City of arts Teramo with vast Roman history

Teramo takes a special role among Italy’s diverse cities of arts in more than one way. For starters, how about the rather unique location in Northern Abruzzo between the tallest summit of the Apennines and the Adriatic Coast? Moreover, agriculture is one of the key factors here, especially the vineyards and olive groves. And then there’s the particularly extensive, highly interesting history of the city; palpable at every corner with buildings and ruins even dating back to pre-Roman times. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? We most definitely agree and invite you to join us on a tour of the city of arts Teramo, a hidden gem in Abruzzo.


The city of arts with fascinatingly ancient history

We’ve already talked a bit about Teramo’s notable location between mountains and the coast with numerous hills and groves. This very location originally made the region a popular settlement area, even before the Romans decided to make their presence felt. Various ancient Italic tribes came here in the 1st millennium BC. Eventually, the Praetutii made it their principial town. The Romans conquered the city around 290 BC. They named it Interamna (“between two rivers” due to the rivers Vezzola and Tordino) reaching municipium status later on before fall of the Western Roman Empire led to deterioration.


Teramo saw fierce conflicts between influential families in the Middle Ages and was destroyed more than once. Later centuries brought the sale of the city including a failed rebellion, a devastating earthquake, and a disastrous outbreak of the plague. Teramo eventually became a centre of intellectual life during the Age of Enlightenment … until French and Napoleonic troops put a brutal stop to this brief glimmer of hope. The city only experienced some measure of stability after it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy.


Cathedral of Teramo



Even though only playing a minor role during the Middle Ages and in later centuries, this period led to the conception and creation of numerous exciting buildings still exuding a fascinating energy. Santa Maria Assunta, the Cathedral of Teramo, will wow you. The roots of this church are way older. A glass floor inside the cathedral displays the ruins of the 6th century Santa Maria Aprutiensis, itself built on a Roman foundation and later destroyed by the Normans. Bishop Guido II had the new cathedral constructed in 1158 as a repository for the relics of Saint Berardo. Masonry rocks of the Roman theatre and the amphitheatre were used – one of the reasons why these structures only survived as ruins.


It goes without saying that Santa Maria Assunta saw a number of conversions over the centuries before eventually being reverted to its medieval look. The art treasures of the cathedral are invaluable, particularly the antependium by Nicola da Guardiagrele. 35 embossed and chiselled silver sheets adorn the piece. Jacobello del Fiore’s polyptych depicts the coronation of the Virgin Mary by Christ. There are even more breathtaking miracles of grand architecture and even grander art for you to see, such as the monumental chapel of Saint Berardo or the equally impressive campanile.


Other churches

Santa Maria Assunta itself would be more than enough reason for visiting Teramo, but you might want to see a few other interesting spots. How about checking out more churches? No worries, we’ve got you covered:

  • Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie: This building is best-known for its wooden statue of the Virgin Mary on the main altar. Quite miraculous powers are attributed to it. Numerous paintings and old, somewhat deteriorated frescoes adorn the interior.
  • Chiesa di Sant’Anna dei Pompetti: This small church used to be part of the Santa Maria Aprutiensis complex. History becomes palpable in this ancient 6th century structure with modern frescoes and a statue of the eponymous saint.
  • Sant’Agostino: Unfortunately, severe earthquakes in more recent years heavily damaged this Neo-Renaissance church. You should try to check out the spectacularly decorated portal in all its detailed glory while the building itself is supposed to be turned into a diocesan museum.
  • Chiesa dei Cappuccini: Despite having been built during the 12th century, the Capuchin church plus convent only received its name when the friars moved in around 1596. A truly special baroque altar with a wooden tabernacle is hidden behind the non-descript façade.


Even more sights in Teramo

Teramo actually unearths gem after gem and we’re far from done. Ready for the next round of highlights? (Pre-)Roman structures, a magnificent castle and an abandoned psychiatric hospital are on our itinerary. Yes, really!

  • Casa dei Melatino: We start, however, with one of the few medieval buildings that managed to survive rather flatteringly. Take a closer look at the façade to see different materials representing various phases of renovation. Casa dei Melatino houses majolica and porcelain exhibitions among other things.
  • Borgo Mediavale: This small, medieval village, also known as Castello della Monica, was only built in the 19th The replicas with a neo-Gothic focus and numerous frescoes take a fresh spin on the city’s former glory.
  • Necropoli di Ponte Messato: We couldn’t be any further away from glory now. Teramo’s probably oldest surviving structure was discovered by pure coincidence while building a coach garage in 1961. Established in pre-Roman times and expanded during Roman rule, the area of the necropolises also includes various mausoleums and temples.
  • Torre Bruciata: This 2nd century BC tower near the former Santa Maria Aprutiensis, however, is fully Roman. The fortified Torre Bruciata used to overlook a mighty defensive wall in pre-Christian times. It might have been used as a bell tower in later years.
  • Ospedale psichiatrico: Calling a psychiatric hospital a sight might sound strange, but the facility built in 1323 is among the most famous structures in Teramo’s historic centre. There have been a lot of discussions and debates about the future of this remarkable site ever since it permanently closed its doors in 1998. The only thing certain now is that it will be preserved for future generations in one way or another.


Sure, Teramo might not be the prime destination among Italy’s cities of arts, but that’s exactly what makes it the perfect place for your next holiday. Wide open squares and narrow alleys in Northern Abruzzo are steeped in history. Palpable Roman presence collides with the remains of feudal conflicts and rather monumental architecture – sometimes a bit older, sometimes new yet still historicised. Let this hidden gem blow you away!

City of arts Perugia in the heart of Umbria

The heart of Umbria harbours a very special city. Perugia, both capital of the region and of the eponymous province, can look back on a long history that goes back as far as the Early Iron Age. And this very history becomes palpable between the hilly historic centre and the newer, flat buildings. It is filled with ups and downs, like the landscape surrounding it, and leads to monumental churches and spectacular museums through narrow alleyways. Furthermore, the city of arts Perugia is home to massive festivals and events known far beyond Umbria. Find out what you absolutely have to see and experience in Perugia!


Perugia from the Iron Age to the Papal States

In order to find Perugia’s roots we need to travel back in time rather substantially; to the 9th and 8th century BC, to be precise, when the Villanova culture established their first settlements on the city grounds during the Early Iron Age. Contrary to legend, Perugia does not have Greek roots. It was likely founded by the Umbri before becoming Etruscan. Perusna, as it was known then, was one of the twelve confederate cities of Etruria. It became Roman in the Third Samnite War in 295 BC, gained civil liberties after the Social War of 91 to 88 BC, and was burnt to the ground after the Perusine War. Even though Augustus had the city, now called Augustus Perusia, rebuilt, it never managed to retain its former glory.


The end of the Western Roman Empire saw many rulers, including Ostrogoths, Lombards and Byzantine. Perugia eventually received its modern name during the Middle Ages. It finally managed to cut ties with the Roman emperor in 1198, was protected by Pope Innocence III and ruled by Guelf merchants. Perugia was the only Umbrian trade centre that, at the time, managed to gain a level of power and influence similar to that of the era’s large city states in Tuscany. All of this ended in 1540 when Pope Paul III put the Papal States into power after the so-called “Salt War” (the Perugini refused to accept a new salt tax). A massive fortress on Colle Landone reflected the new dominance, old districts on the foothill were buried, academia almost came to a standstill. Things stayed like that despite brief interludes and several uprisings until its incorporation into the newly founded Republic of Italy in 1860.


