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More Than Venice; the Veneto’s Historical Towns
After having visited Venice, next on my history and #culture tour were Verona, Vicenza, Padua and Mantua. From #Opera to #art we roamed the Churches, galleries and streets in awe of the #architecture and many many masterpieces.
With Venice now behind us, I and thirty fellow art history students were piled on to the TrenItalia train unsure of what to expect from our next few stops. Venice was a thrill. No cars, huge crowds, fine Italian coffee and even finer men capturing the imagination of my mostly female classmates. In Venice I first discovered the popular Venetian Spritz drink while at a Peggy Guggenheim Collection party, sipping the bitter orange drink, bubbles filling my nose as we discussed the Picasso that hung before us. Venice also introduced me to her hidden corners away from crowds: The Frari church if you time it right, the Dorsoduro sestiere on Thursday evenings when the sunsets and the quiet moments with new friends passing a bottle of wine sitting next to an erect lion statue of the island’s patron saint San Marco.
But that was Venice.
Over the next few days the train would taking us to Verona, Vicenza, Padua and Mantua. Unbeknownst to us, these previously little known towns would hold some of the most important art works and moments of our lives.
“In fair Verona where we lay our scene” as Shakespeare so eloquently put it, was the most theatrical of places.
“In fair Verona where we lay our scene” as Shakespeare so eloquently put it, was the most theatrical of places
The cobblestone streets and archaeological monuments dating back to Etruscan civilization alone make Verona a city worth visiting. And while some flock to the overrated Juliette balcony and touch the breast of the 14 year old Juliette statue for good luck, we found our own kismet at the Verona Opera.
In the summer, the Verona Opera festival plays out upon the stage of the old amphitheatre, Arena di Verona, dating back to the 1st century. Where gladiators, Christians and exotic animals lost their lives, their stage now provides a backdrop for operas like Aida and Madama Butterfly.
If you time it right you can arrive for the opening night where the Italian opera hits grace the stage. If you’re unfamiliar with opera like I was it is the best evening to be introduced to all the classics at once where pivotal moments of each story are performed.
Stay at the Colomba D’Oro Hotel in the heart of Verona overlooking the historic arena and near the fortress of Castelvecchio.
Colomba D'Oro Hotel
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It’s astonishing that more people don’t visit the small town of Vicenza.
Andrea Palladio is the architect that influenced or designed almost every single monument in town and throughout the countryside.
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Palladio’s Teatro Olympico is perhaps the most popular site to visit in town with the on-stage street scene giving the optical illusion of a city street, the stage is the oldest stage set in existence, completed in 1585.
A 45 minute walk away from the city centre brings you to the countryside where poppies and the UNESCO Palladian villas pepper the landscape.
Although you can take a tour to see all the important villas designed by Palladio, if you don’t have the time or are on a budget I highly recommend the walk. The views of Vicenza, the secret lives of locals and the quiet of the countryside can only be experienced while on foot.
A religious city with touches of Donatello sculptures, quiet contemplative squares and quaint city streets, Padua is certainly something to behold.
A religious city with touches of Donatello sculptures, quiet contemplative squares and quaint city streets, Padua is certainly something to behold
The entire city seems to surround its masterpiece, the architecturally grand Basilica of St. Anthony. Yearly pilgrimages are made by the pious looking for a miracle and tourists roam through its halls marvelling at the gold encased relics such as St. Anthony’s preserved chin and tongue.
A less macabre pilgrimage would be to visit Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel completed in 1305. Considered one of the Western world’s most important works, the emotional murals depict the lesser known story of Mary, her parents and her life leading up to the birth of Christ as well as the Last Judgement and the Kiss of Judas. Even if you aren’t religious the space envelops you with the barrel vaulted ceiling and frescoes fully covered with allegorical tales depicted in rich colours preserved from the early Renaissance.
Despite it being the location of exile of the ill-fated Romeo, Mantua is not what it used to be.
Previously a swamp land, it is home to Giulio Romano’s Palazzo del Te (1526-34), a palace erected for Duke Federico Gonzaga II. Within the palace you can actually witness the growing up of a young Duke as it was constructed in two phases. Originally it was to be a “love nest” where he could frolic with mistresses, he later decided to add on a wing for more serious political aspirations. Upon the walls are frescoes depicting mythological scenes of love, sex and weddings aligned with his original use of the palace away from the city centre. But a change came in the Duke’s life when we decided to align himself politically with Charles V. The Sala dei Giganti room, perhaps Giulio Romano’s greatest work, signifies the change in Gonzaga’s maturity as a leader.
The room itself is egg-shaped with a pebble stone floor. The fresco depicts the battle between Titans and Olympian gods and goddesses as Zeus catapults lightning towards the falling giants. The uneven floor and overall shape of the room creates a 3D experience with the frescoes. The pebbled floor in uneven making the viewer feel disoriented as they gaze up at the grand spectacle. Any sound in the room is also amplified due to the egg shape.
Some say the Sala dei Giganti room was built to symbolize the growing power of the Duke having aligned himself with a powerful figure, being appointed a military leader and looking to expand his domain. While others feel it symbolizes the power of Charles V, having become Zeus-like in his triumph over Italian princes, the Turks and heretic reformers.
The town of Mantua is easy to manoeuvre with the Piazza delle Erbe being the central focus on market days. Nearby is the Palazzo Ducale, Castello di San Giorgio, Basilica di Sant Andrea and a pleasant walk into the suburbs lies the aforementioned Palazzo del Te.
Stay at the Hotel dei Gonzaga, named after the long reigning Gonzaga family, and is situated in Mantua’s historic centre accessible to all the highlights of quaint Veneto town.
Hotel dei Gonzaga
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These cultural gems are only a fraction of what the smaller towns and cities of the Veneto hold. From grand palazzos to small unassuming chapels with important historical significance, the Veneto reveals the extent of the Venetian empire’s grasp at its most powerful. Discover the Veneto for yourself without the hassle of crowds. In doing so you’ll be supporting the local economy and important UNESCO heritage sites that are lesser known yet equally as important as those in Italy’s big cities.