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Italy

Main attractions

Blue Grotto, Italy
Blue Grotto / Arpingstone, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Italy is one of the most popular destinations in world due to its unsurpassed cultural heritage - this country has got some of the finest monuments of architecture and art in world.

Natural landmarks

Stromboli, Italy
Stromboli / blucolt, Flickr, CC-BY-SA-2.0

Italy has several interesting volcanoes. Stromboli (Sicily) is on its own small island and has been erupting nearly continuously over the last 2000 years. Mount Etna (Sicily, 3329 m) is equally active and the eruptions of this volcano have caused much damage. Also of interest is the Solfatara volcanic crater (Campania) with its fumaroles and mud pools.

Cascate del Serio (Lombardy) is 315 metres high with powerful waterfalls in three cascades - the most impressive in Italy. Cascata delle Marmore (Umbria) is a man-made, powerful, 165 metre high waterfall. Grotta Cascata Varone (Trentino-Alto Adige) is a narrow gorge with a 98 metre high waterfall falling into it.

Among the most impressive caves are the Castellana Caves (Apulia) with their impressive 60 metre high vertical entrance. The deepest known underwater sinkhole - cave system is the 392 m deep Pozzo del Merro (Lazio). Grotta Gigante (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) has the largest cave hall of the world available for tourists. The beautiful effect of sunlight in water is seen in the Blue Grotto (Capri, Campania), and the huge underwater Nereo Cave (Sardinia). Grotta Ispinigoli (Sardinia) reportedly has the highest stalagmite in Europe - 38 metres. Complesso del Monte Corchia (Tuscany) is the longest cave in Italy with a length of 53 kilometres.

Unusual and impressive biotope is (an area of uniform environmental conditions providing a living place for a specific assemblage of plants and animals) Campo Imperatore (Abruzzo) - the "Little Tibet" of Europe - an enormous mountainous grassland.

Man made landmarks

Ostuni town, Italy
Ostuni town / Jelly, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Italy is the birthplace of the Etruscan and Roman civilisations of which the latter has left numerous impressive monuments. But its heritage of Renaissance and Baroque architecture is especially rich, and has left many thousands of buildings and urban planning monuments which individually would serve as a central attraction in any other country of the world. Most likely no one would be able to see them all in his or her lifetime.

Urban planning monuments

Among the countless beautiful and interesting cities and towns there are several that deserve special notice:

Venice, Grand Canal
Venice / G.Pavils, CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • Venice (Veneto) - one of the most unusual and most beautiful cities on Earth, containing an unbelievable amount of art and architecture values
  • Centre of Florence (Tuscany) - one of the most important centres in history for the development of art with numerous unique and beautiful monuments
  • San Gimignano (Tuscany) - medieval town with 14 defensive towers still standing
  • Crespi d'Adda (Lombardy) - fully realised idea of model factory town from the late 19th century
  • Centre of Siena (Tuscany) - one of the most authentic, very impressive medieval cities
  • Urbino (Marche) - small but impressive Renaissanse town, once an influential cultural centre
  • Noto (Sicily) - planned, beautiful Baroque town from the 18th century
  • Amalfi (Campania) - beautiful medieval town on beautiful, steep coast
  • Cinque Terre (Liguria) - five medieval towns set in dramatic coastal scenery
  • Pienza (Tuscany) - planned, ideal Renaissance town from the 15th century
  • Alberobello (Apulia) - picturesque town with numerous trulli - houses built in unusual technique, without mortar
  • Locorotondo and Ostuni (Apulia) - white, beautiful, dense hilltop medieval towns

Byzantine style

Saint Mark's Basilica, Italy
Saint Mark's Basilica / C.Muller CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Byzantine style has several important representatives in Italy. The Basilica of San Vitale (Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna) is one of the best examples of this style, built in 548. One of the major architecture monuments of world is Saint Mark's Basilica (Venezia, Veneto), built in 1094.

Castle of Sant'Aniceto (Calabria) is one of few remaining Byzantine fortifications in the world.

Sicily has buildings in a unique style, which is a mix of Norman, Italian and Arab influences. The Norman style unites some features of Byzantine and Romanesque styles and is a predecessor for the Gothic style. Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo, Sicily (the 9th - 12th centuries) is a palace of Sicilian kings. Another unusual palace, also in Palermo, is La Cuba (1180). Powerful expressions of the beautiful Norman-Arab architecture are Monreale Cathedral (1180s) and Cefalù Cathedral (1131) - both in Sicily.

