Travel is the movement of people between relatively distant geographical locations, and can involve travel by foot, bicycle, automobile, train, boat, bus, airplane, or other means, with or without luggage, and can be one way or round trip. Travel can also include relatively short stays between successive movements.
These days, travel is no longer a luxury, it’s more of a necessary part of a truly fulfilled life. In fact, you can hardly spend a few minutes on the internet without seeing photos of far-flung places and vibrant cultures.
With so many amazing sights, putting together a compilation of top tourist attractions in Italy is no easy task. The following list however should give a good indication of why over 40 million foreign tourists visit Italy ever year.
The massive Cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, which the Milanese call just “Il Duomo” is among the world’s largest (it holds up to 40,000 people) and most magnificent churches, the ultimate example of the Flamboyant Gothic style. It was begun in the 14th century, but its façade was not completed until the early 1800s, under Napoleon. The roof is topped by 135 delicately carved stone pinnacles and the exterior is decorated with 2,245 marble statues.
The dim interior, in striking contrast to the brilliant and richly patterned exterior, makes a powerful impression with its 52 gigantic pillars. The stained-glass windows in the nave (mostly 15th-16th centuries) are the largest in the world; the earliest of them are in the south aisle. Highlights include the seven-branched bronze candelabrum by Nicholas of Verdun (c. 1200) in the north transept, the 16th-century tomb of Gian Giacomo Medici, and the jeweled gold reliquary of San Carlo Borromeo in the octagonal Borromeo Chapel leading off the crypt. Behind the high altar, the choir has deeply carved panels, and misericords under the seats.
2.Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper
The Gothic brick church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the Corso Magenta, was begun about 1465, and its massive six-sided dome in the finest Early Renaissance style was designed by Bramante, one of Italy’s most influential Renaissance architects. The church – and adjoining refectory, which holds Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper – were badly damaged in World War II, and during the repair work, old sgraffito paintings in the dome were brought to light. At the end of the north aisle is the Baroque chapel of the Madonna delle Grazie, with an altarpiece of the Madonna.
3.Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Forming one side of Piazza del Duomo and opening on the other side to Piazza della Scala, the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni and built between 1865 and 1877. It was then the largest shopping arcade in Europe, with a dome soaring 48 meters above its mosaic floor.
Marking the beginning of modern architecture in Italy, today it stands as a splendid example of 19th-century industrial iron and glass construction. And it’s still a beautiful, vibrant place where locals meet for lunch or coffee in its elegant cafés and browse in its luxury shops. It is so much a part of local life that the inhabitants of Milan refer to it as “il salotto” (the salon).
4.Opera at Teatro alla Scala
Considered the most prestigious opera house in the world, La Scala has rung with the music of all the great operatic composers and singers, and its audiences – the theater seats 2,800 people – are known (and feared) as the most demanding in Italy. The season begins in early December and runs through May, but tickets are often difficult to come by. The best way of getting tickets is through your hotel concierge, but it’s worth checking at the box office. In the same building is the Museo Teatrale alla Scala, where you’ll find a collection of costumes from landmark performances and historical and personal mementos of the greats who performed and whose works were performed at La Scala, including Verdi, Rossini, and the great conductor Arturo Toscanini. If there is not a rehearsal in progress, the museum offers access to see the inside of the opera house itself, one of the world’s grandest.
The Castello Sforzesco, held by the Visconti and the Sforza families who ruled Milan from 1277 to 1447 and from 1450 to 1535 respectively, was built in 1368 and rebuilt in 1450. The 70-meter Torre de Filarete is a 1905 reproduction of the original gate-tower. The Castello houses the Musei del Castello Sforzesco, a series of museums, one of which features sculpture.
The collection includes the Pietà Rondanini, Michelangelo’s last masterpiece, brought here in 1953 from the Palazzo Rondanini in Rome. Other museums feature a collection of decorative art, prehistoric and Egyptian antiquities, a collection of musical history, and an armory of weapons and medieval armor.
The picture gallery includes paintings by Bellini, Correggio, Mantegna, Bergognone, Foppa, Lotto, Tintoretto, and Antonello da Messina. Between the two rear courtyards of the Castello, a passage leads into the park, originally the garden of the dukes of Milan and later a military training ground.
6.Pinacoteca di Brera
The Renaissance Palazzo di Brera, built between 1651 and 1773, was originally a Jesuit college, but since 1776 has been the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts). Along with a library and observatory, it contains the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of Italy’s finest art museums.
Much of the art was acquired as churches closed or were demolished, and the museum is especially strong in paintings by northern Italian masters. As you enter through the courtyard, you’ll see an 1809 monument to Napoleon I by the sculptor Canova.
