The City
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The City



Vicenza characterizes history, culture and architecture of Veneto. Roman remains of ancient Vicentia co-exist with medieval walls and castles. Gothic buildings interact with the Palladian work of art. Elegance and nobility characterize this city loved by Goethe, Camus and Carlo Scarpa. Its small size ensures security for tourists and citizens alike, free to walk in its beautiful streets and enjoy its beauties even at night. Its surroundings have framed some movies like “I dreamed of Africa” with Kim Basinger and “My Roman Holiday” with Hu Bing.


Piazza dei Signori is the pinpoint of city life. The Vicentini people use to meet in the shadow of the white Palladian lodges of the Basilica, surmounted by the slender medieval tower of the city, admiring the stuccos and the statue of the Loggia del Capitaniato, the baroque façade of the church of Saint Vincenzo enclosed in the prospectus of the 16th century Monte di Pieta and the venetian columns with the statues of Saint Mark’s lion and of the Redeemer.
The City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto is a World Heritage Site protecting a cluster of works by the architect Andrea Palladio. UNESCO inscribed the site on the World Heritage List in 1994. At first the site was called “Vicenza, City of Palladio” and only buildings in the immediate area of Vicenza were included. Various types of buildings were represented including the Teatro Olimpico, palazzi and a few villas. Most of Palladio’surviving villas lay outside the site. However, in 1996 the site was expanded. Its present name reflects the fact that it includes Palladian villas throughout the Veneto. The term villa was used to describe a country house. Often rich families in the Veneto also had a house in town called a palazzo. In most cases the owners named their palazzi and villas with the family surname, hence there is both a Palazzo Chiericati in Vicenza and a Villa Chiericati in the countryside, similarly there is a Palazzo Foscari in Venice and a Villa Foscari in the countryside. Somewhat confusingly there are multiple Villas Pisani, including two by Palladio.


The Basilica Palladiana is a Renaissance building in the central Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza. The most notable feature of the edifice is the loggia, which shows one of the first examples of the what came to be known as the Palladian window, designed by a young Andrea Palladio, whose work in architecture was to have a significant effect on the field during the Renaissance and later periods. The building was originally constructed in the 15th century and was known as the Palazzo della Ragione. The building was the seat of government and also housed a number of shops on the ground floor. When part of the building collapsed in the sixteenth century, the Council of One Hundred commissioned many architects to submit designs and selected Palladio to reconstruct the building in April 1549. Palladio added a new outer-shell of marble classical forms, a loggia and a portico that now obscure the original Gothic architecture.The Basilica was an expensive project and took a long time to complete. Palladio received an income for the work during most of his life. Only in 1614 – thirty years after his death – did the building stand complete. Since 1994 the Basilica has been protected as part of a World Heritage Site along with the other Palladian buildings of Vicenza. The building now often hosts exhibitions in its large hall used for civic events.


The Teatro Olimpico (“Olympic Theatre”) is a theatre constructed in 1580-1585: it is the oldest surviving enclosed theatre in the world. The theatre was the final design by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, Renaissance, and was not completed until after his death. The trompe-l’œil onstage scenery, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, to give the appearance of long streets receding to a distant horizon, was installed in 1585 for the very first performance held in the theatre, and is the oldest surviving stage set still in existence. The Teatro Olimpico is, along with the Teatro all’antica in Sabbioneta and the Teatro Farnese in Parma, one of only three Renaissance theatres remaining in existence. Both these theatres were based, in large measure, on the Teatro Olimpico. Since 1994, the Teatro Olimpico, together with other Palladian buildings in and around Vicenza, has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto”. The Teatro Olimpico is the last work by Palladio, and ranks amongst his highest masterworks. The Vicentino architect had returned to his native city in 1579, bringing with him a lifetime of detailed study into all aspects of Roman architecture, and a more detailed understanding of the architecture of classical theatre than any other living person. Palladio had illustrated Daniele Barbaro’s Italian translation of Vitruvius’ De architectura; the prints for this edition include floorplans for Roman theatres and an elevation for the scaenae frons of Vicenza’s ruined Roman theatre, the Teatro Berga. As well, Palladio’s papers include plans for the imagined reconstruction of the ruined Roman theatres in Pola and Verona. Palladio, a founder of the Olympic Academy (created in 1555), had already designed temporary theatre structures at various locations the city. The most notable of these had been erected some seventeen years previously in the great hall of the Basilica Palladiana. In 1579 the Academy obtained the rights to build a permanent theatre in an old fortress, the Castello del Territorio, which had been turned into a prison and powder magazine before falling into disuse. Palladio was asked to produce a design, and despite the awkward shape of the old fortress, he decided to use the space to recreate an academic reconstruction of the Roman theatres that he had so closely studied. In order to fit a stage and seating area into the wide, shallow space, it was necessary for Palladio to flatten the semicircular seating area of the Roman theatre into an ellipse.