Many numerous defensive towers built by warring families have been preserved from this time period. The most impressive, besides San Gimignano, are the Two Towers of Bologna (Emilia-Romagna).

Two Towers of Bologna, Italy
Two Towers of Bologna / Onanymous, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Romanesque style

Some of the early examples of Romanesque architecture are San Pietro in Agliate (Lombardy, 875) and the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio (Milan, Lombardy), which was rebuilt in 1099. Other notable Romanesque monuments are: Pisa Cathedral, Pisa Baptistery, the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Tuscany), Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church (Rome), Florence Baptistry (Tuscany), Modena Cathedral (Modena, Emilia-Romagna).

Gothic style

Some of the most impressive Gothic style monuments in Italy:

  • Milan Cathedral (Milan, Lombardy) - one of the most impressive buildings in world, built in 1386 - 1965
  • Siena Cathedral (Siena, Tuscany) - this beautiful building unites Romanesque and Gothic styles, built in 1215 - 1263
  • Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi (Assisi, Umbria) - Christian pilgrimage site of global importance, built in 1228 - 1253
  • Santa Maria della Spina church (Pisa, Tuscany) - small but very beautiful church, built in 1230
  • Castel del Monte (Apulia) - mysterious, impressive building resembling a fortification, built in 1240-1250
  • Doge's Palace (Venice, Veneto) - main power seat of once powerful state, unusual building built in 1309-1424
  • Orvieto Cathedral (Orvieto, Umbria) - very ornate building, built in 1290 - 1591

In this time period the Ponte Vecchhio (Florence, Tuscany), was also built. It is an unusual structure consisting of a bridge covered with numerous buildings and shops.

Renaissance style

The Renaissance style originated in Italy and this country by far has got the best examples of this style. Among the most famous ones should be mentioned:

Florence Cathedral, Italy
Florence Cathedral / M.Obal, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • Basilica di San Lorenzo (Florence, Tuscany) - one of the first Renaissance buildings, 1419 - 1480s
  • Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral, Tuscany) - one of the most impressive buildings in world, mostly in Gothic style, but seen as one of the first Renaissance buildings, 1296 - 1469
  • Palazzo Rucellai (Florence, Tuscany) - palace, in many respects a prototype for numerous future buildings, built in 1446-1451
  • Villa Capra "La Rotonda" (Vicenza, Veneto) - prototype for many thousands of villas across the world, built in 1566-1592
  • Villa d'Este (Tivoli, Lazio) - impressive villa and Renaissance garden, built in 1550-1570s
  • Palazzo Farnese (Rome, Lazio) - impressive palace, built mainly in the first half of the 16th century
  • Tempietto (Rome, Lazio) - small but harmonious and beautiful building inside San Pietro in Montorio church, built in 1502
  • Certosa di Pavia (Lombardy) - enormous, beautiful Gothic - Renaissance monastery complex, built in 1396 - 1495
  • Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan, Lombardy) - impressive church, built after 1490
  • Palazzo Medici Riccardi (Florence, Tuscany) - palace with innovative rusticated facade, built in 1445 - 1460
  • Castelbrando (Veneto) - one of the most impressive Italian castles, rebuilt in the first half of the 16th century.
Basilica of Superga, Italy
Basilica of Superga / Rollopack, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Baroque style

The Baroque style alo originated in Italy, where many of the best examples of this opulent style are located:

  • Church of the Gesu (Rome, Lazio) - one of Baroque prototype buildings replicated by Jesuits around the world, built in 1568-1580
  • Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza (Rome, Lazio) - impressive church forming a single building with Palazzo della Sapienza, built in 1642-1660
  • Palace of Caserta (Caserta, Campania) - the largest building built in Europe in the 18th century, built in 1752-1780
  • Palazzina di caccia of Stupinigi (Stupinigi, Piedmont) - enormous royal hunting lodge, the early 18th century
  • Basilica of Superga (Turin, Piedmont) - beautiful building on top of hill, built in 1717-1731

The flamboyant Sicilian Baroque style is unique. Distinctive examples are:

  • "Collegiata" in Catania (1768)
  • Cathedral of San Giorgio in Ragusa by Rosario Gagliardi
  • Cathedral of San Giorgio in Modica (1693)
  • Palazzo Villadorata in Noto (1733)
  • Villa Palagonia in Bagheria (started in 1705)
  • Church of San Benedetto in Catania (started in 1705)
  • Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi - palace with opulent interiors in Palermo (sometimes around 1780)

Later styles

Balconies of Palazzo Villadorata in Noto, Italy
Balconies of Palazzo Villadorata in Noto / sailko, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

One of the most impressive buildings from the late 19th century is the 167 metres high Mole Antonelliana (Turin, Piedmont). Highly controversial and nonetheless impressive is the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome, Lazio), 1935.

