Rome, Caput Mundi during the Roman Empire, capital of Italy since 1870, home of the Catholic Church and the Italian government, is placed on the banks of the Tiber, there where the river, running weakly among the seven hills, creates vast meanders which originate little plains. With its 2,459,776 inhabitants (2001), Rome is today the biggest and most populous city of Italy. Located in the middle of the Italian peninsula, the city is easily accessible from most important places both in Italy and abroad. Fiumicino airport (also called Leonardo da Vinci), 26-km south-west of Rome, is the airport for both international and domestic air service. Having been the center of one of the world’s greatest civilizations ever, Rome has exerted a huge influence over the world in its millennium long history. For over 2,500 years, emperors, popes, artists, and common citizens have left their mark here. With wonderful palaces, ancient churches and basilicas, grand Roman monuments, ornate statues and graceful fountains, Rome has an immensely rich historical heritage and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Places to visit in Rome:
Campo de' Fiori
Campo de’ Fiori is a rectangular square south of Piazza Navona used as a marketplace during the day, and party central for college students and tourists at night. The name means “field of flowers” and was first given during the Middle Ages when the area was actually a meadow. Today the market is a lively place, especially when the daily vegetable market is held here (every morning except Sundays). Visitors can buy fresh produce at the market, as well as fish, meat, flowers and spices.
One of the most famous of Rome’s many squares, Piazza Navona was established towards the end of the 15th century, and preserves the shape of the Stadium of Domitian that once stood here. Built by Emperor Domitian in 86 AD, the stadium, which had a larger arena than the Colosseum was mainly used for festivals and sporting events. The buildings surrounding the square stand where the spectators once sat. Today, the square features no less than three magnificent fountains and is an immensely popular place to sip a cappuccino, shop, and watch street performers.
Castel Sant’Angelo began life as the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, built between 135 and 139 AD. Subsequent strongholds built on top of the mausoleum were in turn incorporated into a residence and castle by medieval Popes. The building was used as a prison until 1870, but now houses a museum. Among the most well known tourist attractions in Rome, film buffs will recognize it as a setting from “Angels and Demons”.
Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, The Roman Forum (or Forum Romanum in Latin) was for centuries the teeming heart of ancient Rome: the site of triumphal processions and elections, venue for public speeches, and nucleus of commercial affairs. The Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and includes the Arches of Septimius Severus and Titus, the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina and the Temple of Saturn.
A truly monumental stairway of 135 steps, the Spanish Steps were built with French funds between 1721‑1725 in order to link the Bourbon Spanish embassy to the Holy See with the French church, Trinità dei Monti. The steps are usually very crowded attracting tourists as well as locals who use it as a gathering place. Each year in May the steps are decorated with pink azaleas. At the foot of the Spanish Steps is the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish square) and the Fontana della Barcaccia, a sober fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Completed in 1762 to a design by Nicola Salvi, this world famous Baroque fountain features a mythological sculptural composition of Neptune, god of the sea, flanked by two Tritons. The location of the Trevi fountain marks the terminus of the ancient Aqua Virgo aqueduct and is so named on account of its position at the junction of three roads (tre vie). The fountain was the setting for an iconic scene in Fellini’s film Dolce Vita starring Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni. Since than, it has become one of the most popular Rome tourist attractions. The legend says that one who throws a coin in the fountain shall one day return to Rome.
Founded by Pope Julius II in the 6th century, the Vatican Museums inside the Vatican City boasts some of the world’s most important relics. Attractions of the museums include the spiral staircase, the Raphael Rooms and the exquisitely decorated Sistine Chapel. Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512. Today the ceiling, and especially The Last Judgment, are widely believed to be Michelangelo’s crowning achievements in painting.
One of the best preserved Roman buildings, The Pantheon was built in 126 AD as a temple for all the Roman gods. The temple has served as a Roman Catholic Church since the 7th century. The Pantheon consists of a large circular portico with three ranks of huge granite Corinthian columns. The portico opens into a rotunda which is topped with a concrete dome with a central opening: the oculus. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.
St. Peter's Basilica
The center of the Catholic world and a major tourist attraction, the Basilica of St. Peter is a huge church: with an interior height of 120m, the space shuttle, together with its booster rockets, could fit inside, as could the Statue of Liberty. The basilica stands on the traditional site where Peter, the apostle who is considered the first pope, was crucified and buried. Construction on the current building began in 1506 and was completed in 1615. Many famous artists worked on the complex and its surroundings: Michelangelo designed the dome while Bernini designed the great St. Peter’s Square.
