Italy is one of those countries to which you probably have already quite a number of preconceptions even before you have put one foot into the country. Country of olive oil and mafia, pasta, wine and sunshine, roman ruins and renaissance palaces.
Although some of these images are appealing, it would be a shame if that was the only thing you would get away with. Italy is certainly much more complex and interesting than that. Italy is a modern country with deep roman catholic roots, full of interesting stuff for the casual tourist and even more for the educated visitor. It is easy to spend two weeks in major tourist centers without any reason to get bored, but it is equally simple to get off the beaten track.
In the north, next to the Alps and the flatlands of the Po river, both cultural jewels and industrial highly developed cities attract. This is where Italy’s economic heart beats. But even in the buzzling and busy cities, people live the “Italian way of life”. In Lombardia’s capital Milan, city of haute couture and business, you can easily spend weeks without being bored. On every corner you will discover something new.
The most famous tourist attractions in the north-east are probably Venice and Verona, that both let you think of romantic love affairs. But to discover the beautiful landscapes around, for example Verona province, may be even more fascinating.
The north-west of Italy is a paradise for every culinary interested traveler. For wine lovers, Piemonteis directly connected with Barolo and Barbaresco, the most famous wines made out of the Nebbiolo grape. Piemonte’s capital, Turinoffers more than just a starting point to visit these wine regions. Lots of museums, modern art, book and music fairs make Turin one of the leading Italian cities concerning cultural life. At the same time is was and still is a booming industrial and multimedia city.
The coastal region of Liguriais another highlight. The Italian Rivierahas nothing to envy its French counterpart. Beaches, countryside, the right climate and old towns like Genoamake a visit a must. Mostly undiscovered valleys offer beautiful walking possibilities. Villanova d’Albenga and Cerialeare worth a visit and even a longer stay.
Gourmets should not miss the Emilia Romagna, Italy’s culinary centre. Bologna , “La Grassa” like the Italians say, is a must see as well as Ravenna with its impressive mosaic works and the Byzantine architecture and last but not least Rimininear the Adriatic Sea.
For Tuscanywords fail to describe its beauty: you have to go there to see, to smell and to experience the beauty of the old towns and lovely valleys yourself. Florence, Lucca, San Gimignano, Pisa and Siena, Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena offer more cultural highlights than some countries as a whole. The way of living does the rest to attract every year millions of visitors. Elba, the island of Napoleans first exile, is only one of seven Tuscan Archipelago islands.
What can we say about Rome? The eternal city has to be visited by every Italy traveler. It is true what all those millions of visitors say: it is a great, vivid and picturesque city.
The southern part of Italy fascinates the traveler with its great hospitality and gorgeous landscapes. Campania has attracted visitors over the centuries: Capri, Ischia, Sorrento and Amalfi became the chosen destinations of visitors from many countries. “To see Naples and then die” is not just an old spell. Try it yourself and even if you don’t die, you will surely lose your heart.
Sicily the largest island in the Mediterranean has been influenced by the culture of the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs the Normans and many others. They all loved life on the island and left their marks.
Italy has a great climate and the beaches to go with it. Look at the map and you will notice immediately that Italy has a very long coastline. Different mountain chains run through the country and you never have to travel far to find some excellent places to go hiking. Volcanoes like Stromboli or the Etna are still active and can be visited.
Roma: the name inverts neatly to form ‘amor’. And that’s it – people tend either to love or to hate the place and Rome can reward you as no other city can. Rome, the eternal city which exerts the most compelling fascination, has to be visited by the Italy traveler. 29 million pilgrims and tourists went to Rome in the year 2000 alone.
Few cities have such a long and turbulent history as has Rome. No other city has been the focal point of the world for such a long period. The mistress of the Roman Empire, lavished with architectural jewelry by her emperors, but also often seiged raided and destroyed. Also fires and earthquakes left their scars, but each time the eternal city recovered from her injuries.
