Monthly Archives: May 2013

Photo Essay – Andorra

Posted by on May 30, 2013

Andorra might be one of the smallest countries in the world, but it is certainly high on the list of the most picturesque. Located high in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, Andorra is one of the world’s oldest democracies and the world’s only co-principality (the co-heads of state are the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain). It is also the only country in the world which uses Catalan as the official language.

Andorra is difficult to get to, but it is worth the trip. It is one of the few countries in the world that lacks both a train station or an airport. To get there you have to come by car or bus from Spain or France. The most common route is to fly to Barcelona and take a 3 hour drive through the Pyrenees.

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #250: Villa Adriana (Tivoli)

Posted by on May 28, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #250: Villa Adriana (Tivoli)

UNESCO World Heritage Site #250: Villa Adriana (Tivoli)

From the World Heritage inscription:

Villa Adriana is a masterpiece that uniquely brings together the highest expressions of the material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world. Study its monuments played a crucial role in the rediscovery of the elements of classical architecture by the architects of the Renaissance and the Baroque period. It also profoundly influenced many 19th- and 20th-century architects and designers.

The villa covers more than 120 ha on the slopes of the Tiburtine Hills. It was originally occupied by a late Republican villa, the property of Hadrian’s wife, Vibia Sabina. The imperial residence was built over it in AD 118-38. It was a symbol of a power that was gradually becoming absolute and which distanced itself from the capital. After Hadrian’s death in 138, his successors preferred Rome as their permanent residence, but the villa continued to be enlarged and further embellished. Constantine the Great is alleged to have removed some of its finer pieces to his new capital, Byzantium. The villa was sacked and plundered by successive barbarian invaders and fell into neglect, being used as a quarry by builders and lime-burners. Interest in the ruins was rekindled in the 15th century by Pope Pius II (Aeneas Silvius). Excavations to recover its glories were ordered by Alexander VI at the beginning of the 16th century. When Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este began to construct his nearby Villa d’Este he continued the excavations, supervised by his architect Pirro Ligorio, to obtain works of art to adorn it.

The many structures are arranged without any overall plan within this area. They fall into four specific groups. The first group includes the Greek Theatre and the Temple of Aphrodite Cnidi. The theatre, which is in a good state of conservation, although only fragmentary, is of conventional design. Its cavea is cut into the hillside and is some 36 m in diameter. The small circular temple is situated in a large semi-circular exedra.

The second group, including the Maritime Theatre, Court of the Libraries, Latin and Greek Libraries, Imperial Palace and Golden Square, is the core of the complex, aligned with the Vale of Tempe. The various elements are grouped round four peristyles. The Maritime (or Naval) Theatre is a circular structure 43 m in diameter; the Ionic marble peristyle encloses a circular moat surrounding a central island with a miniature villa. The Court of the Libraries, the oldest part of the ensemble, is a colonnaded portico with a nymphaeum on its northern side. The two ‘libraries’ are reached by passages on either side of the nymphaeum. The palace consists of a complex of rooms around a courtyard. The Golden Square is one of the most impressive buildings in the complex: the vast peristyle is surrounded by a two-aisled portico with alternate columns in cipollino marble and Egyptian granite

The third group comprises the Pecile, Stadium and its associated buildings, Small and Large Thermae, Canopus, Serapeum and Cento Camerelle. The Pecile (or Poikile) is a reproduction of an imposing structure in Athens famous for its paintings and its associations with the Stoic philosophers which consists of a large rectangular enclosure. Part of its massive walls survives; they had colonnades on either side. In the centre was a rectangular pool enclosed by a free space, perhaps used as a racetrack. The two sets of baths are conventional in form. The smaller is considered to have been used exclusively by women. The Canopus is an elongated canal imitating the famous sanctuary of Serapis near Alexandria. The semi-circular exedra of the Serapeum is located at its southern end.

The fourth group includes the Lily Pond, Roccabruna Tower and Academy. The tower is a complex of buildings, the purpose of which is not clearly established. In addition to these structures, there is a complex of underground elements, including cryptoportici and underground galleries, used for internal communications and storage. A number of the ancient structures are overlaid by a series of farmhouses and other buildings, mostly from the 18th century. They were built directly on the earlier foundations and it is difficult to dissociate them from the ancient structures.

