Outstanding Universal Value


Matt Bird

'Outstanding Universal Value' is how a place is considered to be when named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are a total of 1,157 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (January 2023) and 53 are in Italy, the highest number of any country. Sicily boasts 7 of the Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than any other Mediteranean island and one of those is the Val di Noto which is Noto plus an extended area of seven other towns.

The late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto (UNESCO listed in 2002)

In 1693 an earthquake devastated southeast Sicily which led to a renaissance of late Baroque architecturewith some cities being rebuilt on new sites and othersremaining where they had always been. The towns within the Val di Noto are - Caltagirone, Catania,Militello Val di Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa and Scicli. In the words of UNESCO,“the Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto insoutheastern Sicily provide outstanding testimony to the exuberant genius of late Baroque art and architecture... and represent the culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe.”

Ancient Syracuse and theRocky Necropolis of Pantalica (UNESCO listed in 2005)

Syracuse became one of the most influential cities in the Greek empire and includes the Island of Ortigia which is a labyrinth of streets and ancient ruins including columns of a Hellenic Temple of Diana. Accordingly to UNESCO, “the group of monuments andarchaeological sites situated in Syracuse... is the finest example of outstanding architectural creation encompassing several cultural influences (Greek, Roman and Baroque). The Rocky Necropolis is located 25km northwest of Syracuse and contains more than five thousand tombs dating back from the 13th to 7th centuries BC.

Mount Etna (UNESCO listed in 2013)

Mount Etna is Europe’s most active volcano, it is also the continents highest at 3,350 metres with a huge surface area of 1,190 square kilometres. It is home to a variety of landscapes from craters, forests, citrus groves and vineyards. UNESCO describes that Mount Etna’s, “almost continuous eruptive activity (which) continues to influence volcanology, geophysics, and other Earth science disciplines...”

Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples (UNESCO listed in 1997)

Agrigento was founded in the 6th century BC by colonists and it soon became a thriving Greek city. On the outskirts of the city is the Valley of the Temples and is actually a hill which is home to some of the finest Ancient Greek architecture outside of Greece. According to UNESCO the Valley of the Temples “is one of the most outstanding monuments of Greek art and culture.”

Villa Romana del Casale (UNESCO listed in 1997)

The 4th century AD Villa Romana del Casale is located outside the historic town of Piazza Armerina. It wasn’t until the 20th century that archeologists fully unearthed around 3,500 square metres of beautifully preserved Roman mosaics. UNESCO considers this to be “the supreme example of a luxury Roman villa, which graphically illustrates the predominant social and economic structure of its age. The mosaics that decorate it are exceptional for their artistic quality and invention as well as their extent.”

The Aeolian Islands (UNESCO listed in 2000)

The Aeolian Islands are located 30 kilometres off the north coast of Sicily composed of Panarea, Stromboli, Vulcano, Alicudi, Filicudi, Lipari and Salina. The islands are known for Vulcanian eruptions characterised by occasional short, violent explosions and Strombolian eruptions characterised by frequent (but less explosive) lava and gas ejections. For UNESCO the islands, “have provided the science of volcanology with examples of two types of eruption (Vulcanian and Strombolian) and thus have featured prominently in the education of geologists for more than 200 years. The site continues to enrich the field of volcanology.”

Arab-Norman Palermo & the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú & Monreale (UNESCO listed in 2015)

Palermo Sicily’s capital is known for its intense multi- sensory and multi-cultural experience. There are nine heritage sites of note; The Norman Palace, The Palatine Chapel, The Zisa Palace, The Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, The Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, The Church of San Cataldo, The Admiral’s Bridge and The Cathedrals in Palermo, Monreale, and Cefalù. As UNESCO says, “Collectively, (these constructions) are an example of a social- cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures on the island which gave rise to new concepts of space, structure and decoration. They also bear testimony to the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins and religions (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and French).”

Partial extract from the travel guide Matt's Noto

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