Rome’s history is tightly connected to the history of Europe. Not just the Roman emperors, but also medieval emperors and kings like Charlemagne or Otto I saw Rome as the true seat of power. They challenged the new rulers, the popes for the supreme power. It was the dispute about who was the true representative of God. Both emperor and pope claimed to be true inheritors of the Roman Empire.
It is said that one life is not enough to get to know Rome. Maybe you’ll need about nine, as much as the countless stray cats that also populate the city, but a week will do for a first introduction. At each corner of each street there’s a story to tell. Thousands of stories together tell the history of a three thousand year old city. Two weeks may be enough for a hasty tour through most everything; a month would be better. Fortunately, Rome (pop. 2.900.000) is compact enough to skim the best in three (full) days, and if you have more time we guarantee you will find delightful and fulfilling ways to use it.
Highlights in Rome include the Trevi fountain (remember Anita Ekberg in the classic scene in La Dolce Vita) and the Spanish Steps, the Roman heritage sights such as the Pantheon, the Colloseum and the Forum Romanum, at least some of the world famous churches such as Il Gesu, S. Giovanni in Laterano or Sta. Maria Maggiore. Make sure not to miss a stroll through the Vatican City with the incredibly huge St. Peter’s Cathedral and the unrivalled Vatican Museum.
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Located in the heart of Tuscany, a stunning province of hills and mountains, the Renaissance capital of the world, with famous sons like Leonardo, Dante, Machiavelli and Michelangelo, is a sight not to be missed.
The world famous Duomo with the Brunelleschi cupola and the marble clad baptistry are simply stupendous, but not all the monuments are like this. The streets of the historic town centre are often narrow and dark, the palaces robust and intimidating. But have a look at the squares – wonderful mediterranean places where you will like spending hours sitting down, having a caffe and just watching people passing by.
However, Florence is a city of incomparable pleasure concerning churches, monasteries, museums, galleries and palaces. Among the things you can’t afford to miss are the Uffizi Galleries, one of the best art museums in the world, the cathedral with the baptistry, the Santo Spirito church and the Ponte Vecchio. To get a great overview of the city, head for Piazza Michelangelo in Oltrarno (other side of river Arno) or farther up to the church of San Miniato.
The surroundings of Florence have many things to offer to the visitor as well as does the whole Florence Province. You can explore this region for weeks without being bored. For these day trips the city of Florence is the perfect starting point.
Palermo is the capital of Sicily and its largest city – stupendously sited in its own wide bay underneath the limestone bulk of Monte Pellegrino. Originally a Phoenician, then a Carthaginian colony, this remarkable city was long considered a prize worth capturing. After the first Punic war it passed from the Carthaginian hands to the Romans (254 – 253 B.C.) and later became a colony under the reign of Augustus.
Under the Arab domination it obtains great splendour: it becomes an emirate and will hold around 300 mosques. As an Arab reporter of the time describes, from the interior rise one could admire the red domes among the green of the Conca d’Oro. Finally Palermo became Norman in 1072 with a conquest by Ruggero d’Altavilla. Ruggero II raises it as capital of the Sicilian Reign and Federico II Houhenstaufen crowns it Capital of the Mediterranean Culture, creating the first Sicilian school. Palermo became the greatest city in Europe, famed for the wealth of its court and peerless as a centre of learning.
In the hands of the Angevin’s it passes through a phase of decline, due to the transfer of the Reign’s Capital to Naples. For the misgovernment, the population revolts: War of the Vespers (Easter 1282). In the course of its history, Palermo always searched for independence and the role as Capital. In fact, this is revealed in the attempt of the Neapolitan Republic to impose the Bourbonist Constitution (1812). On the 27th of May 1860, the city hands itself over to garibaldi.
The long history of the city assures that there is a lot to see, although the city as a whole, as well as some of the sights, are in need of repair.
