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Seven ‘secret’ UNESCO World Heritage sites in Italy you need to visit

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Seven ‘secret’ UNESCO World Heritage sites in Italy you need to visit
A statue in the gardens of Turin's Royal Palace in November 2018. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

From Pompeii to the Royal Palace of Caserta, Italy is home to a host of famous UNESCO World Heritage sites – but there are some lesser-known attractions that you may not have heard of yet.

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With a total of 59 protected landmarks, Italy is the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites, followed by China (57), Germany and France (both at 52).

But while most people may be familiar with the famous Pompeii archaeological park, Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua or the Royal Palace of Caserta, Campania, Italy has a host of spectacular sites that remain relatively unknown, even to locals. 

Pienza – Tuscany

Located in Val d’Orcia, southern Tuscany, Pienza is a picturesque hilltop village surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards. 

Built at the behest of Pope Pius II in the late 15th century, Pienza is a supreme testament to Renaissance urban planning.

Over the years, the village has also provided an evocative backdrop to a number of international films, including The English Patient and Gladiator (remember the wheat field scene?).

Crespi d’Adda – Lombardy

Located at the heart of the Lombardy region, right between Milan and Bergamo, Crespi d’Adda is arguably the best-preserved example of late 19th-century 'company towns' – villages built by industrialists to provide comfortable housing and services to their employees. 

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Completed in the late 1920s at the behest of the Crespi family – then one of the country’s leading cotton manufacturers – the village has remained by and large unchanged over the decades, with all of its distinctive features and amenities still on display to this day.

Savoy Residences – Piedmont

The Residences of the Royal House of Savoy consist of some 22 palaces and villas built in or around Turin at the behest of the dukes of Savoy, who ruled over the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont and later on the Kingdom of Italy until 1946.

This outstanding complex of buildings, which includes the Castle of Racconigi, Turin’s Royal Palace and the Palace of Venaria, is not just a testament to the Savoy House’s power and wealth, but also one of the best available examples of 17th- and 18th-century architecture.  

Padua’s Botanical Garden – Veneto

The world's first university botanical garden was created in Padua, mainland Veneto, in 1545. 

Though some of the current architectural elements were added in the 1700s, the garden still preserves its original layout: a circular central plot, symbolising the world, surrounded by a ring of water.

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The garden also houses a 50,000-volume library and the second most extensive herbarium in Italy.

Castel del Monte – Puglia

Castel del Monte is a 13th-century castle perched atop a rocky hill in Andria, around a one-hour-drive away from Bari. 

Completed in 1240 at the behest of emperor Frederick II, it is a unique piece of mediaeval architecture, blending northern European features with Muslim-world design and decorations.

The octagonal library in Umberto Eco’s best-selling novel The Name of the Rose was directly inspired by the castle.

 

Pantalica Necropolis – Sicily

Located just outside of Syracuse, Sicily, the Necropolis of Pantalica consists of some 5,000 rock-cut chamber tombs dating from the 13th to the 7th century BC. 

The 200-hectare burial ground is considered a key archaeological find in the study of indigenous tribes that inhabited Sicily before the arrival of Greek colonists. 

Urbino – Marche

Urbino is a small hill-top town southwest of Pesaro, Marche.

Considered by historians as the ‘cradle’ of Italian Renaissance, the town’s artistic charm and architectural prestige are just as striking now as they were in the 15th century. 

Urbino is home to multiple unmissable attractions, including the Ducal Palace, the Cathedral (Duomo) and the house where Italian painter Raphael was born

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