Ancient Italian cities: our favourites
Travel back to a time where powerful families ruled, Renaissance artists painted and monumental, everlasting structures were built. Here’s a quick guide to Italy’s ancient cities.
Masterpieces, Michelangelo and the notorious Medici family are all at home in Florence, the Cradle of the Renaissance. Surrounded by wine-rich hills, this compact city in central Tuscany is a unified maze of tiny Roman alleyways bordered by elegant palazzi (palaces) and grand piazzas.
A contrast of sharp Gothic squares and curved Renaissance architecture adorn the city, as well as world-class artworks like Michelangelo’s David – found in the Galleria dell’Accademia – and paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. At the heart of Florence is the Duomo (cathedral), which has watched over the city since 1296, and is home to the largest brick and mortar dome in the world.
Lined with shops propped up on stilts, the medieval Ponte Vecchio bridge is a must-visit, while the manicured Boboli Gardens are ideal for a stroll with a gelato.
With characteristic alleyways, imposing towers and artisan shops that reflect its rich Etruscan and Roman history, UNESCO-World-Heritage Siena is known as Italy’s loveliest medieval city. It’s built across seven hills and is made up of 17 contrade (districts), each with their own animal symbols that are depicted on carvings, plaques and even car stickers.
At the centre of it all is the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, a former Roman forum surrounded by 7km of fortified walls, which hosts the annual Palio run – a spectacle of a horse race, competed by members of each of the contrade.
The piazza is also home to Siena’s cathedral, full of religious and artistic treasures, and the Piccolomini Library which is bursting with works by Donatello and Michelangelo.
Hundreds of years after Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers made their mark, the UNESCO city of Verona still abounds with visitors from around the world. Its historic architecture, beautiful bridges and open-air markets are easy to explore on foot, via winding streets that were partially moulded by the once-ruling Scaligeri family, whose tombs still rest at the Arche Scaligeri.
This romantic city is also famous for its colossal amphitheatre, which hosts the annual Verona Opera, as well as the fictional home (and iconic balcony) of the Bard’s leading lady, Juliet. Rumour has it, by rubbing the chest of Juliet’s bronze statue, you’ll be gifted with eternal fortune, luck and love.
The Piazza Bra – the largest piazza in Verona – also brims with a variety of restaurants and bars, as well as pretty gardens, fountains and monuments.
The picture-perfect archipelago city of Venice is made up of 118 pretty islands connected by 400 arched bridges. Overflowing with cultural, industrial and architectural heritage, it’s one of the most distinctive cities in the world.
Gondolas drift down a maze of canals and decadent Venetian masks take pride of place in boutique windows. St Mark’s Square buzzes with tourists visiting the ornate, lace-like Doge’s Palace and climbing the Campanile Bell Tower for unobstructed views of the city.
The backstreets and passageways also open up a whole other side to this popular European destination, from historic bookshops to local bàcari selling mouth-watering cicchetti – the Venetian version of tapas.
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