Palazzo Chiericati is a Renaissance palace, designed by Andrea Palladio. The Palazzo was commissioned to Palladio by Count Girolamo Chiericati. The architect started building the architecture in 1550, some further work was completed under the patronage of Chiericati’s son and heir Valerio. However, the palazzo was not finally completed until about 1680, probably by Carlo Borella. Palladio also designed a country home, the Villa Chiericati, for the family. The palace was built in an area called piazza dell’Isola (“island square”, currently Piazza Matteotti), which housed the wood and cattle market. In that period it was an islet surrounded by the Retrone and Bacchiglione streams, and to protect the structure from the frequent floods, Palladio designed it on an elevated position: the entrance could be accessed by a triple Classic-style staircase. The palace’s principal façade is composed of three bays, the central bay projecting slightly. The two end bays have logge on the piano nobile level, while the central bay is closed. The façade has two superimposed orders of columns, Doric on the lower level with Ionic above. The roofline is decorated by statuary. Since 1855 it has been the Museo Civico (“Town Museum”) and, more recently, the City’s art Gallery. It has received international protection since 1994, along with the other Palladian buildings of Vicenza, as part of a World Heritage Site. (The site originally designated was “Vicenza, City of Palladio” which included the city of Vicenza and its immediate surroundings. In 1996 UNESCO expanded the World Heritage Site to include villas outside the core area and renamed it “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto”).


