Cathedral of Modena, Ghirlandina and Piazza Grande

Cathedral of Modena, UNESCO

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A new architectural style made its rounds through Europe in the 11th century. Romanesque architecture with its round arches, thick walls and small windows quickly conquered the entire continent developing many an exciting regional subset. Italy in particularly opened itself up for these new influences that were especially welcomed in Emilia Romagna. Among the most important Romanesque buildings is San Geminiano, the Cathedral of Modena. Together with its 88 m high bell tower (Torre Ghirlandina) and the adjacent Piazza Grande, it is the pride and joy of the Modenese, which is why there was understandable elation when the entire ensemble was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Nowadays, the Piazza with its Romanesque buildings is Modena’s main tourist attraction. We’ll gladly show you why you absolutely must visit this beautiful city in Emilia Romagna soon.

A foray through Modena’s history

The Romanesque extension from the 11th century onward was only one of many highlights in Modena’s highly exciting history. Did you know that the city actually has Etruscan roots? Modena was originally called Mutina before the Boii conquered it before it eventually fell into Roman hands in 222 BC. The now Roman town satisfied important export functions for wine and pottery, but it was left to decay after Attila’s pillages and the Lombard invasion. It took until the late 9th century before reconstruction and fortification commenced.

Modena’s rulers changed several times over the following centuries. It was owned by a margravine when cathedral constructions began, then became a free commune that eventually fell to and was extended by the Este. French occupation and Austrian rule were to follow from the late 18th century onward. Finally and eventually, Modena became part of the centralised state of Italy. The last descendant of the House of Austria-Este died in 1886.

Cathedral of Modena

Naturally, the political unrest left its mark on the cityscape. You probably won’t be too surprised to hear that Duomo San Geminiano isn’t the first church on this lot by a long shot. Actually, there were even two churches here before the city was destroyed after the fall of Rome, both likely built around the 5th century. They were desolated, destroyed and left to decay. Another church was established in mid-11th century, just after the fortification of the city, but it quickly became too small. In addition, the grave of Saint Geminiano, patron saint of the city, was discovered and understandably needed a more prominent place. Plans for a new cathedral were developed quickly, the decision for which was made solely by Modena’s inhabitants in complete imperial and ecclesiastical independence. The Cathedral of Modena became a symbol for freedom and autonomy, the aforementioned free commune was founded only a few decades later.

When construction of today’s cathedral, under the direction of the master builder Lanfranco, eventually began in 1099, Margravine Matilda of Tuscany, one of the most powerful women of her time, supported the city by laying the foundation stone. Pope Lucius III consecrated the Romanesque cathedral on 12 July 1184, but it would take quite a while until all construction were actually completed – 1322, to be precise. What makes the Duomo with its free-standing bell tower, the campanile Torre Ghirlandina, special is the skilful mix of several stylistic periods. While the Romanesque obviously dominates, Gothic elements and Renaissance characteristics create a particularly lively appearance.

You can see the shining white marble of the outer walls from afar. It alternates with grey and reddish stones – likely remains of the former Roman churches. Obviously, you will find characteristic Romanesque elements everywhere, such as the blind arcades and dwarf galleries. The breathtakingly beautiful Gothic oculus attests to the cathedral’s extensive construction history lasting close to 250 years. Numerous reliefs by the sculptor Wiligelmus, a contemporary of Lanfranco, adorn the façade. If you look closely, you discover scenes from the bible as well as depictions of prophets and patriarchs. The King Arthur myth reliefs on the outstanding northern porch of the cathedral, Porta della Pescheria, are just as awe-inspiring.

Rather surprisingly, the interior is lacking the classic cross layout. You won’t find a transept, but a whopping three naves instead. The crypta with a sarcophagus containing the remains of Geminiano can be found on the lower apse level. The central apse was altered decisively in the 18th century and revetted with precious marble. Simultaneously, the altered vaults were given rich stucco embellishments. Anselmo da Campione’s marble parapet with a depiction of the Passion of Christ is just as stunning.

Torre Ghirlandina

Cathedral of Modena

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However, the Cathedral of Modena wouldn’t be half as amazing without its campanile. The bell tower Torre Ghirlandina is the symbol of the city, visible from afar and a great point of reference. Originally called Torre di San Geminiano, it rested on a quadrangular base and grew to five floors by 1179. The rivalry with Bologna progressively led to extensions and annexes. An octagonal spire by Arrigo da Campione, who’s also responsible for the cathedral’s pulpit with its terracotta sculptures, followed soon. It was decorated with two festoons (Ital. “ghirlande”) made of marble railing, thus the name Torre Ghirlandina. A look inside the campanile leads you into Sala della Secchia with 15th century frescoes. Don’t miss out on the carved capitals in Sala dei Torresani on the fifth floor either. The five bells in C major date back to the Renaissance.

More attractions on Piazza Grande

The cathedral with its campanile most certainly dominates the stunning Piazza Grande. It is the place where the religious and the secular power of Modena meet. Here are a few more things to discover:

  • Palazzo Comunale: Several medieval buildings were linked to form Palazzo Comunale in the 17th Today’s city hall found its home behind the impressive façade with eye-catching arches. In addition, several rooms of historic value are open for visitors. Sala del Fuoco and Sala del Vecchio are lined with glorious paintings and, as such, absolute must-sees.
  • Palazzo dell’Arcivescovado: This cute palace with many small details spread across its entire façade is hidden away diagonally opposite the cathedral. Find a small but stunning baroque chapel behind its gates.
  • Preda Ringadora: Important personalities, orators and scholars spoke from this massive stone in front of Palazzo Comunale in the Middle Ages. Later, it would serve as a place of rest and peace for the city guards. Eventually, the stone was converted into a pillory for debtors and frauds from the 15th century onward.
  • Bonissima: The exact meaning of this mythical medieval statue is unknown. Bonissima has been looking down on the hustle and bustle on the Piazza for centuries. A multi-day culinary festival in her honour has been taken place every October since 2010.

 

Walk across Piazza Grande with open eyes, the tremendous Torre Ghirlandina always in sight, drawn to the cathedral as if by magic. This particularly magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of Modena continues to amaze. Are you already looking forward to your next city holiday in Emilia Romagna?

Ancient and primeval beech forests in Italy

Ancient and primeval beech forests in Italy

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Most UNESCO World Heritage Site are restricted to a single place or region rarely crossing borders. However, there are a few quite gigantic exceptions. One of them was summarised under the extensively long name “Ancient and primeval beech forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe”. While being limited to several areas in Germany, Slovakia und Ukraine until its expansion in 2017, this site now also includes various regions in Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia and Spain – and Italy, obviously. Six beautiful regions with a total area of 2,127 ha stretch across swaths of the country. Are you ready for this particularly natural experience?

Why the ancient and primeval beech forests deserve protection

But why is it that “some forests” made it onto the illustrious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Well now, the ancient and primeval beech forests are everything but that. Bearing witness to the last Ice Age, they cover Central Europe. However, their number and total area shrunk decisively over the course of centuries during growing regional populating and industrialisation. The European beech per se is unbelievably adaptable and even impressively weathered sufficient changes in its environment. At the same time, their expansion ran parallel to the history of human sedentariness. As such, the use of the beech from the Middle Ages onward with the concurrent reduction of primeval beech forests carries great importance in cultural studies.