The second of the two villa world heritage sites in Tivoli is Hadrian’s Villa.

Of the two villas, Hadrian’s gets only a small fraction of the number of visitors that the Villa d’Este gets. It is a much larger site which requires more walking and most of the site are ruins. That being said, they might be better ruins than the Roman Forum itself and it is one of the few places near Rome where you can view ruins without large crowds.

You can still see the rooms, pools and baths of the palace even though much of the facing marble has been removed. You can also still see bits of original fresco near the ceiling of the baths as well as original marble work in some places.

If you visit the villa, you should also visit the Villa d’Este and the Vatican Museum in conjunction. Both sites have material and art objects taken from Hadrian’s Villa. Many of the statues dedicated to Hadrian’s young male lover Antinous in the Vatican Museum and much of the marble is now in the Villa d’Este.

The villa is only 10 minutes by car from the Villa d’Este and and 30-60 minutes from the center of Rome depending on traffic. The villa is not near the center of town, so if you take a bus or train, you will need to take a local bus or taxi to get to the site.

The villa is an exceptional site and given its proximity to Rome should be considered a must see for anyone interested in Roman history.

My day trip to Tivoli tour of the villas was arranged and provided by Walks of Italy.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #249: Villa d’Este, Tivoli

Posted by on May 27, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #249: Villa d'Este, Tivoli

UNESCO World Heritage Site #249: Villa d’Este, Tivoli

From the World Heritage inscription:

The gardens of the Villa d’Este had a profound influence on the development of garden design throughout Europe. They are among the earliest and finest of the giardini delle meraviglie and symbolize the flowering of Renaissance culture.

On 9 September 1550, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (1509-72) arrived in Tivoli, having obtained the post of governor of the town. The official residence assigned to him in Tivoli, part of the monastery of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, did not suit him. He therefore decided to build a splendid villa with gardens, the design of which is traditionally attributed to Pirro Ligorio (1500-83).

The ensemble composed of the palace and gardens forms an uneven quadrilateral and covers an area of about 4.5 ha. The plan of the villa is irregular because the architect was obliged to make use of certain parts of the previous monastic building. On the garden side the architecture of the palace is very simple: a long main body of three storeys, marked by bands, rows of windows, and side pavilions that barely jut out. This uniform facade is interrupted by an elegant loggia in the middle, with two levels and stair ramps, built by Raffaello da Firenze and Biasioto (1566-67). The lower level is decorated with the Fountain of Leda. The main rooms of the villa are arranged in rows on two floors and open on to the garden. The private apartment of the cardinal, consisting of four rooms, is on the same level as the courtyard, and the reception rooms, linked together at the back by a long corridor called the Manica Lunga, are on the lower level.

The Villa d’Este garden stretches over two steep slopes, descending from the palace down to a flat terrace in the manner of an amphitheatre. The loggia of the palace marks the longitudinal and central axis of the garden. Five main transversal axes become the central axis from the fixed point of view created by the villa, as each of these axes terminates in one of the main garden fountains. Even though the central aisle stops beyond the axis of the Hundred Fountains to give way to a network of diagonal paths that make it easier to climb back to the palace, the latter remains the main visual axis. The first main transversal axis, bordering the flat part of the garden, the Peschiere, is composed of a row of three basins. At the extreme east of this water chain is the Fontana dell’Organo: it is rectangular in shape with two orders crowned by a double-scrolled pediment. The water organ, the work of Claude Vénard, was inspired by examples from antiquity: the interaction between water and air produced. [CL – something missing]Beyond the Peschiere, two staircases start climbing towards the villa. The side stairs, the Scalinata dei Bollori of 1567, are flanked by two stepped parapets crowned with basins pouring out torrents of water. Beyond the transversal path of the Dragons, the central stairway is divided into oval flights around the Fontana dei Draghi. This nymphaeum and its exedra is the real centre of the ensemble. Four winged dragons emerge from the middle of the large oval basin, spurting out jets of water. The parapet is ornamented with vases from which water also flows. The Alley of the Hundred Fountains is formed of three long superposed basins, its water crossing the entire garden.