The Colosseum is the largest and most famous amphitheater in the Roman world. Its construction was started by emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty in 72 AD and was finished by his son Titus in 80 AD. The Colosseum was capable of holding some 50,000 spectators who could enter the building through no less than 80 entrances. The Colosseum today is a major tourist attraction in Rome with thousands of tourists paying to view, what is left of, the interior arena.
Milan, the capital of Lombardy, has a population of 1.3 million people. Milan (Milano) is the second largest city in Italy and financially the most important. It is also the country's most modern Italian city but it manages to keep most of its historical past intact. Milan has an ancient city centre with high and interesting buildings and palazzos, which is why so many people from all over the world want to see the city of glamour. This city is the country’s financial and fashion capital. It’s a sophisticated metropolis, a city with a forward-looking attitude that never forgets its past glories. Home to designers like Prada, Armani and Versace, Milan’s impressive shopping centers attract nearly as many visitors as the city’s centuries-old cultural institutions. With attractions in Milan like the Duomo Cathedral, La Scala and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper it’s no wonder that Milan is Italy’s third most visited city after Rome and Venice.
Places to visit in Milan:
The administrative center of the city during the Middle Ages, the Piazza Mercanti offers visitors a glimpse of Medieval life in Milan. The square is smaller now – the 13th-century Broletto Nuovo that once stood at the center of the piazza now marks the square’s northeast boundary – but the buildings look much as they did centuries ago. On the southeastern side is the Loggia degli Osii where the city’s authorities once addressed the populace from the structure’s balconies. During the winter holidays, the square is turned into a lively Christmas market.
Pinacoteca di Brera
Thanks to Napoleon, who confiscated much of Italy’s best pieces of art during the 18th century and deposited them in Milan, the Pinacoteca di Brera is a world-class museum with an astonishing assortment of fine paintings. Housed in more than 40 rooms, the collection is located upstairs from the Accademia di Belle Arti, a still-operating art school founded in 1776 by Maria Theresa of Austria. Works by Italian painters like Raphael, Tintoretto, Veronese and Caravaggio are featured in the collection. European masters like Rembrandt, van Dyck and Goya are well represented as well.
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
Second only to the Duomo di Milano in importance, the Basilica di Sant’ Ambrogio is named after its founder, the 4th-century bishop of Milan and the city’s patron saint. Ambrose’s remains are still housed in the church. While there’s little left of the original structure, the current church dates back to the 11th century. Treasures of the basilica include a gold altar added by Charlemagne, a 10th century marble pulpit and an atrium lined with columns made to look like tree trunks. A small chapel off the right aisle of the nave known as the Sacello di San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro features 5th century mosaics.
Milan’s Navigli, or canals, date back as far as the 12th century when they were constructed to facilitate irrigation. In the 1300s, the canal system was expanded for the transportation of goods, a use that continued well into the 19th century. Today, visitors to Milan can enjoy a 55-minute cruise along the remaining Navigli Lombardi. Tour boats depart from the point where Darsena, the city’s historic port, and the Naviglio Grande, Milan’s most important canal, meet. Strolling along the narrow towpaths is a popular way to explore the Navigli neighborhood too.
One of the best known tourist attractions in Milan, La Scala has enjoyed a reputation as a premier opera house since its first performance of “L’Europa Riconosciuta,” by Antonio Salieri, in 1778. Designed in the Neoclassical style by architect Giuseppe Piermarini, the red-and-gold theater is famous for its superb acoustics, which reveal the true abilities of a singer so accurately that a performance at La Scale is viewed as a trial by fire.
The Sforzesco Castle exemplifies the fierce rivalries between families in Renaissance Italy. Built as fortress during the 14th century, the structure became a showcase of power and prestige. Among the castle’s most famous inhabitants were Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice d’Este, a couple who filled the Sforzesco with fine art and furnishings. Today, the castle is home to the Museo d’Arte Antica, which features the Pietà Rondanini, Michelangelo’s final masterpiece. An extensive display of Egyptian art is on display in the castle’s former ducal apartments.
