exterior facade Piazza della Rotonda Roma Rome Lazio Italy EU Europe
© eye35 / Alamy
Year of inscription: 1980

Why it qualified: “Founded, according to legend, by Romulus and Remus in 753 BCE, Rome was first the centre of the Roman Republic, then of the Roman Empire, and it became the capital of the Christian world in the fourth century. The World Heritage site, extended in 1990 to the walls of Urban VIII, includes some of the major monuments of antiquity such as the Forums, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column and the Column of Marcus Aurelius, as well as the religious and public buildings of papal Rome.” – World Heritage Convention

10. Villa d'Este, Tivoli

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

The Renaissance Gardens of the Villa dEste, Tivoli, near Rome, Italy, Europe
© SCFotos - Stuart Crump Photography / Alamy
Year of inscription: 2001

Why it qualified: “The Villa d’Este in Tivoli, with its palace and garden, is one of the most remarkable and comprehensive illustrations of Renaissance culture at its most refined. Its innovative design along with the architectural components in the garden (fountains, ornamental basins, etc.) make this a unique example of an Italian 16th-century garden. The Villa d’Este, one of the first giardini delle meraviglie, was an early model for the development of European gardens.” – World Heritage Convention

11. Venice and its Lagoon

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

View over Grand Canal in Venice from Accademia bridge
© Robert Jank / Alamy
Year of inscription: 1987

Why it qualified: “Founded in the fifth century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.” – World Heritage Convention

12. The Dolomites

Natural Feature

St Johann Church, Santa Maddalena, Tyrol, Dolomites Mountains landscape, Italy
© Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy
Year of inscription: 2009

Why it qualified: “The site of the Dolomites comprises a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps, numbering 18 peaks, which rise to above 3,000m (9,843ft) and cover 141,903ha (350,650 acres). It features some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere, with vertical walls, sheer cliffs and a high density of narrow, deep and long valleys. A serial property of nine areas that present a diversity of spectacular landscapes of international significance for geomorphology marked by steeples, pinnacles and rock walls, the site also contains glacial landforms and karst systems. It is characterised by dynamic processes with frequent landslides, floods and avalanches. The property also features one of the best examples of the preservation of Mesozoic carbonate platform systems, with fossil records.” – World Heritage Convention

13. Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps

Archaeological site

The lake Lago di Ledro among the Alps in the Trentino district with the prehistoric house. WTJXEF
© jozef sedmak / Alamy
Year of inscription: 2011

Why it qualified: “This serial property of 111 small individual sites encompasses the remains of prehistoric pile-dwelling (or stilt house) settlements in and around the Alps built from around 5000 to 500 BCE on the edges of lakes, rivers or wetlands. Excavations, only conducted in some of the sites, have yielded evidence that provides insight into life in prehistoric times during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages in Alpine Europe and the way communities interacted with their environment. 56 of the sites are located in Switzerland. The settlements are a unique group of exceptionally well-preserved and culturally rich archaeological sites, which constitute one of the most important sources for the study of early agrarian societies in the region.” – World Heritage Convention

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