Praised for its mouthwatering cuisine that features some of the world’s most popular dishes, including pizza and pasta, Italy is a country that continues to amaze and attract people from all over the world with its endless historical tales and animated culture. As the doorway to European history, Italy is a top destination for most travelers and contains some of the most extraordinary World Heritage Sites established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The ones listed below are merely a glimpse of what the country has to offer. In order to fully understand and appreciate the cultural and historical significance behind each site, travel enthusiasts must board a plane, fly across the ocean and explore Italy.
1. Historic City of Pienza
The Tuscan region of Italy is home to many of the country’s tourist destinations, including the cities of Florence and Pisa. Surrounded by the vast landscape of Orcia Valley, the historic center of Pienza is located in southern Tuscany. Like its neighboring cities, Pienza has a distinct history of its own that traces back to the late 15th century. Under the commission of Aeneas Silvius Picolommini, a great humanist who was born into the aristocratic Sienese family, the former city of Corsignano was renamed and redesigned to embody the ideal Renaissance town.
The foundational structures of the town, including the impressive Palazzo Piccolomini that features a delicate hanging garden and the Duomo, or Cathedral, that dominates the town square with its façade reflecting early Renaissance architectural style, are open to the public and showcase some remarkable pieces of artwork. For the tourists more interested in tasting their way around Italy, the city of Pienza is also known for its pecorino cheese made from sheep’s milk that can be found in any of the street shops or authentic restaurants.
Photo courtesy | Dennis Kleine
2. Historic City of Verona
As the setting for a handful of William Shakespeare’s plays, including the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet, the city of Verona became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Founded in the first century B.C., Verona is a city that has demonstrated continuous prosperity throughout its 2,000-year existence. Like its history of former rulers, Verona houses a long list of surviving monuments that are representative of the Roman, Romanesque, Middle Ages and Renaissance eras. Remaining structures within Verona include the ornate Porta Borsari, the city’s Roman Theater and Amphitheater Arena.
At the center of the city is its ancient forum, Piazza delle Erbe, which houses historic buildings and artistic sculptures. Travelers wandering through Verona might find themselves in line to see the balcony of Casa di Giulietta, or Juliet’s House, where it is believed that Juliet professed her love to Romeo. While it’s likely that these characters were only part of Shakespeare’s imagination, hundreds of tourists step on to the balcony each year in hopes of finding their own Romeo in the crowds below.
Photo courtesy | Stanislav Georgiev
3. The Dolomites
Named after the carbonate rock dolomite, the Dolomites are a mountain range in northern Italy that is recognized for its exceptionally picturesque landscapes. With a multitude of pinnacles, steep cliffs and smooth plateaus, combined with the contrasting colors of the pale mountain rock and the lush greenery of the hills and valleys, the Dolomites is considered to be one of the most attractive landscapes in the world. Beyond the site’s aesthetic appeal, the Dolomites are also of scientific significance as it is the ideal site for the development of mountains dolomitic limestone. Scientists, writers, artists and tourists are attracted to this inspiring area of Italy where they can stare in awe at one of the world’s most incredible natural structures.
Photo courtesy | Shane Lin
4. Venice and its Lagoon
While the gondola might not be the official symbol of Venice, it does give tourists a chance to admire the beauty of the Baroque-styled city along the serene waters of its famous lagoon. Venice, a vibrant city along the coast of Italy, is a popular destination on most travelers’ itinerary. It features a collection of remarkable architectural marvels that house the works of renowned artists such as Giorgione, Titian and Tintoretto.
The most identifiable place throughout all of Venice is its lagoon that covers nearly 50,000 kilometers and attracts people from all corners of the world. The enclosed bay of the Adriatic Sea once helped the Venetian population flee from invaders and provided the necessary assistance to help build a maritime republic. The lagoon remains a vital part of the city today, serving as a base for seaport as well as a hub for fishing and hunting. With nearly 177 canals throughout the city, the 417 public and private bridges make moving around the city much easier.
Photo courtesy | Modes Rodríguez
5. Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany
The wealthy, powerful Medici household evolved from a simple banking family to a political dynasty that reached its peak during the 15th century. Scattered across Tuscany are some of the Medici’s villas and gardens constructed to showcase their affluence and power. These properties are unlike ordinary multi-million dollar estates, as they exemplify a dedication to leisure, the arts and knowledge through unprecedented design that is in harmony with the surrounding rural environment.
With attention to form and function, the residences of the Medici family differed greatly from the farms owned by the Florentines and the castles occupied by the military. The integration of multiple courtyards, balconies and gardens encouraged a newfound appreciation of nature during the Renaissance era. Those visiting the Medici villas in Tuscany will notice the increasing grandeur of the estates.
Photo courtesy | Andreas Jungherr