Also known as the Quadrilatero della moda, the Quadrilatero d’Oro is not only Milan’s most exclusive shopping district but one of the world’s most important centers for fashion as well. The “Golden Quadrilateral” encompasses several city blocks, most of which are ornamented with Neoclassical architecture. Via Sant’Andrea features some of the brightest luminaries of the fashion world, including Hermès, Armani, Chanel and Michael Kors. The fashionable Via Manzoni boasts architectural gems worth visiting too, including the elegant Grand Hotel et de Milan where Giuseppe Verdi died in 1901.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Built during the late 1800s, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the oldest enclosed shopping malls in the world. With its blue glass vaulted ceilings, mosaic flooring and towering central dome, the mall’s architecture is as stunning as the high-end couture offered in its shops, which include Louis Vuitton, Borsalino and Prada. The shopping center’s popularity as meeting place as earned the Galleria the nickname “il salotto di Milano,” or Milan’s drawing room. Tradition has it that turning on one’s heel over the mosaic bull under the central dome brings good luck.
Santa Maria delle Grazie
Designed and built in the late 1400s by renowned Renaissance architect Donato Bramate, the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie is best known for its most famous artifact: The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Despite a 21-year-long restoration process completed in 1999, the painting gives only hints of its original glory, yet its artistry is so great that viewing it is still a powerful and moving experience for many visitors. Only 25 visitors are allowed to view the masterpiece at a time, making reservations mandatory for the must-see masterpiece.
One of the most elaborate Gothic cathedrals in Europe is the Milan Cathedral, also known as the Duomo di Milano. Dedicated to Saint Mary Nascent, this cathedral is the largest cathedral in Italy, and the fifth largest in the world. Construction of the cathedral began in 1386 and it was consecrated in 1418. However, it was not until 1965 that the finishing touches were applied to the building. This long construction period led to the use of various building styles, resulting in a masterpiece of architecture and art.
Today, Genoa (Genóva in Italian) is Italy's leading port, with a long history of maritime power that began when it defeated rival Pisa in the 10th century. The riches that flowed into the city in the 16th and 17th centuries still show in the marble palaces that earned it the nickname of La Superba. These old noble palaces, more numerous and splendid here than in any other place in Italy, are the city's most important tourist attractions. Along the waterfront, in the tangle of steep streets and lanes of the old sailors' quarter, fanning up from the Porto Vecchio (old harbor), you gain a sense of what the city must have felt like at the height of its sea power. Genoa is a vertical city, rising abruptly from the arc of its harbor to the lower slopes of the Apennine mountains. As the capital city of the Liguria region on the northwest coast of Italy, Genoa is most associated as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.The city’s shining crown is its historic center, which features narrow, winding streets that reveal surprising gems at every turn like marvelous architecture and artistic treasures.
Places to visit in Genoa:
Piazza De Ferrari
The hub of Genoa is the Piazza De Ferrari, its splashing fountain surrounded by grand buildings, and with the busiest streets radiating from it in all directions. Walk down Genoa's principal street, Via XX Settembre, and adjacent streets to see the outstanding Art Nouveau facades. The imposing 19th-century Neo-Baroque building on the east side is the Exchange (Borsa), and the Accademia Ligustica di Belle Artiholds sculptures from Genoa and Liguria, along with other art. At the corner of Via Roma, from which you can access the Galleria Mazzini shopping arcade, stands theTeatro Carlo Felice, built in 1828, and rebuilt after World War II. Among Italy's finest and largest opera houses, this new state-of-the-art venue has flawless acoustics and hosts concerts and jazz along with opera.
Porta Soprana and Casa di Colombo (Columbus's House)
The short Via Dante leads south from Piazza De Ferrari to Piazza Dante, where you'll see the two well-preserved towers of Porta Soprana, a gate in the city walls, built in 1155. Christopher Columbus spent his childhood in the much-restored stone house next to the beautiful little cloister of Sant'Andrea. There's not much to see in the museum inside, but the combination of the house, gate, and cloister make this short detour worthwhile.
Piazza Matteotti and Santi Ambrogio e Andrea
Just southwest of Piazza De Ferrari, the former Doge's Palace, now an exhibition center, dominates Piazza Matteotti. Go around the palace to the left along Via Tommaso Reggio to find the black-and-white-striped Gothic church of San Matteo(1278), with many relics of the noble Doria family. In the crypt is the tomb of Andrea Doria, the Admiral who restored Genoa's independence in the 1500s, and beside the church is a beautiful early 14th-century cloister. The highlight of Piazza Matteotti is the Jesuit church of Santi Ambrogio e Andrea, built 1588-1637. To many, this is the most beautiful church interior in Genoa, in exuberant high-baroque style with frescoes and two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. Although the façade was not added until the 1800s, it is based on drawings by Rubens.
