The Wonder That is Italy
Italy is a romantic, visually pleasing country that fires the mind’s eye with images of the canals of Venice and the ancient glory of Rome’s Coliseum. Each Italian city has its own fascinating adventures to embark upon, from the famous to the little-known. Three very important cities are Florence (home to the Medici Renaissance), Rome (known for its religious significance and ancient ruins), and Venice (the city on the water that provokes thoughts of beauty). Two other Italian cities to give consideration to are Pisa and Siena. We have all heard of the Leaning Tower, but what else can be found in this area? Siena was made famous for its association with a Catholic saint named St. Catherine of Siena. Is there more to be seen in the city?
Another plus about Italy is that it is easy to visit. Airlines and cruises taking the traveler to Italy should be very simple to find. The climate is not unbearable (although you may want to take sunblock during the summer months) and with countless tourists every day, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find someone who speaks English. Italy, especially Rome, annually receives thousands of visitors from all across the planet.
Romantic Waterways of Venice
One of the first things that comes to mind when researching Venice is its intricate canals. This makes the city uniquely separate from its counterparts across Italy and lends an air of mystery to the place. Who hasn’t dreamed of taking that someone special on a quintessential gondola ride through Venice’s waterways? There is much more to do in the city but you will have to decide what is of most interest to you and your family. If you like old churches and religious monuments, visit St. Mark’s Basilica in the world-famous St. Mark’s Square. It is possibly one of Italy’s most famous religious sites. As with other famous historic churches, its history is long and diverse. Anyone standing in front of its heavily ornamented facade will be simply amazed at the amount of detail that must have been involved in its creation.
Doges Palace is another architectural gem that Venice is famous for, and an attraction that shouldn’t be missed. In Italian it is known as Palazzo Ducale. This building has stood for centuries but in a few different forms (many important buildings, both in Italy and Europe in general, underwent many stages of construction throughout the years).
Museums, an old theater, and places to examine priceless art can be found while traipsing through the romantic streets of Venice. For a side trip, consider Burano, showcasing quaint island life that is an entirely different world than Venice’s tourist attractions. It’s not exactly close to the city, but a trip to see Burano and its beautifully vibrant architecture will be well worth your time. In some ways it doesn’t seem to belong to the rest of Italy. Remember to find out when the gondolas run if you do plan to use some of your time in Venice to experience this. Venice is not a place to visit if you only have a few hours; try to spend as much time as possible in this fascinating place.
Rome: Antiquity and Tradition
Italy is a great place to find art, antiquities, and amazing ruins. A trip to Rome can both excite and overwhelm the senses; planning carefully and having an itinerary helps when visiting such a huge and exciting city. Nearly every traveler-to-be dreams of seeing the Coliseum at least once in their lifetime, so if this is important to you, make it a top priority. The ancient history of the Coliseum began thousands of years ago in the times of the Roman Empire, when Rome was a formidable force. Countless amusements of all kinds were held here throughout the ages, although modern man may not call fighting to the death an “amusement.” Rome was once the ruler of the the world, and for good reason; their strength could not be matched.
Make sure to keep an eye out for the ruins of the Roman Forum and various temples; the few pillars left standing make an eerie backdrop. Among the antiquities to be seen are the Temple of Saturn (a Roman god), Temple of Vespasian and Titus (ancient emperors), and the Arch of Septimius Severus. The Pantheon, built to honor the Roman deities, is a wonder spanning many centuries. If religious history is your thing, don’t expect to be disappointed; from the glorious St. Peter’s Cathedral to the catacombs where early Christians once hid from Roman soldiers, this is a very spiritual place. It is the world headquarters of the Catholic Church. Rome (or Roma, as natives refer to it) is considered by some to be one of the most important places in the world. Italy is a hugely popular tourist country, so be prepared for *lots* of company when traveling. Everyone else will probably have the exact same destinations in mind.
