5 Best Places in Italy to Explore Your Heritage

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Italy is a country rich in history and culture. If you travel just about anywhere in Italy, you will experience its heritage, whether by exploring ancient ruins, savoring regional dishes, or gazing in awe at a breathtaking cathedral. Here are five of the best places to visit in Italy to celebrate and discover the country’s heritage.

Centro Storico (Historic City Center), Rome

More than 2,000 years of history are layered in the historical heart of the city of Rome. Centro Storico (“Old Town”) is not a single destination, but a collection of neighborhoods that are best explored at a leisurely pace, making it one of the best places to visit in Italy.

Wander the cobblestone streets, and feast your eyes on beautiful churches, monuments, and gardens. Stop at panetterias(bakeries) and trattorias(restaurants) along the way to enjoy Italy’s delicious food.

Trevi Fountain, one of the best places to go in Italy

Old Rome is home to some of the world’s most famous ancient ruins as well as masterpieces of Italian architecture, sculpture,and art. Below are some of the major historic sites you will want to explore in Centro Storico:

La Città Alta, Bergamo

Città Alta (“High City”) is also an old city center and sits high on a hill in Bergamo, Italy. Powerful Venetian walls built in the 1500s surround this historic destination and remind visitors that it was once a heavily-fortified city. Main thoroughfares laid out by early Roman city planners still follow their original paths, and a medieval tower still stands at the main city crossroads.

La Città Alta, Bergamo

The view from the top of the city provides a stunning backdrop to the old city, which is largely intact. Visitors can walk to the summit or take a funicular, or inclined railway. Even if you take the funicular, leave time and energy to explore on foot the narrow, cobblestoned streets that lead to the main square, Piazza Vecchia, and the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

The young (and young-at-heart) may especially enjoy exploring old fortifications scattered throughout Città Alta, such as the ruins of the Castle Vigilio with its network of secret underground passages.

Villaggio Crespi d’Adda, Capriate San Gervasio

One of the best places in Italy to visit is the Crespi Workers’ Village, which tells the story of a factory town and an important chapter in both European and United States history. During 19th-century industrialization, most factory workers lived in poverty and squalor. Some factory owners built model towns so their employees could enjoy a more prosperous way of life. As part of this small but important movement, the Crespi family built Crespi d'Adda in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Villaggio Crespi d’Adda, Capriate San Gervasio, a great place to visit to discover more of Italian heritage

Today, though partly still in use, the worker’s village still remains much as it was when it was built. Descendants of factory workers still live in the town. Visitors can walk by neat rows of workers’ homes, the now-vacant factory, a church, a school that provided free education, and more.

Val di Noto, Sicily

An important story in Sicily’s history is preserved—literally—in stone. In 1693, a massive earthquake destroyed many of the towns in the Val di Noto region. The inhabitants rebuilt their towns, many of them with a new eye to city planning and architectural greatness.

Val di Noto, Sicily

In several of these towns, the rebuilding efforts still survive and witness to the people’s monumental efforts, innovative urban planning, and architectural talent. Art lovers will appreciate the exceptional late Baroque architecture, with its imposing, columned buildings and sculpted flourishes.

Museo Diffuso della Resistenza, Turin

Immerse yourself in more recent Italian history in Turin at the acclaimed Museo Diffuso della Resistenza (its full name translates as “Widespread Museum of Resistance, Deportation, War, Rights, and Freedom”). Housed in the city’s old military quarter, the museum’s exhibits feature multimedia interviews with Turin residents about World War II.

Museo Diffuso della Resistenza, Turin

Visitors to Museo Diffuso della Resistenza describe these first-hand accounts as a deeply moving way to learn about everyday life during the war, the German occupation, and the Italian Resistance. Also poignant is a preserved air-raid shelter in the museum’s basement.

Do you have Italian heritage? Heritage travel to your ancestral homeland can deepen your sense of connection to past generations—especially if you know something about your family history. And if you don't know much about your family history, FamilySearch makes it easy to start. Create a free account and start learning more about your family today!

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About the Author
Sunny Jane Morton teaches family history to global audiences as a speaker and writer. She is a contributing editor at Family Tree Magazine (U.S.) and content manager for Your DNA Guide. She is co-author of How to Find Your FamilyHistory in U.S. Church Records and author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy. Find her at www.sunnymorton.com.