Five Italian Unesco sites you won’t have heard of

With 54 spots on the Unesco World Heritage list, Italy is the most Unesco-rich country in the world. But how many of Italy's Unesco sites have you heard of?

Five Italian Unesco sites you won't have heard of
Su Nuraxi di Barumini. Photo: Francesco Ghiani, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

This weekend the not-so-well-known industrial city of Ivrea became the latest of Italy's cultural treasures to gain world heritage status.

While the historic centres of Rome, Florence and Pompeii are world-famous, Italy is teaming with Unesco sites that may just have slipped under your cultural radar. Here are a few candidates…

Arabo-Norman cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale – Sicily

The interior of Monreale cathedral and Crist Pantocrator. Photo: sedmak/DepositPhotos

These two cathedrals capture the artistic zeitgeist of Palermo over 900 years ago. Under Norman rule between 1072 and 1194, Palermo was a melting pot of cultures, creeds and ideas. This gave rise to a unique and breathtaking form of architecture, which is known as Arab-Norman.

The cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale are two exceptional examples, and show how Arab, Norman and Byzantine cultures overlapped in northen Sicily almost a thousand years ago. The perfect expression of this overlap can be seen in the impressive gold mosaics of Christ Pantocrator that adorn both Cathedrals.

Curious fact: Arab-Norman Palermo almost never existed. In 1062, the Normans abandoned their first attempt at invading Palermo, because their camp was infested with tarantulas.

Castel del Monte –  Puglia

The oddly octagonal Castel del Monte. Photo: Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

Built on a small and lonely hill in the 1240s by Frederick II, one of the most powerful Holy Rome Emperors of the Middle Ages, the castle is an imposing and intriguing building thanks to its unusual octagonal design.

Its modest dimensions, just 56 meters wide and 26 meters high, have baffled scholars for years, who still debate whether or not it was a citadel or hunting lodge.

Either way, after Frederik II's time, it was used both as a prison and a refuge for plague victims, giving it a rich and colourful history. 

Curious fact: In the 1950s scientists from Farmitalia Research Laboratories found a microbe (Strepromyces peucetius) in the soil around the castle that produced a red pigment. Once the microbe was isolated it was used to produce the anti-cancer medicine, Daunorubicin.

Monte San Giorgio – Lombardy

A perfectly preserved Pachypleurosaurus found on San Giorgio. Photo: GPL, Enlace

The pyramid-shaped Monte San Giorgio stands next to Lake Lugano on the border with Switzerland. At just over 1,000-meters tall and covered in trees – it looks no different to any of the surrounding mountains – but what makes San Giorgio different lies deep underground.

Thanks to a geological fluke, Monte San Giorgio contains the best known collection of marine fossils from the Triassic period. The mountain's fossils have been studied for the past 150 years, providing complete skeletons of ichthyosaurs, nothosaurs, placodonts, and the remarkable 'giraffe-necked' Tanystropheus. These are finds which, while difficult to pronounce, have contributed in a big way to the fossil record showing the evolution of vertebrates,

Curious fact: The mountain is still teaming with life today and its woody slopes provide a home for 37 endangered species of vertebrates.

Su Nuraxi di Barumini – Sardinia

Su Nuraxi di Barumini. Photo: Francesco GhianiCC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

This site was chosen as a fine example of a Nuraghe. The ruins of over 7,000 Nuraghes dot the Sardinian landscape – but what are they?

Nuraghes are large dome-shaped towers made from rocks that are only found in Sardinia. Their construction method is ingenious: heavy rocks were used to make the lower part of the walls, while the gravity-defying domes were built from lighter rocks and earth.

They could reach up to 30 meters in height, which is incredible given that they were built between 190 and 730 BC.

Curious fact: In spite of their prevalence on Sardinia, nobody knows what function the Nuraghes actually served.

Crespi d'Adda – Lombardy

Crespi d'Adda. Photo: clodio/DepositPhotos

Crespi d'Adda is a model village built by the forward-thinking industrialist, Cristoforo Crespi, in 1868. Crespi was a rich textile producer and built the village to meet his worker's needs. The village includes a hospital, school, theatre, cemetery and wash house.

It was so well designed that in the 50 years that the town was under the conrol of the Crespi family there were no strikes or incidents of public disorder.  Sadly, the great depression and the arrival of Fascism put an end to Crespi's utopian project.

Today the village is inhabited by the descendants of the original workers.

Did you know: Both the town and factory were lit by electric light, making Crespi d'Adda the first village in Italy to have modern public lighting. 

This article was first published in July 2015 and updated in July 2018.

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How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:


WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.


Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.


TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.


Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.


Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.