Vicenza is located in the Veneto region of Italy, in its own province. There has been a settlement here right back into the depths of history; remains of the Roman town can still be seen. Later, after the barbarian invasions which repeatedly devastated this part of Italy, it became a significant town, ruled at different times by various greater powers. For several centuries it was governed by Venice; then Napoleon, then the Austrians. In 1866 it became part of the new Kingdom of Italy. Vicenza was a prosperous town under Venetian rule, and its pride was demonstrated in fine architecture, much of which still survives. Its ‘unique appearance,’ largely owing to the work of influential sixteenth-century architect Andrea Palladio, has led to the town’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto. After Palladio, Vicenza is most famous for its trade in precious metals, it’s also known as the ‘City of gold’.
Most of Vicenza‘s attractions are clustered closely together inside the old town walls. Walking straight along Viale Roma from the railway station, you’ll pass two bus stops for the number 8 – if you are planning a trip to the villas just outside town, check the latest timetable displayed here. Soon you’ll arrive outside the old town gate, Porta Castello, but first you can visit the Giardino Salvi just outside the gateway: a shady park, ornamented with statues and the Palladian Loggia Valmarana, which is dramatically reflected in dark waters. Just inside the gateway lies a very convenient self-service restaurant, Self Pause, which is a cheap and quick place to fill up before exploring the town centre. Around Vicenza you can admire many grand buildings by Palladio and his followers. The Italian word palazzo usually means any large building rather than a palace; but many of Vicenza’s palazzi do merit the grander translation. Some of the town’s buildings are medieval, with several in the Venetian Gothic style, but the majority date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They line the narrow lanes of Vicenza’s town centre; which are called contra, a local word for ‘street’. As soon as you’re inside the Porta you find yourself among the town’s great buildings. One of the most curious is off to your right. Designed by Palladio, Palazzo Porto Breganze was never finished and stands in an abbreviated form. In front of you is the Corso Andrea Palladio, the centre’s main thoroughfare, lined with smart shops and cafes. Some of Vicenza’s grandest palazzi lie on Contra Porti, off to the left. Piazza dei Signori, a few yards south of Corso Andrea Palladio, is the heart of town. It is dominated by two of Vicenza’s most striking landmarks, the Basilica Palladiana, the town’s medieval law courts, with an imposing later facade by Palladio, and the adjacent Torre di Piazza, a tall and skinny tower. Right in the long midday shadow cast by the tower you’ll find one of Vicenza’s tourist information offices, where you can pick up a town map, leaflets about local events and attractions and any advice you may need. A second office is located not far away, by the Teatro Olimpico. The town’s most famous individual sight is the Teatro Olimpico, Palladio’s last work, which was finished by his son and then by Vincenzo Scamozzi. The ticket you’ll buy here (€8) entitles you to enter the town’s various civic museums. Conveniently, the theatre is open throughout the day with no lunchtime closure. The building was modelled on ancient Roman theatres, with a curved amphitheatre, graded stepped seating and lavish ornamentation. It incorporates a fabulous permanent stage set (designed for Greek tragedy) by Scamozzi with trompe l’oeil street scenes and classical motifs. Over the road from the Teatro Olimpico is Palazzo Chiericati, which today houses the town’s museum (Museo Civico) and art gallery (closed Mondays, lunchtimes and also Sundays in winter). The collections here are fairly interesting; art lovers should also pay a visit to the Gothic Church of Santa Corona to see works by Giovanni Bellini and Paolo Veronese. The Palladio links have inspired an architecture study centre and museum, the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, which houses architecture exhibitions in a palazzo designed by Palladio, Palazzo Barbaran da Porto. For views over the area, visitors can walk uphill (or take a bus) to the Santuario di Monte Berico, a church built on the site of two apparitions of the Madonna. A long arcaded walkway climbs up the hill, which is useful on a sunny or a rainy day.