Sunday, 12 January 2014

Day Trips From Venice: #2 Vicenza

Vicenza is another city less than one hour away with the train from Venice. It is worth paying a visit, and not only to try its delicious baccalĂ  alla vicentina, cod that is slow cooked and usually served with polenta.  From Venice, your best bet is to take the regionale veloce, which costs 5,25€ one way and takes 45 minutes (cross your fingers that there will be no delays!). The city centre is in close proximity to the train station. Just walk straight, and when you reach a medieval-looking tower turn right. Right in front of you there is Corso Andrea Palladio, the main street of the city, lined with shops, gelaterias and bars.

Corso Palladio, Vicenza
Corso Palladio

Vicenza is famous for being home to many of the works by Andrea Palladio, the famous 16th-century architect. His influence is enormous: buildings as far as Delhi or Washington draw on his style. The city is also listed as a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its great architecture. I went there on a chilly winter day in order to explore it and then write this post.

The main square is called Piazza dei Signori (there is a square with this name in most Venetian towns). You can't miss the Basilica Palladiana: it's a big building with a light blue copper dome, and it was redesigned by Palladio to support the pre-existing town hall. In this case the word "basilica" does indicate a church, but a building used for civil purposes, as it used to be in Roman times. I particularly love the slender clock tower, which is taller than most I have seen.

Basilica Palladiana, Vicenza
Basilica Palladiana and clock tower
Another thing that catches the eye is the warm colour of the houses and palaces that surround the area. The columns in the picture are a reminder that Vicenza was a domain of the Repubblica Serenissima, that is to say Venice.

Looking from Piazza dei Signori into Piazza delle Biade

Statue of Andrea Palladio, Vicenza
Statue of Palladio in front of the Basilica Palladiana

After spending a few minutes admiring the square, I made my way to the Teatro Olimpico, another Palladio masterpiece. Just think that it was one of the first permanent covered theatres in the world and it's the oldest SURVIVING indoor theatre in the world! It dates back to 1585, and it was also designed by Palladio. The first play held here was "Oedipus the King" by Sophocles, the most important Greek playwright. The picturesque courtyard of the building holds some ancient statues leaning against the ivy-covered walls. This alone is reason enough to have a look.

Courtyard Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza
Courtyard of Teatro Olimpico

Courtyard of Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza
Teatro Olimpico
Once you've paid the entrance fee (8€, but also includes entrance to several museums in the city over the next three days), you are free to wander inside the building. First you'll pass a room with some frescoes, and then you'll visit the actual theatre. It is built with wood and stucco, but the decorations look as if they were made of marble. The streets  of the onstage scenery are built in perspective and with trompe-l'oeil (false perspectives). I had never seen such a detailed scenery in a theatre, it was really impressive and it really looked as if the streets were really receding to a distant horizon. I just couldn't believe that the scenery was so old (it was made for the first performance in the theatre, and for some reason never removed). Visiting the Teatro Olimpico is a brief visit, but an exciting one, especially if, like me, you love going to the theatre.

Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza
Teatro Olimpico

As in most Italian towns, the real beauty lies in the small picturesque corners of the town, rather than in the sights themselves. In Vicenza, I particularly enjoyed the view from Ponte Furo and from the adjoining riverside.

View near Ponte Furo

Vicenza has a charming historical centre, but many more treasures are held in the hills that surround it. Villa Almerico Capra  "La Rotonda" ("the round one"), is the most famous of the villas designed by Andrea Palladio in the Venetian countryside. It lies just 3 kilometres from the city centre, and you can reach it through a pleasant walk following a path devoted to Risorgimento (the Italian unification).

When I visited the villa (winter 2013), only the gardens were open, but I decided to pay the 5€ entrance fee anyway. If you don't want to pay it, you can still see the villa from the gates (picture below). Everything has been studied to give you a perfectly harmonious impression right from the entrance. The importance of this building in modern architecture is undeniable: the style has been copied everywhere, from Jefferson's Monticello in  the United States to the buildings designed by Inigo Jones in the United Kingdom. Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, this villa has a temple-like front and a dome, with  four symmetrical and almost identical sides. It is quite an experience to walk all around and see this by yourself. It is perfectly situated in the Venetian countryside, surrounded by a small wood and by cultivated fields. This was also studied in detail.
Villa Almerico Capra "La Rotonda", Vicenza
Villa Almerico Capra "La Rotonda" seen from the gate
Staute, Villa La Rotonda, Vicenza
A glimpse of the countryside
The gardens are not very big: they only go round the villa, but because it was winter, the surrounding landscape and the trees without leaves offered excellent spooky photo opportunities. As a matter of fact, it gets often foggy during the winter in the Pianura Padana, the Po Valley, and this adds to the atmosphere. Also, there were virtually no other tourists when I was there!  

Spooky Vicenza
A statue in the garden of Villa "La Rotonda"
Just a few hundred metres from "La Rotonda" there is another example of Venetian villa (in this case the adjective "Venetian", is extended to include all the area, called Veneto, and not just the city of Venice): Villa Valmarana "ai Nani". Here you have another entrance fee, but you can see the most famous feature of the villa from the outside: the wall with the dwarf statues. They are really cute! The legend says that the owner of the villa only hired dwarves as servants, so that his daughter, who was affected by dwarfism, did not feel alone and different. Unfortunately, when a prince came to visit, he rejected the girl, and she committed suicide out of desperation. The servants were so sad that they were turned into stone from the sorrow.

Villa Valmarana ai Nani
Villa Valmarana "ai Nani"

Once you have visited this villa, or just walked next to the wall with the dwarves, as I did in my winter expedition, if you're up to it you can continue your passeggiata ("walk"). Once you have reached a fork in the cobbled road, go uphill towards the Santuario di Monte Berico, a Marian shrine. "Santuario" in Italy is a church built on the place of a past apparition of the Virgin. In this case, unless you are a devoted Catholic and want to pray, I suggest that you have a look at the landscape from the parking lot. You can see all of the city with its surrounding mountains! As I told you it was foggy when I visited, so I could barely distinguish the Basilica Palladiana, but on a spring or summer day you should be fine. The church itself is an example of baroque architecture, if you are into churches.

Countryside with fog, Vicenza
The fog in the countryside near Vicenza on a winter day

This is Vicenza with my eyes. Would you consider visiting this town if you are in northern Italy?


  1. This place is not only mysterious, but also charming. So interesting to explore! I would go there to hide from busy city life :)

    1. You're right, Vicenza is charming. What is also interesting is that there is real countryside just outside of the town, so it's perfect to escape...

  2. Really love your photo of the Teatro Olimpico! I've loved going to the theatre ever since I was a little girl. Lovely post, as always.

    Happy travels :)

    1. Thank you for the compliments. I knew there were so theatre goers among my readers! :-)

  3. research along the way. We travelled down through France and around Italy and ventured up through Austria and Germany. road trip in europe

  4. Wonderful ! Thank you, Stefania !

  5. Denver Colorado Tours
    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!


01 09 10