Ancient and primeval beech forests in Italy, UNESCO

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The protected beech forests are located in realms that are as unaffected by human interference as possible and spread across various climes from alpine to Mediterranean. The six sites of the ancient and primeval beech forests in Italy are spread across both western and eastern coasts in some of the most picturesque regions of the country perfectly illustrating the versatility of this unique tree. You’d like to learn more about the various parts of this Italian World Heritage Site? Time to go on a little journey.

National Park of Abruzzo, Latium and Molise

One of the biggest national parks of the country also holds the largest beech forest area in the Italian part of the conservation area. An astonishing 936 ha are spread across the forested Coppo del Morto, Selva Moricento, Val Fondillo, Valle Cervara and Coppo del Principe. The beeches at Valle Cervara at an altitude of up to 1,850 m are up to 560 years old making them the oldest in all of Europe and even the entire northern hemisphere! Several streams run through Val Fondillo enlivening this already unique habitat even more. Rare species, such as the fire salamander, are native to this moist forest. The other beech forests in the National Park of Abruzzo, Latium and Molise are also home to a ravishing diversity of flowers and species. Wolves and brown bears settled down here as well as the chiffchaff and rare bogs and fungi.

Pollino National Park

In contrast, the ancient beech forests of Cozzo Ferriero in Rotonda are a fairly small yet neat affair. The 96 ha in the Province of Potenza in Basilicata on the border to Calabria are a bit younger – up to 500 years old – also forming the core of the southernmost old beech forests in Europe. The imposing tree giants on an altitude of up to 1,750 m provide scientists with interesting insights into the effects and impact of climate change on the tree population. Guides hikes and mountain tours in small groups on pretty steep paths bring you closer to this natural idyll – surefootedness and mountain experience are a must.

Gargano National Park

The large national park in Apulia is actually better known for its sweeping pine tree forests. However, our beech trees dominate the scenery in Foresta Umbra, which approximately translates to “dark forest” or “shady forests”. The region can be divided into four different zones. D and C invite you to go on divine walks while B is the actual conservation area. However, all walkers and tourists are prohibited from entering zone A. The holly oak of Vico del Gargano in front of a Franciscan monastery among the forest remnants of Nemus Garganicum, one of the largest Central European broad-leaved forests, carries special significance. It is shrouded in many a legend.

Monte Cimino

Find just under 60 hectares of beech forest on the 1,053 m high Monte Cimino, part of a smaller low mountain range in the Province of Viterbo in Latium. Here you come across genuine survivalists. Many beech forests were gradually converted into larch forests over the course of centuries (some parts even as early as the Bronze Age) by utilising clear felling and selective cutting. The remaining beeches were quickly put under environmental protection. Nowadays, they are only partially accessible via walking and hiking trails, but they are situated in a region of particular historical significance that you simply have to visit.

Regional Natural Park Bracciano – Martignano

The lowest-altitude beech forest of the Italian World Heritage Site is near Oriolo Romano. Monte Raschio’s comparatively plain location at 542 m is extraordinary by itself. Why, you probably wonder, did the beech forests still manage to grow and thrive in the Regional Natural Park Bracciano – Martignano in quaint Latium? Above-average levels of volcanic earth allowed these giants to sprout. They provide wonderful shade during highly enjoyable walks.

Foreste Casentinesi National Park

Your final stop is Emilia Romagna, where you travel to Sasso Fratini, a conservation area that was established as early as 1959 and is very difficult to access. The craggy rock slopes prevented deforestation, access ways are extremely scarce. This allowed the ancient beeches to grow and thrive gloriously. Some of them are over 500 years old. Accessing this nature reserve, however, is strictly prohibited. You’ll still find numerous walking and hiking trails throughout the entire Foreste Casentinesi National Park, which, by the way, also stretches into Tuscany, bringing you in close proximity to the amazing tree giants. You’ll most certainly be able to see a few of them.

Are you ready for your journey to Italy’s majestic natural sites? Even though you might not always be able to access the ancient and primeval beech forests themselves – with good reason, as you’ll surely agree – there are still so many options and opportunities to actively explore and experience the parks and conservation areas in peace and quiet. There are only very few places left where natural history is as palpable as here. Let’s keep them alive and well together.

Villa d’Este in Tivoli

Villa d'Este in Tivoli

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When it comes to the Renaissance period, you’re probably thinking of architectural masterpieces, the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman ideals mixed with contemporary knowledge of the 15th and 16th century. Actually, the Renaissance revolutionised far more areas including the art of garden design. The classic Italian garden, usually designed and created with a villa, experienced a massive boom. Only few other sites are as grand and diverse as Villa d’Este in Tivoli near Rome. Both the villa and the garden were declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, but an important election in the 16th century almost prevented its construction.

From papal candidate to master of garden design

Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este was the French candidate in several conclaves including the marathon election of 1549 and 1550 that eventually gave way to Pope Julius III. Becoming Governor of Tivoli, Ippolito had a former Benedictine monastery converted into a palace starting in 1550. An idea to lay out a garden on the steep hill below the monumental building was developed rather quickly, but it took another ten years until its implementation. Pirro Ligorio, a painter and architect from Naples, created the splendid draft, court architect Alberto Galvani took care of radically reshaping the entire valley.

Works were almost complete when Ippolito died in 1572. The project, however, was everything but finished. His successor Cardinal Alessandro d’Este prompted substantial alterations to the garden concept, renewed the buildings and fountains. The site noticeably deteriorated in later years under Habsburg ownership. It wasn’t until 1851 when Gustav-Adolf Prinz zu Hohenlohe-Schillingfürst had this magnificent estate revived and renewed completely. Composer Franz Liszt would become a regular and gave one of his final concerts here in 1879. Villa d’Este was once again restored elaborately after bomb damages in the Second World War. Maintenance works have been taking place almost continuously ever since. Don’t be surprised if you see some hoardings and barriers during your visit.

The villa

Villa d'Este in Tivoli, UNESCO

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Before focusing on the amazing gardens, we take a look at the villa itself, skipped and overlooked far too often. Today’s entrance next to Santa Maria Maggiore was hardly used during Ippolito’s time. Instead, guests and visitors would walk up the garden stair by stair making them visible from afar. Passing the foyer with Old Testament depictions and a hall with scenes from the life of King Solomon, you reach the wide courtyard with the neat Fountain of Venus. After the salon, where Ippolito would receive people, you enter the cardinal’s apartments. His bedroom offers a particularly gorgeous view of the entire garden. Ambling through the ground floor, you cross countless lavishly decorated halls. Mosaics and wall paintings by famous Renaissance artists adorn these stunning, pompous rooms. Each hall has its very own theme, such as ancient Greece, certain characters from the Bible or hunting scenes.

The gardens

Time to get to the main attraction, and what an attraction it is. More than 500 fountains, nymphs, grottos and water attractions are spread throughout the gardens of Villa d’Este. They utilise the slope perfectly embedding all of that and much more fascinatingly into the two main parts. The comparatively flat main garden supposedly even had two labyrinths in the 16th century. It now comprises of several smaller gardens connected by access balconies. Multiple ramps, terraces and stairs run through the hill garden making the valley slope accessible through an alcove corridor with far-stretching crosscuts along the fountains. There’s another impressive cross axis path with three fishponds, astonishing views and even more highly exciting terraces below all of that.

The fountains

Countless fountains line the imposing gardens. There’s an almost unbelievable mass of garden design for you to discover ranging from Cento Fontane, a collection of one hundred fountains along one single alley, to various fountains with animal depictions, historical, mythical and religious pieces. We’ve prepared a selection of our favourites for you.

