Basilica Palladiana in Piazza dei Signori
The Veneto region, which includes Venice and Verona, has another V town worth visiting—Vicenza. Located just one hour west of Venice, Vicenza is not as well known as the other two cities, but in my opinion, it’s a great town to stay in while visiting this region. It’s not far from Padua or Verona, beautiful Lake Garda, the Dolomites and the region’s rolling hills with Palladian Villas and gardens. But the city itself is an architectural treasure with a walkable town center and wide open piazzas and parks. In 1994, it was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wealth of architecture, including the famous Olympic Theatre.
Vicenza was the home of the famous architect, Andrea Palladio, designer of the Villas and Palaces for the rich and famous of the sixteenth century. Although his work is found mostly in this region, his influence spread worldwide after he published The Four Books of Architecture, an important treatise on Architecture. His influence in America can be seen in Jefferson’s Monticello home and the US Capitol Building.
Helpful Signs and Maps are found throughout Vicenza
The city of Vicenza offers a Museum Card, which gets you into six different museums and the Olympic Theatre for only eight euros. The card is good for three days so you can stretch out your museum time between gelato stops and other activities. None of the museums are very large and they each offer a glimpse into the history and art of this interesting area.
View of the Loggia by Palladio
The Palladio Museum is a fun combination of high-tech visuals and old fashioned architectural models. The detailed models of the famous villas and Palazzi are cut into sections to demonstrate the internal construction of each building. As you enter each room you see multimedia projections on the walls that reminded us of Obi-Wan Kanobi appearances from the old Star Wars films. These projections featured well-known architects discussing various aspects of Palladio’s genius. Most of the guest architects spoke in Italian, but there were English translations that synced perfectly with the Italian, projected on the walls in a bold and readable font.
Walking the streets of Vicenza is one of our favorite activities. As you enter the old town, the traffic is limited to the local residents, so there are very few cars. Bikes are the preferred method of transportation, so you do need to watch out for them. It’s easy to lose track when gazing up at the variety of architecture, from medieval towers and Baroque balconies to the Renaissance Palazzi with their faded frescos. The Palazzi of Palladio, with their classic symmetry are easy to recognize. The church spires and bright blue domes add to the eclectic skyline of the city.
If you only have time for a short visit, be sure to see the Olympic Theatre, another masterpiece by Palladio. The courtyard is a peaceful setting, with benches for sitting while you admire the statuary and greenery that surround the old stone walls of the theatre. But don’t miss the unusual interior, with its trompe-oeil scenery designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi. According to Wikipedia, this is the oldest surviving stage set still in existence.
The basement provides a little history of the theatre with nice displays of some of the early sketches for the costumes used in their inaugural play, the Greek Tragedy, Oedipus. The day we visited, they asked if we wanted to remain inside for a short rehearsal of the lighting technicians. We sat in awe as we listened to music and watched the scenery change with the lighting. We can’t wait to return for a live performance some day.
Early Costume Sketches
In addition to an abundance of visual beauty in every direction, Vicenza has more than enough gelaterias, patisseries and great restaurants to choose from. Like most cities in Italy, it also offers a wide variety of shopping options—from the famous design names to the small, family-owned boutiques.
This is also a city of music and the arts. Just walking around, we stumbled onto several free, outdoor concerts and street musicians. The Olympic Theatre offers opera, dance, classical and pop concerts, as well as many music festivals throughput the year. The villas and palaces are also popular venues for more music and art. During the summer, the weekend calendars are full of activities.
For the five days we spent exploring Vicenza, we had plenty to do and see—without even leaving the city. But more than the variety of tourist activities, what we enjoyed most on this visit, was the friendly hospitality of the people and the relaxing pace we experienced while we were here.