Italy has the world’s highest number of Unesco World Heritage listings. At the last count (January 2018), they were 53 between natural sites, cultural listings and “intangible” goods. However, the pace at which new listings are being granted might well make the effort of keeping track futile. Only last year, four three significant additions have been made to the Italian catalogue of Unesco Heritage Listings: the Venetian works of defence, including the stunning fortified city of Palmanova, the primeval beech-tree forests that stretch for nearly 5000 acres from Tuscany to Calabria, the art of Neapolitan pizza-twirling, which has been acknowledged as an intangible good of universal value, and Neapolitan pizza itself, which is definitely not intangible and also indisputably of great value to all of mankind. New bids are currently being prepared for natural and cultural sites and intangible goods.
Why Unesco listings matter
While some might see Unesco listings mostly as a vanity catalogue, they have real, measurable effects on local economies. Unesco lists as “world heritage” physical sites, natural wonders, works of art and aspects of culture that are deemed of universal value to humanity and worthy of a special mention in the history of our existence on the planet. There is more to such a list than just prestige. Unesco-listed sites and traditions bear an acknowledged mark of quality that has a verifiable impact on local tourism. According to a research that accompanied the bid for the city of Bologna, Unesco-listed sites not only draw a larger number of international tourists, but also generate on average over 10,3% more revenue per tourist than the rest of the Country. This has been interpreted as indication that the Unesco seal of approval draws the kind of high-end tourism that enriches sites without exploiting their resources.
Italian bids for 2019
So far Italy’s listings include 5 natural sites: the Aeolian Isles, the Dolomites, Mount Etna, Monte San Giorgio and the aforementioned primeval beech-tree forests. Most of the new bids too are for natural sites. They include the forest ecosystem of the Sila mountain plateau, the Mediterranean Alps and the anhydrite caves of Emilia-Romagna. There is also one bid for an intangible good, the ancient rite of Celestine Forgiveness that takes place every year in the city of L’Aquila, in Abruzzo. Most of these submissions are joint bids, supported by other Countries too, which is a key factor in proving how universal their value is.
The Mediterranean Alps
The area that we identify as the “Mediterranean Alps” is a vast stretch encompassing the Maritime Alps Natural Park, the National Mercantour Park, the Marguareis Park and the Ligurian Alps Park, as well as stretching across Italy, France and Monaco and several portions of the inland between the Maritime Alps and the Tyrrhenian coast. Geologists from all over the world have been studying this area for decades, as it is a veritable mine of information on the history of our planet, having survived three geo-dynamic cycles over 400 million years. This remarkable stretch of land fears no rivals when it comes to biodiversity and unique ecosystems. Among other things, 40% of all known species of European butterflies live here. Plant-life is also of extreme interest to scientists, as some of the species that can be found in the Mediterranean Alps have kept the same characteristics for over 20 million years.
The Sila forest ecosystems
Some of the most ancient monumental trees in Italy can be found on the mountain complex of the Sila, in Calabria. This site has unique geological characteristics, that, over the course of millennia, have resulted in a variety of ecosystems that can’t be found anywhere else. Geographically isolated and divided into two distinct subranges, the Sila has been home to unique biological occurrences, allowing some of the most ancient European species of plants and animals to survive glaciations and then expand as the glaciers started to melt, therefore evolving along a parallel and different path than the rest of European ecosystems.
The anhydrite caves of Emilia-Romagna
There are several remarkable cave formations in Italy, but the anhydrite caves of Emilia-Romagna are a unique formation, created by an extremely rare concurrency of natural phenomena: the inflow of carbonate-rich water through limestone karst formation, the presence of anhydrite, which is impermeable but has a fissure or crack through which the water can flow out creating the largest salt-water karst well in Italy. While this over-simplified explanation might be enough to lose the general public’s attention, the very mention of it is enough to spark the captive interest of geologists and natural scientists the world over, because of the unique opportunity it provides of studying and understanding the geological history of our continent.
The Rite of Celestine Forgiveness
Italian folklore is rich, diverse and ancient, with most tradition surviving across the centuries and becoming part of the collective identity of a city or a region. The celebration fo “Celestine Forgiveness” is a particular Jubilee, dating back to Pope Celestine V, who in 1294 proclaimed that anyone who – after having received the two sacraments of holy Confession and holy Communion – would enter the basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio from August 28th to 29th would be granted plenary indulgence. The same rite will be celebrated in 2018 for the 724th time. While this might look like one of many religious rites, of little interests to those who do not practice the Catholic religion, there is a political significance to its origin that marks a shift in the history of European culture. Up to the first “Celestine Forgiveness”, the Remission of Sins had been a spiritual privilege of the rich, who could “buy” it through donations and generous alms. Celestine V passed a law that – at a time when equality was not remotely considered as a possibility – factually granted to the poor and the disenfranchised what was then considered the ultimate “spiritual luxury”. To this day, the rite is incredibly popular and draws pilgrims from all over the world.Visit the world heritage sites of Italy. Book your incentive travel package today!