However, the most striking effect is produced by the big cascade flowing out of a krater perched in the middle of the exedra. Jets of water were activated whenever unsuspecting people walked under the arcades. Behind the exedra rises an artificial mountain, with three alcoves holding statues of the Sibylla of Tibur with her son Melicerte (1568) and the river divinities Erculaneo and Anio. To the west is its counterpart, the Fountain of Rome (Rometta) built in 1567-70.

The Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Glass), built according to a design by Bernini (1660-61) was added to the decoration of the central longitudinal axis in the 17th century. This fountain is in the shape of a serrated chalice, from which a high jet of water falls into a conch shell. During this period the large pergola at the original entrance to the villa was also replaced by the Rotunda of the Cypresses (c . 1640), a circular area adorned with four small fountains and surrounded by ancient cypress trees.

There are two world heritage sites in the town of Tivoli, located outside of Rome. Both site are also historic villas, but the similarities between the two end there.

The Villa d’Este is a Renaissance villa created by the Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, it was created to impress other curial figures in his bid to one day become pope. (he failed) The villa is best known for its numerous and elaborate fountains which can be found all over the property. The fountains were all run on gravity and remain so to this day.

Of the two world heritage villas in Tivoli, the Villa d’Este is by far the more popular attraction, mainly because of the fountains. There are bit of the property which are in need of renovation, but for the most part it is in good shape.

The one connection between the Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villa is that Hadrian’s Villa was looted for materials that was used in the creation of Villa d’Este. Much of the marble at the site was taken from the nearby Roman ruins.

The villa is only a 30-45 min drive from Rome in good traffic. There is also train and bus service which will take you to Tivoli. The villa in near the center of town and is adjacent to the cathedral. Plan about 90 minutes for a full tour of site.

My day trip to Tivoli tour of the villas was arranged and provided by Walks of Italy.

Travel, Exhaustion and a Change of Strategy

Posted by on May 27, 2013

I am writing this somewhere over the Atlantic ocean between Brussels and New York.

I’m returning to the US (briefly) after 4 of the most hectic months of travel I’ve experienced since I began traveling full time in 2007. In just the first 5-months of 2013 I have been to 16 countries, 69 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (including repeat visits), and I estimate I’ve stayed in between 50-60 different hotel rooms.

..and I enjoyed almost every minute of it

Nonetheless, I am physically and mentally exhausted. If you haven’t noticed, I have been very lax in updating my website the last few months. Every day I was visiting a different city, taking photos and visiting different historical sites. At the end of each day I’d go back to a hotel room, usually one that I just checked-in to, and attempt to rest and recover. This didn’t leave a lot of time for writing, photo editing or reflection.

I find myself six and one-half years into my travels like a glutton at an all you can eat buffet. I love traveling as much now as I ever have, and that is exactly the problem. The opportunities I am given running a popular travel blog mean that I can indulge in as many travel opportunities as I want. If I so desired, I could extend the last four months out to infinity, continuing to move from city to city, exploring the world…..and killing myself in the process.
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UNESCO World Heritage Site #248: Costiera Amalfitana

Posted by on May 26, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #248: Costiera Amalfitana

UNESCO World Heritage Site #248: Costiera Amalfitana

From the World Heritage inscription:

Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution. The area covers 11,231 ha in 15 [16?]communes in the Province of Salerno. Its natural boundary is the southern slope of the peninsula formed by the Lattari hills which, stretching from the Picentini hills to the Tyrrhenian Sea, separate the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno. It consists of four main stretches of coast (Amalfi, Atrani, Reginna Maior, Reginna Minor) with some minor ones (Positano, Praiano, Certaria, Hercle), with the mountain villages of Scala, Tramonti and Ravello and hamlets of Conca and Furore behind and above them.

