Vicenza and Palladio top sights: following the architectural trail in the city
Along with the excellent food, wine and the weather, a visit to Italy is also a treat for the architectural sights and senses. From Baroque to Neoclassical, your eyes will marvel at the intricate detailing and your jaw will drop at the magnitude.
For any visitors wanting to see the best architectural sights in Italy, heading to Rome or Florence is a safe bet. However, there are many other places — lesser known to the crowds — that deserve a look-in. Take the north-eastern city of Vicenza. A small, yet charming place in the region of Veneto, it’s home to some stunning and historical structures. It’s lesser known than neighbouring Venice, but what it lacks in reputation, it makes up for in architectural delights.
Vicenza’s famous resident
If you’ve never heard of Andrea Palladio, you’re in good company. In short, he was one of Italy’s most prominent architects. What’s more, he’s widely considered as one of the most influential individuals in the history of architecture. So prolific is Palladio’s legacy, that he has a style of architecture named after him — Palladian architecture. Today in Vicenza, it’s not uncommon for students across the world to come to the city to study his masterpieces.
Palladio was born in nearby Padua in 1508, but spent the majority of his life, and work, in Vicenza. While he started his career as a stonemason, he would become the most sought-after architect in Vicenza and Venice.
Probably the most popular Palladio creation is the Basilica Palladiana. It’s also right in the heart of the historic centre of Vicenza, where you’ll find some of the best pasticceria and bars.
This Renaissance building is one of Palladio’s most notable works. Its most famous feature is the loggia, which shows off his architectural talent in the form of the Venetian window. A loggia’s an architectural feature that refers to a covered exterior corridor or gallery, which is supported by arches or columns.
The building was formerly known as the Palazzo della Ragione, and was the former seat of government. On the lower level were shops, which today still houses jewellery shops. To the side of the Basilica is the Torre della Bissara. This 82m tower actually preceded the Basilica, but is a notable feature in the Piazza dei Signori.
“Teatro Olimpico…holds the title of the oldest surviving stage set.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
The Teatro Olimpico is a must-see sight in Vicenza. It was Palladio’s last project before he died in 1580, and was succeeded by his son, Silla. The theatre’s based on the model of a building that Palladio had admired for a long time: the Roman theatre. Teatro Olimpico was the first closed theatre of its time, and to this day, holds the title of the oldest surviving stage set.
The stunning set with its optical illusion was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi. It consists of a spatial perspective of 5 wood and plaster streets, that the audience can view through the central arch. There are also 2 architraves that give the audience an in-depth look into the city of Thebes.
However, there’s one aspect of the theatre isn’t true to Palladio’s vision. The circular roof of the theatre is painted with a faux sky to give the illusion of an open-air classical theatre. Who’s to say whether Palladio would have approved this change, that was made during the last century.
Experts consider Palazzo Chiericati as one of Palladio’s greatest masterpieces.
Nobleman Girolamo Chiericati commissioned Palladio to design the palace. Today, it’s the Civic Art Gallery of Palazzo Chiericati, and is home to paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints. Palladio created a building with an arcaded façade that also embodies the features of a villa. Palladio was probably inspired by the seaside villas, modelling it on the classical port.
Inside is a central entrance hall, 2 groups of rooms each with a spiral staircase, and grand steps leading to the courtyard. The rooms in itself are works of art. Sculptor Bartolomeo Ridolfi created the stucco ceilings in one room, while painter Brusasorzi designed the frescoes.
Just on the outskirts of the city centre is the beautiful Villa Almerico-Capra, also known as La Rotonda. Palladio designed this home as somewhere for noble priest, Paolo Almerico, to retire to. The priest requested a building that would amaze and astound the city’s citizens, and Palladio delivered.
Sitting on a green hill, the cube-shaped villa has a circular living area in the centre. In fact, the name La Rotonda derives from this central and circular feature.
“Experts consider Palazzo Chiericati as one of Palladio’s greatest masterpieces.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
One of the most beautiful aspects here is the head of a faun collecting rain water. Palladio designed this to signify the harmony of the sky above, entwined with the circular centre, and the earth.
In every room, the doors are precisely on an axis with the windows, meaning it’s always possible to view the countryside around the villa. In essence, the building’s perfect symmetry is a prime example of absolutely classical beauty.
When walking around the city of Vicenza, you’ll be able to spot many other buildings in Palladian style. If you take a walk down Via Palladio, be sure to look above and beyond the shop signs. You’ll see buildings following the classic Palladian style, and some not so great reconstructions too!
Have you seen any of Palladio’s other works in Vicenza or around Italy? Let me know in the comments section below! Happy and safe travels. Till next time.
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