Italy now has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world. Until earlier this year it had 55, an equal number with China. However the tally has now risen to 58, making it the world leader. Proof, if you needed it, of how fabulous a country Italy is!
Worldwide, 33 sites were added to the UNESCO list at the end of July. These included three in Italy: the new sites are as shown below.
(Updated December 2021: a new example of Intangible Cultural Heritage has just been added to the list – read on for details.)
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The Porticos Of Bologna
Porticos, or covered arcades, may not be unique to Bologna, but the city has more of them than anywhere else in the world. There are 62 km of porticos in all, with the majority in the town centre. Now they have become the latest addition to the list of World Heritage Sites in Emilia-Romagna.
Bologna’s porticos began as a tax dodge in the 11th century, when house owners began to extend their properties by building covered arcades (which did not attract extra taxes) and then adding extra rooms on top. Over time these arcades became popular meeting places and had the added benefit of protecting residents from the sun and the rain (I was certainly glad of the shade when I visited). As UNESCO says, they “have become an expression and element of Bologna’s urban identity.”
There is an extraordinary variety to these porticos. Some of the earlier ones are made of wood, others of stone or brick. There are even some modern arcades built from concrete. Some are plain, while others are ornately decorated. Features may include arches, columns and even, in some cases, more than one level.
Perhaps the most remarkable of these arcades is the Portico Di San Luca, which snakes its way up the hillside to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.
Fresco Cycles Of Padua
Padua’s Fourteenth Century Fresco Cycles is a group of eight buildings with fresco cycles painted between 1302 and 1397. The site includes different types of building (both religious and secular), different artists, and different patrons and purposes. However UNESCO states that the frescoes have a unity of style and that, as a group, they “illustrate how, over the course of a century, fresco art developed along a new creative impetus and understanding of spatial representation”.
The star of the group is the Scrovegni Chapel (also known as the Arena Chapel), belonging to a monastery which is now part of the city’s Museo Civico. The walls and ceiling of the chapel are covered with frescoes by Giotto with a variety of religious subjects including the Life of Christ and the Last Judgement. These paintings are a masterpiece by any standards, but UNESCO also regards them as having “marked the beginning of a revolutionary development in the history of mural painting”.
Spa Town Of Montecatini Terme
The spa town of Montecatini Terme in Tuscany is part of a new multi-location, transnational World Heritage Site, Great Spa Towns Of Europe. This brings together towns that were influential in the “international European spa culture that developed from the early 18th century to the 1930s”. Collectively these towns demonstrate the way in which the use of spa waters for medicinal and health reasons led to the development of elaborate resorts with grand architecture and leisure facilities such as hotels, theatres and casinos.
The springs of Montecatini Terme were first used for healing purposes in the Middle Ages, and the site was at one time owned by the Medici family. It officially became a spa in 1773, although most of what you see today dates from the early 20th century.
The Terme di Montecatini is a complex of nine thermal centres, where visitors can drink the water and enjoy a variety of spa treatments. Facilities at the spa include restaurants, night clubs and a casino. The resort is also notable for its Art Nouveau architecture, squares and fountains.
Intangible Cultural Heritage: Truffle Hunting In Italy
In December 2021 Italy gained a new addition to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This was Truffle hunting and extraction in Italy, traditional knowledge and practice, a celebration of “a set of knowledge and practices that has been transmitted orally for centuries”. It recognises a way of life that still persists in rural areas, rich local traditions, and the feasts that often accompany the end of the truffle season.