The Renaissance Beauty of Florence
Perhaps it is not thought of as a tourist destination as much as its Italian counterparts, but Florence has much to offer. Your first historical and architectural stop should be Florence’s Duomo, or Dome, which is part of the gilded cathedral. Like Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica, it was not built overnight, but constructed and reconstructed over the years until it reached its current appearance. Its red roof lends an air of antiquity; archeology and artwork show that many old Roman houses had roofs similar to this. The cathedral’s official name is Santa Maria del Fiore. Those studying the city will most likely read about the Medici family that once held high court in Florence. In 1478 one of the Medici’s, Giuliano, was killed inside this very church.
For prospective tourists to Florence (or Fiorenze) who can’t imagine visiting Italy without seeing an art gallery, don’t miss the Uffizi Gallery, where famous renditions are displayed for the art lover’s appreciation. Check out the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge whose forebear was constructed by Romans. The current bridge was built during the 1300s and it is one of the best places in Florence to stop and reflect on the city’s unique history. If you’re interested in La Famiglia Medici (the Medici family) stop by the Palazzo Medici’Riccardi, once their family home and a great piece of architecture. Florence showcases Renaissance Italy at its best.
Pisa: Quintessential Italy
We’ve covered Italy’s big, well-known cities; now let’s look at a few that are minimally famous but have much more to explore than is generally known. Logically, the first stop should be the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Let’s start by busting a myth: the builders of the tower *did not* make it that way on purpose, as experts have decided. Many believe it actually leaned while it was being built and nothing permanent could be done to make it stop its motion. The tower is not an architectural piece on its own, but was built as part of a nearby church in the 1100s.
The cathedral and tower are located in an area called Campo dei Miracoli, which has a sort of flea market air with small stores, marketplaces, and all kinds of things to buy. Stop by to find that perfect souvenir for yourself or someone who wishes *they* could have come to Italy. There are other churches to visit besides the cathedral. Some beautiful photo opportunities await at the picturesque Santa Maria della Spina. Located near the Arno River, the church was originally built in the 1200s and 1300s but redone only a few centuries ago. Check out rates and hours before arriving as certain restrictions apply.
What must you eat in Italy? Italian food, of course! What better place to eat pizza than in Pisa? I would not suggest sitting underneath the Leaning Tower while eating, because that would probably be a very uncomfortable feeling! This suggestion doesn’t just apply to Pisa; lasagna, cavatini, spaghetti, pizza, rotini, etc., are all great Italian foods. I highly suggest eating at least one traditional meal while in Italy and really getting into the spirit of the country.
Medieval Splendor in Siena
You might ask where exactly is Siena, and what is it known for? Like Florence, Siena is part of the visually stirring region of Italy known as Tuscany. Perhaps the most famous person associated with the city is St. Catherine of Siena, who died in 1380. One of the first buildings to seek out while visiting is the old City Hall, built around St. Catherine’s time in the 1300s. The simple but yet elegant block-like exterior rests next to a tower that resembles Venice’s famous tower uncannily. The many archways and windows will make some great photos.
For some religious journeys, consider seeing Basilica di San Domenico (where St. Catherine’s actual head is said to be displayed), Siena Cathedral, Basilica di San Francesco, and Santa Maria dei Servi. To anyone who considers themself a connoisseur of creepy things, Santa Maria dei Servi will satisfy those longings due to its penchant for showing off people who have been dead for quite a long time. To visit the actual place where St. Catherine is said to have lived, stop by Casa di Santa Caterina. Remember that places will probably be described in Italian, so it’s helpful to help an Italy map or translator with you while traveling not only Siena but Italy in general.
Want to see more medieval architecture? Mangia Tower was also built in the 1300s. You’ll be able to explore art in the display that is situated in the tower. Natural beauty is abundant; both Siena and its surrounding fields and acres provide a stunning image. Some of the orchards for which Tuscany is known can be found here.
Only five destinations have been covered, but Italy is a terrific country that has both small villages and huge cities, depending on personal preference. The blend of history, culture, entertainment, and beauty is a stunning reason to visit. For anyone wishing to travel the world, Italy should never be forgotten.