Perugia’s churches

San Domenico


Perugia’s highly eventful history left its mark on the cityscape. You will find most of the sights in the mountainous historic centre including a mass of churches. And they saw quite a few changes over the course of the centuries:

  • Cathedral: Cattedrale di San Lorenzo is a latecomer. It was only completed in 1490 showcasing an unusually Gothic character during the Renaissance period. The raw external walls might have remained unfinished, yet the Cathedral gained a number of portals, annexes and even a campanile over the following centuries. The inside of the hall church, however, is caught somewhere between Late Renaissance and early baroque, highlights being Federico Barocci’s astonishing “Deposition from the Cross”, and the Holy Ring in a gilded tabernacle.
  • Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo: Very few buildings survived the times as well as this early Christian church from the 5th or 6th Partially demolished and used as a military fortress, a number of restoration attempts in more recent times unearthed the old pillar structure and several frescoes.
  • San Domenico: The Dominicans turned the bestowal of a small parish church into a colossal, three-nave hall church. However, it had to be fully rebuilt other than the Gothic exterior walls and the Renaissance cloister due to a structural collapse of the central nave in 1614. You will discover one of the largest Gothic windows ever in the slightly elevated choir.
  • San Pietro: The first structures on this site might date back to the 10th century, but the current building was only established around 1600 as part of a Benedictine monastery. The longhouse structure carries early Christian features, the pillars evoke the memory of a pagan temple, while the choir with its Gothic and Late Renaissance endowment pulls off a stunning Venetian style.
  • Oratory of San Bernardino: You’re probably wondering why we’re introducing you to a small chapel when there are so many churches to discover. Well, the Franciscan oratory outright wows with its incredibly ornamental, elaborate façade relief. The bright depictions on the temple-like marble façade simply need to be seen. Inside, the early Christian sarcophagus of the beatified Giles of Assisi, a companion of Saint Francis, serves as an altar.


Museums and secular buildings

Fontana Maggiore

© Bolshakov

Sure, Perugia’s churches alone are genuinely spectacular, but the city of arts has so much more to offer. Time to take a look at a few more sights dedicated to the city’s fascinating history.

  • Galleria Nazionale: Umbria’s national gallery is on the upper floors of Palazzo dei Priori. 40 rooms introduce you to noteworthy Umbrian painters and sculptors from the 13th to 19th
  • Palazzo dei Priori: This very palace made predominantly of travertine, white and red stone has so much more to offer. The external staircase alone is a sight to behold. Various halls and colleges surprise with unusual shapes, wood panelling, painted walls and ceilings.
  • National Museum of Umbrian Archaeology: The former convent near San Domenico now houses this astonishing archaeological collection. Eight sections invite you on a chronological journey through the region’s history from prehistoric exhibits that are up to 500,000 years old to exciting Roman pieces.
  • Fontana Maggiore: The Perugini call it the most beautiful fountain in the world. Its spectacular reliefs certainly make Fontana Maggiore one of the most influential structures of its kind. The fields and tiles of this medieval masterpiece depict the life on earth divided into three themed cycles as well as personifications of important biblical and earthly figures.
  • Arco Etrusco: One of the most important remnants of the ancient city walls is now flanked by imposing watchtowers. The Etruscan Arch was likely built in the 3rd century BC and incorporated into old Etruscan structures during the expansion of Via Amerina. Inscriptions on the archway point to Emperor Augustus and Emperor Gaius Vibius Trebonianus Gallus.


From jazz to chocolate

However, the city of arts Perugia isn’t “just” worth a visit as the site of breathtaking architecture. There’s also a lot happening throughout the year. We’ve picked two rather amazing event suggestions for you:

  • Umbria Jazz: Perugia turns into the heart of the jazz world on ten days in July. Umbria Jazz is one of the most important European jazz festivals with legends of the genre and greats from different musical worlds visiting the city. Miles Davis, Alicia Keys, Carlos Santana, Dizzy Gillespie and Sting have all been part of Umbria Jazz.
  • Eurochocolate: Umbria’s capital has been sweet like chocolate since 1993. Nearly one million Italians and tourists visit one of Europe’s largest chocolate festivals every year. There are a lot of delicacies to taste as well as concerts, exhibitions and activities. One of the highlights in previous years was a massive climbing wall that looked like a bar of chocolate.


The city of arts Perugia is very multifaceted, even spectacular with its astonishing features ranging from sweet treats to architectural highlights. You can feel the long, eventful history in the old alleyways going along very neatly with the newer districts and Umbria’s glorious nature. When will you visit magical Perugia?

Ascoli Piceno – the travertine city of arts

There’s a hidden yet monumental treasure surrounded by three mountains and the confluence of two rivers waiting to be discovered at the heart of the breathtakingly stunning nature of the southern Marche. Ascoli Piceno, capital of the eponymous province, is home to a rather compact 47,000 inhabitants. Still, it is one of Italy’s best-known cities of arts. That’s mostly due to the impressive architecture, the medieval charm and the striking travertine aesthetic giving the historic centre its distinctive look with its warm colours. You’d like to know exactly what there is to expect? Well, let’s get things started!


Italics or woodpeckers?

We won’t say too much about Ascoli Piceno’s history for a change, simply because there isn’t a whole lot out there. It was likely the capital of the Piceni, an Italic population during the Iron Age. The city’s name came either from them or from a woodpecker ritual performed by the Sabines (“woodpecker” approximately translates to “picchio” in Italian). The region was later conquered by the Romans and eventually hotly contested by the Ostrogoths, the Lombards and the Franks. Galeotto I Malatesta and Francesco I Sforza used the unstable Middle Ages to establish brutal dictatorships. Eventually, Ascoli Piceno fell under Papal control in 1482 where it remained until the Kingdom of Italy was founded.


Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Arringo



While there isn’t much to tell on a historical level, Ascoli Piceno actually has a lot to offer as a city of arts. This is in part due to the abundantly used travertine, a bright limestone from sweet water springs that dominates the historic centre. The two main squares Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Arringo are home to the city life. And there’s a lot to see for you:

  • Dom Sant’Emidio: Even though hardly anything of the original Romanesque building survived – we highly recommend checking out the crypt – Ascoli Piceno’s cathedral remains the city’s most important church. Extensive travertine works join the baroque conversions to form a harmonious overall look. Don’t miss out on the polyptych altarpiece on the right side of the altar.
  • San Francesco: This enormous Gothic hall church was built between 1258 and 1371. San Francesco is flanked by an enormous market hall and a Renaissance cloister housing a morning market. Explore the large lateral entrance to Piazza del Popolo to discover a monument for Pope Julius II.
  • Palazzo dell’Arengo: Piazza Arringo is also known as Piazza dell’Arengo and this palace is one of its most important buildings. Formed by the fusion of two older palaces, the travertine façade with its five porticos certainly knows to impress. Find the art gallery Pinacoteca Civica behind them.
  • Baptistery: The cathedral was dedicated to Saint Emygdius, the city’s patron saint, but the baptistery is all about Saint John. This ideal of Ascoli’s Romanesque architecture is a national monument of Italy. The travertine façade might look plain at first, but take a closer peek to discover several fascinating details.
  • Diocesan museum: Part of Piazza Arringo’s palace complex, this huge museum preserves the diocese’s art treasures. Among the focal points are a collection of Florentine 16th century art and an entire area dedicated to the city’s various art schools and movements from the 13th century to today.


