9 of Italy’s 58 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located wholly or partly within Tuscany, including some of the best known historic places in the country. The region also has one example of UNESCO intangible heritage. Here is a complete list of the World Heritage Sites in Tuscany, including one creative city and the region’s entries on the UNESCO Tentative List.
1. Historic Centre Of Florence
It is hard to overstate the historic and artistic importance of Florence. The city was built on the site of an Etruscan settlement, and you can still walk its medieval streets, but Florence is best known for its immense contribution to the Renaissance, both in Italy and across Europe.
The UNESCO site of the Historic Centre of Florence acknowledges the city’s great churches and other buildings, in particular the 13th century cathedral. It also encompasses the works of the great Florentine artists, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
However, Florence is not just prized for its architecture and its artworks: the city itself is remarkable for its historical integrity. As UNESCO says, “the urban environment of the historic centre remains almost untouched and the surrounding hills provide a perfect harmonious backdrop. This landscape maintains its Tuscan features, adding to its value”.
In 2021 the extent of the World Heritage Site was expanded to include areas beyond the historic centre, including the Piazzale Michelangelo. Read more about What To See And Do In Florence.
2. Piazza Del Duomo, Pisa
Pisa’s famous Leaning Tower is just one of the important buildings in the UNESCO site of Piazza del Duomo (also known as the Piazza dei Miracoli). Spanning the 11th to 14th centuries, this complex of four buildings – the cathedral, baptistery, campanile (Leaning Tower) and cemetery – are regarded as a masterpiece of medieval architecture.
Read more about the Piazza dei Miracoli (and the other sights of Pisa) here – The Bits Of Pisa That Most Tourists Miss.
3. Historic Centre Of Siena
As UNESCO says, the Historic Centre of Siena is “the embodiment of a medieval city”. One of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany, if not all of Italy, Siena is remarkably well preserved. Once you step into the medieval streets, surrounded by spectacular Gothic buildings, you could feel as if you have left the 21st century behind.
Tourists flock to Siena for the bi-annual Palio, a colourful and esoteric horse-racing event with its origins in the Middle Ages. But at other times you can enjoy the city’s historic art and architecture: the churches, the central Piazza del Campo, and the many fountains. Read more about taking a day trip to Siena.
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4. Historic Centre Of San Gimignano
San Gimignano is another stunning medieval town. It was a very wealthy place in the Middle Ages, and became known for its many fortified tower houses. It was also an important stop on the Via Francigena, a pilgrimage route to Rome.
The Historic Centre of San Gimignano is included in the UNESCO list because of its architectural homogeneity, important artworks, and the 14 surviving medieval towers.
5. Historic Centre Of The City Of Pienza
An early example of a planned town, Pienza is regarded as “the ideal city of the Renaissance”. It was built by Pope Pius II according to humanist ideals in 1459. Although based around the original medieval layout, the restructured town featured new roads and public buildings around a central square. It became a model for subsequent Renaissance town planning.
The UNESCO site covers the Historic Centre of Pienza, and includes the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the Pontifical Palace with its formal gardens. Unusually, Pienza is located within a second World Heritage Site, the Val d’Orcia (see below). Read more about taking a day trip to Pienza.
6. Val D’Orcia
The Val d’Orcia is a natural landscape that was once part of the city-state of Siena. It is seen as a prime example of a Renaissance managed landscape, its hills dotted with olive groves, rows of cypress trees, villages and vineyards.
Apart from the town of Pienza, itself a World Heritage Site, visitors can enjoy the unspoilt countryside and the traditional local cuisine.
7. Medici Villas And Gardens In Tuscany
The Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany are a collection of twelve villas and two pleasure gardens spread across Tuscany. The villas were built in the countryside by the ruling Medici family as summer residences and hunting lodges, whereas the two gardens – the Boboli in Florence and the Pratolino just outside the city – were idealised urban spaces.
According to UNESCO the villas and their gardens created a new harmony between art and nature, integrating buildings and landscape in an unprecedented manner. Most of the villas also contain important artworks, and many are open to visitors.
8. Ancient Beech Forests
The Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe is a multi-country, multi-region site with several locations in Italy. Spread across 12 European countries, it is a recognition of the way that the beech tree has adapted to a variety of climates and physical environments.
Within Tuscany the World Heritage Site is represented by the Casentinesi Forest National Park. This is a massive area of woodland nature reserve stretching across the Apennines between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. The forest has many rare tree species (not just beech) and a wide range of wildlife including wolves and several varieties of deer.
9. Spa Town Of Montecatini Terme (New In 2021)
In 2021 three new UNESCO sites were announced for Italy. One of these was Montecatini Terme, which is part of the multi-location, transnational World Heritage Site known as Great Spa Towns Of Europe.
The Terme di Montecatini is a complex of nine thermal centres, where visitors can drink the water and enjoy a variety of spa treatments. Although it has ancient origins, the spa is now remarkable for its 20th century Art Nouveau architecture.
Intangible Heritage: Carrara A Creative City
The city of Carrara appears on the UNESCO list as a Creative City for Craftsmanship and Folk Art. Since ancient times Carrara’s quarries have yielded the finest quality marble, used by the Romans and later by Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Bernini. Marble quarrying and sculpture are still important to the city today, but it has now expanded its creative endeavours, with the teaching of sculpture and other arts and an annual marble festival (White Carrara Downtown).
UNESCO Tentative List
Tuscany has three entries on the UNESCO Tentative List. The Marble Basin of Carrara seeks to recognise the quarries that support the Creative City of Carrara; Pelagos: The Cetacean Sanctuary (shared with France and Monaco) is a marine area including Elba and the Tuscan Archipelago that is home to whales and other sea mammals; and the Via Francigena is a long distance pilgrimage route to Rome.