Villa Capra “La Rotonda” is a Renaissance villa just outside Vicenza, designed by Andrea Palladio. The proper name is Villa Almerico-Capra. It is also known as La Rotonda, Villa Rotunda, Villa La Rotonda, and Villa Almerico. The name “Capra” derives from the Capra brothers, who completed the building after it was ceded to them in 1591. Like other works by Palladio in Vicenza and the surrounding area, the building is conserved as part of the World Heritage Site “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto”. In 1565 a priest, Paolo Almerico, on his retirement from the Vatican (as referendario apostolico of Pope Pius IV and afterwards Pius V), decided to return to his home town of Vicenza in the Venetian countryside and build a country house. This house, later known as ‘La Rotonda’, was to be one of Palladio’s best-known legacies to the architectural world. Villa Capra may have inspired a thousand subsequent buildings, but the villa was itself inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. The site selected was a hilltop just outside the city of Vicenza. Unlike some other Palladian villas, the building was not designed from the start to accommodate a working farm. This sophisticated building was designed for a site which was, in modern terminology, “suburban”. Palladio classed the building as a “palazzo” rather than a villa. The design is for a completely symmetrical building having a square plan with four facades, each of which has a projecting portico. The whole is contained within an imaginary circle which touches each corner of the building and centres of the porticos. The name La Rotonda refers to the central circular hall with its dome. To describe the villa, as a whole, as a ‘rotonda’ is technically incorrect, as the building is not circular but rather the intersection of a square with a cross. Each portico has steps leading up, and opens via a small cabinet or corridor to the circular domed central hall. This and all other rooms were proportioned with mathematical precision according to Palladio’s own rules of architecture which he published in the Quattro Libri dell’Architettura. The design reflected the humanist values of Renaissance architecture. In order for each room to have some sun, the design was rotated 45 degrees from each cardinal point of the compass. Each of the four porticos has pediments graced by statues of classical deities. The pediments were each supported by six Ionic columns. Each portico was flanked by a single window. All principal rooms were on the second floor or piano nobile. Building began in 1567. Palladio, and the owner, Paolo Almerico, were not to see the completion of the villa. Palladio died in 1580 and a second architect, Vincenzo Scamozzi, was employed by the new owners to oversee the completion. One of the major changes he made to the original plan was to modify the two-storey centre hall. Palladio had intended it to be covered by a high semi-circular dome but Scamozzi designed a lower dome with an oculus (intended to be open to the sky) inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. The dome was ultimately completed with a cupola. The interior design of the Villa was to be as wonderful, if not more so, than the exterior. Alessandro and Giovanni Battista Maganza and Anselmo Canera were commissioned to paint frescoes in the principal salons. Among the four principal salons on the piano nobile are the West Salon (also called the Holy Room, because of the religious nature of its frescoes and ceiling), and the East Salon, which contains an allegorical life story of the first owner Paolo Almerico, his many admirable qualities portrayed in fresco. The highlight of the interior is the central, circular hall, surrounded by a balcony and covered by the domed ceiling; it soars the full height of the main house up to the cupola, with walls decorated in trompe l’oeil. Abundant frescoes create an atmosphere that is more reminiscent of a cathedral than the principal salon of a country house. From the porticos wonderful views of the surrounding countryside can be seen; this is no coincidence as the Villa was designed to be in perfect harmony with the landscape. This was in complete contrast to such buildings as Villa Farnese of just 16 years earlier. Thus, while the house appears to be completely symmetrical, it actually has certain deviations, designed to allow each facade to complement the surrounding landscape and topography. Hence there are variations in the facades, in the width of steps, retaining walls, etc. In this way, the symmetry of the architecture allows for the asymmetry of the landscape, and creates a seemingly symmetrical whole. The landscape is a panoramic vision of trees and meadows and woods, with the distant Vicenza on the horizon. The northwest portico is set onto the hill as the termination of a straight carriage drive from the principal gates. This carriageway is an avenue between the service blocks, built by the Capra brothers who acquired the villa in 1591; they commissioned Vincenzo Scamozzi to complete the villa and construct the range of staff and agricultural buildings. As one approaches the villa from this angle one is deliberately made to feel one is ascending from some less worthy place to a temple on high. This same view in reverse, from the villa, highlights a classical chapel on the edge of Vicenza, thus villa and town are united.


Palazzo Barbaran Da Porto is a palazzo, designed in 1569 and built between 1570 and 1575 by Andrea Palladio. Since 1994 the palace is part of the “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto” World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the palace is located the Museo Palladio and the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio (CISA). The sumptuous residence realised between 1570 and 1575 for the Vicentine noble Montano Barbarano is the only great city palace that Andrea Palladio succeeded in executing in its entirety. In his History of Vicenza of 1591, Iacopo Marzari records Montano Barbarano as a man “of belles lettres and most excellent musician”. Various flutes figure in the 1592 inventory of the palace, confirming the existence of an intensive musical activity there. At least three different autograph projects survive, preserved in London, which document alternative hypotheses for the building’s plan, all quite different from the actual one and testimony to a complex design process. Barbarano, in fact, requested Palladio to respect the existence of various houses belonging to the family and already existing on the area of the new palace. Moreover, once the project was finalised Barbarano acquired a further house adjoining the property, which resulted in the asymmetrical positioning of the entrance portal. In any case, the constraints imposed by the site and by a practical patron became the occasion for courageous and refined solutions: Palladio’s intervention is magisterial, elaborating upon a sophisticated project for “restructuring” which blended the diverse pre-existing structures into a unified edifice. In 1998, after a twenty-year restoration, the Palace has been opened to the public. The exhibition activities began in March 1999. On the ground floor, a magnificent four-columned atrium welds together the two pre-existing building lots. In realising the scheme, Palladio was called upon to resolve two problems: one statical, how to support the floor of the great hall on the piano nobile; the other compositional, how to restore a symmetrical appearance to interiors compromised by the oblique course of the perimeter walls from the pre-existing houses. Departing from the model of the wings of the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome, Palladio divided the interior into three aisles, placing centrally four Ionic columns which allowed the reduction of the span of the central cross-vaults, set against lateral barrel vaults. He thus achieved a very statically efficient framework capable of bearing the floor of the hall above without any difficulty. The central columns were then tied to the perimeter walls by fragments of rectilinear entablature, which absorb the irregularities of the atrium plan: in this way he realised a sort of system of “serlianas”, a stratagem conceptually similar to that of the Basilica loggias. Palladio even adopted the unusual type of Ionic capital — derived from the Temple of Saturn in the Forum Romanum — because it permitted him to mask the slight but significant rotations necessary to align the columns and engaged columns. To decorate the palace, in several campaigns Montano employed some of the greatest artists of his time: Giovanni Battista Zelotti (who had already intervened in the interiors of Palladio’s Villa Emo at Fanzolo), Anselmo Canera and Andrea Vicentino; the stuccoes were entrusted to Lorenzo Rubini (who contemporaneously executed the external decorations of the Loggia del Capitanio) and, after his death in 1574, to his son Agostino. The net result was a sumptuous palace capable of rivalling the residences of the Thiene, the Porto and of the Valmarana, a palace which permitted its patron to represent himself to the city as a ranking member of the Vicentine cultural élite.