Other sights in Ascoli Piceno

By the way, there’s much more to Ascoli Piceno beyond the travertine masterpieces known far beyond the Marche. Here are some lovely sights that are certainly worth a second or even a third look:

  • Ponte di Cecco: Experience Ascoli Piceno’s Roman heritage outside the city. The arch bridge Ponte di Cecco was built in 25 BC during Emperor Augustus’ reign and formed part of a supply road between Rome and the coast of the Adriatic Sea. According to lore, the devil built this bridge in just one single night.
  • Ponte Romano di Solestà: A second arch bridge, dating back to Augustus’ reign as well, spans the river Tronto and connects to the San Giacomo district. Sadly, the old city wall is mostly gone.
  • San Pietro Martire: The church of the Dominican Order gets lost in the shuffle being located on a small square at an intersection. San Pietro Martire’s façade exhibits a rather low-key look, but don’t miss out on the gloriously bright apse. The marble statues at the main altar and the frescoes on the side walls are genuine eye-catchers.
  • San Vittore: Romanesque meets Gothic architecture for a neat little church made of travertine marble blocks. The window rose is clearly Gothic, the belfry has a curiously square shape and likely used to house the baptistery until a lightning strike decimated the old tower. Various anonymous frescoes, some of which have since been transferred to the diocesan museum, line San Vittore’s walls.


The Quintana



Finally, we have a neat event for you. The first Sunday in August is Ascoli Piceno’s main festivity. A large parade with about 1,500 participants in Renaissance costumes honours patron saint Emygdius. The equestrian tournament Quintana takes place afterward. It sees six knights, each representing one of the city’s six neighbourhoods, compete on a course. Holding lance and shield, they try to hit the effigy of a Saracen warrior. The big city feast in the evening packs all tables to maximum capacity. You absolutely have to try the local speciality Olive all’Ascolana, giant fried olives stuffed with meat.


Ascoli Piceno is small but nice without a doubt. Being a city of arts, it carries a unique travertine flair giving the historic centre a noble, historic charm. Look forward to a hidden treasure full of Roman heritage, enormous Romanesque and Gothic churches, and a truly amazing festivity in the south of the Marche, surrounded by equally glorious nature and countless hiking trails. Ascoli Piceno is definitely worth a trip!

City of arts Gradara with world-renowned fortress

Gradara pulls off something amazing. The municipality in the Province of Pesaro and Urbino in northern Marche is both a scenic city of arts that exudes extraordinary allure and one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. Gradara managed to retrain most of its original, medieval look, most certainly due to the more than dominant fortress. It is one of the best-known castles in the entire country, definitely at least in part because of its very prominent mention in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Walking around the small town history becomes palpable, accompanied by unique views of wide hilly countryside and coastal regions. Gradara is a city of arts of extraordinary beauty, very compact yet still absolutely worth seeing.


The fortress as a central historical site

While the region around Gradara had already been a major transport nodal point in ancient times, its actual history only really kicked off during the Middle Ages. The powerful De Grifo family had a tall tower built at an altitude of 142 m in 1150. After they had fallen out of favour with the pope, Malatesta da Verucchio conquered the giant and turned it into the keep of his fortress. Galeazzo Malatesta sold Gradara to Francesco Sforza in 1445, but Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, the “Wolf of Rimini”, refused to hand over the village. And he didn’t give the money back either. How rude. Sforza’s subsequent siege failed.


The village Gradara had become anchored between the first two wall rings in the meantime and was gradually extended. However, once the pope had excommunicated Sigismondo Malatesta, the fortress was soon lost as well. Federico da Montefeltro captured it in the name of church and gave it to the Sforza family who had finally achieved its goal. Gradara became hotly contested henceforth and saw many different rulers including the Della Rovere, the Borgia and the Medici. The Rocca started to deteriorate under the rule of the Papal States until it came to the Zanvettori family in 1920 who decided to restore it. It is thanks to them and the Italian state who would assume ownership later on that the city of arts Gradara managed to retain its original beauty and got to both blossom during the following decades.


Fortress and fortifications



Are you ready for a colossal surprise? We’ll take a look at the fortress now. Yeah, totally unexpected! As you’ve already seen, Gradara’s history is inseparable from that of its fortress. Dante Alighieri immortalised the city of arts by mentioning it in his “Divine Comedy”. Gradara Castle is the site of the doomed love of Francesca and Paolo Malatesta who were actually discovered and killed here by Francesca’s husband Granciotto on a September day in 1289. Dante’s very emotional fifth canto dedicated to this story is among the most famous parts of his magnum opus.


You’ve always wanted to take a closer look at this unique historical site or go on a little walk atop the old castle walls? Well, you’ll be pleased to learn that you can do exactly that in Gradara. Inspect the various rooms at your heart’s content for only a small admission fee. We recommend taking part in a guided tour offering numerous facts and details from behind the scenes of this impressive facility. The panoramic round walk on the fortress walls opens up breathtaking views of the rolling Marche hills and even to the Romagna’s coastal regions.


Other sights

One fortress visit and that’s it? Honestly, that wouldn’t really do justice to the friendly city of arts Gradara by a long shot. Many small streets and dreamy alleys lead onto little squares, to various churches and even a few hidden gems here and there. Don’t miss out on the following three sights:

  • Museo storico: The fortress isn’t the only place to marvel at Gradara’s exceedingly fascinating history. This privately owned history museum is the home of various historic documents and exhibits from days long gone depicting life in Gradara and its surroundings over the course of many centuries. Various armours, torture devices, copied weapons, and items from everyday rural life accompany your visit. There’s a trip to the tuff caves below the fortress waiting for you at the end.
  • Air theatre: More than 70 birds of prey dominate the skies over Gradara. They are the stars of the air theatre (Teatro dell’Aria) performing breathtaking manoeuvres on command during shows – a captivating experience with a unique view in more ways than one.
  • Cimitero di Guerra: The cemetery of the Allied Forces expands across several terraces in close proximity to the motorway. More than a thousand Commonwealth soldiers of the Eight British Army and one Belgian soldier were laid to rest here. A walk through this stunningly cultivated facility impressively shows how important peace is. Or would be.


More things you should know about Gradara

Jolly celebrations are a popular pastime in the city of arts Gradara. Several events are dedicated to its rich historic heritage celebrating the uniqueness of the fortress, sometimes even taking a gander at the cuisine of the Marche. We have picked three favourites for you:

  • Il Medioevo a Tavola: Gradara’s multifaceted medieval history is celebrated throughout the year in many different ways and is most definitely palpable at every corner of the town. This festival takes its name literally and brings the Middle Ages to the table. Local restaurants become 14th century taverns serving traditional dishes like the popular Tagliolini con la Bomba.
  • Assedio al Castello: There’s even an entire event dedicated to Francesco Sforza’s siege of the fortress. Re-enactments with actors, horses and special effects take place every last weekend of July. It probably goes without saying that the special medieval atmosphere can be felt throughout Gradara.
  • The Magic Castle: A former Celtic festival turned into a hotspot for magic and emotions over the last couple of years. The Magic Castle is dedicated to gripping magic performances, dance theatre and artistic highlights with artists from all over the world attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year across multiple evenings.


