Europe is home to over 450 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Southern Europe alone has over 130. We'll be journeying through Greece, Vatican City, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Malta this week, so hold on tight!
Name of UNESCO site (type, year added to list)
Location(s) [link to image credit] [link to UNESCO page]
⭐️ Featured site
As of November 2021, there are 18 UNESCO sites in Greece (mainland and islands). Sixteen of those are cultural, the remaining two are mixed. The first site to be added was the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, added in 1986. The most recent to be inscribed was the Archeological Site of Philippi, in 2016.
This temple was the first Greek temple to be inscribed to UNESCO in 1986 because of its unusual features, many not traditionally in-keeping with other temples of similar age. It was home to many carvings, statues and friezes until their removal by the British in the 1800s - the Bassae Frieze is now housed in the British Museum, London.
An integral part of the Athens skyline, the Acropolis is an ancient citadel sitting high above the city of Athens. The most famous building in the complex is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. It is not known when construction on the site began but many of the buildings were severely damaged during the 1687 siege during the Morean War.
Located on the easternmost peninsula of the Central Macedonia region, Mount Athos is an autonomous monastic state which, although legally part of the EU, operates under special jurisdictions meaning it controls free movement of people and goods within the territory. In this aspect it is unique within the EU as it only grants entry to men who are over 18 years of age, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church and who are either monks or workers.
Olympia, home to the ancient Olympic Games, first held here in 776 BC and every four years after. It is also the centre of worship of Greek god of the sky and thunder, Zeus, who ruled over the king of the gods at Mount Olympus. The settlement was laid out to include sports venues, lodgings and other facilities such as baths and areas for socialising for participating athletes and temples for worshipping the gods. The symbolic Olympic Flame is still lit in Olympia, in a ceremony that reflects ancient Greek rituals. It is then carried via torch relay to the host city to mark the start of the games.
What remains on the small island of Samos in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey are the ruins of an ancient fortified port dotted with Greek and Roman monuments and a spectacular tunnel-turned-aqueduct known as the Tunnel of Eupalinos. The aqueduct runs for a total of 1,036 metres and is the second known tunnel in history to have been excavated from both ends, and while the two ends did meet in the middle, as you would expect in the absence of modern technology, the route isn't exactly a perfect descent!
Located on the small island of Pátmos in the Dodecanese group of islands off the coast of Turkey, it is reputed to be where John the Apostle - one of the 12 disciples of Jesus - wrote both his Gospel and the Apocalypse. It is an example of a hierarchal settlement, the monastery situated at the top and centre of the island, with houses below and local merchants, craftsman and farmers at the base. The monastery was founded in the late 10th century and has been a place of pilgrimage and Greek Orthodox learning ever since.
The Holy See, also known as Vatican City, is the smallest country in the world and is the only country in the world to be entirely covered by UNESCO protections.
Vatican City is one of the most sacred places in the Christian faith, the seat of the pope and the smallest country in the world, with a total land area of just 0.49km². The country became an independent state, separate from Italy, in 1929 as part of the Lateran Treaty - an agreement struck between King Victor Emanuel lll of the Kingdom of Italy and Pope Pius XL of the Holy See. The microstate contains many unique architectural masterpieces within its boundaries, with St Peter's Basilica at its centre.
As of November 2021, there are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malta, with all three being first inscribed in 1980 at Malta's first UNESCO session.
The smallest capital city in the European Union, Valletta is noted for its fortifications and its extensive Baroque palaces, gardens and churches. After the Second World War, large swathes of Valletta were damaged; its Royal Opera House was razed to the ground. Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire in 1800, and remained under British rule until 1964, so much of its architecture, whilst influenced by European styles, was designed by British architects.
As of November 2021, there are 17 UNESCO sites in Portugal, two of which are located in the Azores (we've not included them). In 1983, the first four sites were added; the Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon, the Monastery of Batalha, the Convent of Christ in Tomar, and the town of Angra do Heroísmo.
Second only to Lisbon in population size, Porto sits on the Iberian Peninsula and is, perhaps, most famous for the fortified wine which is named after the cit and is produced locally. The city is known to have existed since about 300 BC, inhabited by first by Celtics, before becoming part of the Roman Empire.
University of Coimbra is public university in the city of Coimbra first established in 1290 making it one of the oldest universities that has continuously operated since its founding. The institution relocated to Alcaçova Palace, its current location, in 1537, having acquired the building from the Portuguese Royal Family.
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Head over to our sister site Worldwide Caravan and Motorhome Holidays and discover UNESCO sites further afield...
Previously in the series was UNESCO: Northern Europe
Next in the series is UNESCO: Central/Eastern Europe