Nowadays Palermo is a fast, brash and exciting city. The mix of arabic and viking influences is one of the strangest and unexpected surprises the city has to offer. Buildings dating from the 11th and 12th century, the heyday of Medieval Sicily, offer this peculiar quality. The most noteworthy and an absolute must is the Palazzo dei Normanni
Other interesting sights include the Quattro Canti, a nice example of Baroque architecture and the Catacombs. From the 16th to the last century local noblemen and clergy were mummified here. Very impressive are the Monastery and Cathedral of Monreale in the nearby village of Monreale (a couple of kilometers out of the city-center).
Maybe you expect Venice to be one dazzling, romantic, fairytale-like labyrinth of canals, alleys, picturesque houses and impressive squares and buildings. Well, you are right then (although it is also dirty, run down and rather smelly in the summer heat). The best thing to do is wander around and get lost for at least a day. Roam the winding streets and the various piazzas and see the melting pot of architectural styles. When you are interested in Venetian painting, you can bathe in the collections of paintings from artists such as Titian and members of the school of Murano. The Galleria di Palazzo Cini, for instance, houses the private art collection of Vittorio Cini, the wealthiest Venetian art collector of this century.
His collection includes paintings from the Tuscan Renaissance and the school of Ferrara. Find your own musical inspiration in this city, whether by seeing a Venetian Opera composed by Montiverdi (the Titian of Music), visiting Campo Bandiera e Moro (the birthplace of Vivaldi) or listen to baroque music played (on a 18th century organ) in the Santa Maria Della Favaon at the Sunday mass.
Be like Marco Polo, who was born here (or in Corcula), but instead of defying seas, defy the canals (177) and bridges (400) by gondola. This will introduce you to the dubious character of the water. On the one hand, it contributes to the charm of Venice. Houses had to be built on piles and had to be small and close to one another in order to use the ground as effectively as possible. On the other hand, it was and still is its worst enemy: the fundaments of a lot of buildings are slowly eaten away by the destructive impact of the lasting exposure to water. Motorboats and the disposal of chemical waste in the water increase the decline of this former metropolis which already went down several centimetres. Pessimists believe that, during the next 50 years, Venice will slowly turn into a new Atlantis when radical improvements are not forth-coming.
Central Venice, which consists in total of 118 islands, is divided into six districts or sestiere. This division might make it easier for you to get a grip on the city’s structure. Best known to everyone is the sestiere of San Marco. This district is the busiest and the most expensive one. A lot of tourists do not even come outside the boundaries of this district, which houses the main sights. Piazza San Marco will exercise your imagination, the same way it made Napoleon sigh that it was “the most beautiful salon of Europe, which deserves to have the sky as its ceiling”. Most festivities and celebrations took place here. When entering the piazza from the western side, you will see on your right the Procuratie Nuove (the palace of Procurators) and the Campanile. It took 240 years to build this clock-tower, and former lighthouse, which received its spire not until the late Gothic from the state’s architect, Bartomeo Bon. On your left, you will find the old palace of procurators, the Procuratie Vecchie, and the Torro dell’Orologio, also a clock-tower but not as high as the Campanile. Straight on, you will see the Basilica di San Marco. On the right side, you see the palace of the doges, Palazzo Ducale, which leads on to the Piazzetta, the square leading to the Piazza. Ponte dei Sospori, the Bridge of Sighs, links the religious and governmental face to the dark criminal one.
The northern part of Venice is called Cannaregio and is a mixture of hustle and bustle on the one hand and urban relaxation on the other hand. It is said that the world’s first Ghetto came into being here. The Jewish population from the city was forced to move here, because it was easier for the Christians to seal off this area in order to prevent Jews from roaming the streets at night. You can find the museum of Jewish history in this district.
On the east, San Marco is bordered by the sestiere of Castello. If the Piazza San Marco would not exist, the Campo San Zanipolo would be the most impressive square in Venice. South of San Marco, across the question-mark formed Canal Grande, lies Dorsoduro. It is a shame that a lot of people do not cross the canal, or rather, do not get out of their gondola, because this area offers great sights of architecture and fine collections of both classical and modern art. The Galleria dell’Accademia is a must!