Yes, Gradara is everything but your run-of-the-mill city of arts and mostly focuses on one of the most impressive fortresses in all of Italy. However, there are many historical treasures, jolly festivals, and a delicious rural cuisine hidden behind its walls, all accompanied by astonishing views. Discover this hidden gem in the Marche, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, and a special, invaluable city of arts.

City of arts Livorno – ideal town of many fortresses

Tuscany’s cities of arts are widely known for their wealth, their astonishing abundance of sights and secret treasures as well as for their eventful, exciting history full of ups and downs. Livorno, however, slightly breaks what seems to be the regional precedent. The capital of the eponymous province served as a sort of suburb and defensive fortification for several centuries, blossomed only very late as a free port and centre of trade, only to be destroyed and at least mostly rebuilt with a lot of effort. Nowadays, the city of arts Livorno invites you to go on extended tours with numerous hidden gems, with wide and open squares, and with a hint of Venice – very unusual, very attractive. And most definitely the perfect destination for your next city holiday.


The ideal town and its free port

The area around Livorno attracted settlers from very early on thanks to its ideal coastal location. Neolithic discoveries attest to it. The Romans settled near today’s port during the construction of Via Aurelia and likely named the settlement after “liburna”, a type of warship. However, it took until the year 1017 for the first documented mention of Livorno (as Livorna). The small coastal village later fell to the maritime Republic of Pisa, served as an important fishing village and defensive site, and eventually expanded its maritime position when Pisa’s port sanded up. Destroyed several times during battles, Livorno ultimately became part of Florence in 1421.


The city blossomed during the Medici reign. Livorno was seen as a key access point to the sea leading to several extensions of the port with fortifications following soon after. It took until 1571 when the Grand Dukes Cosimo I and Francesco I decided to have Livorno made into an “ideal town”. Rectangular roads still run through the historic centre. The Leggi Livornine decree that assured religious freedom and various privileges to all merchants regardless of origin slowly turned Livorno into a multicultural and multireligious town. It blossomed after the free port declaration in 1657 lasting until the incorporation into the Kingdom of Italy. Brutally devastated by air raids during the Second World War and not fully rebuilt to this day, the restructured modern Livorno has since become a city of tourism. The port is still among the most important ones in all of Italy.


Venezia Nuova and the defensive fortifications



Livorno lost a lot of its original building fabrics due to the massive destruction in the Second World War. However, you can still easily spot the old Medici city layout. It consists of several large military defensive fortifications and an entire district that cleverly enhanced Bernardo Buontalenti’s concept of a pentagonal ideal town (the so-called “Pentagono del Buontalenti”) and took it to a new level. Here are some cornerstones:

  • Venezia Nuova: Grand Duke Ferdinano II de’ Medici seized the opportunity to expand the city northward in 1629. Venezia Nuova was established to grant more space to the port area and the flourishing trade. As the name suggests the construction of the new rione was inspired by Venice creating a network of houses and canals for which Venetian experts were imported. The narrow roads, numerous bridges and many canals lend themselves to delightful explorations.
  • Fortezza Vecchia: Venezia Nuova was supposed to be connected to the city’s old defensive fortifications and Fortezza Vecchia is the oldest of them all. Built around a massive tower from the year 1077, the Pisans initially created a large fortress that was later expanded by the Medici who even had a palace added to it. The extensively renovated facility now mainly serves as an event centre.
  • Fortezza Nuova: Grand Duke Cosimo I had two old bastions converted into the new fortress. It was modified considerably starting in 1590 and expanded to form the grand Fortezza Nuova made to protect the new district Venezia Nuova. The facility currently houses a large park.


Squares and palaces

Being an ideal town, Livorno isn’t just home to many old buildings – partially heavily modernised out of necessity – but also to many squares with great historic significance and magical palaces as gripping eye-catcher. And you certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on any of them.

  • Piazza della Repubblica: There came a time when the old Pentagono del Buontalenti simply wasn’t enough anymore. Livorno had to grow and gained new districts in the east. A new square established in 1844 connected old and new structures even spanning the canal structure. There’s something genuinely magical to Piazza della Repubblica with its 52 marble benches, 92 pillars and various statues.
  • Terrazza Mascagni: The first structure along the shore belvedere Viale Italia were built as early as during the Medici reign and saw several reconstructions that eventually turned it into a seaside terrace. As such, you’ll certainly be wowed by the view of the sea and the hills of Livorno during your walk – perfect to kick back and get away from it all.
  • Palazzo Comunale: One of the oldest palaces of the city still in existence dates back to, you guessed it, the Medici, but construction only began in 1720 with multiple expansions in later years. The neo-Renaissance palace on Piazza d’Arme served as a meeting place for the city’s various representatives and “absorbed” additional buildings in later years including an old fire station.


Even more sights in Livorno



Wait, that’s already it? Heck to the no! We still have a few more select beauties you definitely should check out.

  • Duomo di Livorno: This cathedral dedicated to Francis of Assisi and other sains was built in the heart of the old city, on Piazza Grande, between 1594 and 1606. Originally conceived as a church, it was expanded into a Duomo with a tall tower during the early 19th Most original plans were used for the reconstruction after the Second World War.
  • Chiesa della Madonna: According to a legend this church between the old city and Venezia Nuova was built for a Carmelite statue. The various altars are genuine eye-catcher hidden behind a fairy plain façade that was covered with marble in 1972.
  • Monumento dei quattro mori: The “Monument of the Four Moors” is one of Livorno’s most popular features. It consists of a stone statue of Grand Duke Ferdinand I surrounded by four chained-up pirates. Created after several naval battles against Barbary pirates, this monument was transported to a safe place during the Second World War.
  • Cisternoni di Livorno: Three neoclassical building complexes constructed between 1829 to 1848 were established to ensure Livorno’s water supply (“cisternoni” means “great cisterns”). Cisternino di città near Fortezza Nuova looks like an antipole to the elegance of its time. However, it was never used as an actual cistern and is currently the home of a cultural centre.


Livorno is a special city in many respects. While the ancient roots have pretty much disappeared, you get to look forward to an unusual mix of Renaissance and neoclassical architecture with modern elements, to wide squares and fascinating canal structures. Livorno lends itself to long walks with great discoveries and many hidden treasures – a slightly different city of arts with a unique charm.

City of arts Pisa – more than just a (leaning) tower

When it comes to Italian cities of arts, Pisa’s usually right up there. The stunning city in northern Tuscany, divided by the river Arno, is known around the world for its Leaning Tower. However, that’s certainly not everything this once powerful, influential maritime republic has in store for you. It is home to one of the oldest UNESCO World Heritage Sites on Italian soil, respected colleges, and lavish celebrations. From tourism hub to university city to metropolis on the waterfront – we show you why Pisa’s always worth a visit.


