Just below the foothills of the Dolomites, about halfway between Verona and Venice, at the edge of the fertile Po plain, lies Vicenza — a province in the Veneto region in northern Italy.
For architecture buffs, the city is synonymous with the prolific Italian Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio — who prized symmetry and Greco-Roman architectural techniques. Many of Palladio’s 16th-century buildings still stand with all their glory throughout the city of Vicenza.
Although the province is popular for its vineyards and refined cuisine, it is best known for its Palladian villas and palaces. In fact, in 1994, the whole of Vicenza was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to preserve these palaces (palazzi). In 1996, that designation was modified to include Palladio’s villas of Vicenza and the Veneto region.
Scroll on for the top architectural destinations of Vicenza.
1. La Rotonda
Villa Almerico Capra, popularly known as La Rotonda is a perfectly symmetrical square structure, crowned with a dome. Although it was designed by the renowned architect Palladio back in 1567, the building was completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, who kept to the original plans except for slight modifications to the dome structure.
The building has a portico on each of its four sides and the architectural features include, columns, niches, and capitals — the interiors are decorated with elaborate frescoes and trompe l’oeil.
2. Santa Corona
The 13th-century Gothic church of Santa Corona was built to house a holy relic, a thorn from Christ’s Crown of Thorns, and features several notable paintings. The Baptism of Christ by Giovanni Bellini, of the 1500s, sits above the fifth altar on the left, and on the third altar to the right is Adoration of the Magi by Veronese.
But what draws most visitors is the building’s 1576 Cappella Valmarana, a marvelous chapel believed to have been designed by celebrated architect Andrea Palladio.
3. Villa Valmarana
Behind high walls and a series of dwarfed statues is the 17th-century Villa Valmarana — fondly called Ai Nani — a reference to the stubby statues. The 1757 frescoes, adorning the residence and guest house are one of its main attractions.
The paintings in the main villa were created by Giambattista Tiepolo and portray dramatic and heroic scenes from Roman, Greek, and Italian literature. In contrast, the frescoes painted by Tiepolo’s son and artist Giandomenico, in the adjoining guest house, depict light and airy scenes of peasant and town life.
4. Basilica di Monte Berico
This pilgrimage church with Byzantine-inspired interiors and lit by votive candles around the high altar was built by the Bologna architect C. Borella in 1668. Two brilliant collections are worth visiting in the refectory: the fossils and the unusual needlework.
From the square in front of the church — Piazzale Della Vittoria — are breathtaking views of the city including the Pre-Alps, Monte Pasubio, and Monte Grappa.
5. Palazzo Leoni Montanari
In contrast to the predominantly Palladian Renaissance style throughout Vicenza, Palazzo Leoni Montanari is late Baroque, with lavishly decorated interiors, hallways and stairs. Cherubs and mythological characters seem to peer down at guests from every corner: dragons slither around windows, giants hold door pediments, and grotesques leer beside little winged cherubs.
Amid all this are huge galleries of ancient Greek ceramics, 20th-century modernist works, and Venetian art of the 1700s — including an entire hall full of paintings by Pietro Longhi.
6. Corso Andrea Palladio
Halfway along Corso Andrea Palladio, which is lined by palaces, stands the 17th Century Palazzo del Comune, a Vincenzo Scamozzi construction. To its northeast, stands the Gothic Palazzo Da Schio, House of Gold. At the southwest end are Palazzo Bonin and Palazzo Zileri Dal Verme.
Corso Andrea Palladio isn’t just for Renaissance architecture enthusiasts; it’s also a favorite amongst fashion buffs and foodies! Corso Andrea Palladio is home to many international brands, Italian designers, boutiques and gourmet food shops, plenty of cafes and restaurants.
7. Loggia Del Capitaniato
With two columns from the Venetian period and the slender Torre di Piazza, a defensive tower built in 1174, Piazza Dei Signori was the site of the old Roman forum. Facing the Basilica Palladia, which spreads across an entire side of Piazza, is the Loggia del Capitaniato, the residence of the Venetian governor — a 1571 Palladio building —cited as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site which includes the city and surrounding Palladian villas.
In contrast to the plain white stone facade of the Basilica, the Loggia is richly ornamented with carvings and contrasting colors.
8. San Lorenzo
The brick church building — San Lorenzo — features a blend of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. It was built from 1280 to 1344 and has a slender campanile and a splendid entrance. Its fine interiors display impressive tombs and a 1500 fresco by Bartolomeo Montagna — The Beheading of St. Paul.
Be sure to visit the cloister adjoining the church, one of Vicenza’s loveliest.
9. Teatro Olimpico
Teatro Olimpico, a construction begun by Palladio in 1580 and completed in 1584 by Vincenzo Scamozzi, after Palladio’s death was built out of wood and stucco — a Renaissance adaption of ancient theaters.
As you enter the building, if you observe the 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 intelligent use of sets that diminish in size to create the effect of long streets running off into the distance.
10. Basilica Palladiana and Museo Palladiano
Built between 1549 and 1614, the Basilica was not built as a church but as a meeting place for the Grand Council. The lower part is Doric, and the upper part, Ionic. In the lower phase are luxe facilities for the who’s who of Palladio’s time and still houses goldsmith stores, reflecting Vicenza’s early fame as a center for goldwork.
On the upper level is a 52-meter long exhibition hall, with a wooden vaulted roof. In front of the west end of the Basilica, stands a marble statue of architect Palladio. Inside the building is the Museo Palladiano, showcasing models and designs created by the architect.
The Cathedral is a Gothic brick building, enveloped by white and red marble. Its façade was first built in the 15th century and restored after the World War II bombing. Inside the building is a 14th-century triptych designed by Lorenzo Veneziano.
Below the Cathedral are the foundations of three earlier churches, and beneath the sacristy are the remains of a Roman road. On the southwest side of Piazza del Duomo, is the Bishop’s Palace that features a neo-classical façade of 1819.
12. Palazzo Chiericati
The Palazzo was built in an area called Island Square— currently, Piazza Matteotti, which housed the wood and cattle market. During that time, the Palazzo was an islet surrounded by the Retrone and Bacchiglione streams, and to protect the structure from frequent flooding, architect Palladio designed it in an elevated position; the entrance could be accessed by a triple classic-style stairway.
The Palazzo’s main façade is composed of three bays, with the central bay projecting slightly. The two end bays feature loggia, while the central bay is closed. The façade has two superposed orders of columns — Doric on the lower level and Ionic above. The roofline is decorated with statuary.
13. Palladio Museum
The Palladio Museum is a marvelous piece of architecture — one of architect Andrea Palladio’s finest palaces — recounting architecture to non-architects, not as a history of buildings, but of the stories of people who created them.
The museum displays building plans and tools, alongside models, designs, photographs, and videos.
14. Parco Querini
Parco Querini — one of the main green lungs of the city, has a classical temple, a murky pond, a huge hen-house built in a dilapidated greenhouse, and a statue-brimmed alley; the building is bordered by a large grove of plants spreading over 121,251 square meters.
15. Piazza Dei Signori
Piazza Dei Signori is known as Vicenza’s historic heart. Standing right at the spot of the Roman Forum of Vicetia – the precursor of Vicenza – it is a massive rectangular square structure surrounded by some of the city’s most iconic and important constructions.
The building was earlier known as Piazza Grande — it is now known by the name, Piazza Dei Signori, meaning Square of the Lords. The city’s Chief Magistrate and Captain lived here when the Republic of Venice ruled over Vicenza (between 1404 and 1797).
Piazza Dei Signori is a must-visit to gain a good understanding of the city of Vicenza, its history, and what the little touristy province stands for.