  • Fontana dell’Organo: The organ fountain is among the most famous fountains of its kind and was replicated multiple times throughout Europe. Being the first water organ ever, it amazed guests creating giddy excitement. The delicate mechanics were restored over the course of many years and only became operational again in 2003. From its monumental architecture to the countless little details and hidden statues, the water organ will most definitely enchant you as well.
  • Fontana di Proserpina: Statues of four Roman Emperors – Julius Caesar, Augustus, Trajan and Hadrian – were originally supposed to line this small, neat fountain. The triumphal arch with twisting columns distantly similar to those of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome are evidence of this idea. Unfortunately, the statue of the namesake Proserpina was lost to the trials of time.
  • Fontana della Civetta: The rather formulaic design of the owl fountain utilises distinct symbolism. Diligently arranged mosaic decorations, numerous smaller figurines and the Este coat of arms held aloft by two angels give the Fontana a representative look. The birdsong-producing mechanism was only reconstructed and installed in recent years.
  • Fontana dell’Ovato: This oval installation was one of the first fountains to be completed. Pirro Ligorio’s water theatre draft was given an artificial mountain. People would meet in the appertaining Grotto of Venus hoping to see hot summer days pass by quicker.
  • Fontana dei Draghi: Ligorio was inspired by the Hercules myth for his dragon fountain. The statues depict the picking of the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. Ladon, the apple-guarding dragon, is sort of the leading character of the Fontana dei Draghi. By the way, you can find even more depictions of Ladon and Hercules inside the villa with its countless frescoes.
  • Fontana di Rometta: A miniature model of ancient Rome in the shape of a fountain marks one of the most important places in the garden. Fontana di Rometta symbolises the course of the Tiber River from its spring in the Apennine Mountains to providing water supply to the city. The artificial mountain was added later.
  • Fontana di Nettuno: The newest fountain of Villa d’Este was only created in the 20th century to replace a deteriorated rock waterfall. Attilio Rossi turned the remains into this particularly imposing fountain with tall waterspouts around 1930. He recycled a statue of Neptune, originally intended for a different, unfinished fountain, as the centrepiece of the Fontana di Nettuno.
  • Cento Fontane: An alley with hundred smaller fountains, Cento Fontane, runs between Fontana dell’Ovato and Fontana di Rometta. Even though the once rich decorations have since deteriorated or been overgrown by lush green, you can still neatly see the various rock masks and water terraces that line the way of what likely is the garden’s most beautiful walk.

 

If you’re happy to walk quite a bit, Villa d’Este with its breathtakingly beautiful gardens is always worth a visit. It is an excellent destination during your city holiday in Rome, being less than an hour east of the Italian capital. Let yourself be enchanted by this Renaissance masterpiece – a genuine experience both inside and outside.

The Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast, UNESCO

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The extraordinary beauty of the region Campania spawns many stunning villages, towns and landscapes – you’re certainly already familiar with Naples, Pompei and Mount Vesuvius, just to name a few. Such a list absolutely must include the Amalfi Coast as well. The coastal strip at the Salerno Gulf is part of the Sorrentine Peninsula and is made up of 13 fascinating municipalities – some idyllic and sleepy, some quite lively – as well as stunning natural sceneries between tall rocks and the deep-blue sea. An area of an astonishing 11,231 ha was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Join us on a little trip to the coast!

Nature and economy

The UNESCO committee named the Amalfi Coast a place of extraordinary beauty and natural diversity colliding with the exciting architecture and multifaceted art of the individual municipalities in a fascinating manner. The coastal region already blossomed in medieval times, which you can see in many a village. Still, living space is fairly limited due to the particularly steep coastal location, not to mention the heavily limited agricultural production space.

As such, most villages and towns of the Amalfi Coast primarily focus on tourism, the biggest economic factor of the region by far. Awe-inspiring art treasures, idyllic peace, long-running hiking trails and glorious views make holiday dreams come true. But that’s not all. Lemons are grown on the terraces above the sea, their peels being used to produce excellent Limoncello – tastings are most definitely an option. Additionally, the coastal region is also home to fine wines. Red wines, white wines and rosés display a wide variety of different taste with many a surprising flavour.

Municipalities at the Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

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One single road leads through the entire Amalfi Coast. Strada Statale 163, probably better known to you as the Amalfitana, runs for 50 km from Meta di Sorrento to Vietri sul Mare. While the view from the steeply sloping coast is pretty breath-taking, the drive on the narrow, hardly two-lane route sections with overhanging rocks can be quite the thrill. Large busses may only travel the Amalfitana with special approval and caravan sets are only allowed to drive at night. And don’t even get us started on the narrow hairpin turns to Ravello.

For now, let’s take a deep breath, because we want to present the 13 municipalities of the Amalfi Coast to you and start with the three most important villages and towns.

Amalfi

First, we send you to Amalfi, the place that gave this region its name. The small town was apparently founded by Emperor Constantine’s soldiers around 320 AD and quickly became a maritime trade power before Pisan attacks and a severe earthquake led to political and economic dependence.

Now Amalfi, which stretches across steep hills, is known as a touristic hotspot and home of particularly excellent Limoncello, which you can try and savour in the numerous cafés, bars and restaurants. Additionally, there’s lots of art and culture to discover in this town. The Cathedral on Piazza Duomo has 11th century roots and was initially converted to Arab-Norman, later to baroque style. This glorious building with a colourful mosaic façade and three-nave interior with the remains of the apostle St. Andrew is the town’s landmark. Furthermore, we recommend a brief trip to the civic museum in the town hall and the shipping museum in the old shipyard. Both places introduce you to Amalfi’s riveting history.

Positano

Tourism also takes centre stage in the friendly village Positano. Walks through the steep alleys and over numerous stairs to the beach are part of your daily routine. Here you set up camp and swim in the clear water or catch some sun. Mind you, the early bird catches the worm as Positano is a highly popular beach resort. During your walks through an area that was likely inhabited as early as antiquity – excavations unearthed ruins of a Roman villa – you’ll meet cheerful people vested in Positano Moda. This rather rustic style displays strong colours, creative cuts and lots of lace. It has even become a neat little export hit in recent years. Numerous churches, including Santa Maria Assunta with a black Madonna and Santa Caterina, and the rock Montagna Forata with its many holes accompany your relaxed walks.

Ravello

Many centuries ago Roman patrician families supposedly retreated to the hills between the valleys Regina and Dragone when fleeing from the barbarians and founded a small estate. In all actuality, Ravello attracted a rich burgess class that left a decisive mark on the place. During your tour you’ll see numerous splendid, well-preserved villa. 13th century Villa Rufolo is probably the main attraction. This imposing, playful complex of buildings now mostly serves as the backdrop for contemporary exhibitions. Its tremendous garden with numerous smaller buildings provides welcome recreation and gorgeous views. Richard Wagner found inspiration for his Parsifal here. Even more villas, churches and sanctuaries allow you to discover something spectacular and mystical at every corner of Ravello.