From naval power to little power

The exact origin of the name Pisa and the identity of its founders has been lost to history. Ancient sources identify Ligurians, Etruscans and Greeks as potential first settlers. We at least know about an Etruscan conquest that seems to be archaeologically documented. Pisae, to use its erstwhile name, used to be well-disposed towards the Romans during the Ligurian Wars and eventually became a colony in 180 BC later reaching municipium status. Pisa had some relevance as a port yet very little is known about its history during Roman times and the Migration Period. It finally managed to gain significance during the Middle Ages eventually even taking centre stage.


Having become a republic, Pisa reached peak influence from the 11th century onwards turning into an economic powerhouse in no time. Merchants conducted very active trading here for centuries causing an intensive rivalry, even several conflicts with the Republic of Genoa. A defeat in the naval Battle of Meloria in 1284 set Pisa’s decline in motion. The republic lost more and more of its territories and even its independence to Florence in 1406. The city progressively suffered the loss of its former glory but remained an important university seat and finally merged completely into its new role as an awe-inspiring Tuscan city of arts.


World Heritage Site Piazza del Duomo

© Nikiforov

© Nikiforov

Pisa’s Cathedral Square, Piazza del Duomo, was the sixth Italian site to gain UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987. Piazza dei Miracoli (“Square of Miracles”), as this spot is also known among the public, unites some of the city’s major sights in once place. We have compiled a brief overview of its main attractions for you – you can read more about the square in our World Heritage blog about Piazza del Duomo.

  • Santa Maria Assunta: Expressive Carrara marble glows from afar. Despite a massive construction period of 200 years, the cathedral has a monumental, homogenous look to it. There’s an exciting, eventful history with shadowy roots hidden behind the enthralling frescoes and mosaics.
  • Leaning Tower: Santa Maria Assunta was given a detached belltower that couldn’t really cope with the poor sand and mire soil – or was it the other way around? Either way, the campanile is currently tilted around four degrees and gained international renown as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
  • Baptistery: The cathedral’s small baptistery is actually everything but small as the circular building happens to be an abundant masterpiece. If you have a head for heights, we recommend climbing the stairs all the way to right below the roof of the cupola.
  • Camposanto Monumentale: According to lore, soil brought from the holy land by crusaders was spread somewhere on the vast cemetery on the north side of Cathedral Square. A walk through the cloister leads you to sensational frescoes and awe-inspiring sarcophagi.
  • Palazzo dell’Opera: The opera palace actually consists of several buildings constructed between the 14th and 19th They used to serve as accommodation to cathedral personnel and are currently partially open to the public.
  • Ospedale Nuovo di Santo Spirito: Instead of a hospital the Gothic façade now enfolds the Museo delle Sinopie with fresco sinopias from Camposanto Monumentale.


Pisa’s churches and basilicas

Well then, that’s a start, but we actually wanted to introduce you to a few places you might not know yet, that aren’t quite as famous. Pisa has an abundance of churches and basilicas like many other Italian cities. Among them are:

  • Santa Maria della Spina: The thorn church got its name due to a thorn from the crown of thorns that was kept here for a long time before it had to be given to the church Santa Chiara. Santa Maria della Spina is directly on the shore of the Arno seemingly floating above the river. The opulent Gothic façade with its spires and statues is a genuine masterpiece.
  • San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno: A Romanesque building had to give way for this church that is also right next to the Arno. San Paolo was heavily influenced by Santa Maria Assunta, thus receiving the sobriquet “Duomo vecchio” (“Old Cathedral”). The church was heavily damaged during the Second World War and had to be rebuilt with the interior having suffered in particular.
  • Santo Sepolcro: The medieval crusades left their mark on Pisa even beyond the supposedly holy sand on Camposanto Monumentale cemetery. This Romanesque church was modelled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. However, there definitely are certain parallels to the Dome of the Rock, too.
  • Basilica San Piero a Grado: When travelling to Rome, Saint Peter supposedly landed in Italy on this very spot. The main branch of river Arno in a lagoon that eventually sanded up and gave way to this basilica with origins in the 4th century and multiple extensions in later times. The frescoes inside the basilica are dedicated to the saint’s life.


Even more astonishing sights in Pisa



And now for more of the same as we have a few additional cultural treats in store for you. They show many different aspects of Pisa ranging from grand splendour to fascinating nature to a hunger for knowledge:

  • Piazza dei Cavalieri: Once an important place of power for the Medici family, Pisa’s former profane main square is now known for its enormous prestigious Renaissance buildings. Several palaces and towers, even an ostentatiously adorned church rise along Piazza dei Cavalieri. The decorated double-ramp staircase of the eponymous palace is an attraction in its own right.
  • Botanical garden: Founded in 1543 thanks to efforts by doctor and botanist Luca Ghini and financially supported by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, Pisa’s botanical garden changed locations multiple times and eventually landed near Piazza dei Miracoli around 1595. Orto botanico is closely connected to the biology faculty of the city’s university, thus serving as educational facility, collection and oasis of tranquillity at the same time.
  • Università Normale: Pisa’s university, one of the oldest and most renowned in the entire country, was founded in 1343. Galileo Galilei used to study and teach here, other famous students include Pope Clement XII, prime minister and president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and the world-famous tenor Andrea Bocelli. Add the elite institute for higher education Scuola Normale Superiore and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna to the mix and you see why Pisa is among Italy’s most important university and higher education sites.


Come here for the Leaning Tower and stay for the cultural and scientific diversity – the city of arts Pisa impresses with its many grand surprises hidden behind the magnificent façade of Cathedral Square that unearths countless treasures. You will certainly get your money’s worth among the many treats, such as breathtaking architectural achievements, majestic frescoes and spectacular nature from water to garden. See you soon in Tuscany!

The hidden city of arts Prato in Tuscany



There are many stunning cities of arts in Tuscany, each with their own enthralling history and unique architectural diversity, attracting countless visitors from all over the world year after year. However, many seem to forget the second-largest city of the region, certainly in part due to the close proximity to Florence. Prato is only 17 km away, has around 195,000 inhabitants and is actually an almost magical city of arts in its own right with a wealth of attractive palaces and churches around the pedestrian zone in the city centre. Add the countless stores and boutiques, especially fashion and textiles, and the excellent regional cuisine into the mix and you get a must-visit destination. We tell you what awaits you in the north of Tuscany.


The origins of the industrial centre Prato

Prato’s history is told quickly. Early settlements date back to the Old Stone Age. The Etruscans traded wool and textiles, but the region quickly lost any significance. Prato’s actual history started in the 10th century with the first mention of the two villages Borgo al Cornio and Castrum Prati. They were united by the Alberti family who received the title “Counts of Prato” and helped the now drained region with river water supply become a wool and textile emporium. Francesco Datini created his massive trade empire here during the second half of the 14th century and left behind the biggest archive of merchant administration of the Late Middle Ages – a collection of over 152,000 documents and other trade related correspondence.


Prato was already part of the Republic of Florence at that point having been sold by Joanna I of Naples for 17,500 gold coins. It was given official city status in 1653 with rich embellishments and adornments to reflect this new level and wealth added in the following century. The city became an important industrial centre, especially in the textile sector, after the unification of Italy. Immigration grew exponentially – first from southern Italy, later from other countries with a substantial Chinese community currently living in Prato.