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic materials have been found at Positano, and the area was favoured by the Romans, judging from the villas of Positano, Minori and Gallo Lungo. However, it was not intensively settled until the early Middle Ages, when the Gothic War made it a place of refuge. Amalfi was founded in the 4th century AD. A new Roman colony in nearby Lucania came under barbarian attack and the inhabitants moved to the fertile and well-watered hilly area around modern Scala. In the first written reference to Amalfi (596) it was already a fortified town and the seat of a bishopric. It resisted Lombard attacks until 838, when it was conquered and looted by Sicardo. However, after his death the following year the town declared its independence. The new republic was governed by a ruler whose title had become Doge by 958. This political autonomy enabled Amalfi to become a maritime trading power between the early 9th and late 11th centuries, when the sea power of Byzantium was in decline and a free market developed. Amalfi had a near-monopoly of trade in the Tyrrhenian Sea, with vast networks of links, selling Italian products (wood, iron, weapons, wine, fruit) in eastern markets and buying in return spices, perfumes, pearls, jewels, textiles and carpets to sell in the West. The layout of the settlements showed eastern influence: the closely spaced houses climbing up the steep hillsides, connected by a maze of alleys and stairs, are reminiscent of the souks of the Levant. A distinctive Arab-Sicilian architecture originated and developed in Amalfi.

With the eclipse of the mercantile importance of Amalfi by Genoa, Venice and, above all, Pisa, and its conquest by Spain, it fell into an uninterrupted decline. The only significant change to the landscape was the reinforcement of the system of watchtowers along the coast, to give warning and protection against Turkish attacks. The towns and villages of Costiera Amalfitana are characterized by their architectural monuments, such as the Torre Saracena at Cetara, the Romanesque Cathedral of Amalfi and its ‘Cloister of Paradise’, with their strong oriental influences, the Church of San Salvatore de’ Bireto at Atrani, where the Dogi of Amalfi were elected, and Ravello with its fine cathedral and the superb Villa Rufolo.

Inland the steep slopes rising from the coast are covered with terraces, revetted with drystone walling and used for the cultivation of citrus and other fruits, olives, vines and vegetables of all kinds. Further inland the hillsides are given over to dairy farming, whose roots are ancient in the area, based on sheep, goats, cattle and buffalo. In some parts of the Costiera the natural landscape survives intact, with little, if any, human intervention. It supports the traditional Mediterranean flora of myrtle, lentisk, broom, euphorbia, etc. Elsewhere there are stands of trees such as holm oak, alder, beech and chestnut. Other biotopes shelter pantropical ferns, butterwort, dwarf palms and endemic carnivorous species. The Costiera is also rich in wildlife. The higher mountain areas are noteworthy for the characteristic mule tracks (mulattiere ). There are many small streams which in places drop over impressive waterfalls. There is an immense diversity of landscapes, ranging from the coastal settlements through the intensively cultivated lower slopes and large areas of open pastoral land to the dramatic high mountains. In addition, there are ‘micro-landscapes’ of great scientific interest resulting from topographical and climatic variations, and striking natural formations in the limestone karst at both sea level and above.

The Amalfi Coast is one of the highlights of Italy and is considered by some to be a world wonder.

The houses and towns along the coast seem to defy gravity by perching on cliff faces and hills that no sane person would ever want to live on. The effect, however, is absolutely stunning.

There are several ways to explore the coast. There are water taxis available that will go between the cities of Amalfi and Positano. This is a great way to see how the cities look from sea. There are also buses that run between the cities, which are an experience in themselves.

Another great thing to do is hike the Walk of the Gods from Bomerano to Positano. It is approximately a 4-6 hour walk, mostly downhill. Part of the path is paved but most of it is rocky trail. It provides some of the best views of the entire coast.

There are no trains on the Amalif coast due to the terrain. You have to arrive by car, bus or boat. Evenings are the best time to explore the cities as the tour buses and cruise ships have left by then.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #247: 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

Posted by on May 25, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #247: 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

UNESCO World Heritage Site #247: 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

From the World Heritage inscription:

The monumental complex at Caserta, while cast in the same mould as other 18th-century royal establishments, is exceptional for the broad sweep of its design, incorporating an imposing palace and park, and also much of the surrounding natural landscape and an ambitious new town laid out according to urban planning precepts of its time. The industrial complex of the Belvedere, designed to produce silk, is also of outstanding interest because of the idealistic principles underlying its original conception and management.

In 1734 Charles III, son of Philip V, became King of Naples, a self-governing kingdom that was no longer part of the Spanish realm. He decided in 1750 to build a new royal palace, to rival the Palace of Versailles. It was designed to be the centre of a new town that would compete with leading European cities. He employed architect Luigi Vanvitelli, then engaged in the restoration o St Peter’s in Rome. The Bosco di San Silvestro, on the two hills of Montemaiuolo and Montebriano, was covered with vineyards and orchards when in 1773 Ferdinand IV decided to enclose it and create a hunting park.

