Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Challenges and Opportunities

Program highlights preservation of Italy’s rich cultural heritage

Italy, a country universally celebrated for its artistic and cultural riches, has more historic, archaeological, natural and artistic UNESCO world heritage sites than any other country. As pointed out by UNESCO liaison officer to the U.N. Ricardo De Guimarães de Pinto, a featured presenter in a program at Montclair State, Italy’s 51 sites include 47 cultural sites, ranging from Pompeii to the Venice lagoon and 4 natural sites such as Mount Etna and the Dolomites. Intangible heritage elements such as the Mediterranean diet and the Sicilian puppet theater also fall under the UNESCO umbrella.


De Guimarães de Pinto joined Dr. Deborah Chatr Aryamontri, a professor in Montclair State’s Classics and General Humanities Department on Thursday, November 12, 2015 inUNESCO Heritage Sites in Italy: World Records and Local Challenges,” a program presented by The Theresa and Lawrence R. Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies in collaboration with the Center for Heritage and Archaeological Studies, the Global Education Center, and AMICI Italian Club at Montclair State University on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the founding of UNESCO. Program highlights can be viewed on the video above.


“In many ways, Italy’s economy and cultural role in the world revolve around its heritage, although protecting and promoting this vast and frail patrimony in order to share it with visitors is not without challenges,” notes Inserra Chair in Italian and American Studies Dr. Teresa Fiore, who introduced the event.


The evening focused on celebrating Italy’s rich cultural patrimony, while exploring the challenges associated with preserving it in terms of resources, roles and responsibilities.


Program presentations and discussion also linked the appeal of a trip to Italy -- a powerful legacy of the classic Grand European Tour -- with the World Heritage sites. Italy remains a popular tourist destination for Americans, ranked fifth according to The New York Times. “The fact that American students continue to choose Italy as their first choice destination for study abroad in a foreign language country is certainly related to its invaluable heritage,” explains Fiore.


UNESCO and Italy: A Productive Partnership

In his work with UNESCO, Ricardo De Guimarães Pinto brings the issue of protection of cultural heritage to the attention of member states and the international community. For him, each of the world’s 1,031 World Heritage properties “are of value to all of humanity” and worthy of protection.

De Guimarães Pinto explained to students, faculty and guests gathered in the University Hall Conference Center that constant monitoring and assessment is needed to preserve fragile sites like Venice that are at risk of flooding and other damage. As a UNESCO partner, Italy is committed to the “5 C’s”  -- credibility, conservation, capacity building, communication and communities --that are critical to successful protection and preservation of such sites. 

Italy works vigilantly to combat illicit trafficking in cultural properties. “The Carabinieri Department of Protection of Cultural Heritage is the most advanced such force in the world,” he noted.

De Guimarães Pinto noted that UNESCO works to safeguard the world’s cultural heritage on all fronts. Because protection of art and history is the foundation for a more peaceful world, Italy has recently introduced the “blue helmets for culture,” that would be active in post-conflict zones and natural disaster situations. “Our organization is fortunate to be able to count on such a close partner as Italy about all these different aspects,” he concluded.

A Lasting Legacy

Faculty member Chatr Aryamontri, an expert in ancient Roman landscape archaeology who directs the University’s Center for Heritage and Archaeological Studies’ Villa of the Antonines archaeological excavation project in Genzano di Roma, Italy, spoke on “UNESCO and Cultural Heritage Law In Italy: The Complex Case of Archaeological Sites.”

She used four UNESCO sites as case studies – Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Area of Torre Annunziata; the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento; the Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina; and the Villa Adriana at Tivoli – to highlight the issues and challenges facing these sites in terms of conservation and the ways in which UNESCO involvement helps to protect them.

“Cultural property and cultural heritage, as stated by UNESCO, are a legacy for ‘all the nations of the world,’ – and all human beings,” said Chatr Aryamontri. “Therefore, everybody should take care of them. Despite the legal, cultural, and political challenges, we should not give up in trying to pass our legacy from the past onto future generations.”

Celebrated Italian architect and designer Gaetano Pesce approved the use of one of his art projects for the Dec. 11 program: the redesign of Italian passport covers featuring well-known sites in a country that he considers “extraordinary because of the vast number of the artistic assets of the world” it hosts. His idea was adapted to the evening’s theme and four UNESCO sites were printed on covers of notebooks that were given to those who attended the event. “Distributing these ‘passports’ to the evening’s attendees meant making them honorary Italian “citizens” who appreciate creativity, beauty and elegance. Italy awaits them,” says Fiore.

An Informative Evening

Student Alyssa Tenore hopes to study in Florence this summer and visit some of the sites first hand. “The event was educational and informational,” she says. “The most important thing I learned was about the preservation of the sites.”

For Classics and General Humanities professor Dr. Timothy Renner, the evening exemplified the University’s commitment to trans-disciplinary cooperation. “It was the perfect example of how different departments and centers can collaborate to promote further understand of Italian cultural heritage – and cultural heritage in general – among students and the wider community,” he says.

“The evening’s presentations also shed light on concepts not immediately associated with artistic and cultural heritage,” recalls Fiore. “We were reminded of the need to preserve cultural specificity against globalization and homogenization and to use this heritage to construct and maintain peace. Protecting monuments and nature means valuing life and developing respect based on a sense of historical belonging and aesthetic appreciation.”

Celebrating Italy’s World Heritage Sites

The Inserra Chair invites students Montclair State University students and New Jersey high school students to explore a World Heritage site by entering a video contest. Student entrants will learn about one Italian UNESCO site, object, or tradition of choice and illustrate it through an original audiovisual work. Entries, for a chance to win prizes, must be received by the end of the Spring 2016 semester (see webpage for more information).