Cathedral of San Lorenzo
From Piazza Matteotti, the busy Via San Lorenzo runs northwest to the harbor. You can't miss the dramatic Cathedral of San Lorenzo, built originally as a Romanesque basilica in the 1100s, remodeled in Gothic style in 1307, and finished off with a Renaissance dome in 1557. Inside are more bits of architectural history: the large 15th-century Cappella San Giovanni Battista is the earliest example of Renaissance architecture in Genoa, built to hold the remains of St. John the Baptist. The saint's ashes, the platter on which Salome is reputed to have been presented his head, and a bowl long held to be the Holy Grail are all in the Tesoro della Cattedrale (treasury) below.
Santa Maria di Castello
TThere is evidence that Castello Hill is one of the most ancient sites in Genoa, in use when the early tribes traded with the Phoenicians and Etruscans. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, a succession of churches and convents were built here. At the center of the complex is the 12th-century Romanesque church of Santa Maria, and from its sacristy you can enter a three-story cloister added when the Dominicans made it into a convent in the 15th century. These loggias overlook the sea, and have beautiful frescoed ceilings.
Via Garibaldi Palaces
You might expect a street laid out in the 16th and 17th centuries as a setting for palaces of Genoa's richest and most powerful families to be a grand broad avenue, but Via Garibaldi is little more than a lane. It seems even narrower because it is hemmed in on both sides by the grandiose facades of side-by-side palaces. This little street, which lies north of Piazza Ferrari and above the sailors' quarter, is worth walking down even if none of the palaces is open to tour. Its facades present a succession of carved and painted embellishments, frescoes, grand arcades and loggias, balconies, courtyards, and entrances crowned by crests of noble families whose homes these were. So outstanding is this assemblage that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can tour three of these -- Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Tursi - on a single ticket to see the interiors and their superb art collections.
Via Balbi and Palazzo Reale
West of the magnificent church of Santissima Annunziata is the beginning of Via Balbi, another street laid out in the early 17th century and lined with splendid palaces. Wider than Via Garibaldi, but less breathtaking in grandeur and more punctuated with shops and everyday life, it still has its share of palaces. At No. 4 stands the Palazzo Balbi-Senarega and at No. 5 is the Palazzo dell'Università, with the finest courtyard and gardens in Genoa. Opposite Palazzo dell'Università is the 17th-century Palazzo Reale, worth seeing for its grand staircases, balconies, sumptuously decorated interior, and art collection, which includes several by Van Dyck, who lived and worked in Genoa for six years. Step onto the beautiful garden terrace for views of the harbor and Piazza Statuto.
Genoa's harbor, some 22 kilometers of wharves host cruise, pleasure, and transport vessels in one of the Mediterranean's two largest ports (the other is Marseilles). As the traffic outgrew the Porto Vecchio (old port), a series of new facilities and a maritime station were built for shipping commerce, to welcome cruise passengers, and to house a Maritime Museum and Aquarium. But the historic section remains, and you can still see the Darsena where the galleys of Admiral Andrea Doria were built. For the best sense of the enormity and activity of the harbor, as well as to see the big ships and the little Porticciolo Duca degli Abruzzi, used by yachts and sailing boats, hop onto one of the many harbor cruises. As a bonus, you will also get the best view of the city itself, spread in a giant bowl at the foot of the mountains. From Piazza Cavour, south of the free port, runs the Circonvallazione a Mare, a seafront highway built when the outer city walls were torn down. The highway passes the International Trade Fair grounds on land reclaimed from the sea, ending at Piazza della Vittoria.
Acquario di Genova (Aquarium)
The largest aquarium in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, Genoa's is part of a massive waterfront "Edutainment" center that could take days to explore fully. Built in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the voyage of native son Christopher Columbus, the aquarium teaches about marine animals of all kinds, showing them in largely natural environments. A biosphere contains a tropical garden.
Galata Museo del Mare (Maritime Museum)
Genoa was a major Mediterranean naval power, especially from the 16th to19th centuries, so its old harbor is an appropriate place for the Mediterranean's largest maritime museum. Occupying part of the Darsena where the Republic of Genoa built its own fleet, the four floors of engaging exhibits give a good picture of ships and navigation from the Age of Discoveries to ocean liners and submarines.