The hill of San Leucio takes its name from the Lombard church at its top. A hunting lodge, the Belvedere, had been built at its foot in the 16th century by the Princes of Caserta. The fief had been purchased by Charles Ill, and in 1773 Ferdinand IV initiated work on the Old Hunting Lodge, to be abandoned after the death of his son. In 1778 the king decided to begin the production of silk. His architect, Collecini, converted the building for this purpose, as the centre of a large industrial complex, including a school, accommodation for teachers, silkworm rooms, and facilities for spinning and dyeing the silk. He issued a series of laws in 1789 to regulate the San Leucio Royal Colony: this laid down piecework rates of pay, abolished dowries, and prescribed similar clothing for all the workers, in a form of proto-socialism. During the next decade plans were made for enlargement of the village, and Collecini produced designs for a town, to be known as ‘Ferdinandopolis’, but this dream was not realized because of the French occupation.

The fishponds in the gardens of the Royal Palace, the Royal Silk Factory and the planned new town all required large amounts of water, and so the Carolino Aqueduct was built (completed in 1769) to bring water from the Fizo spring over a distance of 38 km to the top of Montebriano. In 1744 Charles III acquired the rich Carditello estate. The hunting lodge there was built in 1784, as part of a complex of rural houses and roads radiating fanwise from the main building. This had the royal apartments in the centre and rooms for agricultural and stock-rearing activities on either side.

I was very impressed with Caserta.

I knew nothing about this site before I visited and I came away wondering why I haven’t heard more about it. Caserta is easily on the same level as Versailles and Schönbrunn. Not only had I never heard of it, but most of the people who were visiting were Italians, not foreigners, which is the exact opposite of what you see at almost every other Italian monument or attraction.

The real highlight of Casearta is the enormous waterworks which extends out several kilometers from the palace itself. As can be seen in the image, it extends up a mountain with waterfalls bringing the water down to the fountains and pools on the level of the garden. To experience the entire garden will take several hours of walking.

Despite being 30km from Naples, I had a very difficulty time visiting Caserta. I made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday, when many of the buses and trains were canceled. If you visit any other day (other then Tuesday when it is closed) getting there from Naples should be quite easy as there are regular trains and buses. The palace is short walking distance from the train station can can’t be missed.

I highly recommend visiting Caserta to anyone who visits Naples. This site is very overlooked and should be better known.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #246: Historic Centre of San Gimignano

Posted by on May 24, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #246: Historic Centre of San Gimignano

UNESCO World Heritage Site #246: Historic Centre of San Gimignano

From the World Heritage inscription:

an Gimignano bears exceptional testimony to the civilization of the Middle Ages in that it groups together within a small area all the structures typical of urban life: squares and streets, houses and palaces, wells and fountains.

San Gimignano is situated in the Val d’Elsa, 56 km south of Florence. Its walls and fortified houses form an unforgettable skyline, in the heart of the Etruscan landscape. San Gimignano was a relay point on the Via Francigena for pilgrims journeying to and from Rome. Originally under the jurisdiction of the bishops of Volterra, it became independent in 1199 when it acquired its first podestà. The free town, known as San Gimignano delle Belle Torri, entered into a long period of prosperity that lasted until 1353, when it fell under the sway of Florence. In 1262 an enceinte measuring 2,177 m, later to be reinforced with five cylindrical towers, girdled the small town.

The town was controlled by two major rival families – the Ardinghelli, Guelph sympathizers, and the Salvucci, who were Ghibellines – and was the scene of incessant conflicts between the two clans. As symbols of their wealth and power, 72 tower houses were built. Of these, 14 have survived, including the Cugnanesi house on the former Via Francigena (Via San Giovanni); the Pesciolini house on the Via San Matteo, on the Via del Castello, in the town’s oldest quarter, the Palazzo Franzesi-Ceccarelli house, whose unsymmetrical facade ingeniously circumvented the law of 1255 which stipulated that no new residence should be wider than 12 arm spans for a linear depth of 24 arm spans.

