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Top 10 most beautiful churches of Italy

Santa Maria della Salute in the skyline of Venice
Santa Maria della Salute in the skyline of Venice / Murray Foubister, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

WorldBlue  In short

Italy has been the powerhouse of European art and architecture. Here are located many of the world’s most beautiful buildings that have been replicated and copied all around the world.

This article lists the greatest churches in Italy. In this country are hundreds of very interesting cathedrals and other churches – with unusual and beautiful architecture, with great works of art and with an exciting history which sometimes is 2 thousand years long. Nevertheless, six churches are just outstanding and, at least in Wondermondo’s view, stand above all others in Italy. And… then there are four more which are almost as great!

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WorldViolet List of the 10 most beautiful churches of Italy


Florence Cathedral

7.7 out of 10 stars 76.9%

Italy, Tuscany, Florence

When was it built? 1296 – 1469 (facade – 1887)

Why is it great? Few buildings in the world have had such importance for the development of architecture and engineering as Florence Cathedral. This wonder of Gothic and Renaissance architecture was the largest building in medieval Europe and its amazing technical innovations were not surpassed for centuries. Its giant dome is covered with one of the world’s largest frescoes and the giant, polychrome facade is very unusual.

Florence Cathedral in the night, Italy
Florence Cathedral in the night / M.Obal, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Saint Mark’s Basilica

7.6 out of 10 stars 75.7%

Italy, Veneto, Venice

When was it built? 1063 – 1094

Why is it great? This is one of the most splendid and sumptuous structures in the world, one of the highest achievements in Byzantine architecture. It contains unusual and absolutely unique values of art, such as the Triumphal Quadriga – four bronze horses, a masterpiece of Ancient Roman sculpture. The interior of the giant basilica is adorned with golden mosaics and countless works of art made by Veronese, Titian, Tintoretto, and many other art geniuses. True art connoisseurs can spend an eternity here and still find something new and unexpected…

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

Milan Cathedral

7.2 out of 10 stars 71.7%

Italy, Lombardia, Milan

When was it built? 1386 – 1965

Why is it great? Such judgments are subjective – but Milan Cathedral could be the most beautiful Gothic structure in the world. It has extremely tall Gothic vaults – 45 m tall. In spite of the long construction time, the style has been maintained. Cathedral is adorned with 3400 statues. Mark Twain wrote: “I cannot understand how it (Milan Cathedral) can be second to anything made by human hands.”

Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral / Florian Pag, / CC BY 2.0

Siena Cathedral of Santa Maria

6.1 out of 10 stars 60.5%

Italy, Tuscany, Siena

When was it built? 1229 – 1263

Why is it great? The facade and the whole exterior of this Romanesque and Gothic Cathedral have outstanding ornamentation, it is unusual and at the same time harmonious. Cathedral has a rich collection of art that would make any museum in the world proud: here are works by Michelangelo, Bernini, Donatelli, Pisano, and many other outstanding Renaissance artists. Especially beautiful is the pavement in the cathedral.

Siena Cathedral, Italy
Siena Cathedral / Bas Wallet, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pisa Cathedral

5.7 out of 10 stars 56.8%

Italy, Tuscany, Pisa

When was it built? 1063 – 1092

Why is it great? The Leaning Tower of Pisa in a way is just a part of touristic pop culture (no, it is great indeed!). But the real thing in Pisa is Pisa Cathedral – gorgeous, graceful, and rich with outstanding art values.

Pisa Cathedral. Italy
Pisa Cathedral / Larry Koester, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Assisi Basilica (Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi)

5.5 out of 10 stars 54.8%

Italy, Umbria, Assisi

When was it built? 1228 – 1253

Why is it great? One of the most important churches in the world, celebrating the rebirth of Christianity in a modernized Europe through the efforts of Saint Francis of Assisi. The building contains two churches with beautiful interiors.

San Francisco cable car
San Francisco cable car. / Bernard Spragg. NZ, Flickr / public domain

Orvieto Cathedral

5.5 out of 10 stars 54.5%

Italy, Umbria, Orvieto

When was it built? 1290 – 1591

Why is it great? This is one of the most impressive Gothic structures in the world – extremely ornate and at the same time pleasable.

Facade of Orvieto Cathedral, Italy
Facade of Orvieto Cathedral / H.P.Schaefer, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

5.2 out of 10 stars 51.9%

Italy, Tuscany, Florence

When was it built? 1631 – 1687

Why is it great? The most recent church of all in this list – but what a beauty! This highly original structure started a new direction in Baroque architecture, it houses a wonderful collection of art by Titian and other great painters of the Renaissance, and, after all, it has its own story. Please, read it!

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
Santa Maria della Salute, Venice / unknown, pxhere / public domain

Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

5.2 out of 10 stars 51.8%

Italy, Lazio, Rome

When was it built? Around 312 – 1735

Why is it great? This had to be the greatest church of all time. But history was cruel – over the incredible 1700 years long history this church was demolished, burned, and just abandoned. It was rebuilt, extended, and changed almost beyond recognition. It got a bitter rival and now is overshadowed by the nearby St. Peter’s Basilica. Nevertheless, formally no other church is as important as this one. And, yes, it is gorgeous and full of beautiful art indeed!

Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Rome
Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Rome / Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua

4.9 out of 10 stars 48.8%

Italy, Veneto, Padua

When was it built? 1232 (?) – 1310

Why is it great? This enormous and unusual church is serious and has weird, macabre relics. But at the same time, it embodies hope – every year some 5 million pilgrims come here to look for dear things which they have lost.

Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua
Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua / joergens.mi, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

WorldYellow Recommended books

The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories

Between 1650 and 1750, four Catholic churches were the best solar observatories in the world. Built to fix an unquestionable date for Easter, they also housed instruments that threw light on the disputed geometry of the solar system, and so, within sight of the altar, subverted Church doctrine about the order of the universe.

The Secret Language of Churches & Cathedrals: Decoding the Sacred Symbolism of Christianity’s Holy Buildings

Thanks to books and films like The Da Vinci Code and its sequel, Angels and Demons, interest in secret religious symbols has never been greater. This carefully researched guide takes the reader into some of the world’s most famous churches, decoding messages that are hidden in plain sight-in stained-glass windows, statuary, patterned flooring, ornamentation, and even the buildings’ architectural design: Why do fierce beasts and grotesque faces peer from the walls?

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