Italy has 53 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than any other country. Tuscany is the most UNESCO-listed region in Italy. The seventh site was added in 2013.
You might now be curious about what UNESCO means. Here’s a reference. But even if you haven’t heard of it, there is no doubt that some monuments and places on the list should be on your itinerary.
Here is a list of seven UNESCO-listed sites in Tuscany. Which ones have you been to? What are your top ten must-see places?
Historic Center of Florence
The entire historical center of Florence is listed on UNESCO’s site. It was also the first Tuscan site added to the list in 1982.
It contains most important Florence attractions such as the Duomo and the Uffizi. Also, it includes the Church of Santa Croce, Pitti Palace, Santa Croce and the Church of Santa Croce. UNESCO recognizes Florence’s significance as the “symbol for the Renaissance” and a place where you can view world-class art and architecture by masters such as Botticelli, Brunelleschi and Giotto.
The majority of tourists to Florence won’t venture outside the UNESCO-listed historical center. So wander around the city and take in the beauty.
Historic Center of San Gimignano
San Gimignano, another UNESCO listed site, covers the entire historic center – in this case it’s the entire city. The many Medieval towers in this small Tuscan hill town are what make it so special. Although there are 14 towers left standing, this town is sometimes called the Manhattan in Tuscany. They were built between 13 and 14 centuries ago.
There were 70 towers at one time. Each was built by wealthy families to display their wealth. Although most of these towers are now gone, it is easy to imagine a skyline filled with similar stone towers and how magnificent that area must have looked.
In 1990, UNESCO added San Gimignano’s historic center to its list. UNESCO noted that the city was a key stop for pilgrims travelling along the Via Francigena. This is a great day trip from Florence or Siena. However, there is no station at San Gimignano so you will need to take a regional bus.
Historic Center of Siena
Siena is the third Tuscan city-center on UNESCO’s list. It’s described by UNESCO “the embodiment of a Medieval City.” The architecture within the city walls dates mainly from the 12th-15th century. In 1995, UNESCO included the historic center in Siena on its list.
The historic Siena extends from the Piazza del Campo at the center. This square is fan-shaped and feels more Medieval when the Palio horse race takes place there twice a summer. The UNESCO listing also includes Siena’s most important attractions, including the Duomo as well as the towering city hall above the Piazza del Campo.
It’s a great day trip from Florence. But it’s even more enjoyable if you have the opportunity to spend the night in the historical center. You can catch a train to Siena from Florence, but it is better to take a bus. The city can get very crowded during the Palio so make sure to book your hotel rooms in advance.
Pienza’s Historic Centre
After Siena’s historical center was added to UNESCO’s list, the last historic city center of Tuscany was added to UNESCO’s current list – Pienza. Pienza, another stunning hill town in Tuscany is worth a look from afar. However, it’s the city’s history that has made it a UNESCO Site.
Pienza was the birthplace of Pope Pius II. He used his position as pope to rebuild his town. The rebuilding of the town began in 1459 by Bernardo Rossellino, an architect. Pienza, originally Corsignano, was where the “Renaissance town planning concepts” were first implemented.
Piazza Pio II, named after the pope, is the centerpiece of the new Pienza. It surrounds buildings like the Palazzo Piccolomini which was once the pope’s summer retreat.
Piazza del Duomo in Pisa
Pisa‘s main attraction is the famous leaning tower. This tower was included in Pisa’s inclusion to UNESCO’s List. The Piazza delDuomo is the entire listing. It includes the Piazza di Duomo, the 12th-century baptistery (the biggest in Italy), the tower and the Camposanto Cemetery, which was completed in the 15th Century.
Piazza del Duomo, second after Florence’s historic center, was added to UNESCO’s list in 1987. While the piazza is open to all, individual monuments are closed. It is possible to wait for hours to get into the Pisa tower’s leaning tower during high seasons. Therefore, it is a good idea to book tickets ahead.
It will never be straight because it tilted before it was even built. However, it has been stabilized in recent years and should remain stable for many years to come.
The tower is the focal point of the square. But don’t overlook the other buildings. They are equally impressive. All of them are cited as “masterpieces in Medieval Architecture” by UNESCO.
Pienza’s historical center was originally listed on UNESCO’s 1996 list. However, the Val d’Orcia was added to the list in 2004. Pienza is now one of the villages within the valley. UNESCO lists both separately.
UNESCO has noted the Val d’Orcia’s “distinctive aesthetics” as images that “exemplify well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscapes.” These photos are likely to be of Tuscan hills. Many paintings have also depicted this area.
Other than Pienza there are two other towns within the Val d’Orcia: Montalcino and San Quirico d’Orcia. These can all be great day trips to Tuscany, but you will need a car or a bus schedule.
Medici Villas and Gardens
The newest addition on Tuscany’s UNESCO site list is “Medici Villas and Gardens of Tuscany”, which includes a dozen villas and 2 gardens located in different parts. They date back to the 15th-17th century and were constructed by or enhanced by the powerful Medici family.
UNESCO included the Medici Villas and Gardens on its 2013 list, noting that it was “the first instance of the connection between architecture and gardens and the environment.” Later palaces constructed for wealthy families in Italy and elsewhere used these villas to guide them.
Some of the villas on the list include the Villa Medici di Fiesole, Villa di Cafaggiolo, Villa di Castello, Villa di Poggio a Caiano, and the Villa di La Pretraia. The Boboli Gardens, located behind Florence’s Pitti Palace, are just a few of the listed gardens.
Nice. It would have been nice if Lucca had been included on the list. But, UNESCO is constantly expanding so it may be added in the future.