Tuscany in central Italy boasts 7 sites in the Unesco World Heritage list. Architectural wonders such as Florence’s Cathedral, the Square of Miracles in Pisa, and the perfectly preserved historic town centres of Siena, San Gimignano and Pienza. The scenic landscape of the Val d’Orcia. The latest additions in 2013 have been the Medici Villas and Gardens, that bear witness to the influence of the Medici family on European culture.
7 Unesco World Heritage sites in Tuscany
1. Florence historic centre
Florence, the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ was a centre of extraordinary artistic achievements throughout its history. During the 15th and 16th century, when the city flourished under the Medici family, the city was enriched with remarkable pieces of architecture such as the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral designed by Brunelleschi, Palazzo Pitti, Santa Croce and San Lorenzo Church. Notable works of art by artists such as Donatello, Michelangelo and Botticelli, today are guarded in Florence’s world-famous museums.
2. Pisa, Square of Miracles
Pisa is famous around the world thanks to its magnificent Cathedral square, Piazza dei Miracoli. The square hosts four extraordinary buildings that are some the finest examples of Medieval architecture in existence today: the Cathedral, the huge Baptistry (the biggest in the world!), the Leaning Tower and the Monumental Cemetery with its frescoes, outstanding examples of the history of Italian medieval painting of the 14th and 15th centuries
“A striking quality pervades the site, emanating from the interplay of marble and mosaics, the usual alliance of bare walls and arched galleries, triangular frontons and heavy cupolas with the whole effect heightened by the breath-taking slant of the bell tower. The square is remarkable since it contains works of art that bear witness to the creative spirit of the 14th century. Its monuments reflect such a decisive stage in the history of medieval architecture that they have become a reference point for studies related to the Pisan Romanesque style. “ (Unesco)
3. Siena historic centre
Siena is one of Italy’s finest examples of perfectly preserved Medieval towns. Historical authenticity is what makes this town so special. Siena hasn’t grown much since the 15th century, and the original urban plan has been maintained. Walking around its historic centre is like stepping into the Middle Ages, as all the buildings have been carefully restored keeping Siena’s distinctive Gothic style.
Highlights of Siena include the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, with the Palazzo Priori decorated with 14th century frescoes, the Gothic Cathedral with a stunning marble facade and a richly decorated interior, and the Church of San Domenico.
4. San Gimignano historic centre
The ultimate Medieval hilltop town in Tuscany. A place that looks like it’s never advanced beyond in the 13th century, when wealthy families used to build tower houses to protect themselves from rivals and show off their power. Of the original 70, 14 still stand today, proudly watching over the stone squares, fountains and wells.
San Gimignano is a great place to experience the Middle Ages in all its forms, from visiting the Cathedral and the Palazzo del Podestà – beautifully decorated with 14th century frescoes – to walking its stone streets and climbing the Torre Grossa.
5. Pienza historic centre
In Pienza the Renaissance prevails. This town was completely rebuilt in the mid-15th century by Silvio Piccolomini, alias Pope Pio II. He was born here in 1405, in what was then the humble village of Corsignano, south of Siena. He had a plan: rebuild his hometown, and make it into the very first example of the Renaissance ‘ideal city’. To do so, he employed Rossellino, an expert architect devoted to aesthetic humanist principles.
Together they planned the new urban design, starting from the main square – named after the pope himself, Piazza Pio II. This ensemble of geometrically arranged buildings include the Cathedral, the Piccolomini Palace, The Town Hall and the Ammannati Palace. Here the Humanist concepts – rational design, pleasing aesthetics created by geometry, and good living principles – were applied, and Pienza was takes as example for many urban development around Italy and Europe.
6. Val d’Orcia, cultural landscape
The Val d’Orcia is a rural area south of Siena, a land of perfectly rounded hills, expanses of wheat fields and rests of ancient settlements – bridges, abbeys, shrines, farmhouses – and picturesque hilltop towns.
The area is declared a ‘cultural landscape’ by Unesco, and it looks virtually like it did in the 15th century, when theorists of the Renaissance were establishing a model of good governance and creating an aesthetically pleasing landscape and innovative land-management systems.
7. 12 Medici Villas and 2 gardens
In 2013 another site has been added to the Unesco World Heritage list: it comprises 12 Villas around the Tuscan countryside and two gardens (Boboli in the centre of Florence and Demidoff Garden in Pratolino) owned and built by the Medici family between the 15th and 17th century.
They represent the influence exerted by the Medici over European culture, through their patronage of the arts. The Medici Villas and (their) gardens were built accordingly to Humanist principles, such as harmonic interaction between man and nature. In these princely residences the relationship between architecture, designed gardens and surrounding landscapes is vital, and the Villas represent a refined way of life, dedicated to leisure, love for the arts and knowledge.
HERE’S A COMPETE LIST:
Boboli Garden in Florence – vast Italianate garden in Florence’s city centre , with avenues, fountains and grottoes.
Pratolino Park of Villa Demidoff : you can visit the park, not the villa
The beautiful Villa Petraia on the outskirts of Florence can be visited. See our post Visiting Villa Petraia
Villa Medicea Poggio a Caiano near Florence, beautiful edifice that can be visited for free – See official site
Villa di Careggi (under renovation until at least 2020)
Villa Medici Fiesole you can only visit the garden, prior reservation – official site
Villa di Castello (hosts the Accademia della Crusca), you can visit the garden for free
Villa Artimino, interesting architecture (known as “villa of a hundred chimneys”) is privately owned: Tenuta di Artimino (wine estate, hotel, restaurant) – you can visit by contacting them directly, on Sunday there are guided visits, see official site
Villa Poggio Imperiale – is a school, visits are possible on Sunday if you call and arrange with them
Villa Cerreto Guidi is the main attraction in Cerreto Guidi – it used be a hunting lodge, and can be visited.
Palazzo di Seravezza (near Lucca at the foot of the Apuan Alps), has a rich program of seasonal events, concerts and art exposition .
Villa del Trebbio and Villa Cafaggiolo in the Mugello area, north of Florence – the first is a wine estate where wine tasting tours are organised, the second is privately owned and used for events and weddings.