Off the beaten track in Lombardy: a tour of the surprisingly diverse and fascinating UNESCO Heritage sites around Milan.

Val_Paghera_Gruppo_Baitone-scaled Unesco World Heritage Sites in Lombardy

UNESCO World Heritage is the designation for places and destinations that are recognized of outstanding universal value and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations. Sites can be inscribed on the list for their Cultural or Natural value (or both).

Lombardy the Italian region where Milan is located is particularly rich in UNESCO World Heritage Sites (10 out of the 55 Italian sites are at least partially represented in Lombardy), only one of these is in the city and their proximity and diversity make them an excellent inspiration for surprisingly fascinating day trips from Milan.

These sites allow to appreciate the evolution of the Lombardy region, from the 250mio year old fossil deposits near Monte San Giorgio, through prehistoric sites such as the Valcamonica petroglyphs or the 4 UNESCO listed pile dwellings, and continuing with Longboard, Venetian and Renaissance testimonies to recent industrial era masterpieces such as the Rhetian railroad and Crespi d’Adda.

Complete list of the UNESCO World Heritage List Sites in Lombardy, plotted on a Google map to easily locate them.

Screen-Shot-2021-02-11-at-13.52.52 Unesco World Heritage Sites in Lombardy

Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (Cultural,1980)

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_The_Last_Supper_high_res-scaled Unesco World Heritage Sites in Lombardy

Only one site is located in the city of Milan: the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie where Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint the Last Supper, one of his most extraordinary masterpieces. Well worth a visit.

Mantua and Sabbioneta (Cultural, 2008)

Mantova_-_Profilo_di_Mantova Unesco World Heritage Sites in Lombardy

Milan is not the only noteworthy city in Lombardy and the world heritage list highlights this by recognizing the value of some lesser known cities:

Mantua and Sabbioneta represent two aspects of Renaissance town planning: Mantua shows the renewal and extension of an existing city, while 30 km away, Sabbioneta represents the implementation of the period’s theories about planning the ideal city.

Both cities offer exceptional testimonies to the urban, architectural and artistic realizations of the Renaissance, linked through the visions and actions of the ruling Gonzaga family. The two towns are important for the value of their architecture and for their prominent role in the dissemination of Renaissance culture. The ideals of the Renaissance, fostered by the Gonzaga family, are present in the towns’ morphology and architecture.

Venetian Works of Defence between the 16th and 17th Centuries: Stato da Terra / Western Stato da Mar – various sites of which the fortified city of Bergamo in Lombardy. (Cultural, 2017)

Sunrise_at_Bergamo_old_town_Lombardy_Italy Unesco World Heritage Sites in Lombardy

This listing consists of 6 examples of defence works in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro. The fortifications throughout the Stato da Terra protected the Republic of Venice from other European powers to the northwest, those of the Stato da Mar protected the sea routes and ports in the Adriatic Sea to the Levant.

The fortified city of Bergamo represents the westernmost end of the whole system, the defensive outpost designed to protect the Stato di Terra from the great European empires and to show then the power of the Serenissima. From a typological point of view, it is an exceptional example of fortified city, characterised by an articulate defensive work, adapted perfectly to the hilly formation of the property and complying with the representative function absolved by the city.

Longobards in Italy, Places of Power (568-774 A.D.) – a grouping of seven Longobard sites: of which Brescia and Castelseprio in Lombardy (Cultural, 2011)

Santa_Maria_foris_portas2-scaled Unesco World Heritage Sites in Lombardy

This listing comprises seven groups of important buildings that testify to the high achievement of the Longobards, who migrated from northern Europe and developed their own specific culture in Italy where they ruled over vast territories in the 6th to 8th centuries. The Longobards synthesis of architectural styles marked the transition from Antiquity to the European Middle Ages.

Of the Longobard sites in the World Heritage List, Brescia boasts the most extensive, which is made up of the San Salvatore – Santa Giulia monastic complex and the Capitolium archaeological area, housing the “Museo della città”, is an extraordinary architectural testimony built in 753 by Duke Desiderio of Brescia, before he was crowned king.