Other municipalities at a glance

These three main places on the Amalfi Coast aside, another ten municipalities await you along the Amalfitana. Things are usually a bit quieter here, even sleepy, but just as beautiful. Your trip through the UNESCO World Heritage region leads you to:

  • Vietri sul Mare: Colourful ceramics have been made in this small village since medieval times. You absolutely must visit the ceramics museum!
  • Cetara: A humongous tower watches over the sleepy village with around 2,000 inhabitants that’s all about fishing and agriculture.
  • Maiori: Maiori’s history stretches across many centuries and is palpable at every corner. Look forward to the splendid Palazzo Mezzacapo, Santa Maria a Mare rising high on a rock and Santa Maria Olearia, the Benedictine monastery founded in 973.
  • Tramonti: Nuns produce the fine herbal liqueur Concerto in the convent Conservatorio di San Giuseppe e Teresa. Cappella Rupestre, the chapel in the rock, also needs to be visited.
  • Minori: What was once a popular holiday destination among Roman aristocracy remains a small but nice touristic village with a stunning Roman villa and the imposing Basilica di Santa Trofimena.
  • Scala: The erstwhile bishop’s see of the sea republic Amalfi amazes with the massive 12th century Cathedral. Its now baroque face creates an exciting clash of styles.
  • Atrani: Rich merchants of the sea republic had their villas built in Atrani. The now baroque churches San Salvatore de’ Bireto and Santa Maria Maddalena were their places of worship.
  • Conca dei Marini: The Etruscans founded one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Life is delightfully relaxed in the quaint municipality with less than 700 inhabitants.
  • Furore: This small municipality on the coast has its own fjord with a breath-taking beach. Furore, too, is among the most beautiful villages in Italy.
  • Praiano: Numerous hotels and several imposing churches represent Praiano’s two sides. Discover splendid Renaissance paintings inside San Luca Evangelista.

 

Whether you’re touring the Amalfitana, tackling one of the numerous hiking trails or head down to the beach after a short walk, the Amalfi Coast is always worth the journey. The gorgeous mix of bustling activity, touristic infrastructure and natural countryside idyll makes holiday dreams come true lining one of the most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy. Time to get ready for your tour of Campania!

City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto

Northern Italy’s most important Renaissance architect was born in Padua on 30 November 1508. Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, better known as Palladio, was the first full-time occupational architect of his time. Inspired by the Roman Age and other Renaissance architects, Palladio both put his work into theory and practice. Starting in 1540, he left a decisive mark on Vicenza and became the city’s most important master builder after having initially only worked on a few select villas in the surroundings. 23 of his buildings in the history city centre and another 24 villas in the Veneto were declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and 1996. Time for a little trip down architectural memory lane.

About Andrea Palladio

Palladian Villas of the Veneto, UNESCO

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Before letting you embark on a tour through Vicenza’s historic city centre, why not learn a little bit more about Andrea Palladio? Being the son of a miller, he was everything but destined to enjoy a major architectural career. Sculptor Vincenzo Grandi, Palladio’s godfather, sponsored him with an education as a mason and sculptor. He met Gian Giorgio Trissino in 1536. The poet and philosopher, 30 years his senior, immediately saw his gift, supported him and gave him the name Palladio. Trissino financed a very important trip to Rome allowing the master builder and architect-to-be to closely study Roman buildings.

It took until 1549 for Palladio to play a key role in Vicenza when his proposal to reconstruct Palazzo della Ragione won a contest. A meteoric rise followed occasionally even leading Palladio to Venice. His self-illustrated works about Roman and Renaissance architecture put him on the same theorist level as Leon Battisti Alberti and would decisively influence and inspire young master builders for decades and even centuries to come. Palladio passed away on 19 August 1580, four years before his final building, Teatro Olimpico, was completed.

Vicenza’s historic city centre

City of Vicenza, UNESCO

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You can find buildings that are at least attributed to Andrea Palladio at pretty much every corner of Vicenza’s historic city centre. The industrious Renaissance architect left behind a sizeable architectural heritage; his buildings that were milestones of their time now accompany your city tour. Here are three masterpieces you absolutely must visit.

Basilica Palladiana

After the main part of Palazzo della Ragione had partially collapsed in the late 15th century, it would take over 50 years until a new plan was eventually implemented. Palladio, then a complete unknown, was awarded the contract, but constructions were only finished 34 years after his years. Basilica Palladiana, as it is now known, received a completely new and prestigious look with white marble, triumphal arch pattern and a Venetian window. The almost identical layout and design of both floors was unusual for its time, particularly for public buildings. A look at the roof unearths the large council hall surrounded by allegoric statues. The basilica now houses various stores on the ground floor, while the first floor is mostly used for alternating exhibitions.

Palazzo Chiericati

Today’s Piazza Matteotti was flooded frequently. Palladio protected his Palazzo Chiericati by elevating it using a form of the crepidoma, the ancient stair substructure of Greek temples. The architect was awarded designing the palace of Count Girolamo Chiericati because of his impressive basilica. As such, you won’t be surprised that the impressive Renaissance façade of the palazzo with three loggias, Ionic and Doric pillars and symmetrical layout around the courtyard feels somewhat familiar, yet quite different. Awe-inspiring ceiling paintings and frescoes accompany your tour through today’s Museo Civico exhibiting regional art.

Teatro Olimpico

The end of classical antiquity led to the complete disappearance of the free-standing theatre building from European architecture. Vicenza’s Accademia Olimpica, which was co-founded by Palladio, showed interest in stagecraft leading the architect to map out this re-interpretation of the Roman theatre just before his death. Constructions were eventually overseen and completed by his son Silla and Vicenzo Scamozzi. The classical composition of seating area, stage and palace-front stage area was implemented rather freely. The astonishing middle gate, the imposing colonnade and the statues honouring the academy’s founders, which were added later, give the theatre a monumental look. A performance of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex inaugurated Teatro Olimpico.

Other major buildings in the historic city centre

Yes, we really only covered three of 23 buildings in Vicenza’s historic city centre the legendary master builder was responsible for. You’d like to see even more of Palladio? Here are some additional suggestions for your city tour:

  • Palazzo del Capitaniato: This palace, also known as Loggia Bernarda, now houses the city council. The stucco-adorned façade and the rather unorthodox colour scheme are genuine eye-catchers.
  • Arco delle Scalette: This monumental arch rises at the southeast entrance to the historic city centre. 192 small stairs lead to the sanctuary of Monte Berico. The powerful architecture with imposing statues is different in the best way imaginable.
  • Palazzo Iseppo Porto: Another early work of Palladio was designed for the influential Porto family. The rather extensive three-part façade with rustication, mezzanine floor and piano nobile has an almost casual air to it and wows with harmonic proportions.

 

Palladio’s villas

While the UNESCO World Heritage Site initially only featured buildings from the historic city centre, it was extended to include another 24 villas from the entire Veneto region only two years later. It would go beyond the scope of this article to list all of those magnificent buildings. Here are a few select highlights for your next holiday in the Veneto:

  • La Rotonda: This villa is located on a hill at the outskirts of Vicenza and was built for an influential referendario apostolico of Pope Pius IV. Palladio found inspiration in the Temple of Venus, the Temple of Romulus and the Pantheon in Rome. The massive cupola and the harmonic symmetry will take your breath away.
  • La Malcontenta: Mira at the mouth of the Brenta Channel is home to the representative villa of the Foscari brothers and connected to Venice by waterway. While the outside looks fairly plain with graphic stucco patterns on the façade ashlars, the frescoes inside are at least twice as amazing.
  • Villa Thiene: Another two-storey building, which was originally supposed to be much larger and grander, is situated in Quinto Vicentino near Vicenza. Only parts of Palladio’s plans were implemented giving the villa a partially heterogeneous look. However, this almost unsettling appearance – both inside and outside – makes it just that more charming.

 

Naturally, this is only a small taste of the architectural splendour and diversity of Vicenza and the surrounding regions. Andrea Palladio’s style is omnipresent in the historic city centre and far beyond attesting to his special role as an architect and master builder in the Northern Italian Renaissance. Go on a journey back in time and enjoy this most definitely unforgettable trip!