Prato’s churches and cathedrals

The high number of ecclesiastical buildings in Prato – a striking characteristic for many cities in Tuscany – is quite noticeable. We have handpicked seven particularly interesting churches and cathedrals for your visit:

  • Duomo di Prato: The roots of the city cathedral likely date back to the 5th century, but today’s façade made of white Alberese marble and green Serpentino marble was actually built during the Late Middle Ages. Behind the massive portal there’s a three-nave basilica minor with an astonishing cycle of frescoes by Filippo Lippi.
  • Santa Maria delle Carceri: Prato’s second basilica minor, however, was only built during the Renaissance period. Utilising the strict principles of the Greek cross shape, you get to experience an impressive, highly typical depiction of this era’s style and norms although part of the façade were never completed.
  • Sant’Agostino: Admittedly, the fairly plain façade with its rose window and belltower isn’t overly alluring. You should definitely peek inside to see numerous highly precious and artistic canvasses and frescoes.
  • San Domenico: Fine arts take centre stage as well in San Domenico as the church is home to stunning paintings by Matteo Rosselli. Don’t skip the adjacent museum with its wall frescoes!
  • San Francesco: Most of the baroque decoration in the interior was removed in the early 20th century to unearth the medieval roots. Niccolò Gerini’s frescoes in the chapel alone make this church worth a visit.
  • San Fabiano: One of Prato’s oldest still existing churches was first documented in 1082. The mosaic floor is even older and was made from the 9th to the 11th
  • Santi Vincenzo e Caterina de’ Ricci: The original 16th century church built for an adjacent monastery was a fairly simple matter. It saw a full overhaul after the beatification of Caterina de’ Ricci. The remains of the saint are exhibited beneath the main altar. The church is vested in amazing sculptures and ceiling paintings.


The palaces and museums

Sure, that’s already quite enough for a thrilling city tour, but Prato has so much more to offer. Here are a few additional ingredients for a tasty walk through the city of arts:

  • Palazzo Pretorio: The old city hall, a merger of three separate buildings in the late 13th and early 14th century, still reveals the outlines of the former individual parts on the façade. It has been home to the amazing Museo Civico with a great art collection from the Middle Ages to the 19th century since 1912.
  • Palazzo Datini: Remember Francesco Datini’s merchant archive? It was discovered in a wall of this very palace in the 19th These documents have since found a home in Prato’s State Archive which is in – you’ve probably already guessed it – Palazzo Datini. The ground floor with its paintings and mosaics was converted into a museum.
  • Palazzo degli Alberti: Converted and extended multiple times, you can see traces of various construction periods from the 13th to the 19th century on the façade of this palace. The Palazzo art gallery is mainly dedicated to Tuscan baroque painting.


  • ©


    Castello dell’Imperatore: Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, had this castle built on an old fortification in central Prato. The northernmost fortress of his realm was never completed due to the emperor’s death. We recommend walking up the stairs to the fortress walls for a round tour including a gorgeous view of the city.

  • Museo dell’Opera del Duomo: The old bishop’s residence of Prato now unites six different museum rooms dedicated to the city’s ecclesiastical history. Look forward to various statues, paintings and relics, some of which even date back as far as the 13th A tour of the vault beneath the cathedral is a must.
  • Villa Medici: And finally we’re travelling to Poggio a Caiano about nine kilometres south of Prato. The Medici summer residence is widely regarded as the prototype of Renaissance villa architecture strongly inspired by the ancient villas described by Pliny the Elder and Vitruvius. The site with its partially geometric, partially English garden is now used as a large museum.

Prato is everything but non-descript and therefore wrongly neglected. The industrial centre in northern Tuscany has a lot of charm and absolutely should be part of your holiday plans. You will certainly soon fall under the spell of this friendly city of arts.

City of arts Lucca in Northern Tuscany

An exciting city with a vast musical heritage awaits curious visitors in the northwest of Tuscany. Lucca is the birthplace of famous composers such as Giacomo Puccini, Alfredo Catalani and Nicolao Dorati. You additionally get to look forward to a fairly unusual cityscape that retained the original street layout from Roman times and instead expanded outward in later centuries. And then there’s the close proximity to the Ligurian Sea making Lucca a particularly fertile place – the many different gardens with their wide variety of plant species speak for themselves – and ideal starting point for beach trips. Above all, Lucca is a genuine city of arts with an astonishing abundance of extraordinary churches, palaces and secular building. Here we go!


The city of silk weavers

Like many other Tuscan cities Lucca was founded by the Etruscans. It became a Roman colony in 180 BC around the same time as Pisa and Luna near the quarries of Carrara. Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus founded the First Triumvirate here. Becoming a municipium, Lucca had no particular significance during imperial times, later pillaged by Odoacer and then extended by the Lombards to become the residence of either a margrave or a duke. It would constitute itself as an independent commune in 1160 after the death of the influential Matilda of Tuscany who left behind, among other things, a multi-decade battle among her heirs.


Internal discord and repeated attempts of outside influence put the independence to the test time and time again. Lucca was a rich city, particularly due to its central role in the medieval textile industry with especially colourful silk. Repeated unrest lead to the fleeing of many dyers and silk weavers to Venice. Still, Lucca always managed to free itself, was a democracy, a patrician-aristocratic oligarchy and an independent city republic until victorious French revolutionary armies ended the Austrian dominance over Italy and introduced a modern French form of “democracy” with dependence on Napoleon to the region, even Lucca. This quickly turned into a monarchy with Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi as Princess of Lucca, a Bourbon-Parma duchy after the Congress of Vienna, later a part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the eventual incorporation into the newly founded Italy.


The old city walls

One of the things that makes Lucca unique is its unusual yet highly exciting layout. The rectangular network of roads in the historic centre can be traced back to original Roman structures. Instead of getting rid of them – only the ancient city walls were torn down to free up expansion space – the city was gradually extended outward. Construction of the current city walls only began in the Middle Ages and saw an expansion during the 16th and 17th century giving them today’s form. Actually, they never had to be used for defensive purposes yet prevented potentially devastating flooding in 1812.


Nowadays you can take relaxing walks on the city walls as well as across and through the fortifications giving you a great first impression of Lucca’s architectural diversity and a chance to delightfully relax in quieter, green areas. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that these parts of the city are frequently used for (sporting) events. Five city gates connect the historic centre to the outer districts in almost all directions. Another two old gates from the original medieval site have since been incorporated into the inner ring of walls.

Ecclesiastical Lucca

Lucca has an abundance of churches and basilicas like many other Italian cities. Rather impressively, however, many of those ecclesiastical buildings date back to the Middle Ages and survived the centuries pretty excellently. Let us introduce you to some of our favourites:



  • San Martino: Lucca’s cathedral was built in the late 12th century and looks almost modern when compared to other churches in the city. There’s a consciously irregularly stepped row of arcades in front of the façade acting as a sort of decorative layer. Behind it you discover a tall, monumental building with glorious paintings, an impressive sarcophagus and a classic finger labyrinth.
  • San Michele in Foro: Find the second-most important church in the city, only slightly older than San Martino, on the old Roman market square. The façade was originally built for a nave that should’ve been much high. As you can see, plans changed making the richly adorned outer wall look disproportionally high.
  • San Frediano: Unlike many other buildings the façade of this Romanesque basilica minor faces the east in order to avoid visual conflicts with the then newly built city wall. As such, San Frediano looks a bit unusual. A small mosaic part was put onto the wide lower façade construction in order to adapt to the raised nave walls.
  • San Francesco: While extended construction periods certainly aren’t a rarity, San Francesco’s is one to behold. Starting out in the 13th century during the transition between Romanesque and Gothic, the upper part of the façade wasn’t completed until the first half of the 20th century utilising historicising methods and styles.
  • San Salvatore: The convent Santa Giustina was given its own church in the year 1009. However, the ravages of time took their toll on San Salvatore which is why only little of the original 12th century renovation is left. Everything else can be traced back to much, much later periods. Still, this simple yet impressive church of the since dissolved convent is pretty awe-inspiring, especially on the inside.
  • San Giusto: This Romanesque 12th century church replaced a much older building on the square of the same name. The striped upper main façade using black and white marble with its two loggias is very striking. Guidetto’s eye-catching main portal certainly is among his best works.


