This is our last touring day in Italy. Tommorrow Boris will head out to look at WWII battle sites and I will take a “staycation”and enjoy our villa for the day (mostly the pool). We lost a day with the plane delay and there was some debate over what to visit today. I had picked Lake Garda for yesterday so I really wanted Boris to choose the day’s adventure. Although he had been to Vicenza on the train before, he thought I would love it and he wanted to see a few things he had missed so Vicenza was his selection.
The drive to the A4 (autostrada) was good practice for our return trip to Venice. When on the autostrada, don’t even think of driving in the left lane unless you intend to go fast-I mean very fast. With three lanes of traffic in each direction on the autostrada, European motorists are very good about only using the left lane for passing. There are also no trucks in this lane.
I thought we were going to the historical center so was a bit confused with the directions SURI and Boris were giving me. In Italian cities, follow the black and white signs with “CENTRO” and a target on them to reach the historical center of town. Boris had another idea for our first stop, a beautiful hilltop church with an adjoining plaza with sweeping views of the city. We missed the plaza on the way up-it is on the right just across from the front door to the church. There is plenty of parking in the plaza; we just didn’t realize that until we passed it and came back up.
On his previous visit to the city, Boris had not ventured up here since he was without a car. It would have been quite a climb on foot. I bet there are plenty of buses that would get you up here if you traveling without a car. Vicenza is on the main train line so it is an easy place to visit without a car.
We went inside. There were a few tourists in the church, but most of the patrons were there for confession. It is Saturday. The church was gorgeous inside. I loved all the hanging lanterns and the small heart shaped plaques on the church walls. I learned later in the gift shop where the plaques are sold, that this is a pilgrimage site and the people present the plaques and make a special request of our Lady. There are also several famous paintings in the church, but I didn’t want to disturb the faithful at prayer by taking photographs in those areas.
Leaving the sanctuary, you can walk through the Convento dei Padri Serviti. In the refectory is the restored Cena di S. Gregorio Magno, a painting stolen by French soldiers and later cut it into 32 pieces by Austrian mercenaries. The painting was later restored and placed in its present location in 1858. Leaving the refectory, you can wander through the cloisters with the original architecture and the lovely garden area seeing more of the mounted sacred medals. The gift shop with religious items is in this area and there are also views of the countryside from this side.
Leaving the convent, we viewed the exterior of the Basilica which has three identical facades and staircases leading to each one. During our visit, the front facade and the railing of the Piazzale delia Vittoria were under restoration. This new Basilica was finished in 1703. The first church on this site was built after the Virgin Mary appeared to Vincenza Pasini in 1426 and 1428 while the plague was raging through the town and promised to rid them of the plaque if a church was built on the top of the hill. The church was completed in three months. The present Basilica is on the site of that church.
To reach the Basilica, you travel up the Viale X Giugno. On your right side is the portico that makes the climb a little easier in poor weather and adds to the beauty of the site. The covered walkway, completed in 1746, is almost a half mile long. There are 150 arches in groups of ten symbolizing the 15 mysteries and 150 Hail Mary prayers of the rosary.
Our final stop before heading down to the center of the city was the huge Piazzale della Vittoria. The piazza’s cement guardrail protecting the balcony was under restoration. A small area had been left accessible and we were able to walk up and get a bird’s eye view of the city of Vicenza. The Piazzale is used as a parking lot.
SURI was unable to give us directions back into the city so we just had to wing it. We drove back the way we came and followed the signs to Centro. The walls of the ancient city are still in place. Unfortunately the signs directed us to a wall opening that was closed to traffic. We blew off the technology at our disposal and drove around until I found an entrance through the city walls.
It was a quiet day in the city and we pushed our luck in hopes of finding parking inside. We were lucky and parked next to a beautiful neogothic church, Chiesa dei Carmini not far inside the wall, just down the Corso Fogazzaro from the center of town. There is a small piazza and the former Carmelite Convent (also on the piazza) is now a school for small children.