Sitting as it does in the Mediterranean, Sardinia has been a stopping point for everyone who sailed that sea, from the Phoenicians to today's cruise ships. Not surprisingly, each has left its traces in the capital city of Cagliari, on Sardinia's south coast. The oldest part of Cagliari is known as the Castello. It clings to the slopes of a hill that rises steeply from the harbor and has been fought over by the Pisans, Genoese, and Spanish, and raided by pirates from North Africa. Cagliari's people and traditions show this varied heritage, and the influences of different periods are reflected in its architecture as well. Facing the harbor, the Town Hall blends Spanish Gothic with Italian Art Nouveau, and elsewhere in the city, you'll recognize Neoclassical arcades and bastions, medieval towers, Roman and medieval stonework, and Baroque churches. Sardinia has its own language, which many people still speak at home and among friends, but everyone speaks Italian and many also speak English. It also has its own cuisine, so be sure to try some of the local dishes you'll find highlighted on menus. All this makes Cagliari and the south coast's attractions even more fun for tourists to explore.
Places to visit in Cagliari:
The wide Via Roma runs along the busy harbor, where cruise ships dock in the heart of the city. Bookmarking the corner opposite the rail station is the ornate City Hall, and beside it, tree-shaded Largo Carlo Felice rises at a gentle incline to Piazza Yenne. Above, rise the bastions of the Castello quarter, and to the right, along the base of Castello, Via G Manno, a shopping and commercial street popularly known as the Costa, leads to the Piazza della Costituzione. From this piazza, the beautiful Viale Regina Elena descends sedately to the Maritime Station, completing the boundaries of the Marina quarter.
Bastione San Remy
Begin your tour of Cagliari by climbing the marble steps of Passeggiata Coperta (or taking the free elevator) from Piazza della Costituzione to Bastione San Remy. Although this and other bastions, such as the higher Bastione Santa Caterina, were built to defend the Castello quarter, stronghold of the Pisans and Genoese and briefly home to the Savoy royal family, today, they provide an ideal vantage point for tourists and locals to enjoy sweeping views. It's a perfect spot to get your bearings by picking out landmarks - the harbor, the Marina quarter below, the leafy Villanova neighborhood to the left, and the hilltop Basilica di Nostra Signora di Bonaria.
Torre dell'Elefante (Elephant Tower)
Many of the original medieval walls were torn down, some to build the later bastions, but one imposing tower and gate remain as an entrance into the Castello quarter. The easiest way to reach it is from Piazza Yenne, the large square at the upper end of Largo Carlo Felice. Take the elevator behind Chiesa di Santa Chiara, and at the top, walk right, to Torre dell'Elefante. The tower was part of fortifications that were built in haste to protect Castello from the Aragonese, who were invading Sardinia from Spain. Along with the carved elephant that gives the tower its name (on the lower side), look for the coats of arms of old families, including the powerful Visconti from northern Italy. The original portcullis from 1307 is still in the gate. Why an elephant? You'll hear as many explanations as there are guides, but nobody knows for sure.
A gate in the old Torre dell'Aquila above Bastione San Remy leads into the narrow main street of the old town, Il Castello, a warren of arched passageways, steep lanes, and flights of steps. Straight ahead in the terraced Piazza del Palazzo is thecathedral of Santa Maria, built by the Pisans in 1312. On the higher terrace are thePalazzo Arcivescovile (archbishop's palace) and the long façade of the Palazzo Reggio, where the Savoy royal family lived after Napoleon captured Turin.
The cathedral's central façade is something of a 1930s restoration disaster. The original Romanesque façade was replaced in 1722 with more fashionable Baroque decoration. Two centuries later, restorers tore that off expecting to uncover the original. Finding nothing underneath, they covered it with a poor imitation of Romanesque. More interesting are the unrestored 13th-century walls to the left and on the campanile, where you can spot parts of recycled pre-Christian and carved Roman tombs, one imbedded upside down. Just inside, flanking the entrance, are the two halves of a pulpit from Pisa Cathedral, a masterpiece of 12th-century sculpture that was presented to Cagliari after it was replaced. Look carefully for the frog carved into the relief, the "signature" of the 12th-century Pisan master, Maestro Guillermo, builder of the Leaning Tower. Other artistic and historical treasures fill the cathedral, among them exquisite silver in a small Gothic chapel and two crypts (you'll see the staircase) containing nearly 200 early Christian martyrs excavated from the old San Saturnochurch and identified as saints. Look up to admire the crypt's elaborate ceiling.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Archaeology Museum)
At the far end of Piazza del Palazzo, an arch leads into Piazza dell'Indipendenza, where you'll find the Torre San Pancrazio, a watch tower built in 1305 to defend the old bastion. Beyond, through another arch, is Piazza Arsenale, and in it, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Its beautifully displayed Punic, Greek, and Roman collections are very well interpreted, but what makes this museum a must-see attraction for tourists is the wealth of information on Sardinia. Here, you'll find impressive collections of ancient gold work and the bronze statues and other treasures discovered in thenuraghi, those ancient and mysterious round stone structures found all over the island. This museum gives an invaluable overview that makes these attractions far more meaningful and opens a window into the lives of people who lived here more than 3,000 years ago.
