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Five Italian Unesco sites you won’t have heard of

With 54 spots on the Unesco World Heritage list, Italy is the most Unesco-rich country in the world. But how many of Italy's Unesco sites have you heard of?

Five Italian Unesco sites you won't have heard of
Su Nuraxi di Barumini. Photo: Francesco Ghiani, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

This weekend the not-so-well-known industrial city of Ivrea became the latest of Italy's cultural treasures to gain world heritage status.

While the historic centres of Rome, Florence and Pompeii are world-famous, Italy is teaming with Unesco sites that may just have slipped under your cultural radar. Here are a few candidates…

Arabo-Norman cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale – Sicily


The interior of Monreale cathedral and Crist Pantocrator. Photo: sedmak/DepositPhotos

These two cathedrals capture the artistic zeitgeist of Palermo over 900 years ago. Under Norman rule between 1072 and 1194, Palermo was a melting pot of cultures, creeds and ideas. This gave rise to a unique and breathtaking form of architecture, which is known as Arab-Norman.

The cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale are two exceptional examples, and show how Arab, Norman and Byzantine cultures overlapped in northen Sicily almost a thousand years ago. The perfect expression of this overlap can be seen in the impressive gold mosaics of Christ Pantocrator that adorn both Cathedrals.

Curious fact: Arab-Norman Palermo almost never existed. In 1062, the Normans abandoned their first attempt at invading Palermo, because their camp was infested with tarantulas.

Castel del Monte –  Puglia


The oddly octagonal Castel del Monte. Photo: Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

Built on a small and lonely hill in the 1240s by Frederick II, one of the most powerful Holy Rome Emperors of the Middle Ages, the castle is an imposing and intriguing building thanks to its unusual octagonal design.

Its modest dimensions, just 56 meters wide and 26 meters high, have baffled scholars for years, who still debate whether or not it was a citadel or hunting lodge.

Either way, after Frederik II's time, it was used both as a prison and a refuge for plague victims, giving it a rich and colourful history. 

Curious fact: In the 1950s scientists from Farmitalia Research Laboratories found a microbe (Strepromyces peucetius) in the soil around the castle that produced a red pigment. Once the microbe was isolated it was used to produce the anti-cancer medicine, Daunorubicin.

Monte San Giorgio – Lombardy


A perfectly preserved Pachypleurosaurus found on San Giorgio. Photo: GPL, Enlace

The pyramid-shaped Monte San Giorgio stands next to Lake Lugano on the border with Switzerland. At just over 1,000-meters tall and covered in trees – it looks no different to any of the surrounding mountains – but what makes San Giorgio different lies deep underground.

Thanks to a geological fluke, Monte San Giorgio contains the best known collection of marine fossils from the Triassic period. The mountain's fossils have been studied for the past 150 years, providing complete skeletons of ichthyosaurs, nothosaurs, placodonts, and the remarkable 'giraffe-necked' Tanystropheus. These are finds which, while difficult to pronounce, have contributed in a big way to the fossil record showing the evolution of vertebrates,

Curious fact: The mountain is still teaming with life today and its woody slopes provide a home for 37 endangered species of vertebrates.

Su Nuraxi di Barumini – Sardinia


Su Nuraxi di Barumini. Photo: Francesco GhianiCC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

This site was chosen as a fine example of a Nuraghe. The ruins of over 7,000 Nuraghes dot the Sardinian landscape – but what are they?

Nuraghes are large dome-shaped towers made from rocks that are only found in Sardinia. Their construction method is ingenious: heavy rocks were used to make the lower part of the walls, while the gravity-defying domes were built from lighter rocks and earth.

They could reach up to 30 meters in height, which is incredible given that they were built between 190 and 730 BC.

Curious fact: In spite of their prevalence on Sardinia, nobody knows what function the Nuraghes actually served.

Crespi d'Adda – Lombardy


Crespi d'Adda. Photo: clodio/DepositPhotos

Crespi d'Adda is a model village built by the forward-thinking industrialist, Cristoforo Crespi, in 1868. Crespi was a rich textile producer and built the village to meet his worker's needs. The village includes a hospital, school, theatre, cemetery and wash house.

It was so well designed that in the 50 years that the town was under the conrol of the Crespi family there were no strikes or incidents of public disorder.  Sadly, the great depression and the arrival of Fascism put an end to Crespi's utopian project.

Today the village is inhabited by the descendants of the original workers.

Did you know: Both the town and factory were lit by electric light, making Crespi d'Adda the first village in Italy to have modern public lighting. 

This article was first published in July 2015 and updated in July 2018.

READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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