Vicenza: Palladio’s Playground

Halfway between the tourist meccas of Venice and Verona lies the elegant city of Vicenza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which, remarkably, remains off the beaten path.

Vicenza has been home to many illustrious personalities, the architect Andrea Palladio – as in Palladian windows – being the most notable. Considered one of the world’s most influential architects, Palladio transformed Vicenza and the surrounding countryside into his architectural playground with 23 palaces and buildings in the city alone and 27 nearby country villas which served as weekend and summer homes for wealthy Venetians.

Palladio revered and helped revive ancient Roman architecture and it is this influence that helps give Vicenza its distinctive and noble character.

Vicenza’s Piazza dei Signori is one of Italy’s most beautiful squares, and the Basilica Palladiana, Palladio’s first civic commission in 1546, is its most central and stunning sight.

At the beginning of the Corso Palladio you’ll discover the Teatro Olimpico, Palladio’s last and most ambitious work. Inspired by the ancient open-air Roman theaters, it is utterly unique. Classical statues and ornamentation abound and the painted trompe l’oeil sky is breathtaking … as is the stage set, the oldest in the world, still in use today. Completed after Palladio’s death, the set represents the city of Thebes and the setting of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex which was the inaugural production of the theater in 1585.

Another exceptional destination, the Villa Valmarana, built 200 years after Palladio and lavishly decorated with frescoes by Italy’s leading 18th century painter Gian Battista Tiepolo, is just a 20-minute walk from town along a quiet wooded path.

From there you can continue on another foot path which leads to you to Palladio’s most famous and majestic country villa: La Rotonda. Its sober classical exterior contrasts with its vibrant, dramatic interior. It feels more like a temple than a residence.

A short drive through the Veneto countryside brings you to perhaps my favorite of Palladio’s villas, the Villa Barbaro, with its charming and playful frescoes by Paolo Veronese.

Palladio’s works and seminal treatise The Four Books of Architecture have guided and inspired architects throughout Europe and in United States for centuries (e.g., St Paul’s Cathedral in London, our White House, Capitol Building and the Mall). In recognition of that influence, Palladio was proclaimed the Father of American Architecture by the 111th Congress of the United States in 2010.

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