Cittadella dei Musei (Museum Citadel)
In addition to the Archaeology Museum, this repurposed bastion holds several others. Of these, the most interesting to tourists is the National Art Gallery, which displays some magnificent gold and carved painted altarpieces from Cagliari's destroyed Baroque churches. (The city was heavily damaged by World War II bombing, which left several of these in near ruin.) The unusual Anatomical Waxes Collection and a museum dedicated to the art of Thailand complete the complex.
From the bastions near the museums, you can look down into a Roman amphitheater dating from the end of the first century, set into a natural curve in the hillside's rocky slope. This is the city's most important Roman remain, and when it is not closed for archaeological study or restoration work, it is used for concerts and performances. It is sometimes possible to visit it with a guide when it is closed for restoration.
Mercato di San Benedetto (San Benedetto Market)
For a glimpse of local life, as well as a look at the tremendous variety of seafood that awaits you on Sardinian menus, make a morning trip to the city's principal market, the covered Mercato di San Benedetto. Along with one of Italy's largest and best fish markets, which fills one entire floor, you'll see the seasonal products of Sardinia's fertile land. Look especially for the sheep cheeses, for which the island is famous, and for the distinctive pasta shapes (easy to carry home as souvenirs). This is a good place to find picnic provisions for a day trip.
Santuario di Bonaria
Crowning a hilltop southeast of the city, and a prominent landmark seen from Bastione San Remy, is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria. The church houses a venerated statue believed to have stopped a storm in time to save the crew of a Spanish vessel shipwrecked in the Gulf of Sardinia, off Cagliari, in the winter of 1307. The small Spanish Gothic church dates to the 14th century, and the larger Neoclassical basilica was built in the 18th century. The Sanctuary Museum holds votives and archaeological finds.
The "City of Bridges", as it is usually called, stretches along the mouths of the Po and the Piave rivers. Out of the 270,000 inhabitants, about 62,000 live in the historical center, or city of Venice, about 176,000 live in the mainland or "Terraferma", behind the lagoon, in locations like Mestre and Marghera, and all others live on islands throughout the lagoon (there are about 100 islands around Venice). Also known as a famous place for sweethearts, lovers, artists and poets, Venice is a magical city, which stretches across numerous small islands. It is often refered to as the city of "gondole", which are the means of transportation used to cross the numerous canals passing through the city. In Venice you'll find many historical buildings, both with modern interiors and also with the traditional designs which are common all over the city. Renting a holiday apartment in Venice means you can soak up the romantic atmosphere at affordable prices. If you prefer more traditional accommodation, there are many cheap hotels in Venice. GONDOLAS, in fact, are the most famous and romantic means of transportation for experiencing the city. The gondola is the symbol of Venice, which has made it famous all over the world.
Places to visit in Venice:
St. Mark's Basilica
Certainly Venice's best-known church, and one of the most easily recognized in the world, St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) was originally the Doge's private chapel, decorated with Byzantine art treasures that are part of the booty brought back by Venetian ships after the fall of Constantinople. The gold-backed mosaic pictures above the doorways on the façade only hint at the mosaic artistry inside, where 4,240 square meters of gold mosaics cover the domes and walls. These set a distinctly Byzantine tone to its soaring interior, but you'll find treasures from other periods, including later mosaics designed by Titian and Tintoretto - names you'll encounter all over the city. The magnificent golden altarpiece, the Pala d'Oro, one of the finest in Europe, was begun by early 12th-century artists, and centuries later, adorned with nearly 2,000 gems and precious stones. If you can tear your eyes from this, the mosaic domes, and the multitude of richly decorated altars, glance down at the floor, a masterpiece of marble inlay. And take time to see the gold reliquaries and icons in the Treasury.