Historic centre of Siena

Historic centre of Siena

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Florence or Siena? Not only tourists ask themselves this question, as there has been a lively artistic and political rivalry between the two cities in Tuscany for many centuries. However, there are clear differences in terms of architecture. While Florence is the epitome of Renaissance charm, Siena is almost entirely about Italian Gothic architecture with medieval elements. It is home to one of the country’s oldest universities, one of the most famous horse races in the world and a particularly beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historic centre received this honour in 1995 still capturing the imagination of guests from all around the world. Wondering why? Want to know Siena’s absolute must-sees? We might just have the answer to all of that and more.

Siena then and now

While Siena’s actual history might only start in medieval times, the city roots date back much further. It was likely founded by the Etruscans, who named it “Saena”, before becoming a Roman colonia and eventually starting its long and steady rise to power under Langobardic rule. Expanding its influence and territory in the Middle Ages resulted in a long-standing conflict between Siena und Florence on many different levels, which caused constant unrest and even a few brief wars followed by reconciliation periods.

The Republic of Siena would last an impressive 400 years – an era marked by constant domestic political upheavals and numerous conflicts with Naples and the papacy among others. The Black Death of 1348 and poor financial investments only contributed to the unrest, but it wasn’t until 1555 that Siena eventually had to surrender to an alliance of Spain and the Duchy of Florence. The entire territory became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and lost its political power. However, not even wars and bombings could harm Siena’s architectural glory and splendour.

Welcome to the historic centre

170 ha of World Heritage area and another 9,907 ha of buffer zone: The historic centre of Siena is fairly vast. Reaching World Heritage status 13 years after Florence only increased the rivalry between the two cities, yet both most certainly deserve this high honour. Strolling through the historic centre of Siena, you’ll be overwhelmed. The UNESCO calls it the epitome of a medieval city. The Gothic cityscape Siena gained between the 12th and 15th century was persevered beautifully, while the city’s artists and architects would influence colleagues and contemporaries around the globe. You can see and feel this truly special Gothic charm at every corner of the historic centre. Here are only some of our favourites.

Piazza del Campo and the Palio

Historic centre of Siena, UNESCO

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Your city tour starts on Piazza del Campo, Siena’s central and most important square. Its shell-like shape, slight downward slope and the absence of any churches and religious buildings whatsoever make the Piazza unique; a solely political hub between the hills of the city. Countless tourists walk around where markets and fairs used to be held visiting one of the many cafés or pouring into the small, labyrinthine alleys. Fonte Gaia (“Fountain of the World”) on the northwest edge of the square marks the decades of constant endeavours of bringing a stable supply of water to the city. It ultimately took a 25-km-long pipe to succeed. The figurines, which have since been replaced by replicas, mark a decisive step forward in the development of early Renaissance sculpture.

Another thing making Piazza del Campo world-famous is a special horse race. The Palio takes place twice a year – on July 2nd (Palio di Provenzano) and August 16th (Palio dell’Assunta) – entering the 17 contrade or wards of Siena, each colourfully outfitted with historical coats of arms, into this race. Horses are ridden bareback three times around the square in less than two minutes. The celebrations in the winning contrada usually last for weeks.

Palazzo Pubblico

The old seat of Siena’s government, Palazzo Pubblico, was built in 1297 to highlight Piazza del Campo’s role as the centre of political power. The imposing façade – parts natural stone, parts brick masonry – was extended and saw additional storeys added over the course of several centuries. However, the real eyecatcher is the palace tower Torre del Mangia built from 1325 to 1344. It had to be particularly high in other to rise above the cityscape in the dip between the hills, and it became just that.

The splendid, gloriously dimensioned halls inside the palace will wow you. The Great Council Hall (Sala del Mappamondo) got its original name from a sadly lost map of the world by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Martini’s world-famous frescoes depict the enthroned Madonna and the Condottiere Guidoriccio da Fogliano. The Hall of Nine (Sala della Pace) features an awe-inspiring, allegoric series of frescoes by Lorenzetti widely regarded as a key work of European art due to the revolutionary spatial character depictions and early humanist nature.

Siena Cathedral

One of the key masterpieces of Gothic architecture in Italy actually used to be a Romanesque basilica. Most of the nave was kept and given a Gothic vault with a new transept added after 1260. Giovanni Pisano mostly adopted features of Northwest European Gothic architecture – a first in Italy – adding elements of French Gothic cathedral architecture to his figure programme. Unfortunately, the original façade was lost after having been adapted to baroque architecture and consequently returned to Gothic style. As such, we can only guess what Santa Maria Assunta used to look like. Another, bigger building was supposed to be added to the cathedral in order to outrival Florence, but the Black Death, an economic crisis and static issues nixed such attempts leaving only the unfinished façade and the northern side aisle.

The cathedral is well-known for its mosaic floor. Artistic marble boards serve as a backdrop for over 50 fields covering the entire floor. They feature enchanting biblical scenes, allegories and depictions of prophets. The richly adorned vault of the Piccolomini library and the font in the baptistery with early Renaissance charm are other must-sees.

San Domenico

San Domenico, one of Siena’s four basilicas, is situated at the edge of the historic centre, but still inside the city walls (only since 1430). The Dominicans kept things fairly bare when starting constructions in 1226 leaving the brick building’s front rather plain and functional. The chapels, however, are so much more impressive. You’ll find six alone in the transept, and they’re all artfully decorated. Don’t miss out on Cappella di Santa Caterina, impressively designed and adorned by Niccolò Bensi, the underground crypt with crucifixion scenes and the fresco-lined cloister either.

That’s only a small part of the countless highlights you’ll find in the historic centre of Siena. We could go on like this forever – if you have a bit more time at hand, you must visit Santa Maria dei Servi, San Francesco and Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, just to name a few more must-sees. No matter how much time you have at hand for your trip to Tuscany, Siena is always worth a visit!

Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina

Villa Romana del Casale

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Starting in Roman times, the wealthy population would occasionally retreat to the countryside to relax and leave behind the hectic city life turning the villa urbana, a luxurious estate and part-time residence outside the city walls into a must-have as early as pre-Christian times. Villa Romana del Casale, located near Piazza Armerina in Sicily, is one of the best-preserved estates of the Late Roman period and well-known for its fascinating architectural insights and splendid mosaic floors. This monument of Roman Sicily was even declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and absolutely needs to be part of your travel itinerary.

What we know about the villa’s history

The era of the Roman Empire initially proved to be difficult for Sicily. Slave labour on the latifundia led to abandoned estates and a noticeable decline in city life. Increasing importance of the Provinces of Tripolitania and Africa as grain suppliers gave a decisive boost to Sicily in the early 4th century turning it into the main trade centre between the continents. New wealth allowed certain classes to live in the countryside where the magnificent villas were now being built by colonates.

Unfortunately, we don’t know who Villa Romana del Casale originally belonged to. While it was initially believed to be the imperial residence of either Maximian or his son Maxentius, other theories settled on a governor or consul. Even the exact period of origin remains unclear. Experts put it somewhere around 310 to 325 BC. However, the mosaics likely date back to the second half of the fourth century. Nevertheless, researchers are now almost certain that Villa Romana del Casale was originally privately owned.

