Off the beaten path: Vicenza, Italy
Most people who are planning a trip to Italy are told by friends or travel agents they must visit Rome, Florence and Venice before going off and exploring new towns. No doubt these “Big Three” are among the most stunning and awe-inspiring cities in Italy and the world, but people should learn to disobey.
I am not saying that an itinerary focused on these famous cities is bad – we all do need our pictures taken beside the Coliseum, David and a gondola. Instead I urge travelers to be willing to step onto the road less traveled by, even if it is just for a couple of hours, in order to see an Italy that is not being taken advantage.
Vicenza is a perfect example of this size of city, and yet not a spot frequented by tourists. It is located in the Veneto region of Italy and situated about an hour west of Venice. Many people fail to realize that a city that is not world-famous can be beautiful all the same. In fact, the City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Why? Because Vicenza is the home of some of the most beautiful architectural and cultural sites in the world that seem to be overlooked by the general public.
If I were to ask you where the world’s earliest remaining indoor theater and stage set were, what would your answer be?
My guess is Paris, London or maybe even Rome, but would you ever guess Vicenza? The Teatro Olimpico located on the eastern end of Vicenza’s downtown area can not only claim that it is the first modern theater in the world, but also that it was designed by Andrea Palladio, which many consider the most influential architect in Western culture.
This man’s influence actually extends all the way across the Atlantic, as several of America’s famous structures take elements from the famous Vicentine. For example the United States Capitol building has plenty of Palladian influence and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is significantly inspired by Palladio’s La Rotonda.
It would be safe to say that most of Vicenza’s beauty can be attributed to this 16th century Renaissance draftsman, considering that most of the important buildings in the city were either partially or entirely drawn up by Palladio. As a matter of fact, Vicenza’s main downtown street is even named Corso Palladio.
For any visitor to Vicenza, it is imperative to see, at the very least, the Teatro Olimpico, walk down Corso Palladio (done best with a gelato in hand) and visit Piazza dei Segnori, which is the town’s main square.
Although La Rotonda is a little bit further from downtown, it is definitely worth driving, biking or walking over to see it sitting atop its green hill alone, surrounded only by trees.
If a visitor is really looking to spend time in Vicenza, my next suggestion would be to take a short hike up to the top of Monte Berico. The peak of this large hill that looks over Vicenza is home to a the Santuario della Madonna di Monte Berico, a church dedicated to the patron saint of Vicenza. As the legend says, the Virgin Mary appeared on this hill and ordered the construction of this church in return for curing Vicenza from the plague.
Not only is the church itself beautiful, but so is the view of Vicenza. Also on Monte Berico, on one of the main approaches, there is a very long flight of stairs, where people would fulfill their penitential duties by going up and down on their knees.
Another beautiful thing about Vicenza is that not only is the architecture great, but so are the people. Since Vicenza is not overwhelmed by tourists the way other cities are, the locals are very friendly towards foreigners. If you walk into any Vicenza bar (which is actually more of a coffee shop), you will be pleased to find somebody such as Dario, the jovial barista at the “Snack Bar Snoopy” (which is very Italian despite the name).
So next time that you are visiting Italy and are on the highway either to or from Venice, take a few hours out of your trip and visit Vicenza. It actually does not even matter if you visit Vicenza or some other town, as long as you step out of the ordinary and explore.
Alex Cuadrado is a local high school student who is currently in Vicenza, Italy as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. To follow his experience visit
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