Six greatest churches of Italy (and four more)

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

This article lists the greatest churches of 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.

1. Florence Cathedral

Florence Cathedral in the night, Italy
Florence Cathedral in the night / M.Obal, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Where it is? 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 it’s amazing technical innovations were not surpassed for centuries. It’s giant dome is covered with one of world’s largest frescoes and the giant, polychrome facade very unusual.

2. Saint Mark’s Basilica

Saint Mark's Basilica, Venice
Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice / Caitriana Nicholson, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Where it is? 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 the Byzantine architecture. It contains unusual and absolutely unique values of art, such as Triumphal Quadriga – four bronze horses, a masterpiece of the Ancient Roman sculpture. 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…

3. Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral / Florian Pag, / CC BY 2.0
Where it is? Italy, Lombardia, Milan
When was it built? 1386 – 1965
Why is it great? Such judgements 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.”

4. Siena Cathedral of Santa Maria

West facade of Siena Cathedral, Italy
West facade of Siena Cathedral / Myrabella, / CC BY-SA 3.0
Where it is? 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 which 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.

5. Orvieto Cathedral

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

6. Assisi Basilica (Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi)

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, facade of the Upper Church
Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, facade of the Upper Church / Blackcat, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Where it is? 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 modernised Europe through the efforts of Saint Francis of Assisi. Building contains two churches with beautiful interiors.

Map, greatest churches of Italy

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Milan Cathedral: 45.464222, 9.190787
Orvieto Cathedral: 42.716973, 12.113346
Florence Cathedral: 43.773125, 11.256090
Basilica of San Francesco d\'Assisi: 43.074778, 12.605797
Siena Cathedral of Santa Maria: 43.317633, 11.328895
Saint Mark\'s Basilica: 45.434528, 12.339762
Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua: 45.401461, 11.880988
Pisa Cathedral: 43.723271, 10.395852
Santa Maria della Salute, Venice: 45.430704, 12.334760
Archbasilica of St. John Lateran: 41.885872, 12.505837

Some other great churches

This list does not include St. Peter’s Basilica because this outstanding structure is in another country: Vatican. But there are quite a lot more churches of Italy which are outstanding and have special role in the history of art and architecture. Four of such churches are:

7. Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Rome
Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Rome / Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
Where it is? Italy, Lazio, Rome
When was it built? Around 312 – 1735
Why is it great? This had to be the greatest church of all times. 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 with beautiful art indeed!!!

8. Pisa Cathedral

Pisa Cathedral. Italy
Pisa Cathedral / Larry Koester, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Where it is? 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.

9. Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua

Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua
Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua / joergens.mi, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Where it is? 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 millions of pilgrims come here to look for dear things which they have lost.

10. Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
Santa Maria della Salute, Venice / unknown, pxhere / public domain
Where it is? Italy, Veneto, Venice
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 the Baroque architecture, it houses a wonderful collection of art by Titian and other great painters of Renaissance and, after all, it has its own story. Please, read it!

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