Today our friend Priscila from Tour Italy Now brings us to discover the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tuscany. In my dreams many other beautiful locations would be soon included such as Maremma with Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana and its necropolis, as well as Certaldo and Barberino Val d’Elsa just to name a few.
A mere mention of Tuscany evokes images of idyllic wine orchards, ancient historic cities, and unique artistic traditions. Often considered as the cradle of the Italian Renaissance, the Tuscan region has certainly nurtured such a vibrant legacy in the arts, architecture, and history that it is now home to not just one but seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Many people say that the Val d’Orcia region’s rolling hills and picturesque towns and villages haven’t changed much since the Renaissance times, and they appear just as charming as their depictions in the painting of artists from the Scuola Senese art academy, which flourished between the 13th and 15th century.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, the Val d’Orcia is often cited as an exemplary model for how agriculture and the built environment can co-exist with nature. The region is famous for its well-tended natural environment, which sits side by side with carefully cultivated grape orchards, which produces some of Italy’s most exquisite wines. Val d’Orcia also produces other products like Pecorino cheese, olive oil, salami, mushrooms, and truffles.
The Historic Center of Florence
This ancient neighborhood in the city of Florence was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, a nod to its historic contribution to Europe’s political, economic, and cultural development during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Originally established in 59 B.C.E. as a Roman city on the site of an earlier Etruscan community, Florence rose to eminence as a trading and financial medieval commune under the Medici family between 15th and 16th century. Today, the city is most famous for its six centuries’ worth of remarkable artistic activity, a heritage that is most prominently represented by structures like the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Uffizi, and the Palazzo Pitti, as well as the works of Renaissance masters like Cimabaue, Giotto, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.
The Historic Center of Siena
Siena’s historic center was not inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage list until 1995, 13 years after its archrival Florence was given the same distinction. But its inclusion was one that was worth the wait, and one that was completely deserved. Siena is one of the few cities in Europe that was able to preserve its medieval character and quality to an extraordinary degree. The grandeur of the historic center is best appreciated at the Piazza del Campo, the old quarter’s main public space, which is considered as one of Europe’s most remarkable medieval squares. The piazza is surrounded by the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, as well as mansions that were built in the Late Gothic style.
Piazza del Duomo – Pisa
If one were to think of a structure other than the Roman Coliseum that best symbolizes Italy, it would be the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Strictly speaking, however, it is not an actual tower that stands on its own, because the structure is actually part of a group of monuments that are located in one of Europe’s finest architectural complexes, the Piazza Del Duomo or Cathedral Square of Pisa, whose construction began in 1064. These monuments – the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistery, the Camposanto Monumentale, and the campanile (the Leaning Tower) – are masterpieces of medieval architecture. The complex was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987.
The Historic Center of San Gimignano
San Gimignano delle belle Torri or San Gimignano of Fine Towers is how the historic town of San Gimignano was known because the patrician families who used to rule the community built unique tower-houses that reached for the skies. During its zenith, as many as 72 tower houses were built, some of which reached a staggering 50 meters in height. This was not a small feat during the Middle Ages. While only 14 of these tower-houses have survived, one can only imagine how the San Gimignano might have looked like in the past – a city ruled by skyscrapers built in the Romanesque and Gothic styles. San Gimignano was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.
The Historic Center of Pienza
Pienza holds the distinction of being the pioneer in implementing Renaissance-style town planning. When a Pientini man born into an exiled Sienese family became Pope Pius II, he decided that he would transform his birthplace to become the ideal Renaissance town. For the mission, Pope Pius appointed architect Bernardo Rosellino, who applied humanist urban planning ideas to the design of the new town. The resulting vision included a splendid public square called Piazza Pio and a collection of beautiful buildings like the Palazzo Piccolomini, the Palazzo Viscovile, the Palazzo Comunale, and the Duomo (cathedral), which has a Renaissance-style façade and a Germanic interior. The historic center of Pienza was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996.
The Medici Villas and Gardens
Last on the list are twelve villas and two gardens that make up the Medici Villas and Gardens. Nestled on the beautiful Tuscan countryside, the rural complexes were built between the 15th and 17th centuries by the powerful Medici family, whose patronage of the arts greatly influenced European culture and history. Inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2013, the Medici villas represented a new type of architecture that vastly differed from the residences of wealthy rural Florentines and the foreboding baronial castles of feudal lords. Instead, the villas held an organic connection with its gardens and its environment, a unique characteristic that was born out of the humanist and Renaissance ideals of its creators. Each of these places have their own unique character and history that are worth exploring and experiencing, so make sure you visit all of them for a Tuscan holiday that is worth remembering for years to come!
About the Author
Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She’s a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients. For more on Priscila and her work, connect with her on Google+.