Updated: Aug 14, 2020
A complete and detailed guide to the 10 things to do and see in Vicenza during your visit to the city of Palladio
There is no better way to present Vicenza than with what the Unesco World Heritage Site list says: "Vicenza is an exceptional achievement considering the many architectural contributions of Andrea Palladio... Because of its architecture, the city has exerted a strong influence on architecture and urbanism in most European countries and the whole world."
Visiting Vicenza, therefore, essentially means following the traces of Palladio's life and works: all the most representative monuments in the city are Palladio's masterpieces. Starting from Piazza dei Signori with its Palladian Basilica and the Palazzo del Capitanio, the journey continues along Corso Palladio, an expression of the complexity of Palladio's work, until the outstanding Teatro Olimpico.
Just 15 minutes from the city center, the harmonious lines of Villa La Rotonda are a joy to see.
Vicenza is a very welcoming city: it can be visited on foot or by bike, and it offers good food and great hospitality! Discover here our recommendations on what to do and see in Vicenza during a holiday or over the weekend.
Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza
Beautiful and harmonious, Piazza dei Signori is the perfect example of an Italian square; it is still the business center of Vicenza and the heart of its social life, as it always was during the past centuries. You can begin your visit from the two columns: one with the lion of St. Mark (1473) at its top, representing the period when Vicenza was under the control of the Republic of Venice, the other with Christ the Redeemer (1647) in honor of the city and its citizens.
To the left of the columns you can see the first of Palladio's masterpieces: the Basilica, with alongside it the Bissara tower, which is 82 meters tall. On the right you can see Palazzo del Monte di Pietà in the center of the San Vincenzo Church façade. Beside the pawnshop is the Palazzo del Capitanio, built by Andrea Palladio in 1565 to give the Capitanio, the representative of the Republic of Venice, a worthy residence. The façade, with four columns, introduces a vaulted loggia surmounted by a hall that now houses the city council meetings. The bases of the columns are white because covered with plaster; unfortunately Palladio did not have time to cover the rest of the brick columns, so they remain red. The right side of the building is decorated with statues, emblems and decorations celebrating the Venetian victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
The Palladian Basilica
The first thing to say is that the Palladian Basilica is not intended as a place of worship. Palladio chose this name to recall ancient Rome, where the basilica was the political and business centre of the city. This work, in fact, which represents the summa of Palladian architecture, replaced the old Palace of Reason. It took 60 thousand ducats and all the white stone of Piovene Rocchette, on the Asiago Plateau, to build this masterpiece. A marble staircase leads to the upper loggia, from which you enter the terrace with its characteristic inverted copper hull roof. When open, there is a bar with a few tables and some extraordinary views.
Corso Andrea Palladio in Vicenza
If you take any of the narrow streets behind the Basilica Palladiana you will come across Corso Andrea Palladio, Vicenza's main street, obviously named after the genius and in his honor. A place for shopping and strolling in the Vicenza area, largely lined with arcades, this street tells the story of the Venetian city with its villas, almost all of which were designed by Palladio, shops, museums, and churches.
Piazza Castello and Piazza Matteotti are at the ends of Corso Palladio. There are plenty of villas to see along Corso Palladio: Palazzo Thiene Bonin Longare; the unfinished Palazzo Porto Breganze; the Church of San Filippo Neri with two paintings by Solimena; Palazzo Trissino-Baston, today the Town Hall, which connects by a passage with the Palazzo del Capitaniato in Piazza dei Signori. Approaching Piazza Matteotti you come across Palazzo Ca' d'Oro; the Church of San Gaetano di Thiene; the church of the Holy Crown where a thorn from the crown of Jesus is kept and shown on Good Friday at Easter. Andrea Palladio was buried in this church before his remains were transferred to the main cemetery in Vicenza. Palazzo Leone Montanari which comes next is famous for its extraordinary collection of Russian icons, the largest in the world outside of Russia. Once in Piazza Matteotti, two masterpieces by Palladio deserve a thorough visit: the Teatro Olimpico and Palazzo Chiericati.
The Olympic Theater design by Palladio
The Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza is a real charm and an extremely important piece of European art. Until 1580, when Andrea Palladio was commissioned to build it, there were no stable theatres in Europe. Plays were presented in improvised places, such as courtyards, squares or the halls of noble palaces. Palladio presented the drawings for the theatre but did not see it built; it was his son Silla who continued overseeing construction. Andrea Palladio's genius in design remains evident even today. The Olympic Theatre of Vicenza was inspired by Roman theatres. Palladio designed an elliptical cavea with steps and a colonnade with statues. The real masterpiece, however, is the stage, with a proscenium on two orders opened by three arches and rhythmically marked by semi-columns, with niches, statues, and bas-reliefs. Everything contributes to give an extraordinary effect of depth. The masterpiece was completed for the Carnival of 1585, and the first representation was of Sophocles' tragedy set in the ancient city of Thebes. The onstage scenery was entrusted to Vincenzo Scamozzi who created a miracle, reproducing a play of perspective that further increases the depth effect. The set design is so successful that no one has had the courage to remove it, and it is still there today.
Chiericati Palace in Vicenza – The Pinacoteca
When the nobleman Girolamo Chiericati gave Palladio the task of building his villa, the artist had, for the first time, the chance to build a villa overlooking open space, without having the limits he had faced with all the other narrow city villas in the streets. Palladio was thus not only able to build in large dimensions, but also to use solutions that he usually reserved for villas and not city residences. This villa has a central body with two symmetrical wings that are slightly backward, with large loggias on the level of the main floor. To defend Palazzo Chiericati from the frequent floods and the cattle that were sold every day in the market of the square, Palladio raised the residence on a podium that can be accessed from the central staircase. Today the palace hosts the Pinacoteca Civica of Vicenza (Vicenza Art Gallery). Over the centuries several bequests have added to the heritage of the museum, which today has works by, among others, Tintoretto, Veronese, Van Dyck, Tiepolo and a rich collection of contemporary art.
Click here to read the next part 10 things to do and see in Vicenza (2/2)
Let us introduce you to the beauties of Vicenza!
Click here to discover our E-Bike tour around Palladio's city.