Byzantium frescoes, paintings by early Baroque artists and a letter by Christopher Colombus are among 31 stolen artefacts recovered by Italian police to go on show Wednesday at UNESCO's Paris headquarters.

"This exhibition ... is aimed at raising awareness worldwide about the safeguarding of our cultural heritage," said Pasquale Muggeo, general of Italy's Carabinieri paramilitary police which recovered the stolen works with help from authorities worldwide.

Among objects to go on show is a 12th-century ivory crucifix that was stolen from the San Sabino cathedral in the southeastern Italian town of Canosa di Puglia in 1983 and recovered some 25 years later.

Muggeo recounted how the crucifix was put up for sale in France in April 2008, piquing the curiosity of the Italian interior ministry's office charged with fighting the trafficking of cultural goods.

"Thanks to the database managed by the Carabinieri, an international operation led to the arrest of a French woman," the general added.

Several antique vases, pre-Columbian statues, paintings by early Baroque artists Ludovico Carracci and Le Guerchin, as well as two panels of medieval chests painted in the 15th century by Bernardino Fungai, make up the collection on show until July 6.

Italy became the first country to create a specialised unit to combat illegal trafficking of cultural goods in May 1969.

According to UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, the Carabinieri have recovered 961,082 antiquities and half a million other objects and have launched legal proceedings against 28,600 people.

"We are not only working for our country but for about 15 others, including Serbia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic," Muggeo said, adding: "We work for humanity worldwide."