The other site in Lombardy is located near Castelseprio between the upland and the valley of the River Olona. It includes the Castrum Sibrium, a military stronghold in Roman times and used over the following centuries by the Goths, Byzantines, Longobards and then the Visconti; the church of Santa Maria Foris Portas, an invaluable example of Longobard-byzantine art and contains what is perhaps the oldest painting in the region; the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria Assunta that was founded in 737 by Manigunda and Torba Abbey.

The visit to Castelseprio, near Varese can be the opportunity to visit the nearby listings: the two sites in Lombardy of the Sacri Monti listing, and the Pile dewelling sites and Monte San Giorgio, just across the swiss border.

Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy (Cultural, 2003)

Varese_Sacro_Monte_Arco_SantAmbrogio_4-scaled Unesco World Heritage Sites in Lombardy

The nine Sacri Monti (Sacred Mountains) of northern Italy are groups of chapels and other architectural features created in the late 16th and 17th centuries and dedicated to different aspects of the Christian faith. In addition to their symbolic spiritual meaning, they are of great beauty by virtue of the skill with which they have been integrated into the surrounding natural landscape of hills, forests and lakes. The Sacro monte di Varese and the Sacro Monte della Beata Vergine del Soccorso in Ossuccio (co) are the 2 sites in Lombardy.

Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps, shared with Austria, Germany, France, Slovenia, Switzerland (Cultural, 2011)

This pyramid-shaped, wooded mountain beside Lake Lugano is regarded as the best fossil record of marine life from the Triassic Period (245 – 230 million years ago). The main site is just across the border in Switzerland and there is an opportunity to visit the Fossil museum.

Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps, shared with Austria, Germany, France, Slovenia, Switzerland (Cultural, 2011)

This serial property of 111 small individual sites encompasses the remains of prehistoric pile-dwelling (or stilt house) settlements in and around the Alps built from around 5000 to 500 B.C. on the edges of lakes, rivers or wetlands. In Lombardy it is possible to see some sites mainly in the areas south of Lake Garda and in proximity to lake Varese.

While the pile dwellings and their context are surely extremly interesting, many of the sites can be either submerged or rather underwhelming, to better appreciate this World Heritage listing, you can try visiting the local museums: (Civico Museo Archeologico della Valtenesi di Manerba, Museo dell’area archeologica statale delle “grotte di Catullo” di Sirmione, Civico Museo Archeologico “G. Rambotti” di Desenzano, Civico Museo Archeologico della Valsabbia di Gavardo, Museo Archeologico dell’Alto Mantovano di Cavriana)

Rock Drawings in Valcamonica (Cultural, 1979)

Reachable from Bergamo or from Brescia, Valcamonicais the oldest of the World Heritage sites in Italy. It takes its name from the Camuni people, a population that – according to ancient Latin sources – lived in the zone during the Iron Age (I millennium B.C.). It retains testimony as one of the world’s greatest collections of prehistoric petroglyphs – more than 140,000 symbols and figures carved in the rock over a period of 8,000 years depicting themes connected with agriculture, navigation, war and magic.

Crespi d’Adda (Cultural, 1995)

Crespi d’Adda in Capriate San Gervasio in Lombardy is an outstanding example of the 19th- and early 20th-century ‘company towns’ built in Europe and North America by enlightened industrialists to meet the workers’ needs. The site is still remarkably intact and is partly used for industrial purposes, although changing economic and social conditions now threaten its survival.

Rhaetian Railway, in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes – shared with Switzerland (Cultural, 2008)

Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes, brings together two historic railway lines that cross the Swiss Alps through two passes. It represents an exemplary railway development for the disenclavement of the Central Alps at the beginning of the 20th century. The railway offers a wide diversity of technical solutions for the establishment of the railway in often severe mountain conditions. The railway infrastructure moreover blends in particularly harmoniously with the Alpine landscapes through which it passes. It is possible to access this railway from Tirano.

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