UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy

By Philip Wagenaar, MD
This item appears on page 48 of the January 2016 issue.

(Third of three parts)

World Heritage Sites are places of special significance as determined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization, or UNESCO (whc.unesco.org/en/list).

According to UNESCO’s World Heritage mission statement, these sites include “cultural heritage,” such as monuments, groups of buildings and sites with historical, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological value, as well as “natural heritage,” such as outstanding physical, biological and geological formations, habitats of threatened species of animals and plants and areas with scientific, conservation or aesthetic value.

Wishing to give examples of one country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I chose Italy because it has the most, 47 cultural sites and four, natural. I listed a number of those, arranged by region, in my previous two columns and am wrapping up the descriptions this month.



Historic Centre of Naples — Naples’ historic center is the largest one in Europe. It was started as “Neapolis” by Greek immigrants in 470 BC. It has preserved its imprint of the many civilizations during its existence and has many shrines. During the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras, it was a major cultural center. (The Enlightenment era is a European scholarly effort of the late 17th and 18th centuries stressing motivation and individuality rather than convention.) 

Close to Naples are many locales worth visiting, among others the Palace of Caserta and the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata — These sites consist of the ruins of the townships of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were covered by an eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The murals of the Villa Oplontis at Torre Annunziata reveal the luxurious way of life of the richer residents at that time.

Costiera Amalfitana (Amalfi Coast) — I eased my rented motor­home into the dark, unlit, narrow 2-lane tunnel leading to the Sorrento highway. It was scary. The only lights in the tunnel came from other cars’ headlamps. When I finally exited the tunnel, I was so relieved, I let out a deep breath.

My late wife, Flory, and I were going to hike in the area, drive the Costiera Amalfitana (Amalfi Coast) and visit the UNESCO site by that same name. We had reserved a campsite in Sorrento, which turned out to be at the end of a steep, serpentine road leading from the main highway to the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Sorrento is an appealing tourist center and a good base for excursions.

The Amalfi Coast lies between the Tyrhennian Sea and the Lattari Mountains. When you drive this spectacularly scenic highway, it seems as if you follow a curvaceous woman who is going up and down and sideways in never-ending curves. It is a gorgeous area to behold. 

On one side, there is the blue Mediterranean with inlets. On the other side, there are the shoreline communities, the cultivated terraces, the vineries and the high mountains. Because of its exceptional setting and its historical evolution, it has been made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The entire area has 16 towns, of which the most important ones are Amalfi and Ravello, which lie between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno. For those who want to see monuments, there are the Torre Saracena at Cetara, the Romanesque Cathedral of Amalfi and its “Cloister of Paradise” and many more. A unique Arab-Sicilian building style originated in Amalfi.

Fall and spring are the best times to travel the Costiera Amalfitana. There are too many cars during the summer.

For information, contact the Amalfi Tourist Office (phone +39 089 871107 or email info@amalfi

How to get there — the nearest airport is Naples (NAP); the closest train stations are Salerno and Vietri sul Mare, and Sitabus (www.sitabus.it) routes include Amalfi-Salerno, Amalfi-Agerola-Napoli and Amalfi-Positano-Sorrento-Napoli.

18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex — This large palace and its gardens were established by Charles III, the King of Naples, in the mid-18th century. The palace is unique in the way it is integrated into its natural surroundings. The site also contains a new municipality and a manufacturing compound.

Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park with the Archaeological sites of Paestum and Velia, and the Certosa di Padula — This Heritage Site includes communities lying on a trade route used in ancient eras and during the Middle Ages.


The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian (where art was done on rocks or cave walls) Churches of Matera — The sassi are cave lodgings dating from the early Stone Age. An increase in the number of residents made people move from the city of Matera into the sassi. From the 17th century on, indigent individuals subsisted in the unembellished caverns, which were later turned into more livable homes.

In 1952, a law was passed prohibiting people from living in the sassi, and 15,000 people had to be relocated to new lodgings.

APULIA (Puglia)

Castel del Monte — The Castel del Monte, constructed by Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century, combines different architectural styles into a seamlessly balanced project.

The Trulli of Alberobello Puglia (Apulia) — The Trulli, old-style Apulian cabins, are examples of construction without the use of cement. It is an ancient process that is still practiced today in this area. The Trulli are made of limestone rocks, which are amassed from adjoining grounds. Typically, they have pyramidal, arched or tapering roofs. Some of the Trulli are still inhabited.

SICILY (Sicilia)

Archaeological Area of Agrigento — The UNESCO-listed Valley of the Temples, about 3 kilometers outside modern Agrigento, has the best-maintained seven Doric sanctuaries outside Greece. It is one of Sicily’s chief appeals and it also is an Italian public memorial.

Villa Romana del Casale — This lavish villa dating from the fifth century is bedecked with unique, outstanding mosaics.

Isole Eolie (Aeolian Islands) — The Aeolian Islands, also called Liparian islands, named after the largest island in the group, Lipari, are a volcanic group of isles in the Tyrrhenian Sea, north of Sicily. The isles participate in the understanding and teaching of volcanology. During the summer, they are crowded with tourists. 

Late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto — The following eight Sicilian towns were reconstructed in late-Baroque style after they were devastated during the 1693 earthquake: Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli.

Mount Etna — Mount Etna, as one of the most dynamic volcanoes in the world, has a varied range of volcanic features that are important to science and education.

Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica — The burial ground of Pantalica holds more than 5,000 vaults, dating mostly from the 13th to seventh centuries BC. It also holds vestiges of Byzantine-era buildings.

Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale — Dating from the era of the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194), Arab-Norman Palermo comprises nine municipal and spiritual buildings. This shows that people who have different views (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and French) can still peacefully coexist.

SARDINIA (Sardegna)

Su Nuraxi di Barumini — The Nuragic civilization in Sardinia lasted from the Bronze Age (18th century BC) to the second century AD. The nuraghe are tower-fortresses, a unique kind of protective building that exists only on the island of Sardinia. Today, some 7,000 nuraghes remain.

And, as I ramble in Tuscany, dear reader, I say good-bye to you and wish you a happy journey through the Italian UNESCO sites.    F

Dr. Wagenaar welcomes questions but may not be able to answer them individually. Write to him at 116 Fairview Ave. North #1028, Seattle, WA 98109, or email pwagenaar