UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Lombardy

Bergamo gate

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Lombardy has no fewer than ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than any other region in Italy. It also has three examples of Intangible World Heritage. Some of the sites – like Leonardo’s famous painting of The Last Supper – are very well known, but others may be less familiar. Here is a complete list of World Heritage Sites in Lombardy.

1. Santa Maria Delle Grazie And The Last Supper

Probably the best known of Lombardy’s UNESCO sites is the Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, in the centre of Milan. The Last Supper, painted onto a wall of the convent’s refectory, is considered one of the greatest artworks of all time. The convent and the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie are also included in the World Heritage Site as the painting is regarded as an integral part of the architectural complex.

Last Supper painting with Jesus and twelve apostles sitting at a long table
The famous painting of the Last Supper (Image by Markus Baumeler from Pixabay)

The painting is fragile, and visitor numbers are limited, so if you want to see it you will need to book well in advance. If you are taking a guided tour of the Church and Convent check to see if it includes The Last Supper – in many cases it has to be booked separately. (LivTours has an Express Last Supper Tour – use the code BEWITCHEDBYITALY for a 5% discount.)

2. Mantua And Sabbioneta

The two cities of Mantua and Sabbioneta are on the UNESCO list as a single site, representing different aspects of Renaissance town planning. Sabbioneta is an example of a planned settlement, with carefully arranged roads, walls and public spaces. Following the contemporary notions of science and reason, it was regarded as an “ideal city”.

Mantua, on the other hand, was an existing town, with Etruscan and Roman origins, whose growth and development were planned during the Renaissance. This was the vision of the Gonzaga family, who ruled the city for many centuries. Read more about Mantua, Renaissance Home Of The Gonzagas.

Garden with lawns, hedges and paths in front of a grand palace
Outside the Ducal Palace in Mantua

3. Crespi D’Adda

For an Italian World Heritage Site, Crespi d’Adda is relatively modern, having been built in the early 1900s. Founded by the Crespi family to house the workers at their cotton mill, it is an example of a “company town” of the type often built by wealthy and paternalistic industrialists.

Elaborate exterior of the cotton mill factory
The cotton mill factory at Crespi d’Adda (Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay)

By the standards of the time, the houses offered a high level of accommodation. There were health and recreational facilities, as well as a school and a church. Although the cotton mill is no longer in use, people still live in Crespi d’Adda and visitors can explore the town, which still looks much as it did 100 years ago.

4. Rock Drawings In Valcamonica

Valcamonica (also called Valle Camonica) was actually the first place in Italy to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The importance of this large Alpine valley cannot be overstated: it is home to one of the greatest collections of prehistoric rock art in the world. Over 140,000 images – with themes including agriculture, magic and war – were carved into the rock around 10,000 years ago.

The valley itself is full of hiking trails and different archaeological parks.

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5. Monte San Giorgio

Monte San Giorgio is a natural site shared between Italy and Switzerland. According to UNESCO it has the “best fossil record of marine life from the Triassic Period”. It furnishes evidence of both marine animals – including reptiles, fish and crustaceans – and land-based animals and plants.

Quite apart from the geological interest, visitors to Monte San Giorgio can enjoy the mountain scenery and network of hiking paths.

6. Rhaetian Railway

The Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes is also shared by Italy and Switzerland. The railway runs for 122km from Tirano to St Moritz, reaching a maximum altitude of 2253m along the way. The UNESCO listing recognises the technical achievement in building the railway as well as the dramatic landscape it passes through.

Red train passing through a valley beneath tall ice capped mountains
On the Rhaetian Railway (Image by Viola ‘ from Pixabay)

It takes around two and a half hours to travel the whole length of the line. The trains have observation carriages, allowing you to enjoy the scenery.

7. Sacri Monti Of Piedmont And Lombardy

The Sacri Monti (“sacred mountains”) are a series of nine groups of chapels and other religious buildings across Lombardy and Piedmont. Dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, they were created as alternative pilgrimage locations for those who were unable to make the long and dangerous journey to Jerusalem. Apart from their history and location, the chapels of the Sacri Monti are valued for their architecture and artworks.