Rediscovery and excavations

Like so many other Roman buildings, Villa Romana del Casale initially got lost to the turmoil of history. It was inhabited during the Byzantine reign over Sicily. Later, an Arabic colony was built here which, in turn, was destroyed by the Normans in the 12th century. Ruins of the villa were only discovered in 1761 and first thought to be relics from the aforementioned Arabic period.

Once Robert Fagan got his excavations, which were eventually kicked up a notch by Luigi Pappalardo in 1881, under way, the true nature of this architectural treasure of immeasurable value soon became clear. Three additional excavations throughout the 20th century unearthed the entire complex. The entire villa had been excavated in 1954, last digs took place as late as 1985. Even minor landslides and vandalism couldn’t harm the villa complex with its splendid mosaics.

Exploring Villa Romana del Casale

Villa Romana del Casale, UNESCO

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The villa urbana is particularly well-known for its excellently preserved mosaic floors. A landslide proved to be a stroke of luck as it buried the mosaics in the 12th century preventing weathering, looting and destruction. They were even re-buried after initial excavations to protect it from any and all external influences. Later years saw the construction of a villa-like building serving as a full mosaic roofing. Nowadays, you can sneak a peek at the amazing mosaic rooms from the footbridges on the ancient walls.

While the mosaics are most certainly the ultimate highlight of Villa Romana del Casale, there’s so much more to see and discover throughout this impressive complex. You absolutely must check out the following rooms and areas:

  • Entrance area with vestibule: The mighty three-arched gateway leads you into the courtyard and to the vestibule. The partly preserved arrival scene depicts the expecting of an important guest.
  • Rectangular peristyle: The characteristic Corinthian pillars of the first peristyle lead to the floor mosaics with animal heads that change orientation in two places – likely to highlight the different routes leading through the villa.
  • Peristyle rooms: A great number of service rooms, private apartments and bedrooms await you around the rectangular peristyle. The Hall of Seasons is vested with corresponding depictions, other areas feature grand hunting mosaics.
  • Basilica: Four steps lead you into a large hall with an apse flanked by two pillars. It is believed that visitors used to be received here due to the eye-catching floor design made of coloured marble and porphyry. Whether the Basilica actually served a liturgical purpose remains unknown.
  • Private apartments: Find several private sets of rooms around the Basilica in the eastern part of the villa. While the smaller area likely belonged to the landlady or the son, the larger area probably served as the landlord’s quarters. Once again, you’ll be amazed by extensive mosaic works depicting hunting scenes and different gods.
  • Elliptical peristyle: Enter this complex with pillars, three apses and a fountain via the rectangular peristyle or the Corridor of the Great Hunt. The medallion with a male bust – it could be the personification of autumn – is similar to a mosaic in the mausoleum of Santa Constanza created a few years later.
  • Thermae: The villa entrance leads directly to the complex of thermal baths that, as such, could also be accessed by guests that weren’t led into the private apartments. However, there was also a separate tenant entrance. Pool, gymnastics and changing rooms display maritime motives. Another mosaic might depict the landlady with two children and two servants.

 

Corridor of the Great Hunt

All these fascinating rooms and areas aside, there’s one truly special corridor. The Corridor of the Great Hunt used to connect the private and the public part of the villa across just under 66 m. Its slight elevation and the portico leading from the middle to the peristyle emphasise the importance of this splendid corridor with its impressive mosaic floors.

The Great Hunt actually depicts mostly non-violent scenes of capturing animals for games in Rome with weapons only serving the purpose of self-defence. Seven different scenes, designed by at least two different groups of mosaicists, can be identified. It starts with the capturing of animals in different parts of the Province of Africa before moving on to Egypt and India. Transportation and loading scenes and the killing of an attacking lion can be seen as well. Character displays and stylistic plurality mark the gradual transition from Roman to Byzantine art. Taking the peristyle room mosaics into account, the Corridor of the Great Hunt might suggest that this estate could’ve also been a hunting manor.

This unique villa urbana in the Province of Enna conveys fascinating insights into the later history of Rome, Sicily’s trade hub boom and the life of the wealthy class in the fourth century. You will most certainly be enthralled by the multifaceted mosaics and diligently restored corridors and buildings – don’t miss out on visiting Villa Romana del Casale during your next holiday!

UNESCO World Heritage Site Crespi d’Adda

UNESCO World Heritage Site Crespi d'Adda

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The industrial boom of the 19th century reached Italy as well. Lots of factories were built from north to south revolutionising life between towns and villages with their production methods and corresponding infrastructure. Textile manufacturer Cristoforo Benigno Crespi was looking for a new factory site and turned it into Crespi d’Adda. This textile and workers’ village in Lombardy is widely regarded as the crown jewel of industrial architecture and was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. However, Crespi d’Adda has been in limbo since the factory closed in 2004 leaving its future hanging in the balance.

The dyer dynasty Crespi

Crespi was a big name in the Italian textile industry of the 18th and 19th century. The dyer family strengthened their pre-eminence over the course of several decades, expanded broadly and added new lines of business. The production of cotton goods became a gold mine for the Crespi family, who needed a new factory. Cristoforo Benigno Crespi, born 1833 in Busto Arsizio (approx. 35 km south of Milan), was looking for an adequate site.

Crespi purchased a piece of land approx. 100 km east of his birthplace and started constructions on said factory. Due to the rather remote location, additional buildings had to be established quickly leading to the development of an entire company town with accommodations and infrastructure for factory workers from 1878 onward. His son and heir Silvio Crespi took over the company in 1906 and expanded it further. The younger Crespi was regarded as one of the most influential men of his time even signing the Treaty of Versailles and only had to give up his company in 1929 due to the Great Depression and the brutal fascist fiscal policy. The factory would continue to operate into the new millennium.

A village made on the drawn board

Cristoforo Benigno Crespi brought the latest production methods from England to his cotton mill. He needed lots of hydropower for it, which is why he bought a green meadow on the Isola Bergamasca peninsula, nestled between the rivers Adda and Brembo. A hydropower plant was eventually built years later in Trezzo, a few kilometres upriver, at his behest.

The factory was put into operation as early as 1875, yet the industrial magnate soon realised that the somewhat remote location was everything but ideal – both for his workers and for himself. Accommodations and infrastructure had to be established as quickly as possible. Crespi had a small village built near the cotton mill. Multiple-occupancy blocks, a hospital, a church with a cemetery, a school (the syllabus included the subject “cotton processing”), a theatre and a washhouse were constructed in record time.

Sound spectacular, doesn’t it? Well, what if we tell you that Crespi d’Adda actually became the first Italian village with modern street lighting? Crespi utilised Edison’s lighting concept for his company town towards the end of the 19th century creating more light along the roads. This friendly shimmer at night increased both his workers’ productivity and the quality of life as a whole. His son would go on to lead Crespi d’Adda to even greater heights.

Silvio Crespi’s evolution of the model village

Cristoforo’s son Silvio travelled a lot before taking over the company. One such trip lead him to the British town Oldham, another 19th century textile industry hotspot. Here he gained precious knowledge about state-of-the-art manufacturing engineering and new means of division of labour. Additionally, he found the town’s industrial charm inspiring and incorporated his insights into further expansions of Crespi d’Adda.

Silvio Crespi saw discord and discontent as the biggest potential threats to his inherited company town. Thus, he slowly got rid of multiple-occupancy blocks and started building new workers’ accommodations in 1892. Crespi d’Adda was instead equipped with single-family houses with gardens with the intention of providing more harmony and balance. It actually worked, as there were neither strikes nor social disorders for the entire 50 years of Crespi family management.

