Italy has 51 UNESCO world heritage sites with 14 in central Italy from Rome through Tuscany. Many of these sites are historic centers of Medieval and Renaissance towns and cities. Sites and cities are listed in the order in which they were inscribed as World Heritage Sites, starting with Rome in 1980.
Rome's historic center was chosen as a world heritage site primarily for its ancient Roman monuments. Rome is full of ancient monuments including the Colosseum, Roman forum, ancient markets, and Roman baths. The UNESCO inscription also includes the religious and public buildings of papal Rome, or the Holy See, in Vatican City.
Florence's compact historic center holds many important Renaissance monuments and artworks. The huge Gothic cathedral is famous for Brunelleschi's Dome, a masterpiece of construction. Also in Piazza del Duomo are the 11th-century Baptistery and the campanile or bell tower, partially designed by Giotto. Florence's museums hold artworks of many famous artists including Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino, and Raphael.
Piazza del Duomo, also called Campo dei Miracoli or Field of Miracles, holds one of Europe's greatest groups of Romanesque buildings. Here you'll find the most famous monuments of Pisa including the leaning tower, the impressive Duomo, and the 12th - 13th-century Baptistery.
San Gimignano, a walled medieval hill town in Tuscany, is often called the city of beautiful towers for its 14 surviving medieval towers that can be seen from a long distance away. San Gimignano has retained its medieval atmosphere and appearance. During the middle ages, the town was an important center for trade and for pilgrims traveling to or from Rome on the Via Francigena pilgrimage route.
Siena is a classic medieval city in Tuscany. Much of the city's Gothic appearance from the 12th - 15th centuries, when Siena was one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, has been preserved. Its large fan-shaped piazza, Piazza del Campo, is the heart of Siena and the home of Siena's famous summer horse-race, the Palio of Siena. UNESCO says, "The whole city of Siena, built around the Piazza del Campo, was devised as a work of art that blends into the surrounding landscape".
Pienza Historic Center
Pienza is a beautiful Renaissance town in southern Tuscany's Orcia Valley. It was here that Tuscan town planning started when the town was designed in the 15th century to be the ideal Renaissance town. The center of town is the beautiful square, Piazza Pio II, with two Renaissance palaces and the Duomo with its classic Renaissance exterior.
Urbino is a Renaissance gem in central Italy's Marche region. In the 15th-century Urbino attracted top artists and scholars and had a university in 1506. Urbino's impressive Ducal Palace, the oldest in Italy, houses one of the most important collections of Renaissance paintings in Italy. There's also a small 14th-century fortress above the town.
Villa Adriana is a Roman villa built in the second century AD by Emperor Hadrian. It's considered a masterpiece that uses elements of the ancient Mediterranean including Greek, Egyptian, and Roman architectural styles. Villa Adriana is in Tivoli, near Rome
Assisi - Franciscan Sites
Assisi, a medieval hill town in Umbria, is known as the hometown of Saint Francis, or San Francesco, the patron saint of Italy. Assisi is the birthplace of the Franciscan order and also holds important medieval artworks. The Saint Francis Basilica holds the tomb of Saint Francis and is a popular tourist and pilgrimage destination.
Villa d'Este is a Renaissance villa and possibly the first example of mannerist residences in Europe. The garden, a unique 16th-century Italian garden, has nearly 500 fountains and a large number of statues. Villa d'Este is in Tivoli in the Lazio region outside of Rome.
Tarquinia, in northern Lazio, is one of the best places to see Etruscan tombs. About 6000 Etruscan tombs, dug into the soft tufa, are on a hilltop just outside the main town. Some of the tombs were painted inside with colorful frescoes dating from the 7th to 2nd centuries BC. Tarquinia also has an excellent Etruscan museum. The necropolis near Cerveteri, also north of Rome, has thousands of tombs organized like a city with various types of tombs.
Val d'Orcia, a beautiful Orcia valley in southern Tuscany, has been inscribed as a world heritage site for its Renaissance planning and design. The inscription says, "The landscape’s distinctive aesthetics, flat chalk plains out of which rise almost conical hills with fortified settlements on top, inspired many artists. Their images have come to exemplify the beauty of well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscapes." It also includes the Via Francigena pilgrimage route with its abbeys and shrines.
Umbria - San Salvatore Church
San Salvatore Church, outside Spoleto, is part of the World Heritage Site, Longobards in Italy - Places of the Power, that includes seven important churches and monuments throughout Italy dating from the 6th - 8th centuries. Also included in Umbria is Clitunno Tempietto, between Spoleto and Trevi, with eighth-century frescoes that are the oldest frescoes in Umbria.
Italy's 49th World Heritage Site is a group of villas and gardens formerly of the Medici, a powerful family during the Renaissance period.