The town grew around two principal squares, the Piazza della Cisterna and the Piazza del Duomo. The triangular Piazza della Cisterna is ornamented with a lovely well that stands in the centre. The piazza is bordered by tower houses: the twin towers of the Ardinghellis to the west, the tower of the Benuccis, the Casa Rodolfi and the Palazzo Razzi to the south, and the Palazzo dei Cortesi to the north.

San Gimignano is a wonderful little Tuscan town best known for its towers. The towers are very reminiscent of the ones I saw in Regensburg, Germany. The town has much more of a medieval feel than most towns in Italy.

San Gimignano is a tourist town, but it doesn’t get anywhere near the level of visitors that other Tuscan towns like Sienna or Florence get. Most people have never heard of it, so the crowds will be much smaller.

It is also much more difficult to get to via public transportation because the town doesn’t have a train station. The closest train station is in the town of Poggibonsi. From the Poggibonsi station, walk outside and you can take the 130 bus to San Gimignano. You purchase the bus ticket in the cafe in the station, not in the bus. Likewise, the bus back to Poggibonsi is purchased in the tabacci store just inside the city walls.

I visited San Gimignano from Lucca which was long, but doable as a day trip. Florence, Sienna or even Pisa would be easier places to reach it from.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #245: Mantua and Sabbioneta

Posted by on May 23, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #245: Mantua and Sabbioneta

UNESCO World Heritage Site #245: Mantua and Sabbioneta

From the World Heritage inscription:

Mantua originated as an Etruscan settlement and developed in Roman times to a small fortified town. It was situated on the highest point of what was then an island in a marshy area along the river Mincio. Some traces of the walls and main streets can still be found in today’s urban fabric. In 804 AD Mantua was made a bishopric. Thanks to a relic of Christ’s blood the city had become an important religious centre. In the 10th century, new walls and a moat were built and, in 1115, Mantua became a free commune.

Through history water regulations have been very important to Mantua and distinguished hydraulic engineering was carried out on many occasions. In 1190, the system of lakes around the city was created with a dam and a bridge across the river, which raised the water level of the upper lake more than four meters. On the dam, twelve water-mills helped to regulate the water. To the south of the city, a canal (the Rio) was dug in the 13th century. It soon became the limit of the extended city – the second ring of growth. At the eastern end of the canal a protected harbour, Porto Catena, was constructed. In the 13th century several towers and palaces were built in the city and two squares, today’s Broletto and Piazza delle Erbe. In 1272, the Bonacolsi family seized power and carried on the building activities.

….

Sabbioneta was the capital of one of the smallest states in Italy, created when Mantua was divided into several parts in 1478. These parts were still ruled by different branches of the Gonzaga family. It has been known since Roman times as a locality along the Vitelliana road but, even though it has a long history, it can be considered a new foundation. Sabbioneta is the creation of one man, the ruler of the little state Vespasiano Gonzaga Colonna (1531-1591). He had studied the writings and theories of ideal city planning but his aim was to build an impregnable fortress and functioning capital of the state. It is believed that he himself designed the plan and the fortifications with the help of military expertise. The work began sometime between 1554 and 1556.

Between 1588 and 1590, Vincenzo Scamozzi was employed to construct the Teatro all’antica. This is the first properly functioning modern indoor theatre, with specific spaces designed to fulfil the requirements of the theatre. After the death of Vespasiano, Sabbioneta declined. In the 17th century it came under Spanish administration but returned to the Gonzagas of Mantua in 1703. Five years later, however, it was annexed to Guastella and, in 1743, taken over by the Habsburgs.

I have no idea why these two cities are lumped together. They have little to do with each other and aren’t that close together like Úbeda and Baeza in Spain.

I visited Mantova, which is the more popular of the two locations to visit.

I wasn’t that impressed with the city. There was nothing about it which jumped out at me and I found it to be just another old European city which happened to get world heritage status. The romanesque cathedral and duke’s palace were interesting, but nothing I haven’t seen in many other European and Italian cities.

The one thing that I did find interesting was the Basilica of Sant’Andrea, which is by far the largest building in the city. It is enormous for a city of its size. Way out of proportion for what you would expect to find. Had the basilica alone been listed, it would have made more sense.

