Vicenza, the city of Palladio
Vicenza, also known as “Palladio’s city” as he built numerous late renaissance constructions there. In fact, thanks to his extensive architectural contribution, in 1994 the city was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city is also an important and economic centre, mainly led by the metalworking, textile industries and, first and foremost, gold as Vicenza is the Italian goldsmiths’ capital.
Historians agree that the first settlement was by the Paleo Veneto peoples beginning from 600 B.C. In 200 B.C. they entered the orbit of Rome and in 49 B.C. acquired Roman citizenship. In 568 Vicenza was occupied by the Lombards, and became a duchy. In the Middle Ages many Benedictines arrived in Vicenza and began intense reclamation work of the land because the city stood in a swampy area. Beginning in 1211 Vicenza fell under Della Scala domain and they built the city walls, transformed the bell tower of Saints Felice and Fortunato into a tower, and coined the silver aquilino, the only coin used by the city. In 1414 the city became part of the Serenissima Republic. Four centuries of peace and wellbeing followed when the city’s economy prospered. The XVI century was Palladio’s century, who reached Vicenza from his hometown Padua when he was very young and was taken under the protective wing of the Vicenza benefactor Gian Giorgio Trissino, who helped him study. Palladio became one of the major exponents in the history of western architecture, and many noble Vicenza families commissioned the design of their city palazzos and country villas from him.
What to visit
The Palladian Basilica
Reconstructed by Palladio beginning in 1549, the most famous public building in the city. Since the Middle Ages it has been the hub of political and economic life, owing to its position in Piazza dei Signori. The bold and original roof in the shape of an overturned ship’s hull, covered in copper and partly raised by wide orders dating back to the mid-15th century, was seriously damaged by bombing during the second world war and was later rebuilt. The reconstruction work was very demanding and lasted from 2007 to 2012. The Bissara Tower, containing 5 bells, stands tall next to the basilica, it was built in the XII century, and at 82 meters is still one of the tallest buildings in Vicenza.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Annunciata
It was built in stages: the dome and northern entrance are by Palladio, who designed the overall project which was implemented in two phases: from 1558 to 1559 the cornice above the window and the tambour were built, and from 1564 to January 1566 the work on the dome. The lantern shape, abstract and without decorations, was repeated on the tops of the domes of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice which was being built at the same time.
The Basilica Sanctuary of Madonna del Monte Bericowas
Also built in two phases, the first in 1428 and the second in 1703. The basilica is formed of two churches from two different eras, the first is gothic in style and the second classic and baroque. In the nearby convent there is the painting by Paolo Veronese of The dinner of San Gregorio Magno. The building recalls the two appearances by the Madonna to a pious woman in the province if Vicenza, and the liberation of Vicenza from the terrible plague epidemic. The Basilica of San Felice and Fortunatowas founded in the IV century and enlarged considerably in the V century to enable housing the relics of the martyrs it is dedicated to. After the Hungarian invasion in the IX century, which destroyed the greater part of the city, the basilica was rebuilt in the X century by order from Bishop Rodolfo, and the contribution from Emperor Ottone II. The paleochristian basilica was initially rectangular in shape, but was later extended and divided in three naves. After the Hungarian invasions, the Benedictines built a new baptistery and semi-circular apse, they then added the bell tower, the rose window, a series of small blind arches and a byzantine cross on the façade. There is a small museum at the side of the basilica which was opened in 2000, which contains the archaeological finds from the church and the Roman necropolis.
The Olympic Theatre
Started in 1580, is the first example of an indoor stable theatre and was Palladio’s last project. The theatre has a large proscenium, several statues and decorations and was built in wood and stucco. It was built further to a decision by the Olympic Academy inside an abandoned medieval fort (Palazzo del Territorio, formerly used as a prison and powder magazine).
Palazzo del Capitanio
A late work by Palladio, stands in Piazza dei Signori in front of the Palladian Basilica. The main floor houses the chairs of the Town Council. The palazzo was built between 1571 and 1572 as a residence for the representative of the Republic of Venice in the city. There is a large loggia on the ground floor covered with vaults, which hold up the main floor occupied by the large Bernarda Hall, elegantly frescoed in 1500. The palazzo façade is decorated with four large facing brick columns that rise as far as the attic balustrade and form three large arches. Decorations are visible on the main facade depicting the personification of the rivers. The side on Contrà Monte is decorated by Roman triumphal arches decorated with stucco bas-reliefs and allegorical statues in the spaces between the columns, symbols that commemorate the defeat of the Ottomans by the Christian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto on 7th October 1571. The ground floor loggia is protected by a high wrought iron gate and it contains the commemoration stones for the fallen in the wars.
The mainly military constructions in the city were built during the Della Scala domain (late 14th century) and, even though the majority of the fortifications have been incorporated into other buildings over the years, Viale Mazzini still conserves the medieval walls, which are currently being renovated. An important example of military architecture are the access gates to the historic centre: Porta Santa Croce, the last built by the Della Scala in 1385. The Della Scala town wall begins from this gate in Viale Mazzini, and the gate still gives access to the historic centre. Porta Nova, built in 1381 by Antonio della Scala as further defence in the Rocchetta fortifications (the town arms and weapons store). In 1848 this gate was the site of fierce battles to defend the city from the Austrians. In 1926 during a visit by Benito Mussolini, the gate was demolished. Nearby a passage was opened in the ancient town walls, which is now called Porta Nova. Porta San Bortolo, built in the Venetian era in 1455, used to house the customs building. This was also a battle site in 1848, and it withstood the terrible bombing in 1944 that drastically hit the San Bortolo district (the most populated at that time). The gate was reconstructed by the Alpines from the district in 1994, and is now acknowledged among the town monuments.
Piazza dei Signori is the main city square, centre of town government initially as the Roman forum and later, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance period, the Palazzo della Ragione (now the Palladian Basilica) where justice was administered, and the Loggia del Capitanio, the city residence of the representative from the Republic of Venice. The square also contains the Bissara Tower, Palazzo del Monte di Pietà with the Church of San Vincenzo, and the columns, one decorated with St Mark’s Lion and the other with a statue of Christ Redeemer.Piazza delle Erbe, which was given this name because in the past the fruit and vegetable market was held there. There is a 11th century tower in the square which used to be a prison and place of torture (a famous prisoner was Silvio Pellico) and consequently is called Torre del Girone or Torment. The tower is joined to the Palladian Basilica by the arch of the Zavatteri, which dates back to 1494 and has this name because in the past the shoe and slipper (zavate in local dialect) market was held there.