North of this area is the sestieri of San Polo, closing off the district in between Santa Croce. San Polo is the business and bank zone of Venice. Whenever you feel like shopping, go to the Rialto area which is situated in this district. It is packed with shops full off clothing, shoes, Venetian masks, and other gadgets.
Beyond the central grouping of islands you’ll find Lido, Murano, Burano, Torcelli and San Michele. Lido is much more modern than the rest of Venice and is a stark contrast to Venice itself – Piazza San Marco is a 15min. boat shuttle trip. Lido is also and mostly a summer beach resort, separating the Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Architecture is nineteenth century and later (mostly, much later) Automobiles are permitted as are bicycles both of which are banned in the rest of Venice.
Murano is where glass making was moved when it caused one too many fires. It has hundreds of shops and glass factories that sell a wide range of items from really bad “modern” glass clowns and sailboats to exquisite jewelry made from tiny glass beads. Avoid the “tours” to Murano which will lock you into the worst shops. Just take the regular Murano Vaporato from the stop just beyond St. Mark’s Square. Don’t miss the church with its blown glass chandeliers donated by the locals.
Burano is most known for it’s lace making (but much of the lace sold is no longer handmade there) and its very colorful buildings. Torcello was the first of the Venitian islands to be inhabited. It’s almost uninhabited now but it does have a 12th century church and a great restaurant.
Finally, but not to be missed, is San Michele, the cemetery island. Definately worth some time.
Milan is the biggest city of North Italy. The powerhouse of the country and one of the most stylish cities of the planet.
But it is also a city with many important museums and wonderful monuments. See the Castello Sforzesco the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (which displays Leonardo’s Last Supper) the Brera Museum (Madonna and Child and Pieta by Bellini) and many other museums monuments and churches. Moreover, Milan is a lively city, with several pubs, discos and nightclubs. Being a fashion capital too, you might run into a top model or designer. The best chances are in the area around Brera (the artist zone) or the Navigli area. And if you have money to spend, just make a visit in via Montenapoleone and via della Spiga where you’ll find boutiques by Gucci, Ferragamo, Valentino, Armani, Ferre, Fendi and others. Look for other famous designer labels and items such as shoes, camelhair blankets and leather goods.
Near Milan are two must-sees (both can be visited in a day trip): the Carthusian Monastery at Pavia and the 12th-century Chiaravalle Abbey (founded by St. Bernard of Cistercian). Two hours outside of Milan in Pessione is the museum of the history of wine making which has a fine collection of wine-making equipment Imperial glass receptacles and Etruscan and Apuleian ceramics.
Turin owns a huge heritage represented by cultural institutions that operate in the most diverse fields of knowledge and are united by a great dynamism. Home of a renowned university, especially famous for its studies in history, economics and sciences, and its world class School of Engeenering at the Polytechnic, Turin also houses a number of cultural institutions of international repute thanks to their splendid libraries, collections of rare and ancient books and priceless documents, as well as the organisation of numerous prestigious activities.
Turin today is a dynamic reality engaged in a modernisation process unrivalled in Italy. From the city of motor car to a centre of advanced technology and integrated productive systems, following an original redevelopment project. Although it is internationally renowned as an industrial city and a capital of the motor car this, for Turin, is now a stereotype, an incomplete picture. Today, its image is different, more diverse: the city is oriented towards the new high-tech Europe, that of advanced research.
Turin has not only been the capital of the Savoy Kingdom; it is also the capital of the motor car industry, of the Alpine peaks and of the cinema: precious collections, testimony to these facts, are housed in some of the most important museums in the city. In the rooms of the National Motor Car Museum (Museo “Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia”) it is possible to follow the evolution of the motor car, from the earliest steam-powered vehicles to the modern mass production models, from successful racing cars to the latest products of ecological research. In particular, four projects are worthy examples: the former Lingotto car factory has been converted to a complex with modern services, cultural venues and a hotel; the old steel and iron industrial area is being transformed into Europe’s first environmental technological park (Environment Park) occupying an area of 100 hectars: the Turin Polytechnic is being doubled in size to cover 13 hectares, and has benefited from a major injection of funds into its research and training activities; finally, the cityìs railway system is being redeveloped and improved with important “passante” (railway link) works (three lines of 15 km placed underground), thus making a radical transformation in the system for the access into the city, and the mobility around it.
