Pale mountains

In terms of size, Italy is definitely a small country: its total area is 116,350 square miles (or 301.340 chilometri quadrati). If it were a US state, Italy would be somewhere in between New Mexico and Arizona in size, and to make the entire US territory, you would need more than 32 Italie! That said, it’s pretty impressive that Italy features 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (siti patrimonio dell’umanità). Together with China—which, it goes without saying, is much bigger than Italy—il Bel Paese is at the very top of the UNESCO list.

The first site that made it onto the list was Val Camonica, near Brescia, in 1979, thanks to its incisioni rupestri, the largest collection of prehistoric petroglyphs in the world.

Six of the Italian World Heritage Sites are natural landmarks, while the other 49 are cultural places. Besides the most famous ones—like the historic center of Rome, Florence, Naples, Venice, and many other major art cities, there are less-celebrated landmarks as well. Crespi d’Adda, for instance, a small town located in the Bergamo province, is a wonderful example of a perfectly preserved villaggio operaio—a company town. These company towns were settlements built by enlightened entrepreneurs in late 1800s/early 1900s to meet their workers’ needs. Crespi d’Adda was founded by Cristoforo Crespi, who owned a cotton mill nearby on the Adda river, and though there is no cotton mill anymore, the town’s inhabitants are mostly descendants of those original workers. The town’s architecture is mostly unchanged, giving the place a fascinating, somehow spooky, vibe.

On the opposite site of the spectrum, let’s visit a natural site, the Dolomites. Also known as the Pale Mountains (i Monti pallidi) for the carbonate dolomitic rock they are made of, the Dolomites are located in northeastern Italy and are an authentic paradise all year round. In addition to all kinds of mountain-related activities, they offer breathtaking views—and because they were the site of some famous battles during WWI, you’ll even find some history and culture amidst the most amazing nature.

Search the UNESCO site list online. How many of the Italian ones do you know? And the list isn’t done. As of 2019, 41 Italian places were candidates to be the list, so stay tuned!

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