The UNESCO Legacy

by Danilo Brunetti

Rome is a living museum, breathing human history at every turn. UNESCO has added the entire city, as well as several surrounding areas, to their prestigious World Heritage List, vowing to protect these monuments of extraordinary cultural significance.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization was founded on 16 November 1945, with an admirable goal in mind: to build peace in the minds of men. The agency seeks to promote international dialogue, the elimination of poverty, and the observance of human rights, by cultivating respect for the civilization and culture of countries around the world. As of 2015, member states and associate members numbered 195, each dedicated to the mission of education, science, culture, and communication.

Trajan’s Column

The convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted in 1972 with the idea that many places around the world are of universal value to all of humankind. The convention also recognized the responsibility of the international community to protect such sites. UNESCO currently oversees more than 1000 natural and cultural sites, including the Taj Mahal, Mali’s mythic city, Timbuktu, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Italy tops the World Heritage List with 54 properties, more than any other country. Five of these sites are of the natural type, while 49 are cultural sites.

The Lazio region alone is home to several protected sites, many of them in and around Rome. The city, founded according to legend by the twins Romulus and Remus in 753 BC, became the center of the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire, and lastly the heart of Western Christianity. In 1980, the entire historic center of Rome, including the walls of Urban VIII, the Imperial Forums, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column, and the Column of Marcus Aurelius, as well as the properties of papal Rome, were named a World Heritage site.

Once you’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve visited the bulk of this massive city-wide UNESCO site, stray further afield and check out three other fascinating sites just outside the city.


Adopted in 2004, these two Etruscan cemeteries reflect the burial practices from the 9th
to the 1st centuries BC, and are a testament to one of the earliest urban civilizations of the northern Mediterranean. Several tombs are carved from rock with impressive burial mounds above, while others feature extraordinary carvings and paintings on their walls. The Necropolis of Banditaccia, near Cerveteri, is laid out like a city, with thousands of tombs lining streets and squares. The site contains a variety of tombs, including several in the shape of homes, which provide the only surviving evidence of Etruscan residential architecture. The Monterozzi Necropolis at Tarquinia contains 6,000 graves carved from rock, as well as a number of painted tombs, dating back to the 7th century BC.


The palace and gardens of Villa d’Este were adopted by UNESCO in 2001 and represent the best and the brightest of Renaissance culture. The innovative design of the multiple fountains and waterways (including a singing fountain) and the astounding architectural details exemplify Italian 16th-century gardens, which set the pace for grand European gardens thereafter. In 2006, Villa d’Este was judged the most beautiful Renaissance garden in Italy, and pronounced “a masterpiece,” beating out 70 other gardens for the title.


Adopted by UNESCO in 1999, Villa Adriana is a striking example of classical architecture of the 2nd century AD under Emperor Hadrian. The worldly ruler traveled extensively in the East, incorporating many tenants of oriental style into his many building projects. The villa reflects his passion for Egyptian and Greek design, and also exhibits the nest Roman style of the era. In fact, to ensure his vision of the “ideal city,” Hadrian is thought to have drawn up the designs for the villa himself.