This paper presents certain results of a wider research that aims at studying the impacts of tourism on the delicate environmental system in order to define landscape and town planning strategies and instruments, which can mitigate risks and combine the needs of economic development with those of conservation. The theme is of particular interest in the Mediterranean Basin, which is the world’s most important tourist area, owing to its high concentration of a very rich cultural heritage that has stratified in time and is made up of monuments, historical sites, urban and rural landscapes and material and immaterial cultural products. If figures related to tourism are high and it is not well planned, it can twist the identity of a place and irreversibly deplete the available natural resources. On the contrary, if systematically and sustainably approached, it can become a workshop for the contact of civilizations, the respect of peoples, the enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage and the diffusion of local identities. The complexity of the topic, its transversal nature in relation to other sectors and the responsibilities of the different levels of local government demand a holistic approach and forms of governance that involve numerous public and private actors. In view of the above, the paper proposes Calabria, a region in the south of Italy, as a particularly significant case study to understand the dynamics, conflicts and future prospects of development of the relation between cultural sites and tourism. Moreover, it considers the opportunities offered by the available instruments, which, though different in nature and origin, share the same aim to encourage the creation of integrated systems of local sustainable development through the promotion of the Heritage Sites and the full integration of tourism in the local fabric.
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