Course  |  Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites  |  Italy Online Training

Lesson 8:

Historic centres

In most cases, the main Italian city centres are a complex mix of different development phases: so in some of them, you might see some Roman foundation, a middle-age expansion, and the Renaissance splendid private buildings and churches. All of these are still well preserved, and they have been included in nowadays new structures.

  • Florence
    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. Florence is history, tradition, art and culture. As Stendhal described it, the Capital of Tuscany possesses a “subtle charm” and boasts a historical-artistic legacy known throughout the world. Its historic centre is a living archive of European and Italian culture, composed of properties that earned Florence’s nomination as one of the first Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1982. 
  • Naples
    Visiting Naples’s historic centre means travelling through twenty centuries of history. The design of its streets, piazzas, churches, monuments and public buildings and castles constitute a jewel box of artistic and historical treasures of exceptional importance, so much so that together, they earned their spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995. Extending over 720 hectares, the historic centre of Naples is the largest historic centre in all of Europe and includes testimonies from diverse styles and periods – from its foundation in the 8th Century B.C. as the Greek colony Neapolis, to its subsequent domination by the Romans, and from the Swabian-Norman era to the Reign of the Anjous, and finally from its time under the Aragonese Empire, the Kings of France,  to the period of Unification under Garibaldi and the resulting Kingdom of Italy.

  • Rome
    The historic centre of Rome and the Holy See (including the Vatican and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls) make up one of the 55 Italian sites inserted in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  Legend holds that Romulus and Remus founded Rome in 753 B.C. – the mythical image of the two brothers suckled by the she-wolf, other than the Colosseum, has become the iconographic symbol for the Capital. Yet what has truly made Rome the legendary city that it is, is its history: the epicentre of the Roman Republic, then the Roman Empire’s hub for political and cultural life, and finally, in the 4th Century, the realm of Christianity.

  • San Gimignano
    In the sun-drenched Sienese hills of the Val d’Elsa stands the gorgeous hilltown of San Gimignano, a splendorous Medieval atmosphere enwrapped by its 13th-Century wall. The Tuscany that tourists love most is set amidst fields of golden grain, vineyards, and ancient borgoes; it is the Tuscany of Chianti and the Val D’Orcia,  of beloved culinary traditions and singular tastes. “A masterpiece of creative human genius, it is a unique testimony to a past civilization, and as an exceptional exemplar of both architectonic complex and landscape, demonstrates significant passages in human history.” It is for such qualities that San Gimignano earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1990.