UNESCO Cultural Heritage in the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre holds significant cultural heritage and value, both in the hearts of locals and tourists. With Monash University, I had the honour to visit the Cinque Terre and spend time with locals discussing issues of community, mass tourism and cultural integrity. As a component of my work and research, I have chosen to discuss the significance of the Cinque Terre’s World Heritage Listing, and how it affects tourism flows and the cultural morale of the community. All photography is my own.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is responsible for maintaining international cooperation in the realms of education, science, culture and communication (UNESCO, 2018a). This encompasses the preservation of some of the world’s most culturally and historically significant sites, including cultural and natural heritage sites that are of outstanding value to humanity. Italy counts 53 World Heritage Sites as listed by UNESCO, and this is the most of any country currently on the World Heritage List (UNESCO, 2018b). The UNESCO site of the Portovenere, Cinque Terre and surrounding Islands (Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto) on the Ligurian coast is a unique stand out among Italy’s list of sites. The Cinque Terre may be colloquially known as a “hikers’ paradise,” but there is more to its World Heritage Listing than its classification as a national park. More specifically, it is a landscape that contains the distinct cultural value to its community and is a testament to those who prosper among the disadvantageous terrain (UNESCO, 2018c). The culture and community that lives on it are unparalleled. However, with an increase in mass tourism, the Cinque Terre’s cultural value often goes unrecognised. The region’s World Heritage Listing could be acting as a double-edged sword, as it permits a growing tourism industry and provides locals with an income, but the increased tourism is also drastically affecting the preservation of the landscape, both culturally and environmentally.


A view of Cinque Terre’s many terraces from the heights of Riomaggiore


The Cinque Terre was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. It marked a time where traditional agricultural landscapes were beginning to be recognized as culturally significant, and this boosted the sense of pride in the Cinque Terre community (Rössler et al., 2006). Initially, being listed as a world heritage site rebirthed the regions territorial identity, causing it to quickly become a world-famous tourist destination. This newfound fame brought with it direct economic benefits, and the founding of the National Park also attracted international attention towards the preservation of the dry-stone wall terraces (Rössler et al., 2006) – a key component to the unique cultural landscape. The founding has done much to increase the protection and safeguarding of the cultural landscape while improving the agricultural quality of the products produced in the difficult terrain (Bottazzi et al., 2006). This basis to this premise is that the UNESCO World Heritage listing provides the region with a ‘tourism specialization’ that allowed it to emerge what is described by Arezki et al. (2009) as a ‘development trap’. In the case of the Cinque Terre, elements of a fast past developing modern world cease to exist but, yet it provides a physical representation of cultural heritage; a snapshot of life more than 150 years ago when human being overcame the steep terrain and proved the area to be economically productive. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Listing provides the region with the cultural heritage protection it desperately needs and provides the area with a new economic lease on life (Arezki et al., 2009), now that it is not viable to produce products in the region for everyday purpose. The products produced today, for example, the local Schiachetrà are premium, high cost and low availability products with only upwards of 6000 produced a year (Cinque Terre Eu, 2018), of which is not enough to sustain the long-term growth the regions GDP. As described by many locals, it is now the older generations who work the land on the terraces and agricultural production is significantly low and with the upcoming generations and a greater reliance on tourism for income. There are grave fears in regard to the total abandonment of the remaining terraces and hence, a significant loss of a cultural landscape and cultural heritage.


Sunset over Manarola


Despite many residents stating that tourism is needed and highly valued in the Cinque Terre, many also described significant negative impacts it has on the locals and the landscape itself. The double-edged sword phenomenon and similar community perceptions can also be seen in a case study by Haralambopoulos and Pizam (1996), that discuss how residents of Pythagorean, a well-established UNESCO World Heritage destination on the Greek island of Samos, understand the need for tourism and the positive effects it has on the region’s economy but also often identify many negative impacts of tourism. A key negative impact described is host-community (i.e the Cinque Terre or Pythagorean) destruction and debasement. In the case of the Cinque Terre, this can be seen when locals describe their discontent towards large organized tour groups and large cruise ship tour groups that dock in one of the villages for a day and leave by night- often not contributing high enough to the economy and the region to compensate for high foot traffic and tourist pressure. Haralambopoulos and Pizam (1996) also propose that tourism development is believed to adversely affect occupational distribution by sector, in which case was noted in the two Greek Islands that traditional agricultural occupations and crafts were abandoned or not adequately passed on to younger generations because tourism-related jobs were regarded as highly profitable. In the words of Cinque Terre locals, young people want a “real job” and are “obsessed with money” (Brewster et al., 2017), thereby, many terraces remain and continue to be abandoned. This is a direct example of the cultural destruction of the landscape; the reason why the Cinque Terre region exists, and humans proved the difficult terrain to be liveable and at least, once upon a time, ‘viable’, is because of the cultivation of crops on these mountain terraces. It is the exact reason why the Cinque Terre could be listed as a cultural landscape, actualized by human beings, on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The poignant question is, will its cultural heritage be forgotten entirely?


