7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Northern Italy

Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country, with over 45. A World Heritage Site can be defined as “any place (such as a forest or mountain, lake or desert, monument, building complex, or city) that has special cultural or physically significant (source: Wikipedia). As you all know, Italy is home to many of these sites!

We will be showcasing some of these amazing places all over Italy in a series, starting with the World Heritage Sites of Northern Italy.


1.Genoa : Le Strade Nuove et the system of Palazzi dei Rolli

One of many palaces built in the wealthy aristocratic family (Photo by Andrea Puggioni).

This site dates back to the 16th- and 17th centuries and is an exceptional example of urban and architectural growth. Le Nuove Strade (new roads), referring to Via Garibaldi or Via Balbi were constructed by wealthy aristocratic families that built their homes on the edge the historic center.

This created a unique network aristocratic homes that boast some of the most beautiful Renaissance and Baroque palaces. These palaces were made public hospitality residences by the Senate in 1576 through a decree. The “rolli” list required these residences to be open to distinguished guests for the Republic of Genoa.


2. Mantua & Sabbioneta

Palazzo Ducale in Mantua

Two different circumstances are the basis for Renaissance planning, Sabbioneta and Mantua. Mantua was transformed into a cultural center in Northern Italy by the Gonzaga family. It is a historic town that dates back to the Roman period. Palazzo Ducale is the most prominent site in the area. It is home to the Gonzaga family and includes many buildings, gardens, and courtyards.

Vespaniano Gonzaga built Sabbioneta in the second half (16th century) on the shores of Po River, 30 km (18 miles) away from Mantua. It was entirely constructed on the principles of a Renaissance city. UNESCO calls it “one of Europe’s best examples of ideal cities” and cites its “defensive walls, grid pattern streets, role for public spaces, and monuments as some of the reasons why it was built.

Notice: Some sections in Palazzo Ducale Mantua were damaged by the May 2012 earthquakes.


3. The Archaeological Area of Aquileia and the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia

Amazing mosaics in the Basilica dating back to the 3rd century (Photo by Pillar Torres)

Aquileia was located in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and was one of the most wealthy towns of the Roman Empire. The town’s importance as a trading hub meant that it prospered until Attila destroyed it in the 5th Century. It is now a significant archaeological area, with the ruins of the Roman Forum and a harbor, as well as residences.

The Basilica of Aquileia with its stunning mosaic floor, which dates back to the 3rd Century, was destroyed by Attila. It was rebuilt only in the 11th century. It is mainly Romanesque in style but has some Gothic elements due to renovations that occurred after a 14th-century earthquake.


4. Vicenza and Palladian Villas in Veneto

La Rotonda is an icon of Palladian architecture. Photo by jpmm

Vicenza is located approximately 60 km (37 miles) west Venice. It flourished during Venetian rule, which lasted from the 15th century to the 18th century. The city’s impressive architecture is a result of the efforts of Andrea Palladio (16th century architect).

Palladio also designed the villas throughout the Veneto region, in addition to the 23 monuments located in the historical center. The most famous of the 20 villas is Villa Almerico Capra, also known as “La Rotonda”, which is an icon of Palladian architecture. This extraordinary suburban villa, built in 1571 for Paolo Americo, is located just outside the city center. It has a central hall with a square structure and was designed to imitate Roman temples.


5. Crespi d’Adda

Crespi d’Adda – One of the finest example of a “company town” (Photo by freemanphoto)

Crespi d’Adda, in the Lombardy area, was established in 1878 by Cristoforo Benigno Crespi. It is the best example of a “company village”. Cristoforo Benigno Crespi and his son Silvio built homes around the factory to house their workers. They also created a school, church and hospital to provide support for their employees. These houses were initially shared, but eventually they were made into individual homes with gardens.

Unfortunately, the Crespi family sold their hometown to another textile company during the 1929 Depression. The factory was eventually closed down by several owners in 2004. It is worth noting that there were no strikes during the 50-year period.


6. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan: Church and Dominican Convent

Church and Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan

Although the name of this UNESCO World Heritage Site may not sound familiar, it is likely that you are familiar with the painting on Santa Maria delle Grazie’s refectory wall – The Last Supper. Leonardo da Vinci began work on this painting in 1495. It was painted on dry plaster instead of wet plaster. The painting needed extensive restoration due to its new technique and the exposure to the elements over time.

Guiniforte solari built the Church in late Gothic style. It was commissioned in 1467 by the Dominican Order. Donato Bramante later played a role in the reconstruction of the apse as well as the expansion of the complex.

7. Cathedral, Torre Civica and Piazza Grande, Modena

Spectacular Torre Civica and Cathedral in Piazza Grande Modena

Modena is located in the Emilia–Romagna area. It boasts the magnificent 12th-century Cathedral in Piazza Grande, which UNESCO has declared “a masterpiece in human genius”. The Cathedral was jointly created by Lanfranco, the architect, and Wiligelmo the sculptor. It is an excellent example of Romanesque art, commissioned and dedicated by the Canasso family to St. Geminianus.

Torre Civica (or the Bell Tower) rises to a height of 86.12m (282 feet) and is visible from all parts of Modena. It was built in 1197 and originally had five floors. The octagonal cusp was added during renovations that took place between 1261 to 1319. It is also known as Ghirlandia. The name comes from the two marble railings at the top of its tower, “ghirlande”.

There are many other stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Northern Italy. We have previously mentioned the Prehistoric Stone Carvings at Val Camonica, and the stunning Dolomites.

These UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located in Northern Italy. Which ones were your favorites?

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