UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Sicily

Palermo Cathedral Sicily

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Sicily has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including two natural sites. It also has two examples of intangible heritage, and two entries on the UNESCO tentative list. Here is a complete list of World Heritage Sites in Sicily.

1. Agrigento And The Valley Of The Temples

Sicily was a Greek colony long before the Romans arrived. One of the best places to explore the island’s Greek past is at the Archaeological Area of Agrigento where you can see the remains of eight temples in a spectacular setting.

According to UNESCO, “the great row of Doric temples is one of the most outstanding monuments of Greek art and culture”. Read more: Valley Of The Temples, Agrigento: Sicily’s Greek Heritage.

Archaeological site with stone foundations of buildings and four tall pillars
Greek remains in the Valley of the Temples

2. Syracuse And The Rocky Necropolis Of Pantalica

Another ancient site is Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica. There are two parts to this inscription. Firstly, within the city of Syracuse are the Greek town of Ortigia and the Neapolis Archaeological Park, with its Greek and Roman theatres, amphitheatre and ancient quarries.

The Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica is around 25 km from Syracuse. Situated in a deep mountain gorge, the necropolis contains around 5,000 tombs and pre-dates even the Greeks.

Taken together, UNESCO states that the two sites bear testimony to the unique blend of cultures at the core of Sicily’s history.

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3. Arab-Norman Palermo

Palermo is the main town in Sicily and has a varied cultural history. The UNESCO site of Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale includes nine structures from the 12th century Norman kingdom of Sicily. These are a mixture of religious and civic buildings and reflect a fusion between western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures.

Ornate cathedral exterior with dome and clock, around a courtyard filled with plants and trees
The Cathedral of Palermo is included in the World Heritage Site (Image by DEZALB / 3692 from Pixabay)

The buildings in Palermo include the Norman Palace, Admiral’s Bridge and a number of churches. The World Heritage Site also incorporates the cathedrals of Cefalú and Monreale (12 km and 70 km from Palermo respectively).

4. Baroque Towns Of The Val Di Noto

Historically the Val di Noto was an administrative region in the southeast of Sicily. Although the area has been inhabited since the 7th century BCE, the settlements were substantially destroyed by earthquake in 1693. The subsequent rebuilding created a number of towns with a homogenous late Baroque architecture, a style which still dominates the area today.

The Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto (South-Eastern Sicily) UNESCO site covers eight towns of the Val di Noto. Some, like Noto, are included in their entirety; others such as Catania have been partially rebuilt but still retain Baroque districts and individual buildings.

5. Villa Romana Del Casale

The Villa Romana del Casale is at the centre of the island, in the town of Piazza Armerina. It is a stunning example of a luxury Roman villa, particularly notable for its mosaics, which UNESCO describes as “the finest mosaics in situ anywhere in the Roman world”.

Piazza Armerina is around 160 km from Palermo and 100 km from Catania. It is possible to visit on a guided tour from Palermo or as part of a day tour from Catania.

6. Mount Etna

Mount Etna is a natural World Heritage Site. The mountain dominates the island, and it is the most active volcano in Europe. The UNESCO inscription covers part of the Parco dell’Etna Regional Nature Park, where there are opportunities for hiking and climbing, and skiing in the winter.

Read more about Visiting Mount Etna, The Largest Volcano In Sicily.

The volcanic landscape of Mount Etna - one of the World Heritage Sites of Sicily
The volcanic landscape of Mount Etna

7. Aeolian Islands

Another natural site, the Isole Eolie (Aeolian Islands) are a group of volcanic islands around 30 km north of Sicily. They were created as a result of two different types of eruption, making them invaluable to the study of volcanology.

The islands are inhabited and tourists can visit, either for a day or for a longer stay. Take a boat trip from Taormina, or enjoy a sunset trek on Stromboli, the volcano that erupts several times each day.

Setting sun behind a volcanic island rising from the sea
The island of Stromboli (Image by milito10 from Pixabay)

Intangible Heritage

Sicily has two examples of intangible cultural heritage.

Sicilian Puppet Theatre

The Opera dei Pupi (Sicilian puppet theatre) is a tradition that arose in the 19th century. Performances are based on medieval and Renaissance chivalric literature and poems, and the stories of knights and their Moorish foes are taken to symbolise wider themes of social justice and revenge.

There are puppet theatres in Palermo and Catania, and a Puppet Museum in Palermo.

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La Vite Ad Alberello Of Pantelleria

“La vite ad alberello” of Pantelleria refers to an ancient and traditional method of vine growing on the island of Pantelleria. It is unique to the island and has been adapted to the particular local weather conditions.

Pantelleria is around 180 km from Sicily and can be reached by plane or ferry. Several of the vineyards are open to visitors.   

UNESCO Tentative List

There are two entries on the UNESCO Tentative List. Taormina and Isola Bella includes the hill town of Taormina and the beautiful – and popular – resort area of Isola Bella. And Mothia Island and Lilibeo: The Phoenician-Punic Civilization in Italy covers ancient Phoenician culture on the island of San Pantaleo, near Trapani.

Remains of a classical amphitheatre surrounded by tall rocks and mountains in the distance
The ancient amphitheatre of Taormina

About Bewitched by italy

Bewitched By Italy is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), but Italy remains one of my favourite destinations. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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