The physical representation of human beings overcoming some of the most difficult terrains.


It is critical that cultural heritage management and tourism in the Cinque Terre build and retain a positive relationship, otherwise, the very future of the region as a UNESCO cultural heritage site could be jeopardized. This will have to involve finding a balance between consumption of extrinsic values and expectation by tourists as well as the conservation of the intrinsic history and values of the cultural heritage (McKercher et al., 2002) the Cinque Terre community retains. McKercher and colleagues (2002) believe that a strong partnership between tourism management and cultural heritage begins with the conservation sector, in which case the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, or the Cinque Terre National Park, could integrate further with tourist agencies and businesses alike. Upon reflecting villager statements again, once upon a time, the National Park as a sector used to be highly integrated with tourism operations, made possible through the Cinque Terre Card, that allowed a cost-effective and easily useable transport pass for tourists. However, today, the general consensus is that this card is no longer useful and has changed in function in recent years and perhaps, could be revamped via the National Park board of trustees and village mayors. Furthermore, if large organized tour groups are of great concern, a conservation sector and tourist sector partnership could be highly beneficial to develop strategies that attract independent, culturally aware tourists. Strategies could include making hiking maps and individual trail maps accessible and educational, whether it is via physical maps, brochures or electronic apps on smartphones that have a strict focus on cultural sites. This could prevent the reliance on cruise ships, organized tours and subsequently reduce overall tourist pressure that is drastically affecting the region.


While 90% of the terraces are now abandoned, Manarola is home to those most looked after


Ultimately, to preserve the cultural heritage of the Cinque Terre and to retain its UNESCO ‘stamp’, all the while increasing culturally sensitive tourists, sustainable cultural heritage planning must be further developed (Du Cros, 2001). Where cultural tourism has clearly become a double-edged sword is reflected in the landscape’s inability to withstand mass touristic flows. Du Cros (2001) proposes a model of change that begins identifying marketable areas that are highly robust with a strong tourist appeal and directing high flows to these areas. Areas of high vulnerability, however, such as most sites and areas within the Cinque Terre, must prioritise a conservation plan that promotes sustainable flows of tourism to protect cultural integrity. Strategies such as docking limitations on cruise ships are already in place, however, dispersing flows across multiple routes and closely monitoring the number of tourists is critical for the preservation of the landscape.


What tourist wouldn’t want to explore the beauty of this Ligurian coastline?


There is a significant lack of sustainable cultural heritage planning and management research within the Cinque Terre region, hence, this reflective piece is highly limited. However, there is general research regarding this topic that could be reviewed and used as a basis to develop appropriate conservation strategies that protect the cultural significance of the Cinque Terre, while cultivating sustainable tourism the region now desperately needs for its local economy. It also may be that the region’s UNESCO ‘stamp’ will always be a double-edged sword, so long as it remains on the World Heritage List. But perhaps, a discussion should take place to alleviate the effects it has on the community and on its cultural beauty.


No flood or storm hazard could ever weaken this community’s pride



Thank you for reading,

Keep travelling,


Little Dove Travels

© Cora B.


Arezki, R., Cherif, R. and Piotrowski, J.M., 2009. Tourism specialization and economic development: Evidence from the UNESCO World Heritage List (Vol. 9). International Monetary Fund.

Bottazzi, C., Bottero, M., Mondini, G. and Raineri, D., 2006, July. Evaluation of the tourist demand in management plans for UNESCO sites: the case of the Cinque Terre Park (Italy). In Environment Identities and Mediterranean Area, 2006. ISEIMA’06. First international Symposium on (pp. 367-372). IEEE.

Brewster, C, Chua, A, Shuckoor, S, Maletzke, L, 2018, Viability and Sustainability of the Cinque Terre, Monash University, Australia/Malaysia

Cellini, R., 2011. Is UNESCO recognition effective in fostering tourism? A comment on Yang, Lin and Han. Tourism management32(2), pp.452-454.

Du Cros, H., 2001. A new model to assist in planning for sustainable cultural heritage tourism. International journal of tourism research3(2), pp.165-170.

Haralambopoulos, N. and Pizam, A., 1996. Perceived impacts of tourism: The case of Samos. Annals of tourism Research23(3), pp.503-526.

McKercher, B. and Du Cros, H., 2002. Cultural tourism: The partnership between tourism and cultural heritage management. Routledge.

Rössler, M., 2006. World heritage cultural landscapes: a UNESCO flagship programme 1992–2006. Landscape Research31(4), pp.333-353.

UNESCO, 2018a, Introducing UNESCO, UNESCO, date accessed: 18th of January 2018, https://en.unesco.org/about-us/introducing-unesco.

UNESCO, 2018b, World Heritage List, UNESCO, date accessed: 18th of January 2018, < http://whc.unesco.org/en/list>

UNESCO, 2018c, Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and the Islands (Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto), UNESCO, date accessed: 18th of January 2018 < http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/826>




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s