The church of Sant’Ambrogio was founded in 386 by St. Ambrose, who was born in Milan and is the city’s patron saint. The present church is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, built in the 12th century around the choir from an earlier ninth-century church.
There’s a lot to see here, beginning with the large portico, also from the ninth century, and the atrium, whose carved stone capitals and portal rank it high among Europe’s best examples of the Romanesque period. Inside, be sure to see the pulpit with late Romanesque carving, and the richly carved 4th-century Stilicone sarcophagus underneath it.
The casing (paliotto) of the high altar is a masterpiece of Carolingian art made in 835 at either Milan or Rheims. It’s easy to miss the mosaic dome of the original 4th-century Sacello di San Vittore, accessed through the last chapel on the right.
8.Piazza dei Mercanti
With all the high-rise buildings filling the skyline, it’s hard to find places that give any sense of medieval Milan. But hidden less than a five-minute walk from Piazza del Duomo is tiny Piazza dei Mercanti, where you will feel as though you’ve stepped back centuries into the Middle Ages. Forming one side is the Palazzo della Ragione, the old town hall dating from 1233.
This made the little square the political heart of Milan, while the stone market arcade made it the commercial heart as well. Enclosing the other side of the piazza is the 1316 Loggia degli Osii, faced in black and white marble and originally housing offices for judges and notaries.
9.Museo Bagatti Valsecchi
Several things make this an especially interesting place to visit. Two brothers in the 19th century spent their lives collecting furnishings and decorative arts to make the interior of their Renaissance palazzo look as it might have appeared originally.
Not only will you see a home of that era in a livable state – as opposed to just rooms of display cases and walls of paintings, but you can follow their collecting process through the excellent English signage. So you get to share a bit of the excitement of the chase amid the historical and artistic information about each piece. Most of all, though, it’s nice to see the furniture, tapestries, glassware, books, children’s items, and paintings by Renaissance masters in a household setting.
An elegant old patrician house is the setting for this art museum with paintings by Botticelli, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca, Guardí, and other artists, as well jewelry, silver, bronzes, porcelains, Etruscan pottery, armor, and weapons. Textiles in the museum include Flemish and Persian carpets, tapestries, a large collection of hand-worked lace and a very rare embroidery designed by Botticelli.
11.Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology
Housed in a former Olivetan monastery, the museum illustrates the history of science and technology from the work of early scientists into modern times. Of particular interest is the Leonardo da Vinci Gallery with working models of many of his inventions and machinery, created from da Vinci’s drawings. In the physics exhibits are apparatus used by Galileo,
Newton, and Volta, and there are sections relating to optics, acoustics, telegraphy, transport, shipping, railroads, flying, metallurgy, motor vehicles, timekeeping, and timber. In all, more than 15,000 technical and scientific objects represent the history of Italian science, technology, and industry.
12.Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna
Napoleon’s residence when he occupied Milan, this palace facing the Giardini Pubblici was new when Napoleon commandeered it. Today, it retains its original stucco work and decorative details inside, which adds to its interest as a showcase for Milan’s extensive collection of modern art.
The emphasis is on Italian art, from 19th century Romanticism to post-impressionists, but the collections are far broader, with works by Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Rouault, Modigliani, Dufy, and Vuillard.
There is an extensive group of Neoclassical sculpture by Canova and his contemporaries. On the grounds are an English-style garden and a botanic garden, and adjoining it are the lawns, flower gardens, and playgrounds of the public gardens.
The Romanesque basilica of Sant’Eustorgio was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, and its fine campanile was added a century later. The facade was not added until 1863. Look beyond the choir to find the Cappella Portinari, by Michelozzo in 1462-68, one of the earliest examples of Renaissance architecture.
The frescoes are by Vincenzo Foppa. Not far from Sant’Eustorgio is another church, San Lorenzo Maggiore, dating from the Early Christian period. Its Renaissance dome was added in 1574, but the mosaics in the chapel of St. Aquilinus are from the fourth century. In front of the church, the portico of sixteen Corinthian columns is the largest surviving monument of Roman Mediolanum.
You can see some of Roman Milan, excavated on the lower floors of this museum in the former monastery of Monastero Maggiore. Along with the ancient history of Milan, you’ll find Greek, Etruscan, and Roman finds from elsewhere in Italy, including sculptures in stone and bronze. Particularly good are the third-century sculpture of Maximilian, a bronze head, and a female statue with folded drapes.
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The Ponte Vecchio may well be the most widely recognized icon of Florence, and its graceful arches topped by a jumble of shops is most certainly one of the city’s prettiest scenes.
2. San Lorenzo
The Medici commissioned the best talent for the family church and burial chapels: Brunelleschi for the church and Michelangelo for the chapel intended to memorialize their most illustrious princes.
