When you think of Italy, the rich history and culture will immediately come to your mind. It has made a lasting impression on the western culture through its antiquity, renaissance and modernity. Many of these marks are still visible today thanks to incredible conservation efforts.
It would be impossible to plan a trip to Italy without visiting some historical sites. But how do you choose the right starting point? We recommend that you start by looking at this list of our favourite historical places in Italy. Discover the soul and heart of Italy at these ten fascinating locations.
1. Saint Mark’s Basilica
Saint Mark’s Basilica was built in 9th century to house the tomb of Saint Mark. It was the city’s private chapel for hundreds of years until it became the official Venice cathedral. It was destroyed in a fire in 932, and today, the rebuilt basilica is still standing, with its Byzantine domes intact and marble exteriors.
The Basilica is known for its complex design, its 8000-square-metre mosaics and its magnificent domes. Cupola of the Prophets, a dome that houses a gold altarpiece with more than 2000 gemstones, is the most well-known. This spectacular can be viewed best from the main altar of the church, where St Mark’s Sarcophagus is kept.
While Pompeii is well-known, you may not be familiar with Herculaneum. This was the second city that was buried in the ashes of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79AD. Herculaneum is actually better preserved than its larger counterpart. It was attacked before Pompeii and its inhabitants were able to flee immediately. Many bodies have been preserved in this area for many centuries.
You can still find the town’s baths, temples, houses, and taverns at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. This gives you a real feeling of the splendor of this once wealthy city. It is possible to still see the details of some of the most beautiful villas that overlook the sea, including doors and beds.
3. Area Sacra di Largo Argentina
The Area Sacra di Largo Argentina was discovered by a group of people who attempted to build a new building. These four temples were constructed in the 3rd Century B.C. They are located right next to the theatre and Curia de Pompey, where Julius Caesar was murdered.
No one knows the names of these temples. They’ve been renamed Temples A, B and C. Tourists and locals love the temples’ hundreds of cats. When the temples are illuminated at night with golden lights, they cast interesting shadows.
Poseidonia was once a small town just south of the Amalfi Coast. It was named after the Greek sea god Poseidon. It was settled in 6th century. However, it fell under Roman control, and was renamed Paestum. Today, Paestum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes three of the most well-preserved ancient Greek temples.
As the Roman empire fell, Paestum’s inhabitants fled their homes due to frequent malaria attacks and Saracen raids on the city. The majority of the city that was once there is now buried under Italian farmland. Its ancient walls and an archaeological zone in its middle are still visible to the public. This tells the story of Poseidonia’s long-lost grandeur.
5. Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral is the fourth-largest cathedral in the world. It was once called the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, in honor of the saint. This great gothic church was built on the site of the former Santa Reparata church. These remains can still be seen in the crypt. The iconic dome was not completed until after two hundred years of construction.
Two statues are located outside the cathedral that honor the two architects of the Cathedral, Filippo Brunelleschi and Arnolfo Di Cambio. They admire the exteriors of the pink, green and white marble. The 1443 clock, which is located in the church’s entry halls, can be seen just beyond them. It tells the time according to the oraitalica and its 24-hour days end at sunset.
6. Pianosa Island
Pianosa Island is a relic of past times. Only 400 people can visit the island each day due to conservation efforts. So, if you have the opportunity, consider yourself lucky! Although Pianosa was settled many times in its history, it is now almost abandoned. The island is home to only a few people, and the amazing wildlife that it supports.
This wasn’t always true. There are also remains of a Roman town on Pianosa and evidence that there were several fishing colonies here. Napoleon, a great fan of pirates, has visited the island. The island was also used as a military stronghold until recently. Although the prison was closed in 1998, some paroled prisoners remain on the island and run the museum and small restaurant for tourists.
7. Villa d’Este
Villa d’Este, which you might describe as the “piece de resistance” of Tivoli’s beautiful town just outside of Rome, is Villa d’Este. The 16th-century town governor transformed what was once a Franciscan monastery into a stunning example of Renaissance architecture. It is currently a museum, and has been awarded a place on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.
The Villa’s interiors have beautiful frescoes covering its ceilings and walls. But nothing can beat the view from the garden below. With over 500 fountains and sculptures, Villa Este’s gardens is truly breathtaking. One of these gardens had a water organ that was installed in 1571 and still plays. As if that wasn’t enough, the gardens also have a waterfall.
8. Botanical Garden in Padua
In Padua, the first world-class botanical gardens were created in 1545. It was composed of a central circular area representing the earth and surrounded by a circle of water. This layout is unchanged with some practical modifications. These botanical gardens have remained a university research centre throughout the centuries.
Botanical science was first developed in Padua gardens. They laid the foundation for the long-standing tradition of scientific exchanges, understanding the relationship between culture and nature. The Padua Botanical Gardens is renowned for its ability to collect and cultivate rare plants. There are over 6,000 species. Their library, which contains more than 50,000 scientific books, is also a major asset.
9. Duomo di Milano
Milan’s great gothic cathedral is the most popular spot. It can accommodate up to 40,000 people. It was built in 1386 to modernize the region after Gian Galeazzo Viconti took power. The masterpiece took five centuries to complete, despite this. It was built by many artists, architects and sculptors who combined the Gothic and Romanesque styles.
The Duomo di Milano’s roof is covered in beautiful pink and white marble. Only the pinnacles and spires that decorate the roof are more impressive. You can also admire the sculptures on the roof terrace, which is open to tourists.
10. Santa Maria delle Grazie and The Last Supper
Another outstanding example of Milanese architecture is the Church and Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It was originally built in 1463. However, it was reworked by Bramante in the 15th century. Bramante is widely considered to be one of the greatest Renaissance masters. This emblem of Catholic tradition was not included on the UNESCO list because it is an architectural marvel.
On the wester wall of the church’s refectory is Leonardo da Vinci’s monumental fresco, “The Last Supper”, which was painted between 1496 and 1497. The public can view the fresco, which is a unique symbol of human creativity. However, this didn’t seem possible at all. The church’s site was hit by Allied bombing in 1943, but miraculously “The Last Supper” saved it.