Secular buildings and gardens

But that’s most definitely not all your tour through the city of arts Lucca has to offer by a long shot. We have a few additional highlights for you:

  • Villa Olivia: Lucca is rich in villas and palaces with massive gardens. Knowing this, you won’t be surprised to hear that Villa Olivia almost pales in comparison to its five-hectare-large, walled garden. Two fountains, ostentatious statues and figurines, alleys and amphitheatres lead through this facility.
  • Palazzo Ducale: Destroyed palaces and fortifications eventually gave away to Palazzo Ducale, likely during the 15th Its massive and yet partially unfinished facades and rooms are home to galleries and multiple works of art.
  • ©


    Palazzo Pfanner: The former Palazzo Controni features a salon with awe-inspiring frescoes and a collection of surgical tools by the namesake Dr Pietro Pfanner. Today’s art museum is surrounded by another stunning garden with numerous statues.

  • Casa di Puccini: The birthplace of the world-famous composer, a fairly non-descript building near Piazza San Michele, has been converted into a museum exhibiting original scores and libretti. Among the main attractions is the attic room styled after Puccini’s opera “La bohème”.
  • Torre dell’Orologio: There were many towers of rich families in Lucca during the Middle Ages. They were partially built for protection and partially served as a status symbol. One of the few remaining towers, the tallest one in all of Lucca, is the clocktower Torre dell’Orologio. You can scale the many stairs and take a look at the sophisticated clockwork.
  • Orto Botanico: How about an entire botanical garden for a change? Established by Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, in 1820, this stunning facility lends itself to quiet, extended walks – open daily during the warm months and on weekday mornings during off-season.


As you can see, Lucca has a lot of spectacular things to offer with its mix of grand architecture, eventful history plus a number of walks and green areas. Look forward to the almost perfect symbiosis of harmony, peace, touristic highlights and magical time travel in this city of arts in the northwest of Tuscany.

City of arts Parma beyond culinary indulgence



When it comes to Parma you will probably first think of the amazing, multifaceted, rich cuisine of the city and the entire province. Parmesan and Parma ham spoil the palate and are both foundation and sides to genuine culinary treats. However, there’s actually an incredibly diverse city of arts with a plethora of churches, cloisters and palaces, all of which bore witness to a highly eventful history with several small peaks, waiting for you behind these sumptuous highlights. Join us on a brief tour through the north of Emilia Romagna!

Ever-changing rulers throughout history

The city’s roots date far back into prehistoric times. There had likely been Terramare pile dwellings as early as the Bronze Age. The first necropolis was established on today’s Piazza Duomo and Piazzale della Macina. Parma itself was supposedly founded by the Etruscans, the name (meaning “round shield”) being a Latin borrowing. A Roman colony was established around 183 BC. Destroyed by Attila and later given to Odoacer’s following, Parma, like many other cities of this region, saw a plethora of different rulers during the Migration period. It would take until 1545/47 for a sharp break when People Paul III established the Duchy of Parma for his illegitimate son Pier Luigi Farnese. Renaissance painter Antonio da Correggio had already left his mark on the city by this time. We will hear from him time and time again.

The end of the male Farnese line led to another noteworthy break in the 18th century. Both the War of the Polish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession had a decisive influence on Parma’s fate. Several abdications and failures would bestow the former duchy on Philip of Spain and eventually – with added Bourbon influence – on his son Ferdinand. Napoleon laid claim to the combined Duchy of Parma and Piacenza after the Napoleonic Wars before the Bourbon would rise to power one final time. A brief intermezzo as part of the short-lived United Provinces of Central Italy finally put an end to the frequently changing succession of rulers. Parma has been part of Italy since 1861.

Piazza Duomo



Parma was repeatedly expanded over the course of many centuries despite its ever-changing rulers and eventful, almost hectic history. It is now home to numerous spectacular buildings that attract guests from all over the world, and probably you as well. Your first stop is Piazza Duomo (Cathedral Square) with a collected 900 years of local, art and cultural history in one magical place. You’d love to know what exactly there is to see? Well then:


  • Cathedral: A devastating fire destroyed the old Church of Our Lady. Construction of Santa Maria Assunta on the same site commenced in 1074. The Romanesque cathedral with its Gothic bell tower was built across several different construction periods and later drastically changed on the inside during the Renaissance. Correggio’s perspective cupola fresco and the Gothic frescoes in the side chapels are especially worth seeing.
  • Baptistery San Giovanni: This octagonal sacred building is a genuine looker. You will see the pink façade made of Verona marble from afar. The vault of the cupola is divided into six different, fully painted levels, each dedicated to specific topics and eventually opening up to a spectacular red sky on the ceiling.
  • San Giovanni Evangelista: A fire damaged the original 10th century Benedictine monastery that was in turn given a Mannerism façade. Its cupola features yet another breathtaking fresco by Correggio. Don’t sleep on the three cloisters and the monastery library either.


More churches and cloisters in Parma

Talking about churches and cloisters, why not stay in the religious area for now? Parma is home to a plethora of stunning, diverse sacral building we cannot recommend highly enough.

  • San Martino de Bocci: Well, you caught us, we sort of cheated here just a little bit. For one thing, this building is located in the Paradigna district around 6 km north of the city itself. On the other hand, San Martino de Bocci is a former, abandoned Cistercian abbey. Now home to the study and archive centre of the city’s university, San Martino de Bocci continues to fascinate with its mix of original Gothic shapes and changes from later periods, particularly rococo and Empire.
  • Synagogue: There had been a large Jewish community in Parma in the Middle Ages until a papal bull from the year 1555 banished the population from the combined duchy. Napoleon’s conquest finally facilitated a resettling in the region. Built in 1866, the synagogue serves as a religious centre and was palpably inspired by the Catholic churches of its time.
  • San Paolo: Yes, we palm off another former monastery to you. Because we can. And, well, why not? Our main focus is the Camera della Badessa or Camera di San Paolo. During her first decade as abbess Giovanna Piacenza commissioned the decoration of one of her private rooms to – here he is again – Correggio. Unique frescoes seemingly expand toward the sky.
  • Santa Maria della Steccata: A fence (“Steccato”) separates believers from the popular sanctuary – an enshrined picture of a Nursing Madonna – in this Renaissance church, hence the name. Other stunning features are the breathtaking baroque altar and Bernardino Gatti’s ceiling frescoes of the Assumption of Mary.


