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The 15 Italian UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage excellences

Whether tangible or intangible, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are always special.

14 November 2022

5 minutes

And Italy is truly unique in this. Alongside incredible historical sites, there is a very rich intangible heritage, handed down through the generations, that represents an unparalleled cultural legacy.

These are the 15 Italian UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage excellences.  Ancient knowledge, centuries-old craft practices, expressions of a profound Made in Italy culture.

There are fifteen recognitions, and just as many destinations for travellers wishing to experience these fascinating phenomena.

1. The Sicilian Puppet Theatre

sicilian pupi

What it is about: the puppet theatre was invented in Sicily at the beginning of the 19th century.

Places to visit: in Palermo, you can attend performances of the Opera dei Pupi at the Teatro Carlo Magno Enzo Mancuso and explore the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino. Not to be missed if you visit the city. 

2. Sardinian Tenor Singing

sardinian tenor singing

What it is: a polyphonic song of Nuragic origin, performed by four men using four different voices.

Places to visit: the Barbagia area, particularly during the Carnival period, when it is customary to intone this type of melody. You can listen to them by attending various events and they provide a truly unique experience. 

3. The know-how of the Cremona violin makers

violin maker of cremona

What it is all about: the craftsmanship of the violin makers, who create wooden instruments by assembling more than 70 elements, by hand and without using industrial materials. The result? Simply unique pieces.

Places to visit: Cremona boasts 150 violin-makers' workshops and the Violin Museum, with an exhibition dedicated to the instruments of the great classical Cremonese masters, including those of Antonio Stradivari and various members of the Amati and Guarneri families. During a visit to the city, you can witness this true art first-hand. 

4. The Mediterranean diet

ypical dishes of the mediterranean diet

What it is: the diet based on cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetables.

The places to visit: all Italian regional cuisines are based on these principles. The best? The trattorias in Tuscany and the farmhouses in Apulia that provide real delights for the palate. 

5. The festival of the Great Shoulder-borne procession structures

macchina di santa rosa

What it's all about: Catholic processions involving the use of structures to be carried on the shoulders.

Places to visit: every year on 3 September, Viterbo hosts the celebration of the patron saint Santa Rosa. The Macchina di Santa Rosa is the imposing canopy with the statue of the saint, carried by over a hundred men: a religious festival that is a real event for the whole city.

6. The Pantelleria bush vine

vineyards in pantelleria

What it is all about: the traditional method of growing vines, in an area with extreme climatic conditions.

Places to visit: Pantelleria, from the end of July to September, when there is a series of festivals in honour of the grape harvest. Admiring the splendour of the island with a glass of wine in hand is simply priceless. 

7. Falconry

falconry unesco excellence

What it is: Originating in the Middle Ages, it is the art of hunting using trained falcons. Today falconers are involved in wildlife conservation. 

Places to visit: Castel del Monte, in Apulia, with its castle built in 1240 by Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, a falconer who pioneered this practice in the West. It offers a magnificent view of the surrounding plain. 

8. The art of the Neapolitan “pizzaiuolo"

neapolitan pizza

What it's all about: the series of gestures, ingredients and cooking to make a real Neapolitan pizza as tradition dictates.

Places to visit: Naples! And Campania in general, where there are numerous, and superb, pizzerias everywhere. A real joy for all the senses. 

9. The art of dry stone walls

muretti a secco in italy

What it is: constructions made by superimposing stones, without the use of other materials.

The places to visit: the Amalfi Coast, where dry stone walls mark the boundaries of lemon groves, but also the Costa Viola in Calabria, where they are used to support terraced vineyards.

The truth is that one can enjoy the extraordinary art of dry stone walls in so many places in Italy. Just to name a few: in Valtellina in Lombardy, in the Cinque Terre in Liguria, in the Chianti hills in Tuscany or on the Costa Viola in Calabria via Ogliastra in Sardinia.

10. The Perdonanza Celestiniana

perdonanza celestiniana

What it is: a tradition inspired by the papal bull issued in 1294 by Pope Celestine V, with which plenary indulgence was granted.

Places to visit: L'Aquila, a city in Abruzzo. From 16 to 29 August each year, the rites and celebrations of the Perdonanza Celestiniana take place, a truly fascinating and evocative religious event. 

11. Alpinism

alpine on snowy mountain

What it's all about: the art of climbing peaks.

Places to visit: the Mont Blanc massif, where mountaineering was born in 1760 with the very first ascent to the summit. Even without a climb, it is the ideal place to admire breathtaking views.

12. Transhumance

Sheep transhumance in the mountains

What it is: the practice of bringing livestock on seasonal migrations along the 'tratturi', or grassy paths.

Places to visit: between L'Aquila (Abruzzo) and Foggia (Apulia) lie the 250 km of Italy's longest sheep-track, once a path of transhumance, today a route for hiking enthusiasts. Alongside the horizontal transhumance, UNESCO has also recognised the vertical transhumance. For an immersive experience, choose Val Venosta and Val Senales in South Tyrol in September, when the cows come down from the alpine pastures.

13. The art of glass beads

pearls of glass

What it's all about: the working of glass with the use of fire.

Places to visit: Murano, Burano, Torcello and Pellestrina, islands in the Venetian lagoon, to visit the workshops of the bead makers and buy rare articles of undisputed beauty. 

14. The musical art of the hunting horn players

hunting horn

What it's all about: a special instrumental technique that originated in hunting and has now become orchestral.

Places to visit: Turin, where the Regia Venaria group of artists is based, and Bolzano, where 31 groups are active in the province.

15. Truffle searching and truffle hunting

truffle dog

What it's all about: the series of knowledge and practices for finding and digging out truffles.

Places to visit: the area around Alba, in the Piedmont Langhe, where the white truffle is the most prized. In autumn each year, a special fair takes place: a truly unmissable event of international significance.

If Piedmont is not on your route, you will be happy to know that truffle hunting can be practised in many areas of Italy: from the Oltrepò Pavese-Mantovano valleys to the Tuscan Apennines between Pisa, Florence and Arezzo via Mount Pollino, to name but a few.

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