We walked into the center of town, passing the Tempio di S. Lorenzo and the Palazzo Reta, now a bank. Reaching the main artery, the Corso A Palladio, we turned and saw the dome of the Cathedral down a side street before turning again to find the main square and the Basilica, now the symbol of Vicenza.
At the end of the piazza are two marble columns in the Venician style, one of the symbol of St. Mark and one of the Redeemer. This is the part of the plaza that was the old cereal market. There is also a huge bell tower and the unique domed Basilica designed by Andrea Palladio. ” The dome itself is in the shape of an upturned ship’s hull, and is of copper sheeting over wooden supports, and the balustrade is decorated with statues of mythological figures.” The Basilica was completed in 1617, 37 years after Palladio’s death. Unfortunately, the Basilica was not open for visitors during our visit. Ah, it must be siesta time.
I wasn’t sure if it was just the time of day or the heat, but there were really very few tourists about. It was quiet. We decided to have lunch and chose a cafe on a side street off the Piazza del Signori near the Duomo. Boris had the carne tartar, raw meat in three different varieties. (Yes, one of them was horse.) We followed that with something more humane, risotto with champagne and black truffle shavings prepared table side. Actually the risotto is prepared and then brought to the table where the champagne is added and the chef shaves the truffles as you salivate. (I have every intention of trying to replicate this at home.)
There was a large group of Italian Americans at the next table; they were in Vicenza for a wedding. They enjoyed switching back and forth between the two languages. I asked the server about the city, remarking on how quiet it was. He said that it was particularly quiet that day, but that the city is usually not that busy or loud. The walled city is large and well able to accommodate large crowds. There is ample parking in and just outside the city walls. I suspect the heat had kept some people away.
I had used my time at lunch to identify what I still wanted to see and Boris had spotted a pet store he wanted to go in. When we finished lunch the store was set to open in 15 minutes, so I wandered down to photograph the Duomo (Cathedral). The front facade is difficult to photograph as it sits right up against a narrow street. It was not open to visitors at the time.
Boris was getting tired; a carafe of wine, champagne in your risotto, and several beers can do that to you. It was also another really hot day with no cloud cover. The only thing left on my list that I didn’t want to miss was the Teatro Olimpica so we headed down that way.
You pass through a small sculpture gardens before entering the building. There is really no tour, just access to the seating area of the theater. You can stay as long as you like within the restricted area. You can not access the stage.
The theater was built between 1580 and 1584. It is one of only three Renaissance theaters still in existence. Teatro Olimpica is the oldest and the model for the other two. Like so much of this ancient city, the theater was designed by Andrea PalIadio.
In 1585, Vincenzo Scarmozzi added the stage set, the five streets of Thebes, for the first production held in the theater, Oedipus Rex. The stage set, meant to resemble long streets fading into the distance, is the oldest surviving set in the world. It is beautiful and absolutely fascinating. There are still productions held in the theater.
Leaving the theater, we made a stop at Tempio di Santa Corona the on our way back to the car. Construction on this beautiful church began in 1261 and the many renovations were obvious when you view the church from the outside. There are several famous works of art in Santa Corona. Palladio is buried in this church.
The central altar itself is a work of art with stories told in the marble inlays. The altar is lovely viewed from the front or the back. I was thrilled that I was able to get close to the choir stalls in back of the altar. The 51 stalls are set in two rows and feature buildings and still life paintings.
Boris was tired and sat in the church enjoying the views of all the wonderful altars added over time. After touring the inside and the crypt, I went out to the right side door where you could see where the chapels, all of slightly different design, had been added over time.
After Santa Corona, we walked back to the car, passing several beautiful palazzos. When we got back to Chiesa dei Carmini, the church was open so I went inside and was surprised by the beauty and the fabulous blue ceiling of this church. Returning to the car, my biggest concern was getting out of the walled city. However, by following the one-way and detour signs we made it out. Retracing our steps, we also made it back to the A4. Vicenza was the perfect place to end our Italian touring.