Even more highlights for your city tour



As we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we carry on and expand our overview to some other personal favourites we absolutely need to introduce you to:

  • Palazzo della Pilotta: Duke Ottavio Farnese had this building complex constructed during the final years of his reign. Even though later rulers brought the art treasures to Naples after the decline of the Farnese, the palace remains a genuinely exciting place with the National Archaeology Museum, the National Gallery, the baroque theatre Teatro Farnese as well as many other museums, libraries and educational facilities waiting behind its imposing gates.
  • Teatro Regio: An abandoned monastery – yes, we have already had a few of those – had to give way for this opera and theatre. Commissioned by Duchess Marie Louise of Austria, the massive auditorium seats 1,400 persons and is the site of the annual Festival Verdi.
  • Museum House of Toscanini: The world-famous conductor Arturo Toscanini was born in Parma on 25 March 1867. His birthplace now acts as a museum dedicated to various aspects of the life of the famous son of the city. Various objects and memorabilia from his life plus furniture from days long gone accompany your visit.
  • Parco Ducale: Finally, it’s time for a bit of nature. Parma’s historic park expands an astonishing 208,700 m². Several palaces, fountains, theatres and green areas accompany your walk. You absolutely should visit the palace Palazzo del Giardino with its countless frescoes and stucco works.


The city of arts Parma guarantees tons of variety, quiet moments and, obviously, exquisite cuisine. Be enchanted by the diverse architectural masterpieces with its spectacular collections of paintings and frescoes and explore all aspects of this fascinating city in the north of Emilia Romagna. Enjoy your trip!

City of arts Trieste – where different cultures meet



There’s no doubt that Trieste has a special status. The city in north-eastern Italy, only a few kilometres from the Slovenian border, can look back on an eventful history that left its mark on every corner of the capital of the autonomous region Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Having been an important port for Austria and later the Austria-Hungarian Empire before “losing” its hinterland, Trieste even used to be almost isolated on the east-west border. The city of arts now is an important free port and popular holiday destination that even managed to increase its significance over the years thanks to amazing beaches and enthralling sights. Which sights, you ask? Well, that’s what we’re here for.

A pawn of great rulers

The region around Trieste has always been very important. Analysing the entire history of the coastal city would go beyond the scope of what we’re doing here, so let’s just focus on the key points. The region used to be the home of Celtic and Illyrian tribes. When the Romans started to conquer Istria from 177 BC onward, they established several military camps. The Tergeste colony would follow around 50 years later. From then on, the area predominantly served as an exclusive tourist resort and, for some time, even as a border fortress. Hit hard by the Migration Period, the Bishops of Trieste would eventually rule for several centuries until the conquest by Venice lead to conflicts that lasted 180 years. The voluntary submission in 1382 put Trieste into Habsburg-Austrian hands until the end of the First World War.

Despite heavy initial resistance, Trieste managed to stabilise during the Habsburg rule. Achieving free port status in 1719 plus the Austrian conquest of Venice gave the city a leading position in international trade. This wealth resulted in remarkable architectural achievements during the Wilhelminian time eventually clashing with growing industrialisation and burgeoning nationalism. Fully hijacked by fascist powers after the First World War, the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 defined most of the region as the Free Territory of Trieste. The neutral state was later dissolved. Trieste and its close surroundings went to Italy, the hinterland and north-western Istria to Yugoslavia. It took until 1975 for this demarcation to be officially confirmed. Trieste only lost its marginal geographic and economic position in the early 2000s when Slovenia joined the EU and the Schengen area.

Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia and Piazza Verdi



Trieste leaves us – and you – spoilt for choice. There are so many thrilling places and almost magical sights waiting for curious minds, one does wonder where to start. Well, why don’t you join us on a tour of Trieste from square to square, district to district, to cherry-pick genuine gems? We start in central Trieste on Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia. Being the largest square in the entire city, it is also known as Piazza Grande. Several neoclassical and baroque buildings frame the Piazza on three sides, such as:

  • The city hall Palazzo del Municipio was inspired by the Louvre and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice. Two bronze statues strike the tower clock at the top of every hour.
  • Palazzo Pitteri dates back to 1790. The oldest building on the square carries the name of the writer Riccardo Pitteri and currently belongs to an insurance company.
  • Heinrich von Ferstel, architect of the Votive Church in Vienna, designed the Palazzo del Lloyd Trestino. Ferstel was inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture when creating the palace of the Austrian shipping company.
  • Originally intended as an inn, Palazzo Modello perfectly embodies Trieste’s eclectic historicism. Ancient elements, Italian Renaissance, medieval styles, and baroque ideas come together here.


Piazza Verdi directly adjoins Trieste’s centrepiece. It is the site of Teatro Verdi, named after the world-famous composer Giuseppe Verdi. Several of Verdi’s operas premiered here. The old stock exchange rises in the background. The front with its portico looks like a Doric temple.

Borgo Teresiano and Borgo Giuseppino

Two of Trieste’s larger districts stretch from Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia to somewhat more remote parts of the city. Borgo Teresiano, for example, extends as far as the central station. The area was built on drained saltworks per decree of Empress Maria Theresa. The stunning Canal Grande, fully lighted at night, runs through the entire district as its principal axis. It ends at the neoclassical church Sant’Antonio Nuovo, Trieste’s largest Catholic church. Awe-inspiring works of Venetian and German painters adorn the interior. Many other churches, such as the Greek Orthodox San Nicolò dei Greci, the Serbian Orthodox San Spiridione and Trieste’s synagogue, are also located in this district.

Borgo Giuseppino, however, extends as far as Campo Marzio, the seafront and Piazza Attilio Horti. Piazza Venezia, which is open toward the sea, with Molo Veneziano and Molo Sartorio is the heart of and soul of this district. Among the Borgo’s major sights are the Renaissance-style Museo Revoltella and the city library Biblioteca Civica Attilio Hortis.

Historic centre and Colle di San Giusto

Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia extends as far as the hill of San Giusto with the oldest part of Trieste, the historic centre, at its foot. Mussolini had it destroyed and degenerated to unearth ancient remains. Those include the ruins of the Roman theatre Teatro Romano likely built in the 1st century AD. Romanesque San Silvestro from the 11th century is probably the oldest church in the entire city and pretty much towered over by the baroque Santa Maria Maggiore. You absolutely must look at the cupola from the inside! Arco di Riccardo, the last surviving part of the Roman city walls from Augustine times, rises behind the two churches.

Trieste Cathedral, Trieste’s most significant building, is situated on the hill of San Giusto itself. This 14th century Romanesque cathedral incorporates elements of its predecessors from Roman and Christian times. There’s so much here for you to discover from the asymmetric façade with a Gothic rose window to the towering Campanile with its Romanesque frieze in the stairway to the astonishing altars inside the chapels and the cathedral itself. Castel San Giusto is quite astounding as well. Despite its massive look it hardly ever carried any military significance. Talking about hills, we would be remiss not to mention Temple of Monte Grisa a few kilometres outside of Trieste. The odd, triangular shape of this Brutalism style building from the 1960s will immediately catch your eye.

We’ve at least scratched Trieste’s surface. The fascinating history, wide port and numerous squares have so much more magical treasures to offer. In short, you absolutely must visit Trieste and see it with your own eyes! You certainly won’t be disappointed.