Mantova is a 45 minute train ride from Verona, where I stayed.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #244: City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto

Posted by on May 20, 2013

UNESCO World Heritage Site #244: City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto

UNESCO World Heritage Site #244: City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto

From the World Heritage inscription:

Vicenza represents a unique artistic achievement in the many architectural contributions from Andrea Palladio integrated within its historic fabric and creating its overall character. Through its architecture, the city has exerted exceptional influence on architectural and urban design in most European countries and throughout the world.

Vicenza is situated in the Veneto region of northern Italy on the low hills between the mountains of Berici and Lessini, on a natural communication route. The city of Vicenza was founded in the 2nd or 1st century BC by the Veneti and was granted Roman citizenship with the status of municipium in 49 BC. The ancient town plan is still recognizable in that of the modern town, Corso Palladio being the decumanus maximus and Contra Porti the cardo maximus . Among the public buildings erected from the time of Augustus that survive are the remains of the theatre, now incorporated in a more recent structure, and sections of the aqueduct to the north of the city.

The city became the See of a Christian diocese at the end of the 4th century AD. In the 5th century it was on the route of successive barbarian groups, whose ravages were exacerbated by a series of disastrous plagues, which left the region depopulated. It formed part of the Langobardic kingdom and became chief town of one of the 36 duchies. Eventually the pope called on Charlemagne to drive out the Lombards, and Vicenza became a Frankish Countship within the March of Friuli. It was during this period that the first Benedictine communities of San Felice and San Pietro were established. The disintegration of the Carolingian Empire saw fresh invaders, this time the Magyars, whose depredations led to the construction of city walls. The bloody wars between episcopal feudatories and the Ghibelline Counts that disfigured most of the 12th and early 13th centuries raged around Vicenza. The region became divided into a patchwork of small seigneuries, which fought among themselves, only uniting to defy the Holy Roman Emperor. Like most Italian cities of the period, Vicenza evolved its own administration, which in 1208 introduced controls on building within the enceinte of the walls. A new urban perimeter was created by the Della Scala family, enclosing the most important streets within the city.

A movement by the small states in the region towards coalescence was interpreted by Venice as a threat and so in 1404 La Serenissima annexed the entire region. Vicenza remained part of the Venetian Republic until its fall at the end of the 18th century. The feudal aristocracy was stripped of its powers and replaced by a dominant mercantile class. Feudal lands were expropriated and sold to patrician Venetian families, who created great agricultural estates on which they built sumptuous mansions. The city also prospered under Venetian rule, benefiting from its situation on a major natural communication route. The town became polarized around the four main piazzas that still exist. There had been limited expansion to the east and west in the late 14th century but the city retained its basic form throughout the succeeding centuries. The wealth of its leading citizens resulted in the erection of many lavish buildings, strongly influenced by Venetian taste, but it was the advent of Andrea Palladio that gave Vicenza its enduring form.

Andrea Palladio (1508-80) was profoundly influenced by his study of the surviving monuments of classical Rome and of the works of Vitruvius. For Vicenza he created both public (Basilica, Loggia del Capitaniato, Teatro Olimpico) and private buildings. A total of 26 individual buildings or parts of buildings known to have been designed or reconstructed by Palladio or attributed to him make up the World Heritage site – 23 in the city itself and three villas in its immediate environs. The palazzi or town houses were fitted into the urban texture of the medieval city, creating picturesque ensembles and continuous street facades in which the Veneto Gothic style combines with Palladio’s articulated classicism. These urban compositions closely related to theatre design, which link reality and make-believe, are unique to Vicenza. A similar approach to composition is shown by the location of the suburban villa known as La Rotonda, as seen from the Villa Cricoli.

It is easy to categorize Vincenza as another historical European city type of UNESCO site. In fact, it is really an architectural site designed to showcase the work of Andrea Palladio.

The site consists of two parts: the city of Vincenza and many villas located outside the city in the surrounding area. In the city, the primary Palladio buildings are the Basilica and the Teatro Olimpico (shown above). The basilica is actually not a church and contains the Torre Bissara, one of the highest towers in the city. The Teatro Olimpico is a greek style theater created for the city. The villas are harder to reach as they require a significant amount of walking or a car.

Vicenza is an easy day trip from either Verona or Venice, which it lies between. It can be reached by many of the high speed trains which leave from Venice as well as slower (and cheaper) regional trains.