Exploring Palladio’s Vicenza: a World Heritage Site

Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza

Palazzo Chiericati

Even among Italian cities, Vicenza is special. Not just a handful of spectacular buildings, but a whole town of them, many of them designed by one man: Andrea Palladio. As we walk down the main street – called, naturally, Corso Palladio – past palaces designed by Palladio and his disciples in the 16th century, I start to get a sense of déjà vu.

Lots of the buildings look familiar. In fact, this should not be surprising, because Palladio’s designs have influenced architecture everywhere in the western world. Not just in Italy, but in London, across Europe and even in Washington, DC, you can see buildings with the perfect proportions and classical facades envisaged by Palladio.

 In your bucket because…

  • Palladio’s designs have influenced the whole of western architecture
  • The city is compact enough to walk everywhere
  • Good for: architecture enthusiasts and anyone who loves Italian cities

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The whole of the city centre is a World Heritage Site, recognising the importance of Palladio’s work. The city is regarded as a harmonious whole, incorporating Palladio’s ideas on urban design as well as his buildings. There are twenty three buildings designed by him in the centre, and many more that were influenced by him. The UNESCO inscription also includes sixteen villas in the surrounding countryside.

Piazza dei Signori, Vicenza

Piazza dei Signori

We don’t have time to visit everything. We manage to fit in the Piazza dei Signori, where the wide open space allows us to marvel at the facades of the Basilica Palladiana and the Loggia del Capitaniato. But mostly we enjoy just wandering the streets, admiring the buildings and peering down passageways. Then we escape down a back street, dictionaries at the ready (there is little English spoken here), for a long and leisurely lunch.

Teatro Olimpico

Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza

 Trompe l’oeil street scene, Teatro Olimpico

The Teatro Olimpico, completed from Palladio’s designs after his death, is the highlight of the day. The uninspiring exterior (it was built inside an existing fortress) only serves to heighten the splendour of the inside. I have never seen anything like it. The whole auditorium has been designed to look like a Roman outdoor theatre, with rows of semi-circular seats and classical figures everywhere.

La Rotonda, Vicenza

It is worth the wait: La Rotonda is one of the most perfect Palladian designs, with four way symmetry and a huge circular dome in the roof. Both inside and out were built in accordance with precise mathematical calculations, and the grounds, with their long lines of statues, are in perfect harmony with the house and the landscape.

Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside the house, so we cannot capture the frescoes or the dome, but we make up for it in the grounds. As Palladio himself said, “The site is one of the most pleasant and delightful that can be found.” Eventually, we take a long last look at the view and set off back down the hill in search of dinner.

Practicalities

  • Vicenza is easily accessible by train from Milan, Verona and Venice. However, you may prefer to rent a car if you want to visit the countryside villas as well.
  • The interior of La Rotonda is only open on Wednesdays, although the grounds can be visited on other days.
  • English is not as widely spoken in Vicenza as in other Italian cities. However, you will be able to speak English with staff at Tourist Information and in the ticket offices.