Join us on an architectural tour of the best sites around Italy, home to the likes of centuries-old Renaissance architecture and incredible feats of engineering.
The Colosseum, Rome
Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum is a massive oval arena at the center of the Italian capital. Completed in 80 A.D., the stadium could originally hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators who gathered to watch all sorts of productions — from dramatic performances to gladiator battles. Today, you can explore the staggering ruins of this once-great amphitheater, stunning from both inside and out.
St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice
With over 500 columns and enough mosaics to cover 1.5 American football fields, this beautiful cathedral from the ninth century is a must-see for any traveler to Italy’s canaled city. The cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice is famous for its golden opulence and intricate design. Just make sure to buy your ticket ahead of time!
Leaning Tower of Pisa
A trip to Pisa is simply incomplete without a visit to its eponymous, unitentionally tilted tower. The structure, which clocks in at roughly 183 feet (56 meters) tall, owes its slant to an inadequate foundation on soft ground. Though it was slightly tilted when it was built in the 12th century, the slant increased over the years before construction efforts stabilized it in the late 1900s and early 2000s.
Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan
Famous for its glorious medieval architecture, the Basilica of Saint Ambrose was built around 385 A.D. and became the model for all of Lombardy’s Romanesque churches. Note its unusual exterior with an exceptionally large atrium and two towers, and make sure to check out the Golden Altar, which depicts the Life of Christ in gold leaf on the front and the Life of St. Ambrose in gilded silver on the back.
Milan Cathedral (Duomo)
This Gothic cathedral took almost six centuries to complete — but it was well worth the wait. The seat of the archbishop of Milan is the largest of the churches in Italy and the third largest in the world. The roof is open to tourists, so make your way to the top for a fantastic view of the surrounding landscape, as well as some close-ups of the intricate details.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the fourth largest church in the world, and the most prominent landmark in Florence. You’ll recognize it because of Brunelleschi’s Dome, the terracotta cupola added atop the cathedral during the Renaissance. The cathedral complex is located in Piazza del Duomo, along with the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile.
Brunelleschi’s Duomo, Florence
At 45 meters wide, the dome of Florence’s Cathedral is the largest masonry dome ever constructed. It was built by Filippo Brunelleschi, a Renaissance designer and engineer who had to overcome many technical issues in order to keep it standing. Today, it still reigns as the tallest structure in Florence, and can be seen from all over the city.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Located within Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica is an absolute feat of architectural genius, and a must-see for any visitor to Rome. Not only is it the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture, but St. Peter’s stands as the largest church in the world and one of the most important structures in all of Christendom.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II, Milan
When it comes to shopping complexes, few locations are as lively and extravagant as this Galleria. This 19th-century glass-ceilinged tunnel features a wide array of boutiques, bars, and restaurants, but even if you’re strapped for cash, it’s a fantastic location to simply mosey around and enjoy the ambiance. The sheer splendor of this magnificent marketplace is humbling.
Siena’s medieval duomo lies above the Piazza del Campo, a massive Gothic building housing the works of Donatello and Michelangelo. The brilliant exterior and interior is decorated in alternating stripes of white and greenish-black marble. A pass for admission is 10 euro, but it’s well worth it! Not only does each pass last for three days, but it will also grant you entry into the nearby baptistery, crypt, and Opera museum.
Header image by Tor Arne Hotvedt.