Two of the Sacri Monti are in the Lombardy region: Sacro Monte di Varese and Sacro Monte di Ossuccio. At each of these you can follow a “Chapels Trail” linking a number of chapels full of frescoes and statues.

8. Prehistoric Pile Dwellings Around The Alps

The Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps covers several countries and different Italian regions. Over a hundred individual Alpine locations contain the remains of pile dwellings (stilt houses) from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Mostly close to water, or on marshland, the houses were built on stilts to protect from flooding.

Of the 19 stilt houses in Italy,10 are in Lombardy. Many of these are around Lake Varese (Biandronno and Bodio Lomnago) and Lake Garda (Sirmione, Manerba, Desenzano and Polpenazze). There are also sites at Cavriana, Monzambano, Piadena, and Cadrezzate. The structures at Varese are the oldest known pile dwellings, dating back to the beginning of the New Stone Age.

9. Venetian Works Of Defence

The historic Republic of Venice was extensive, stretching across Italy, Croatia and Montenegro: parts of Lombardy were absorbed into the empire in the late Middle Ages. The UNESCO site Venetian Works of Defence between the 16th and 17th Centuries consists of six fortifications, designed to protect the Republic’s borders.

In Lombardy the site is represented by the 16th century Venetian Walls of Bergamo, which encircle the historic city. Visitors can walk the 6km length of the walls, passing ramparts, sentry boxes and the four original gates into the town.

Elaborate gate with eight pillars leading into the city of Bergamo
Gate into the city of Bergamo (Image by Stefano Ferrario from Pixabay)

10. Longobards In Italy: Places Of The Power

The Longobards (Lombards) were not confined to Lombardy: between the 6th and 8th centuries they occupied much of the Italian peninsula. The Longobards in Italy, Places of the Power (568-774 AD) World Heritage Site consists of seven groups of important buildings from this period, chosen for their architectural and religious significance.

Two of these groups are within Lombardy. In Brescia there is the Santa Giulia Monastery and San Salvatore Basilica, a monastic complex with churches, frescoes and Roman remains. And the Castelseprio Archaeological Park in the province of Varese includes the Castrum Sibrium (a Roman fortress used by the Lombards) and the Longobard Church of Santa Maria Foris Portas.

Two arched recesses covered with frescoes
San Salvatore Basilica in Brescia

Intangible Heritage

Lombardy has one entry on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and two UNESCO Creative Cities.

Traditional Violin Craftsmanship In Cremona

Cremona is renowned for its tradition of violin-making. The city’s workshops continue to build violins painstakingly by hand, and to train the next generation of apprentices. The Violin Museum is dedicated to the history and construction of the instruments, and you can visit a workshop as part of a Violin Tour.

Shop window filled with several violins
Violin shop in Cremona (Image from Flickr via freemanphoto)

Bergamo, Creative City Of Gastronomy

UNESCO’s Creative Cities of Gastronomy have to meet several criteria, including a characteristic regional cuisine, traditional methods of production, and a well developed local food industry. Bergamo’s inclusion on the list is primarily due to the many long-established varieties of cheese manufactured in the surrounding valleys. Visitors can enjoy the cheeses (and other local specialities) in the city’s restaurants, or take a tour of the cheese factories.

Milan, Creative City Of Literature

Milan is the centre of the Italian publishing industry, and has been home to many notable authors, including Umberto Eco and Alessandro Manzoni. As a UNESCO Creative City, it has been at the forefront of initiatives to promote books and reading, and to explore the future of publishing in the digital age.

UNESCO Tentative List

Although Bergamo is a UNESCO Creative City, and its city walls are part of the Venetian Works of Defence site, the city as a whole is also on the UNESCO Tentative List. The potential listing for Bergamo includes the historic Città Alta at the top of the hill, and the lower town (Città Bassa), which is regarded as an industrial and administrative town of national importance.

And the multi-region site Cultural landscape of the Benedictine settlements in medieval Italy includes the San Pietro al Monte Church at Civate.

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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