Parks and gardens

The oldest academic botanical garden of world is located in Italy - Orto Botanico di Padova (Veneto, established in 1545). Also very impressive are the Parco dei Mostri and Villa Lante gardens (Lazio) - some of the most interesting Mannerist gardens from the 16th century.

Archaeological monuments

One of the largest recent civilisations - the Roman Empire - rose up in Italy, leaving countless valuable artefacts. But there have been numerous other ancient cultures in Italy, each of which left behind interesting monuments.

Ancient sites

Val Camonica valley in Lombardia has one of the richest collections of petroglyphs in the world - up to 300 000, made in the period over 9000 - 1000 BC. Paglicci Cave (Apulia) has Paleolithic cliff paintings and numerous interesting ancient artefacts, as does the remote Grotta del Genovese (Levanzo island, Sicily).

Su Nuraxi di Barumini, Italy
Su Nuraxi di Barumini / GayGuy, Wikipedia Italia CC-BY-SA-1.0

Sardinia has more than 8000 specific megaliths - nuraghe. The most outstanding complex of these structures is Su Nuraxi di Barumini, built sometimes around 1 500 BC and Nuraghe Sant'Antine. Somewhat similar are Sesi of Pantelleria (Pantelleria island south from Sicily).

Other unusual ancient cultural monuments are the Necropolis of Pantalica (Sicily, the 13th - 7th century BC) and the prehistoric cave dwellings which are still in use - Sassi di Matera (Basilicata).

Etruscan sites

An influential local culture was the Etruscan civilisation which left such monuments as the Tumulus of Montefortini (Tuscany, 7tc c. BC), necropolis of Cerveteri (Lazio, the 9th - 2nd century BC) and necropolis of Tarquinia (Lazio) as well as the unique Tomb of the Roaring Lions (Lazio, the 7th century BC).

Greek sites

Greek colonies in Sicily have left some of the best examples of Ancient Greek architecture - such as the Valle dei Templi (at Agrigento, the 5th century BC) and the ancient city of Selinunte. On the mainland some of the most interesting ancient Greek sites are Paestum and Velia (both in Campania).

Roman sites

The Roman civilisation has left numerous diverse monuments and it is impossible to list all of the significant ones. Here one could mention:

Colosseum, interior
Colosseum, interior / Wknight94, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • Roman Forum (Rome, Lazio) - ancient centre of Roman civilisation with ruins of numerous important buildings
  • Colosseum (Rome, Lazio) - the largest Roman amphitheatre ever built, 70 - 80 AD
  • Trajan's Market (Rome, Lazio) - very impressive complex of Roman ruins
  • Pompeii (Campania) - the best preserved ancient Roman town eliminated by volcanic pyroclastic flows in 79 AD
  • Herculaneum (Campania) - Roman town eliminated by volcanic pyroclastic flows in 79 AD and thus - well preserved
  • Stabiae (Campania) - one more well preserved Roman town covered by ashes of Vesuvius
  • Hadrian's Villa (Lazio) - suburban government complex of Emperor Hadrian, the early 2nd century AD
  • Baths of Caracalla (Rome, Lazio) - complex of Roman baths, area 13 ha
  • Via Appia (starts in Rome, Lazio) - one of the most impressive Roman roads
  • Aurelian walls (Rome, Lazio) - some of the most impressive city walls in world
  • Catacombs of Rome (Rome, Lazio) - important heritage of early Christian art, the 2nd - 4th century AD

List of described attractions by regions

Italy is divided in 20 regions.

Abruzzo
Aosta Valley
Apulia
ArrowOstuni - the White CityCities and towns, Ancient cities and towns
Basilicata
Calabria
Campania
ArrowBlue Grotto in CapriCaves
ArrowGrotta dello SmeraldoCaves
Emilia-Romagna
Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Lazio (includes Rome)
ArrowPozzo del MerroSinkholes, Caves
Liguria
Lombardy
ArrowMilan CathedralChurches
Marche
Molise
Piedmont
Sardinia
Sicily
Trentino-Alto Adige
Tuscany
ArrowFlorence CathedralChurches
ArrowSiena CathedralChurches
Umbria
ArrowBasilica of San Francesco d'AssisiChurches
ArrowOrvieto CathedralChurches
Veneto
ArrowCathedral of Santa Maria and San DonatoChurches, Fossil finds

Map of Italy

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