Guided tour through Crespi d’Adda

When travelling to Crespi d’Adda today, you land in a place where time seems to have stopped. The village hardly changed since the 1920s. Subsequent owners sold most of the houses to (former) workers, the factory closed down in 2004. Only around 450 people still live in the once flourishing company town, most of whom are house owners.

Crespi d’Adda is far from a ghost town, though, as several people still live here. The village life is very active, which is why you should respect local habits during your visit. We recommend a guided tour, because your guide knows best which places and buildings you can actually visit. Fascinating facts about the impressive history of this model village are an integral part of your tour.

Perfectly straight roads, carefully aligned houses, each with the same low fence and a vegetable garden, the high-rising factory smokestacks – no wonder Crespi d’Adda was seen as the ideal industry town. Further south you find the villas of white-collar employees and management, the old washhouse, which has since been converted into an indoor swimming pool, the small Renaissance church (an exact copy of the church in Crespi’s hometown Busto Arsizio) and the large workers’ cemetery with the family mausoleum. Walking through this village is equally unreal, fascinating, beautiful and somewhat unnerving. It remains to be seen how much longer it will be possible to do so.

The future of Crespi d’Adda

The World Heritage Site status is currently in question. The UNESCO insists on keeping the status quo as an industrial model village and would prefer either new factory owners or the establishment of culture and research institutions. Whether these ideas are realistic is another matter. Crespi d’Adda draws lots of interest from potential investors, but they would rather build large hotel complexes on the former factory site.

Entrepreneur Antonio Percassi has had his sights set on Crespi d’Adda since 2013. The former player and president of football club Atalanta Bergamo had been working closely with Benetton for several decades, founded various cosmetics companies and built a large shopping mall in the region. Percassi now wants to convert the village into the headquarters of his company empire and the family foundation. This plan, however, finds little approval and the project is currently on hold due to lack of permits. Local politicians and the entrepreneur have been trying to work out new deals since summer of 2018, but with little to no result as of now.

It remains to be seen what will happen to Crespi d’Adda, but this ideal of a company town is most certainly worth a visit. You will be amazed by the uniquely planned model structure, visit cute little streets and experience the equally unusual and impressive contrast between neat worker houses, vast villas and mighty factory architecture. Have fun on your tour!

Le Strade Nuove & Palazzi dei Rolli system in Genoa

Le Strade Nuove in Genoa, UNESCO

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The Republic of Genoa hit its absolute peak in the 16th and 17th century. Major patrician families furthered trade relations achieving unprecedented wealth to the benefit of the entire region. In order to advertise this affluence, nobility and patricians established Le Strade Nuove (“New Streets”) which had a system of magnificent noble palaces and abundant patrician houses, the so-called Palazzi dei Rolli, built around them. These architectural masterpieces in Renaissance and baroque style continue to fascinate to this very day and were deservedly elevated to UNESCO World Heritage status in 2006.

A revolutionary road project

Around mid-16th century the Republic of Genoa experienced a genuine boom. In order to give their world-spanning power a representative face, the construction of buildings for state visit receptions was furthered. Le Strade Nuove was to become the city’s wealthiest district and place of residence for the most important families. Architectural elements from the Renaissance and baroque period were chosen for the individual palaces. They gave -and give – the Strade Nuove a consistent yet highly diverse look of fully individual buildings that appear architecturally connected to one another despite obvious stylistic differences and variations. As weird and contradictory as it sounds, it actually works very well.

But why are the palaces of this revolutionary road project – the UNESCO calls it the successful commencement of modern, urban architecture in Europe – actually called Palazzi dei Rolli? “Rolli” were official lists of structures for holding receptions for the above-mentioned state visits. First compiled in 1576, the palazzi were grouped into different “Bussoli”, which can be compared to today’s star ratings in the hotel sector. The more magnificent a palace, the higher its Bussoli rating.

3 streets, 42 palaces, one World Heritage Site

Palazzi dei Rolli in Genoa, UNESCO

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Today’s World Heritage Site doesn’t include all palaces of Le Strade Nuove, consisting of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, Via Balbi and Via Cairoli, by a long shot. Effectively, “only” 42 of the 163 Palazzi dei Rolli, mostly dating back to the late 16th and early 17th century, made it onto the list. They stand for extraordinary diversity in architectural realization of a joint idea. Many are now used as museums and public buildings while others remain private residences.

Listing and describing all 42 palaces would be a bit much. After all, you’re only interested in the absolute highlights of these splendid roads, right? We’ve compiled some of our favourites and must-sees for you.

The Strada Nuova Museums

Several glorious palaces await you while walking along Via Garibaldi, three of which are home to stunning art galleries. The so-called Strada Nuova Museums invite you on a journey back in time diving into the fascinating history of the Republic of Genoa displaying artistic highlights of the Genoese school of painting as well as the most famous European painters from the 12th to the 18th century. Don’t miss out on these almost magical places!

Palazzo Rosso

Here’s an odd one: This palace built in 1675 was not one of the original 163 Palazzi dei Rolli, but it still became a World Heritage Site. You’ll understand this decision immediately when looking at the imposing red façade with a marble perron. One of Genoa’s most important art galleries is hidden behind it. Works by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Albrecht Dürer, Guido Reni, Anthonis van Dyck and Paolo Caliari line the ostentatious halls. Some of the original mosaic floors and wall frescoes were unfortunately destroyed during an air raid in World War II, but that doesn’t affect the glory and splendour of this palace one bit.

Palazzo Bianco

Originally named Palazzo Luca Grimaldi after its constructor, this palace, which was bequeathed to the city in 1899, now acts as a well-deserved home to some of the most significant Genoese painters of the 17th and 18th century, such as Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Alessandro Magnasco and Bernardo Strozzi. Other milestones of the European painting world from the 12th to 17th century were collected from several private collections to be displayed here. See famous works by Rubens and van Dyck, Caravaggio, Paolo Veronese, Hans Memling, Filippino Lippi and many more.

Palazzo Doria Tursi

The most imposing palace in Via Garibaldi was built on three lots of land in 1565 and expanded by another two loggias in 1597. The uniqueness of this building even lead to erroneous attributions to Michelangelo, for example by famous French author Alexandre Dumas (“The Three Musketeers”, “The Count of Monte Cristo”). Mayoral assembly halls aside, you’ll find a continuation of the Palazzo Bianco art gallery inside this palace with objects of arts like Paganini’s legendary violin plus coins, weights and measures dating back to the Republic of Genoa.

Other palaces worth seeing

Another 39 UNESCO Rolli palaces along three roads await you beyond the three museum palazzi in Via Garibaldi. Where to start, where to go? Your ZAINOO experts have a few suggestions at hand:

  • Palazzo Reale: 400 years of eventful history are hidden behind the walls of Palazzo Stefano Balbi, as this stunning building is also known. Originally constructed for the Balbi family in 1618, it was sold to the Royal House of Savoy in 1823 before falling into the ownership of the Italian Republic in 1919. A museum with 23 exhibition rooms is hidden behind the glowing façade. There’s a lot for you to see ranging from the monumental atrium with dapper 18th century stucco ornamentation to the hanging garden to the throne hall and the noble apartment.
  • Palazzo Doria-Spinola: Today’s seat of the prefecture and the Province of Genoa can be traced back to Antonio Doria, cousin of the legendary admiral Andrea Doria. Rather inconspicuous from the outside, an unhurried tour of the palace reveals fascinating treasures. The decorations with scenes of the Trojan War and battles between sea monsters will amaze you.
  • Palazzo Durazzo-Pallavicini: Hanging garden, colonnade and breath-taking stairwell – three good reasons to visit this palace. Palazzo Durazzo-Pallavicini leads you directly to the astonishing art gallery of Palazzo Bianco.
  • Palazzo Angelo Giovanni Spinola: Named after its constructor, the ambassador of the Republic of Genoa to Spain, this palace has been in the ownership of various banking houses since 1919. Frescoes of the Calvi brothers grace the façade depicting members of the Spinola family in traditional Roman Condottiere costumes. The stairwell lined with grotesque frescoes lead you to the upper floor, richly decorated with frescoes as well. Andrea Semino, Bernardo Castello and Lazzaro Tavarone, who likely contributed to the façade frescoes as well, are among the artists who immortalised themselves here.