St. Mark's Square
The vast expanse of Venice's largest square is brought together and made to seem almost intimate by the elegant uniformity of its architecture on three sides. But more than its architectural grace, St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) is loved as Venice's living room, the place everybody gathers, strolls, drinks coffee, stops to chat, meets friends and tour guides, or just passes through on the way to work or play. Three sides are framed in arcades, beneath which are fashionable shops and even more fashionable cafés. The open end is bookmarked by the erratic, exotic curves, swirls, mosaics, and lacy stone filigree of St. Mark's Basilica. Above it towers the brick shaft of the campanile. For overviews of this busy piazza, you can go to its top or to the top of the Torre dell'Orologio, where a pair of "Moors" strikes the hour.
Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) and Bridge of Sighs
Visitors arriving in Venice once stepped ashore under the façade of this extraordinary palace. They couldn't have failed to be impressed, both by its size and the finesse of its architecture. If they were received inside by the Doges, the impression would only strengthen as they entered through the Porta della Carta, a perfect example of Venetian Gothic at its height, and ascended the monumental Scala dei Giganti and the gold vaulted Scala d'Oro to be received in what many consider to be the palace's most beautiful chamber, Sala del Collegio. Even jaded 21st-century travelers gasp in awe at the palace's grandeur and lavish decoration. You'll see works by all the Venetian greats including Tintoretto, whose Paradise is the largest oil painting in the world. Not open on public tours but included on private tours is a walk across the Bridge of Sighs to the dark cells of the Prigioni - the prisons from which Casanova made his famous escape.
Canale Grande (Grand Canal)
Sweeping through the heart of Venice in a giant reverse S curve, the Grand Canal is the principal boulevard through the city, connecting Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge,and the arrival points of the rail station and bridge from the mainland. Only four bridges cross its 3.8-kilometer length, but stripped-down gondolas called traghettishuttle back and forth at several points between bridges. The Grand Canal was the address of choice for anyone who claimed any influence in Venice. Palaces of all the leading families open onto the canal, their showy Venetian Gothic and Early Renaissance facades facing the water, by which visitors arrived. These grand palaces - or at least their facades - are well preserved today, and a trip along the canal by vaporetto is the best way to see them..
Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
Once the only bridge across the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge marks the spot of the island's first settlement, called Rivus Altus (high bank). Built in 1588, some 150 years after the collapse of a previous wooden bridge, this stone arch supports two busy streets and a double set of shops. Along with serving as a busy crossing point midway along the canal, it is a favorite vantage point for tourists taking - or posing for - photos, and for watching the assortment of boats always passing under it. The church of San Bartolomeo, close to the San Marco end of the bridge, was the church of the German merchants who lived and worked in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (German Commodity Exchange) bordering the canal here. It has an excellent altarpiece, The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, by Palma the Younger.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
This impressive white marble building was built between 1515 and 1560 to house a charitable society dedicated to San Rocco. Soon after its completion, the great 16th-century Venetian artist Tintoretto won the competition to paint a central panel for the ceiling of the Sala dell'Albergo by entering the building and putting his painting in its intended place before the judging, much to the irritation of his rival artists. He later decorated its walls and ceilings with a complete cycle of paintings, which are considered to be the artist's masterpiece. The earliest works, in the Sala dell'Albergo, date to 1564 and 1576 and include The Glorification of St. Roch, Christ before Pilate, the Ecce Homo, and the most powerful of all, The Crucifixion. Those in the upper hall depict New Testament scenes, painted between 1575 and 1581. The lighting is not good, and the paintings themselves are dark, but you can still appreciate Tintoretto's innovations in the use of light and color. You can see the ceilings more easily with one of the mirrors that are provided. More works by Tintoretto are in the chancel of the adjacent church of San Rocco.
The delicate marble filigree by Bartolomeo Bon seems too lace-like to be carved of stone, and you can only imagine the impression this façade must have made covered in its original paint and gold. Along with the Porta della Carta in the Palazzo Ducale, also created by Bartolomeo Bon, this is considered the most perfect example of Venetian Gothic. You can admire the interior, too, as this palazzo is now an art museum, restored to provide both a setting for the art works and a look at the way wealthy Venetians lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. The connoisseur responsible for saving the palace, Baron Giorgio Franchetti, gave his art collection to the state in 1922, with works by Titian, Mantegna, Van Dyck, Tullio Lombardo, and Bernini.
