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Pandemic will pass, but heritage is forever


The oddest shaped houses anywhere in Europe are the Trulli in Puglia.

When this crisis has passed, millions of visitors will return to UNESCO sites

By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo

               Through the centuries, the world has seen Italy as a country of beauty, art and his­tory. For centuries, writers and artists have come from afar and have loved Italy with the same passion as millions of modern visitors. Perhaps this is the reason Italy is the country with the most UNESCO sites, and is the reason Italy will once again be the destination for millions of visitors.

               Italy has 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, of which five are shared with other countries: Monte San Giorgio and Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes with Switzerland; historic center of Rome with the Vatican; prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps with AustriaFranceGermanySlovenia and Switzerland; and Venetian works of defense between 15th and 17th centuries: Stato da Terra – western Stato da Mar with Croatia and Montenegro. Five World Heritage Sites in Italy are of the natural type, while the others are cultural sites.

               Since checking all 55 sites would require an entire issue to do them justice, this article will highlight seven, some well-known and others off the beaten track.

               We start in Pompeii. A great tragedy saved in time, the ruins of Pompeii gives us a glimpse into the mundane life of the ancient Romans. It was 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius, a volcano near the Bay of Naples, erupted, burying the ancient city and more than 2,000 of its inhabitants under a thick carpet of volcanic ash. The city was abandoned, only to be rediscovered in 1748 by a group of explorers looking for artifacts. Imagine their surprise when they found that the volcanic ashes had acted as a marvelous preservative, freezing Pompeii in almost the same condition as it was back in 79 AD. In the last 270 years, many archeologists have studied the site discovering buildings, frozen skeletons and everyday objects from the Roman times. They even found jars full of fruit. No other place in the world can transfer you back in time the way Pompeii does.

               Not far from Pompeii is the Amalfi Coast. The Amalfi Coast is an area of breathtaking natural beauty and diversity. It has been a popular settlement since the early Middle Ages and cities like Amalfi and Ravello with their artistic and architectural works have become places of great importance. The rural areas of the coast show the versatility of the inhabitants which have adapted their use of the land to the diverse nature of the terrain, from vineyards and orchards on the lower parts to wide upland pastures. The Coast itself seems to be one grand balcony suspended between a crystal blue sea and the feet of the Lattari Mountains. It’s an exemplar of a Mediterranean landscape and UNESCO protected it both for its topographical and historical facts.

               Heading north to the most popular place in Italy – Rome – one will see the entire historic center of Rome within the city walls dating back to the 17th century. With its 4.3 million visitors every year, Rome is one of the top vacation places in the world. And there is a good reason for that – so many incredible sites are scattered around the Eternal City that the UNESCO people have decided to enlist the whole area to their world heritage sites index. From the iconic Colosseum to the Trevi fountain, Rome really is “a poem pressed into service as a city,” and a must-see place. Once there, make sure to check out the Parthenon, wander inside the Roman Forum and have the perfect Italian sunset at the top of Pinicio Hill. Also, make sure to prepare at least three days to be able to see most of the landmarks and catch the soul of the city.

               Sicily can boast of having seven UNESCO sites. With limited space it was difficult to choose which one to consider. Having called Sicily my home for the first decade of this century, I picked the one to which I can best relate. Mount Etna which was listed at a UNESCO site in 2013 was been list for its huge geological, scientific and cultural value. Mount Etna is the most active and the highest volcano in Europe and has been recognized World Heritage Site on basis of its intense and persistent volcanic activity, as well as for the fundamental role within the Mediterranean bio-geographical region.

               Heading up Italy’s Southeastern coast into the region of Puglia we come to what is probably the most unique Italian town. Located next to Bari, the small town of Alberobello has the oddest shaped cute little houses one would ever see in Europe, the Trulli. Unlike the traditional houses, the Trulli have a round form, they are always white, and have a cone roof made of grey stones. To keep their white color shiny clean, the houses are whitewashed every year. A curious fact is the stones forming them are put together without mortar, but with an old traditional secret technique. It’s quite an experience to walk on cobbled paved streets with nothing but Trulli on both sides. An experience one can only find in Alberobello.

               Our next site is just to Puglia’s west is the region of Basilicata, know by the Romans as Lucania. Today the inhabitants of the region are still referred to as “lucani.” It UNESCO site “Sassi di Matera” which are the cave homes of Matera which were first inhabited 9,000 years ago, 4,500 years before the earliest known Egyptian pyramids were constructed. Until the later parts of the 20th century, the town of Matera was “the shame” of Italy. People lived in caves, without running water, electricity or even sewage. It was a book written by Carlo Levi, “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” which raised awareness of the problem and forced the government to move half of the 30,000 population to new homes in the modern part of the city. After the induction to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1993, Sassi di Matera became a popular tourist destination. Since it’s one of the few places in the world where you can sleep, eat and even drink some cocktails in a cave, I would say its fame is well deserved.

               Our last UNESCO site we will feature takes us to the Alps. Actually, it is not really a site, it’s a train ride! But the Rhaetian Railway is not your regular train ride. With multiple passes over viaducts and bridges and dozens of tunnels and covered galleries, all of them in the beauty of the central Alps, this train ride is arguably the most scenic one in the world, and this UNESCO attraction is free for everyone. Yes, fare free!

               Who knows which, and how many, UNESCO sites in Italy have left a mark in the hearts of millions of foreign visi­tors; who knows just how many places Italians would like to popularize and protect for future generations. When the dark days of COVID-19 are a thing of past, no doubt will see Italy “rise like a phoenix from the ashes.”

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