Astonishingly beautiful, Venice is the Veneto’s best-known and best loved city, closely followed by romantic Verona. But for those who are looking for a more authentic experience, the smaller cities of Padua and Vicenza are packed full of extraordinary art and architecture and refreshingly tourist-free. We’ve asked local guide, Monica Zulian, to give us an insight into these two very special cities.
The history of Padua
‘I always start my tours at Antenor’s Tomb which is said to contain the remains of the city’s mythical founder. Padua claims to be the oldest city in northern Italy, founded, according to Virgil’s Aeneid, in 1183 BC by the Trojan prince Antenor who departed from Troy with Aeneas.
Padua – a living city
Parks, gardens, arcaded streets and Renaissance squares all vie for attention in the city. Everyday life centres around the medieval market squares of Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta, both at their most beautiful in early morning and just two of the numerous piazzas that characterise the historic centre of Padua. A visit to the neighbouring medieval Palazzo della Ragione is a must, both for the food stalls on the ground floor and the magnificent frescoed great hall on the upper floor.
Palazzo della Ragione
The university of Padua
The city’s university is the second-oldest in Italy and home to the world’s oldest anatomy theatre. It was here that Galileo taught maths and physics. Pause for a caffeine fix in the Café Pedrocchi then take a stroll through the university’s botanical garden which has been in continuous use since its creation in 1545. The UNESCO world heritage gardens have several rare plant collections and an ongoing programme of scientific research.
Giotto and art in Padua
Padua’s star attraction and one of the few places in the city where you are likely to feel the presence of other tourists, is the extraordinary Scrovegni Chapel where Giotto’s frescoes depict scenes from the New Testament. You can get a better idea of his influence on future generations of artists at the Battistero and the Basilica of Sant’Antonio.
Vicenza and Palladio
Sitting right in the centre of the Veneto region, Vicenza is full of surprises. This is the home of Andrea Palladio, one of the most influential architects of western Europe and the source of much inspiration for centuries to come. The city and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.
Any visit to Vicenza must start on the Corso Andrea Palladio, formerly the ancient Decumano Massimo, the principle street of any Roman town. Stroll past the string of magnificent Renaissance palaces that were once the homes of the local powerful nobility and continue on to Vicenza’s main square, the Piazza dei Signori. Dominated by the Basilica Palladiana, this is the site of the city’s twice-weekly market.
Vicenza’s art and architecture
The Palazzo Chiericati, Palazo Thiene, Palazzo Barbaran Da Porto, the Basilica and the Loggia del Capitaniato are just some of Palladio’s legacy. Palladio’s final work was the 16th century Teatro Olimpico which was actually completed by fellow architect, Scamozzi. Reminiscent of an ancient Roman theatre, the original stage set, an idealised city of Thebes, was designed for the opening night and subsequently retained. The theatre is one of Europe’s oldest indoor theatres and still used for performances in the Spring and Autumn.
Vicenza’s art extends beyond Palladio and there are paintings by Giovanni Bellini, Paolo Veronese and Giovan Battista Tiepolo.
Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza
Venetian countryside villas
Many of the lavish villas in the countryside around Vicenza were designed by Palladio with the Villa Rotonda and the Villa Barbaro (also known as the Villa di Maser) being amongst the most celebrated of the villas. However, the landscape across the Veneto is dotted with thousands more magnificent villas designed by other architects.’
Our guide in the Veneto: Monica Zulian is a ‘local’ guide in the true sense of the word, having lived in Vicenza all her life. Fluent in Italian, English and French, she has been a certified tourist guide since 1992. Equally passionate about history of art and the Veneto, she loves being able to share these two interests with her small private tour groups.
With the exception of the Scrovegni Chapel, all museums and galleries are closed on Mondays.
Tickets to the Scrovegni Chapel cost €13 with reduced prices for children, students and over-65’s.
There are two Padova Cards – 48/72 hours, costing €16/21 respectively, which allow free entry to local sights, free use of bus and trams and reduced entrance tickets on a selection of tours such as boat tours along the Brenta River.
All museums and galleries are closed on Mondays.
Single tickets to the Teatro Olimpico cost €11 while the Biglietto Unico Museum Card, which allows entry to up to 8 collections and museums in Vicenza, including the Teatro Olimpico, cost €15.
Opening times and entry prices for the Venetian countryside villas vary but entry tickets are in the region of €7-10. Most of the villas are best accessed by car or on an organised tour with the exception of Villa La Rotonda and Villa Ai Nani which are close enough to visit by taxi.