Vicenza is a city located in North Eastern Italy. The city and the surrounding countryside and hills are particularly famous for the many works, and particularly the Villas, by Palladio. Because of the architectonic contributions of Andrea Palladio, it was included in UNESCO’s list of world heritage places in 1994. In central Veneto, where many rivers run, lies the Province of Vicenza, an ever-changing landscape of mountains, valleys, water courses, art cities, and food and wine itineraries offering evocative landscapes, as well as many an opportunity for a rather pleasant vacation.
History and General Information
Founded in the 2nd century B.C. in northern Italy, Vicenza prospered under Venetian rule from the early 15th to the end of the 18th century. The work of Andrea Palladio (1508–80), based on a detailed study of classical Roman architecture, gives the city its unique appearance. Palladio’s urban buildings, as well as his villas, scattered throughout the Veneto region, had a decisive influence on the development of architecture. His work inspired a distinct architectural style known as Palladian, which spread to England and other European countries, and also to North America.
Major Sites of Vicenza
The Basilica Palladiana
The southeast side of Piazza dei Signori is dominated by the elegant Basilica Palladiana, Palladio’s masterpiece, built between 1549 and 1614. Its two stories of open colonnades, the lower part Doric and upper part Ionic, make it impressive but also serve to blend it into the vast square by opening it to the street. The basilica was not built as a church but as a meeting-place for the Grand Council. On the first floor is a hall 52 meters long, with a wooden vaulted roof, used for exhibitions. In front of the west end of the basilica stands a marble statue of Palladio. Inside the building is the Museo Palladiano, with models, designs, and other work by the architect. There is a café on the upper terrace. Piazza dei Signori was the site of the old Roman forum, with two columns from the Venetian period and the slender Torre di Piazza, a defensive tower built in 1174. The Loggia del Capitano, now part of the Town Hall, was the residence of the Venetian governor, begun by Palladio in 1571 but only half finished
Opposite the Museo Civico, the Teatro Olimpico was begun by Palladio in 1580 and completed in 1584 by Vincenzo Scamozzi, after Palladio’s death. Built of wood and stucco, this is a Renaissance adaption of ancient theaters. As you enter the building, be sure to notice its size, and be conscious of the distance you walk inside the theater. You will be surprised by how large the stage seems. This is a grand illusion, achieved by the clever use of sets that diminish in size to create the effect of long streets running off into the distance
Connected to the nearby Villa Valmarana by a footpath – about a ten-minute walk – is the most recognized of all Palladio’s buildings, Villa Almerico Capra, better known as La Rotonda. Commissioned by a priest as his country house upon his retirement from the Vatican, the villa was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. In turn, it has inspired hundreds of later buildings the world-over, including Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Virginia, USA. The square structure is completely symmetrical, with a portico on each of the four sides, and crowned by a dome. Although it was designed and begun by Palladio about 1567, at his death in 1580, the building was completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, who kept to the original plans except for some modifications to the dome. The interior is decorated in elaborate frescoes, with trompe l’oeil architectural features – columns, niches, and capitals – on the walls. It is possible to visit the grounds and the interior on alternate days.
The Gothic church of Santa Corona was built in the 13th century to house a holy relic, a thorn from Christ’s Crown of Thorns, and contains several notable paintings. The Baptism of Christ by Giovanni Bellini, from about 1500, is above the fifth altar on left, and on the third altar on the right is Adoration of the Magi by Veronese. But what draws most visitors is the church’s 1576 Cappella Valmarana, a chapel believed to have been designed by Andrea Palladio, who is buried in the church.
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