Majestic and imposing, the River Po crosses Turin offering to whoever wants to discover the city by taking a ride along th water, a route rich with surprises. The industrial vocation and the image of a city that is dedicated to work and technological innovation, has given a wrong impression of Turin: pushed into the background is the important fact of its peculiar geographical position framed by the Alpine peaks and the hills, its great wealth of parks and gardens, not to mention the unique attribute of the four separate rivers that cross the city – the Po, The Dora, the Stura and the Sangone – an environmental heritage that few cities in the world can boast.
Vicenza is located at the foot of the Berici mountains, at the confluence of the Retrone and the Bacchiglione rivers on a flat fertile part of the upper Venetian plain.
The town dates back to Roman times. After the Barbarian invasions, it came under the Lombards and Franks. Subsequently (11th-12th century) it became a free municipality forming part of the Verona League and the Lombard League against Barbarossa. In the 13th and 14th centuries it came under various rulers: first Ezzelino da Romano, then the Carraresi, Scaligeri and Visconti until in 1404, it was conquered by Venice, sharing its fortunes until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. Following the Napoleonic period and Austrian rule it was united with the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
Many of the sights date from the 16th century, the town’s age of splendour. The main sights include The Basilica Palladiana, considered Palladio’s masterpiece, the Loggia del Capitanio, Monte di Pietà, Palazzo Chiericati, the Teatro Olimpico Palladio’s last work, as well as several monumental buildings such as the Porto Fontana, Porto-Breganze, Casarotti, Da Schio and the Casa del Palladio.
The Duomo dates form the 14th century. It’s a beautiful example of Gothic-Renaissance with a polyptych by Veneziano. The Basilica di Monte Berico is from the 17th-early 18th century and has paintings by Veronese.
Lucca, the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini is a lovely walled city. Its thick swathe of Renaissance walls, the almost entirely medieval street plan, its palaces and houses make Lucca one of my favorite cities in Italy. The most enjoyable way to get your bearings is to follow the path around the top of the walls – or even better, to rent a bike and cycle around. Lucca can be easily explored on foot (or bike), entering the medieval streets, walking along ancient house facades and doing some shoppings in one of the small and lovely shops in and around Via Fillungo makes you feel just fine.
If you are interested in religious art, enter the 14th-century cathedral Duomo San Martino to see Nicola Pisano’s Descent From the Cross or have a look at the multi-patterned columns at “San Michele”, the church of the archangel. Climbing up the Guinigi Tower, where an old oak tree grows on top is even as romantic as entering the Piazza Anfiteatro, the ancient amphitheatre, with its marvellous facades and balconies.
Lucca is famous for its olive oil and has become a favorite spot for artists and writers. Although you can see Lucca in half a day as a day trip from either Pisa of Florence you may want to linger to soak in its tranquil atmosphere and enjoy the many fine restaurants. Every August Lucca hosts the Puccini Music Festival. If you have some time left, try to visit a few of the villas of lucca.
Genoa was founded before the Romans. It was very important in ancient times and it was one of the Sea Republics to rule navigation along all known seas around 1100-1300. It is the birthplace of Christopher Columbus of whom part of his living home still remains in the center of the town.
Genoa is the most important town in the Ligurian, Italian Riviera, a well renown holiday resort famous all over Europe. It has 700.000 population and it was a very important industrial town.
Now many things are changing towards a better use of the territory with a keen view to the environment and so becoming more interesting for tourists.
Coming in the Ligurian area the town is really worth a visit as many ancient Renaissance buildings, famous museums and very good restaurants are all within an easy reach. The Old Town is the biggest in Europe and one of the best preserved old cities in the world. Great palaces, property of the ancient powerful Genoa families are now museums open to the public. Genoa has been elected Cultural Capital for the year 2004 by the European Parlament Commission.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.