Padua, Bologna and Tuscany’s Montecatini Terme are home to Italy’s newest UNESCO sites, achieving World Heritage status in August 2021. This boosts Italy’s total to 58, now the country with the most heritage sites in the world. Here’s a quick peek at these cultural gems.
Padua’s 14th Century Fresco Cycles
In Italy’s northeastern corner between Verona and Venice lies Padua, Padova in Italian. This picturesque town is home to Italy’s second oldest university — founded in 1222 — and thrives today as a lively university town.
Within the medieval walls of the city is an unassuming brick chapel with an unusual looking name: the Scrovegni Chapel (click here for pronunciation). Like many chapels throughout Italy, this structured was named for the wealthy banker who funded its construction in the early 1300s. Inside, it is anything but unassuming, decorated with frescoes from a variety of artists, notably Giotto, the artist who marked a turning point from medieval art to Renaissance art, because of the depth and humanism depicted in his works. The chapel frescoes are considered among the most important masterpieces from the Proto-Renaissance.
Frescoes fill the chapel walls and ceiling, telling with great emotion and detail the story of the lives of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. “It’s an absolute Mecca for everyone interested in art, especially in Renaissance,” writes Zuzanna Stanska for Daily Art Magazine.
The porticoes of Bologna have been waiting in the wings on UNESCO’s tentative list for quite some time, and this year they officially stepped onto the World Heritage stage. Arcades of this type can be found throughout Italy, so what makes Bologna’s particularly special?
“Architecturally, it is the impressive, well-preserved porticoes (portici, in Italian) that have come to define the cityscape,” explains travel writer Irene S. Levine for Forbes. “These stunning covered walkways, located throughout the Medieval historic center, stretch some 25 miles in length. Constructed between the 11th to 20th centuries, each portico seems to be one-of-a-kind, reflecting the diversity of styles and materials used over different eras.”
For UNESCO, the porticoes represent urban and social functions across the centuries — think open air markets, covered walkways and public space protected from the elements. “The porticoes have become an expression and element of Bologna’s urban identity. “
Situated midway between Florence and Venice, Bologna is the capital of the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, is renown for its cuisine and is home to the oldest university in Europe.
Tuscany’s Montecatini Terme
Montecatini Terme lies about an hour from Florence by train or car, in the province of Pistoia. This year, UNESCO recognized the hillside hamlet as one of the great spa towns of Europe. In total, eleven spa towns — all centered around natural mineral springs — in seven countries across Europe were recognized for their historical and cultural significance. Known for its healing waters since medieval times, Montecatini Terme contributed to the international spa culture which was all the rage in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Today, visitors can still “take the waters”, take in the majestic architecture, and experience other wellness treatments through the posh Terme di Montecatini spa.
Since 1972, UNESCO has designated more than 1,000 sites worldwide as 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