In some ways being designated a World Heritage Site could be seen as a mixed blessing. The City of
, for instance, was designated one in 1987, and now the queues to see the Roman Baths wind round the block, and Jane Austen and Fanny Burney must be turning in their graves in reaction to the busloads of trippers who wouldn’t know which way up to put a lace doily…. And on Dorset’s Bath (World Heritage Site since 2001) it is very very hard to get a drink in the “Square and Compass” (http://squareandcompasspub.co.uk/) at Worth Matravers without jostling with multiple families weighed down with casts of trilobites and bags of fossils. Jurassic Coast
In Italy there are 48 sites currently on the list (which is the highest concentration in the world); not surprisingly these include the Historic Centres of Rome (1980), Florence (1982) and Siena (1995), the city of Venice (1987), the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa (1987, 2007), the Trulli of Alberobello (1996) and the Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata (1997). And, since 1999, at the 21st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, as well, Le Cinque Terre (together with Portovenere and the Islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto) have been blessed (or cursed) with the designation.
To quote Wikipedia: “Over centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach them from the outside. The Cinque Terre is a very popular tourist destination…..” What is the key to this? Lack of visible corporate development? – I hardly think so! Much of Italy clearly displays a lack of corporate development, albeit mainly in the twentieth century, and this is hardly to be celebrated. Cars cannot reach them from outside? – now that may hold a clue. In fact there are roads and streets and vehicles do come and go, but these are either those who live there (who have to park on the periphery of their respective village) or delivery or service vehicles, without which the bars and restaurants in particular would rapidly cease to function. But the average visitor has to take the train, and this is perhaps where Le Cinque Terre do hit the spot.
At the height of the season, for most of each day, these trains are embarking and disembarking literally thousands of tourists at every stop. The Carabinieri are out in force to ensure a reasonable flow of pedestrians up and down each narrow main street and, although we are talking about decent, well-behaved World Heritage Tourists here and it’s not marked by street gangs or family beach parties, the throngs of international visitors can be oppressive. Think the Palio in
And why are they here? Well again, to tinge this with cynicism, they are celebrating a world without cars. Seriously, this is one of the defining features. Yes, there are many other attractive aspects, such as the exquisite natural landscape, the beautiful light on the sea as it sparkles at the feet of the cliffs, the trails that wind steeply up and down terraced hillsides, through olive groves and vineyards; and the delicious foods and wines, much of which is somehow local, but one of the unconscious desires the holiday maker seems to yearn for is to get away from the tyranny of the car, and where better to do this than in tiny, old-fashioned villages by the sea?