UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Emilia-Romagna (And San Marino)

Ferrara historic centre

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Emilia-Romagna has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites of its own, and it is also part of one multi-region, multi-country site. And it has two UNESCO Creative Cities. This is a list of all the World Heritage Sites in Emilia-Romagna (for the sake of completeness I have also included the neighbouring state of San Marino).

1. Early Christian Monuments Of Ravenna

Ravenna was the one-time capital of the Roman Empire and subsequently of Byzantine Italy. The UNESCO site Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna incorporates eight buildings from that period, notable for their history, architecture and mosaics.

Interior of a church with arches, dome and mosaics
Mosaics in Ravenna (Image by anto-dc from Pixabay)

Read more about The Byzantine Mosaics Of Ravenna.

2. Cathedral, Torre Civica And Piazza Grande, Modena

The Cathedral, Torre Civica and Piazza Grande form a complex of buildings at the heart of the city of Modena. The 12th century Cathedral and its bell tower (the Torre Civica, or “Ghirlandina”) are described as “a supreme example of early Romanesque art”.

Together with the adjoining Piazza Grande, these buildings had a significant impact upon subsequent Romanesque design. The sculptures of the Cathedral are particularly noted as having created a new relationship between sculpture and architecture. Read more – Visit Modena, A World Heritage Site.

Cathedral and belltower of Modena, one of the World Heritage Sites of Emilia-Romagna
Romanesque buildings of Modena (Image by Ermanno Ferrarini from Pixabay)

3. Ferrara And The Po Delta

Ferrara, City of the Renaissance, and its Po Delta is a twofold inscription. Firstly, it relates to the city of Ferrara itself, and its contribution to the Italian Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries. This was the first planned Renaissance town, an “ideal city” that set the standard for future urban design, superseding the earlier Roman style. The World Heritage Site includes the historic centre, Castle, Cathedral and city walls.

Looking down on the historic buildings of Ferrara
The historic city of Ferrara (Image by alex1965 from Pixabay)

The site also includes the delta of the River Po, which was an integral part of the development of Ferrara. It is recognised as a “planned cultural landscape”, and also for the villas and gardens built along the delta by the powerful Este family.

4. 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. 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”.

Two porticos in Bologna, one of Italy's new World Heritage Sites
The porticos of Bologna display a variety of styles

There are 62 km of porticos in all, with the majority in the town centre. There is an extraordinary variety to these structures. 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 is the Portico Di San Luca, which snakes its way up the hillside to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.

5. Evaporitic Karst And Caves Of Northern Apennines

Italy’s newest UNESCO site (added in 2023) is the Evaporitic Karst and Caves of Northern Apennines. This is a massive and well-preserved gypsum karst area, with more than 900 caves. These include some of the deepest gypsum caves anywhere in the world, up to 265m beneath the ground.

This site is also the world’s most extensively studied evaporitic karst, with academic research dating back to the 16th century.

6. Ancient Beech Forests

The Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe covers 12 countries across Europe, celebrating the adaptation of the beech tree to a variety of climates and physical environments.

Within Emilia-Romagna, the site is represented by the Forest of Sasso Fratino, which contains some of the oldest beech trees in Europe. At the centre of the forest is the Sasso Fratino Nature Reserve, to which access is strictly controlled. However, there are several hiking trails within the UNESCO site that are open to visitors.

San Marino

San Marino is actually an independent state within Italy, but I have included it here as it is very easy to get to from Emilia-Romagna. The UNESCO inscription – San Marino Historic Centre and Mount Titano – recognises it as one of the oldest republics in the world, and the last remaining city-state in Italy. It covers the historic town, complete with fortifications and defensive walls, as well as the hill of Mount Titano upon which it stands.

Fortress surrounded by trees on top of a tall mountain
The hill town of San Marino (Image by Volker Glätsch from Pixabay)

Read More: How To Visit San Marino, The Oldest Republic In Europe.

Intangible Heritage

Two cities in Emilia-Romagna are designated as UNESCO Creative Cities: Bologna and Parma.

Bologna, Creative City Of Music

With the oldest university in the western world, Bologna was the first place in Italy to offer a degree in music. Historically the city was frequented by musicians such as Mozart, Liszt and Rossini, and it is home to an opera house and several musical establishments.

As a UNESCO Creative City Bologna hosts a number of music festivals (classical, jazz and contemporary) throughout the year, and runs projects to promote musical education. Read more – Bologna, A UNESCO Creative City Of Music.

Parma, Creative City Of Gastronomy

With so many local brands, including the famous Parma ham and Parmesan cheese, it is perhaps no surprise that Parma should be a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. But not just about local production: the province of Parma also has an International School of Italian Cuisine and several museums. And, of course, there are also lots of excellent restaurants!

Round parmesan cheeses stacked on shelves
The famous parmesan cheeses (Image by DEZALB from Pixabay)

UNESCO Tentative List

The UNESCO Tentative List includes the Via Francigena in Italy, a multi-region site based around an important Roman road.

Finally, if you’re inspired to explore the region further, have a look at some of the reasons to visit Emilia-Romagna in 2024.

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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