NEWS » Italy reclaims number 1 spot on UNESCO World Heritage

Italy reclaims number 1 spot on UNESCO World Heritage

Italy is once again the global leader for the number of properties inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Last year concern was raised by the lack of Italian sites proposed to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, but this year the addition of two new sites strengthened Italy’s first position outdistancing China.

Since the 80’s, Italy has been the first country in the world for the number of Unesco world Heritage sites. From 1996 to 1998, 17 new Italian sites were included in the list raising hope in Italy’s cultural growth and international prestige. In 2016, it was the first time since 2000, that there had not been any Italian nomination. This year there are two new sites which include at least 10 small locations. Unesco prefers to protect different small areas sharing history or a natural characteristic, grouping them together instead of listing them separately. 

The new sites are the Venetian works of defence and the old beech forests


The 41st session of the World Heritage Committee, held in Krakow, enrolled in the Unesco World Heritage List the “Venetian Defense Works dating back to between the 16th and the 17th Century: on land and Western Sea defences", a Transnational series of sites submitted in 2016 by Italy together with Croatia and Montenegro to the Unesco in Paris. The site includes an extraordinary collection of the most reputable defensive systems of modernity, made by the Republic of Venice, designed after the discovery of gunpowder and located along the on-land areas and the sea areas.

For the decision of the World Heritage Committee, the defence works in Bergamo, Palmanova (Ud), Peschiera del Garda (Vr) for Italy, Zara and Šibenik for Croatia, and Cattaro in Monteengro have been included in the world heritage list.


The second Italian site entering the UNESCO list is a transnational extension of a previous site. This is a collection of primordial beech forests, which originally included only Ukrainian and Slovak forests, then in 2011 also German forests and now many other European sites: Italy, Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain, for a total of 13 countries. What do these woods have that is special? They are very ancient forests - they are called "ancient" or "primordial" - in the sense that they have not undergone changes over many centuries. Beech trees have expanded across Europe over the centuries because it is a tree that tolerates very different geographic and climatic conditions.

The number of inscribed Italian properties is now 53.  China ranks a close second with 52 properties, and may present a serious threat to Italy's global cultural leadership in the future. However, In Europe Italy comes well ahead of the other member states, followed by Spain, France and Germany respectively with 46, 43 and 41 inscribed sites. India trails with 36 sites, then Mexico with 34, Russia with 27, the United States with 23, Japan and Brazil with 20 and Greece with 18.

The last Italian properties to be inscribed on the World Heritage list were Arab-Norman Palermo, the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale, the vineyard landscapes of Langhe-Roero and Monferrato in the northern Piedmont region. Next year the committee is set to consider the candidature of two more Italian properties, the 20th-century industrial town of Ivrea in Piedmont and the Prosecco hills. It might become more difficult for Italy to hold its record as in 2019 the rules will change to allow countries to present only one candidate site each for a total of 35 worldwide. In the event of “oversubscription”, due to the high number of properties already inscribed on the list, Italy would see its proposals examined last. 

Giulia Lombardo

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