Murano and Burano
A trip to Venice wouldn't be complete without hopping aboard a vaporetto for the ride across the lagoon to Murano, home of Venice's fabled glass workers. They were sent here in the 13th century in hope of decreasing the risk of fire from one of the glass furnaces sweeping through Venice's tightly compacted center. Or so they claimed. Just as likely, it was to keep the secrets of glassblowing a Venetian monopoly. This was no small matter to the Venetians, whose Council of Ten decreed in 1454: "If a glass-blower takes his skill to another country to the detriment of the Republic he shall be ordered to return; should be refuse, his nearest relatives shall be thrown into prison so that his sense of family duty may induce him to return; should he persist in his disobedience secret measures shall be taken to eliminate him wherever he may be." It was a lot easier to keep track of them if they were confined to an island. The canal sides today are lined by glass showrooms and studios, showing everything from cheap imported trinkets to exquisite works of art. Inside the 17th-century Palazzo Giustinian is the Glass Museum, with one of the largest and most important collections of Venetian glass from the time of the Romans to the 20th century. But it's not all glass: The church of Santi Maria e Donato combines Veneto-Byzantine and Early Romanesque features, a result of its various stages of building between the seventh and 12th centuries. Notice especially the columns of Greek marble with Veneto-Byzantine capitals, the 12th-century mosaic floor with animal figures, and the St. Donato above the first altar on the left. Dated 1310, it is the earliest example of Venetian painting. The 14th-century San Pietro Martire contains several splendid Venetian paintings: Bellini's Madonna in Majesty with St. Mark and the Doge Agostino Barbarigo and his Assumption of the Virgin, along with St. Jerome in the Wildernessand St. Agatha in Prison by Paolo Veronese. It's a quick hop to the next island, Burano, a fishing village of brilliantly painted houses, known historically for its lace making. The Scuola dei Merletti (lace school) and its small museum will help you distinguish the real thing from the cheap imports you'll find in shops.
Gallerie dell'Accademia (Fine Arts Museum)
Called "Accademia" for short, this museum on the Grand Canal has the most important and comprehensive collection of 15th-18th-century Venetian painting in existence. Much of the collection was assembled from monasteries and churches that were closed and from the clearing of palaces of noble families, now displayed in the former Monastery of Santa Maria della Carità. Some of the galleries, such as the first one, which contains Venetian Gothic Painting, have richly carved and gilded 15th-century ceilings. Works are arranged chronologically, so you can not only trace the evolution of styles, but can compare the works of contemporaries. Highlights of the 15th- and 16th-century paintings are St. George by Andrea Mantegna, St Jerome and a Donor by Piero della Francesca, Madonna and Saints by Giovanni Bellini, Portrait of Christ by Vittore Carpaccio, and Madonna under the Orange Tree by Cima da Conegliano. St. John the Baptist and a magnificent Pietà by Titian, Tintoretto's Cain and Abel and The Miracle of St. Mark, Paolo Veronese'sMarriage of St. Catherine and Supper in the House of Levi, St. Ursula by Vittore Carpaccio, and several works by Giambattista Tiepolo are also worth special notice.
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
This Gothic church was begun by the Franciscans about 1340 and finished with the completion of the facade, interior, and two chapels in the middle of the 15th century. Its impressive 14th-century campanile is the second highest in the city. Although the interior is in keeping with the simple unadorned style of Franciscan churches, it contains a wealth of artistic treasures. In the right transept is an important wood statue of St. John the Baptist by Florentine sculptor Donatello, done in 1451 (first chapel to the right of the sanctuary). In the sacristy is a triptych Madonna and Child Enthroned with Four Saints by Giovanni Bellini. In the left transept, the statue of St. John the Baptist on the stoup of the Cappella Cornaro was created by the sculptor and master-builder Jacopo Sansovino The Monks' Choir is an outstanding example of the wood-carving of Marco Cozzi, with reliefs of saints and Venetian scenes. And the sanctuary contains the tomb of two Doges by Antonio Rizzo, and over the high altar is Titian's Assunta, painted between 1516 and 1518. The Mausoleum of Titian in the south aisle was a gift from Ferdinand I of Austria, when he was King of Lombardy Veneto. You can't help noticing the pyramidal mausoleum made by the students of the sculptor Antonio Canova in the north aisle, and opposite, the large monument to Titian, also by students of Canova. Beside the Cappella Emiliani, which has a fine mid-15th-century polyptych with marble figures, is Madonna di Ca' Pesaro, completed in 1526 and one of Titian's most important works.
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Why I love Italy?
“Italy's 20 regions feel more like 20 independent states, each with its own dialects, traditions, architecture and glorious food. From nibbling on knödel in an Alto Adige chalet to exploring souk-like market streets in Sicily, the choices are as diverse as they are seductive. Then there's the country's incomparable artistic treasures, which amount to more than the rest of the world put together. It's hard not to feel...”
Cristian Bonetto - Writer