3. Piazza della Signoria
This broad square has been the center of power in Florence since its 14th-century origins – and perhaps even before, as Etruscan and Roman remains have been found below its pavement. Today, it is the social center as well, a favorite meeting place filled with tourists and locals.
4. Santa Maria Novella
Although this Dominican church has the familiar striped façade of inlaid marble worn by several other churches in Florence, here it has been interpreted quite differently, tracing graceful curving designs, imitating windows, and highlighting rows of arches in the lower story.
5. Santa Croce
Behind the geometric marble inlay of its typical Tuscan façade, Santa Croce is both art-filled church and mausoleum for some of Florence’s greatest names. Among its treasures are several landmarks of Renaissance art.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazza Duomo
Piazza Duomo and the group of buildings that form its cathedral complex gather some of Italy’s greatest artistic treasures into one relatively small area. As you tour the baptistery, the bell tower, the cathedral, and its museum, you’ll see some of the best-known masterpieces of art and architecture by the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance — Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Giotto, and Michelangelo.
Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St. John)
From any angle, inside or out, the 12th-century octagonal baptistery is a consummate work of art. Its marble façade, the intricate mosaics of its interior, and the art works it holds all merit a place high on your list.
Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria)
History, art, and power echo in the opulent rooms and grand galleries of this fortress-like palace in the center of Florence. From here, the city/republic was ruled, and its powerful Medici family commissioned the leading artists and architects of the day to design and decorate their offices and apartments.
Uffizi Palace and Gallery
Few would argue the Uffizi’s place among the handful of world’s top art museums. Its collections are simply staggering in their diversity and quality, and even if art is not your main interest, you should see the highlights of the paintings here.
Certainly Venice’s best-known church, and one of the most easily recognized in the world, St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) was originally the Doge’s private chapel, decorated with Byzantine art treasures that are part of the booty brought back by Venetian ships after the fall of Constantinople.
The vast expanse of Venice’s largest square is brought together and made to seem almost intimate by the elegant uniformity of its architecture on three sides. But more than its architectural grace, St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) is loved as Venice’s living room, the place everybody gathers, strolls, drinks coffee, stops to chat, meets friends and tour guides, or just passes through on the way to work or play.
Visitors arriving in Venice once stepped ashore under the façade of this extraordinary palace. They couldn’t have failed to be impressed, both by its size and the finesse of its architecture.
Sweeping through the heart of Venice in a giant reverse S curve, the Grand Canal is the principal boulevard through the city, connecting Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge,and the arrival points of the rail station and bridge from the mainland.
Once the only bridge across the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge marks the spot of the island’s first settlement, called Rivus Altus (high bank). Built in 1588, some 150 years after the collapse of a previous wooden bridge, this stone arch supports two busy streets and a double set of shops.
This impressive white marble building was built between 1515 and 1560 to house a charitable society dedicated to San Rocco. Soon after its completion, the great 16th-century Venetian artist Tintoretto won the competition to paint a central panel for the ceiling of the Sala dell’Albergo by entering the building and putting his painting in its intended place before the judging, much to the irritation of his rival artists.
The delicate marble filigree by Bartolomeo Bon seems too lace-like to be carved of stone, and you can only imagine the impression this façade must have made covered in its original paint and gold.
A trip to Venice wouldn’t be complete without hopping aboard a vaporetto for the ride across the lagoon to Murano, home of Venice’s fabled glass workers. They were sent here in the 13th century in hope of decreasing the risk of fire from one of the glass furnaces sweeping through Venice’s tightly compacted center.
Called “Accademia” for short, this museum on the Grand Canal has the most important and comprehensive collection of 15th-18th-century Venetian painting in existence.
Just as Ca’ d’Oro lets you glimpse into the life of the late Middle Ages, Palazzo Rezzonico gives a vivid picture of life here in the Baroque and Rococo periods, in the 18th century.
This Gothic church was begun by the Franciscans about 1340 and finished with the completion of the facade, interior, and two chapels in the middle of the 15th century. Its impressive 14th-century campanile is the second highest in the city.
After the vast grandeur of St. Mark’s and the soaring expanse of Frari, little Santa Maria dei Miracoli is like a fresh breeze, a masterpiece of Early Renaissance architecture by Pietro Lombardo.
The long (12-kilometer) strip of sand that separates the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea was Europe’s first real beach resort, and in its heyday, at the turn of the 20th century, was Europe’s most fashionable watering hole for royalty and the day’s celebs.
The Arsenal, the shipyard of the Venetian Republic, was the largest and busiest in the world until the end of the 17th century. From its founding in 1104, it was continuously expanded, until in its heyday, it employed as many as 16,000 workers.