 

We’ve only managed to scratch the surface with seven of 42 Palazzi dei Rolli along Le Strade Nuove. It goes without saying that there’s an abundance for you to discover and experience, and don’t even get us started on the palaces that weren’t included on the UNESCO list. Time to kickstart your Genoa holiday planning!

The Dolomites: World Natural Heritage

The Dolomites, UNESCO

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Italy’s magnificent beauty is hard to put into adequate words. Cultural, artistic and architectural achievements aside, it is a stunning country of wide, impressive diversity from north to south. Imposing mountain ranges, wide valleys, magical rivers and glowing beaches are wonderfully fascinating to both locals and guests from all over the world. Some of those scenic beauties even achieved the status of UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. The Dolomites with its nine areas and 18 peaks stretch across three regions and five provinces. Are you ready for an extended tour through the Southern Limestone Alps? Strap in!

Mountain landscapes of exceptional natural beauty

The Dolomites

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The Natural Heritage committee used these flowery words to describe the truly unique region in Northern Italy with a core area of 141,910 hectares and just under another 90,000 buffer hectares. The Dolomites are most certainly deserving of protection – certainly not a revolutionary assessment as all nine areas had already achieved the status of either nature park, national park or Natura 2000 before the Natural Heritage declaration on 26 June 2009. The foundation Dolomites UNESCO manages all interests of the protected area.

Ultimately, not all recommended areas made it onto the illustrious UNESCO list – something you’re certainly already familiar with from other sites. The Langkopfel Group, Bosconero Group and Sella Group remain excluded, but efforts to change that are ongoing. For now, we take a look at the nine currently included areas across the regions Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto.

Pelmo-Croda da Lago

Our tour starts in the heart of the region. The mountain system Pelmo-Croda da Lago in the Province of Belluno is dominated by Monte Pelmo (3,168 m). It is also known as “Caregon del Padreterno”, the “Throne of God”, due to its unusual shape. According to legend, God sat down on Monte Pelmo after having created the Dolomites to rest and admire his handiwork. Countless other peaks, such as Pelmetto at just below 3,000 m or the eponymous Croda da Lago (2,701 m), are also part of this impressive mountain range.

Marmolada

Are you ready to meet the Queen of the Dolomites? Situated between Belluno and Trento, it features the tallest mountain of this UNESCO site (Punta Penia at 3,343 m). Mighty torrents flow around the Marmolada. This mountain range of startling contrasts starts out rather calm and hilly. Seemingly out of nowhere, massive rock walls rise above the forests and meadows, framed by gorges and ski regions. Don’t miss out on visiting the impressive Serrai di Sottoguda – a car-free gorge of astonishingly pure natural beauty that provides a home for ice climbers in winter.

Pale di San Martino, San Lucano, Dolomiti Bellunesi, Vette Feltrine

The second-largest mountain system of the UNESCO site also stretches across the Provinces of Trento and Belluno including a nature park and a national park. It is an area of great diversity from the rough south with its furrowed valleys to the north with a lot of pastures and meadows. Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi even saw the return of bears and wolves just a few years ago, while the wood from Parco Naturale Paneveggio-Pale San Martino was used by Antonio Stradivari for his famous violins.

Dolomiti Friulane e d’Oltre Piave

Hikers love this fairly uniform area between Udine, Pordenone and Belluno. Enclosed by the river Piave – hence the name – and several valleys, the mountains are of comparatively moderate heights with Cima Preti being the only one just exceeding 2,700 m. Nature itself remained mostly unspoiled over the course of decades still displaying its primal vigour – a special treat in combination with gorgeous peak views. Consequently, there are no roads throughout Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti Friulane. You won’t be surprised to hear that the rather rare golden eagle feels at home here.

Northern Dolomites

An impressive 53,586 hectares between Bolzano and Belluno make up the largest area of this Natural Heritage Site. Experience such illustrious mountain ranges as the Tofane peaks with their tremendous rock triumvirate or the Cadore Dolomites with the Sorapiss. Due to its rich heritage in landscape, geology and natural history, the Northern Dolomites feature a whopping three protected areas. Among them is Parco Naturale Tre Cime encompassing what is likely the best-known mountain massif of the Dolomites. Many rare bird species, such as the golden eagle or the wallcreeper, nest here.

Puez-Odle

Small but powerful, at least compared to the other areas: Located inside the eponymous nature park, the charming mountain system Puez-Odle is enclosed by such well-known valleys as Val Gardena, Val Badia and Val di Funes. Clearly dominated by Sas Rigais (3,025 m), this area is home to countless animal species, diverse vegetation and pretty much all kinds of rock native to the Dolomites. Natural scientists and geologists love this region with good reason. How about you? Of course you love it, too – the ravishing mix of lush alpine meadows, tall peaks and deep gorges alone is worth a visit.

Sciliar-Catinaccio, Latemar

Familiar names, scenic natures: Astonishing peaks, such as Latemar (2,791 m), Catinaccio d’Antermoia (3,002 m), Catinaccio (2,981 m) and the Torri del Vajolet (2,813 m), await you between Trento and Bolzano. The emerald-green Lake Carezza reflecting the Campanili del Latemar, the Sciliar flat tops rising hive above the pastures, the lovely bellflowers campanula morettiana and campanula rapunculus – the Sciliar-Cantinaccio, Latemar area is full of natural beauty. Extended walks and mountain tours are a must!

Bletterbach

Bletterbach is the smallest area of this UNESCO site at just 271 hectares mostly covering the narrow gorge between Passo degli Oclini and Monte Pausabella. Erosion and denudations of volcanic rock created the Bletterbach gorge reaching depths of 400 m. In stark contrast, Corno Bianco peaks at an astonishing 2,317 m. If you’d like to explore this natural scenery in greater detail, we recommend visiting Geoparc Bletterbach featuring various educational natural trails focusing on topics such as forest, gorge and geology. Numerous information boards lead the way.

Brenta Dolomites

Last but certainly not least we visit the western Province of Trento, where Bocca di Brenta divides the Brenta Dolomites into two parts. Amazing peaks and unique shapes from Cima Tosa (3,173 m) to Cima Brenta (3,150 m) will wow you. Serving as a stark contrast to the rather slender, fluid lines of other Dolomites areas, the Brenta Dolomites might surprise you with their thin, jagged spires and lofty pinnacles – a testament to thousands of years of erosion. Parco Naturale Adamello Brenta grants you insights into unexpected variety of minerals as well as the diverse fauna.

Stunning hikes, extended walks, magical nature excursions and even many a ski slope adventure await you in the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site of the Dolomites. Let yourself be enchanted by the enthralling mountain region and discover a whole new side of Northern Italy. We wish you lots of fun with your alpine adventures!