The palazzo del Capitaniato, also known as loggia del Capitanio or loggia Bernarda, is a palace designed by Andrea Palladio in 1565 and built between 1571 and 1572. It is located on the central Piazza dei Signori, facing the Basilica Palladiana. Palazzo del Capitaniato, floor plan (Pereswet-Soltan, 1969). The palace is now used by the town council. It was decorated by Lorenzo Rubini and, in the interior, with frescoes by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo. When one compares the Gothic arches of the Palazzo Ducale in Venice to the loggias of Palladio’s Basilica, inspired by the classical language of ancient Rome (and even more if one compares the 16th century (Cinquecento) palaces of Vicenza with those on the Grand Canal) the Vicentines’ desire to emphasise a cultural autonomy from the architectural models of La Serenissima becomes quite clear. Nevertheless, twenty years later, when the Citizen Council commissioned for the same piazza the refacing of the official residence of the Venetian Captaincy, the military head in charge of the city on behalf of the Venetian Republic, Palladio would still be the protagonist of the undertaking, and the contest, if any, was between two extraordinary architectures rising one in front of the other. It is extremely rare that any architect has the possibility to intervene twice in the same place, with an interval of twenty years. The young architect of the Basilica, then still under the supervision of Giovanni da Porlezza, was by now the celebrated author of several important buildings: churches, palaces and villas for the dominant élite of the Veneto. Palladio chose that the two buildings not converse: confronting the purism of the Basilica’s double-storey arcades (in white stone and devoid of decoration, if one ignores the design of architectural elements like the frieze, keystones and statues) are the Loggia’s colossal engaged Composite columns stemming the tide of very rich stucco decorations. Both the use of the giant order and this decorative richness are twin traits peculiar to Palladio’s language in the last decade of his life. However, the chromatic contrast between the white of the stone and the red of the brick (even though desired by Palladio in the Convento della Carità in Venice) is only the product of the original surfaces’ degradation: ample remains of the light stucco which once covered the bricks are still quite visible, just below the great Composite capitals. The Palladian loggia substituted an analogous, structure which had stood on the same site from the Middle Ages, and which had already been reconstructed at least twice during the Cinquecento: a covered public loggia on the ground floor and an audience hall on the upper storey. The new construction became economically viable in April 1571 and works began immediately. Palladio supplied the last drawings for the moulding templates in March 1572 and by the end of that year the building was roofed if Giannantonio Fasolo could paint the lacunars of the audience hall and Lorenzo Rubini execute the stuccoes and statues. While the upper hall displays a flat, coffered ceiling, the ground floor loggia has a sophisticated vault covering, certainly to better sustain the weight of the hall. The overall design is extremely sophisticated, as for example the portals which open within the niches and follow their curvature. It is fruitless to engage in the sterile and age-old debate on the hypothesised intentional extension of the loggia to five (or seven) bays. What is altogether more interesting is Palladio’s compositional liberty, designing in a radically different manner the façade onto the Piazza to that on the Contra’ del Monte, thereby somewhat rupturing the building’s unitary logic. On closer observation, however, Palladio limited himself to applying an adequate response to different situations: the piazza’s broad visual frontage (also bearing in mind the dimensional constraints of the narrow façade) made necessary the powerful verticalising of the giant order; the reduced dimensions both of the building’s flank and of the Contra’ del Monte itself obliged the use of a more temperate order. Moreover, the façade onto the Contra’ del Monte would be used as a sort of perennial triumphal arch recording the victory gained by the Venetian forces over the Turks at the battle of Lepanto in October 1571.


