“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations.” –UNESCO World Heritage Center
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com
Since 1972, UNESCO has designated more than 1,000 sites worldwide as World Heritage Sites, with 55 of those in Italy (the country tied for China for the most World Heritage Sites.) Recognized for their outstanding universal value or natural beauty, the World Heritage Site list is “the ultimate traveler’s guide — a bucket list of destinations worth seeing.” – source
The UNESCO sites near Rome highlighted in this article are:
- The Historic Center of Rome, including the Properties of the Holy See and Saint Paul Outside the Walls
- Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este in Tivoli
- Etruscan Necropoli in Cerveteri and Tarquinia
- Assisi and its Basilica di San Francesco
- The Temple of Clitumnus
- Historic Center of Urbino
Note to travelers: sites within the Lazio region are reasonable day trips from Rome. Sites in Umbria and Marche are better as destinations from Rome, given their geographic proximity. If you have the luxury of slower travel, it’s recommended to unpack a bit in Umbria and/or Marche, if possible.
Sometimes, rather than go monument by monument, entire cities are granted World Heritage status, so great is their historic and cultural significance. And this is exactly the case in Rome, with the historic center covered under the World Heritage designation. This includes the ancient monuments (think Forum, Pantheon, Colosseum) along with the Vatican and its properties, and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, all of these magnificent in their own rights. While everyone travels on their own timetable, I would recommend at least four full days to experience Rome, with more days always being better, particularly if you enjoy getting to know a city a bit more intimately, wandering just for the sake of it.
About an hour’s drive (mostly east, slightly north) from Rome is Tivoli, where you’ll find two villas on the WHS list, each impressively reflecting the era in which they were constructed: Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) and Villa d’Este. Hadrian’s Villa was built circa 118 B.C. at the request of Emperor Hadrian, with the glories of ancient Rome in mind. Villa d’Este is the more strikingly photogenic of the two, a testament to the glory of the Italian Renaissance.
It is possible to reach Tivoli from Rome by train, although the bus from Tivoli station to Villa d’Este only runs during the high tourist season. The two villas are about five miles (seven kilometers) from each other, but I’m told that to tackle both in one day it might be best to hire a driver.
About an hour’s drive northwest of Rome is the Etruscan necropolis of Cerveteri and 40 minutes north from there, the necropolis of Tarquinia. While it seems possible to see both sites in one day — again, hiring a private driver will maximize your time — one traveler I connected with divided her visits into two separate day trips from Rome, utilizing public transportation exclusively (brava!).
For travelers wishing to journey further back in time than ancient Rome, the necropoli may be just the portal. Both sites provide a glimpse into the lives of the Etruscans, the civilization which flourished in the centuries before the rise of ancient Rome.
“[It’s] well worth the time to do both necropolises,” shares one review, “Cerveteri for its city-like layout; Tarqunia for its well-preserved tomb paintings.” source
Cerveteri Necropoli della Banditaccia | Wikimedia Commons
Province of Umbria
Lazio’s neighboring Umbria is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, juxtaposed in size and stature: the medieval Assisi and its Basilica of San Francesco, and the lesser-known Temple of Clitumnus in the town of Pissignano. The latter is granted World Heritage status as part of a group of seven religious sites connected with the Germanic Longobards, who had an influential presence in Italy from the 6th to 8th centuries.
Essentially in the very center of Italy, Assisi is 2-3 three hours by car north of Rome, and along the way you’ll find the temple. Assisi can also be reached by train or bus from Rome within a few hours, making a day trip possible, but more recommended is that you unpack your bags for at least a night or two, and really savor St. Francis’ Assisi and his basilica.
Province of Marche
Northeast from Assisi about two hours by car is the city of Urbino and its historic center, nestled in the province of Marche. Accessing Urbino from Rome is about four hours by car, but can also be reached by a train/bus combination.
Still looking like something straight from the Middle Ages, Urbino’s most famous son is the acclaimed Renaissance painter, Raphael. Urbino has been included in the New York Time’s 52 Places to Go list and gets the nod from UNESCO as being remarkably well-preserved in its Renaissance glory.
While there is much more to say about each of these cultural treasures, this article hopefully serves as an overview of what you might want to mix in to your next visit to Rome.
UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – was established in 1945 to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture. In visiting a World Heritage Site, you are truly experiencing something significant; the architecture, history and culture of a people from days gone by.