Palazzo Thiene is a 15th-16th century palace, designed for Marcantonio and Adriano Thiene, probably by Giulio Romano, in 1542, and revised during construction from 1544 by Andrea Palladio. In 1994 the palace was included in the “Vicenza, city of Palladio” World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In 1996 the World Heritage Site was renamed “City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto”, and it was expanded to include outlying villas (one of which is the Thiene brothers’ country home, the Villa Thiene). The palace is used as the historic headquarters of a bank and it also hosts some exhibitions and culture events. The original Gothic palace was committed by Lodovico Thiene to Lorenzo da Bologna in 1490, with an East front on contrà Porti made of bricks squared by angular lesene worked at “diamond edge”, with a portal by Tommaso da Lugano and a triple window (trifora) made in rose marble. In October 1542 Marcantonio and Adriano Thiene began to remodel their 15th century (Quattrocento) family palace in a grandiose project, which would have occupied an entire city block of 54 x 62 metres and faced onto Vicenza’s principal artery (today’s Corso Palladio). The rich, powerful and sophisticated Thiene brothers belonged to that great Italian nobility which could moved with ease between Europe’s most important courts: they therefore required a domestic stage adequate for the cosmopolitan nobility of their guests who might visit them. At the same time, as exponents of a well-defined, political faction in the city’s aristocracy, they desired a princely palace to emphasise their proper role in the city itself, as the sign of their true seigniorial power. When, in 1614, the English architect Inigo Jones visited the palace he noted down information directly garnered from Vincenzo Scamozzi and Palma il Giovane: “this project was made by Giulio Romano and executed by Palladio”. Most probably, in fact, the original conception of the Palazzo Thiene should be attributed to the mature and expert Giulio Romano (from 1573 at the Mantuan court of the Gonzagas, with whom the Thiene enjoyed the closest rapport) and the young Palladio was responsible rather for the executive design and execution of the building, a role which became ever more essential after Giulio’s death in 1546. The elements of the palace which are attributable to Giulio and alien to Palladio’s vocabulary are clearly recognisable: the four-column atrium is substantially identical with that of the Palazzo Te (even if Palladio indubitably modified its vaulting system); also Giulian are the windows and the ground storey facades onto the street and courtyard, while Palladio must have been defined the upper storey trabeation and capitals.Works began on the building in 1542. In December of the same year, Giulio Romano visited Vicenza for two weeks as a consultant on the Loggias for the Basilica. Probably on this occasion he supplied the outline project for the Palazzo Thiene. But works proceeded slowly: on the external facade is inscribed the date 1556, and in the courtyard 1558. In 1552 Adriano Thiene died in France and thereafter, when Marcantonio’s son Giulio became Marchese of Scandiano, family interests gradually shifted to Ferrara. As a result only a small portion of the grandiose project was ever realised, but probably neither the Venetians nor the other Vicentine nobles would have accepted such a private kingdom in the centre of their city.


The cathedral was begun in 1482 and completed in the 1560s. The cupola was planned by Andrea Palladio and probably the north doorway was also. Despite severe war damages from the Second World War, the Gothic façade was reconstructed again – the beautiful dome is unmistakably a work of Palladio himself. In the quite simple interior of the cathedral there is, in addition to numerous paintings, a beautiful triptych by Lorenzo Veneziano from the 14th century. Under the sacristy are the remains of a Roman road. Also worth a visit is