I was on business in northern Italy and found myself with a couple available hours in the city of Vicenza, about an hour's drive west of Venice. I hopped a bus downtown right before sundown and gave the city a very quick look, only to discover that the city was really big and I probably only hit half the highlights. As I expect to do more business in northern Italy in future, I hope to get another crack at this city, but at least I can introduce it here.
In short, it was fabulous -- everything I love about Italian cities (but that are too far away for me to visit regularly). The gorgeous architecture, the massive piazzas, the great food, and the passionate people. Plenty enough for me to say that I haven't done enough of Italy lately.
Vicenza sits near the confluence of two winding rivers -- one being the Bacchiglione (refer to first photo) that winds through the part of downtown where I visited. The banks were bounded with walls that seemed unusually high, indicative perhaps of past flooding problems. This river didn't seem channeled, it appeared like the original course was maintained. The building in the first photo at center right is of the Italian Red Cross, which is in miniature the very type of architecture I found to be common -- the squarish shape with tall windows and intricate decor. Only thing missing was the pillars.
The second photo includes the pillars... on an even more elaborate example of the same idea. This is the Civic Museum (Museum Civico), located on a square not far from the Red Cross building. Behind me was an old stone castle with a massive red square red brick tower and the Teatro Olympico, a very old theater whose front entrance was such a patchwork of rocks and bricks that is obviously had been repaired multiple times over the years!
This square sat on the highest part of town and began the pedestrian district, and as I ventured toward the center, the cobblestone roadways descended rapidly, connecting together several piazzas built on level ground. Most of the roadways were lined with outdoor cafés and restaurants, but as this was a weeknight they were not too terribly busy (or, it was just too early -- Italians tend to eat dinner much later than Americans).
The third photo shows the main piazza, dominated by the beautiful Basilica di Vicenza. It's signature red brick tower struck me as so out of place, to be honest. I thought it clashed with the beautiful array of Roman Colisseum-style white pillars the the two tall columns at the end of the piazza. Just off the left of the photo was the Loggia de Capitano, a white-pillared red-brick structure that appeared to be all that remained of a larger building. The left "half" of it was now a tiled outdoor cafe fronting a very modern storefront.
I recalled that classic-style sculptures of famous people were abundant in Italian cities, and Vicenza was definitely no exception. For example, the fourth photo shows a statue of Andrea Palladio, in a classic Roman pose atop a worthy pedestal. This statue graced one of the squares near the Basilica, and beyond the two gentlemen in red was a café. Similar statues fronted the Teatro Olympico and the Dom, each seemingly constructed in different eras but with little variation to the basic idea.
Vicenzas churches varied in materials, persumably due to reconstruction over the years, but they too were fairly uniform -- boxy, simple, with a tall straight steeple separate from the building (like the red brick one of the Basilica) and a single intricate round stained glass window above the doors. The Stanga located near the bus stop where my journey began was probably close to original, made of white-painted concrete that has been soiled to gray over the years. The Santa Corona on high ground downtown was almost identical in structure but completely remade in red brick. Others, like one near the Piazza that I was unable to identify, was a mix of red brick base with a newly renovated brilliant white facade. Even the Cathedral (Dom) varied little.
As the fifth photo suggests, I had just about lost all sunlight by the time I had ventured to the river basin. At least I was able to get a decent shot of the Vista del Ponti, a beautiful old stone bridge that looked positively romantic under the lights. I was standing on another old stone bridge when I took the shot. Behind me was a café built over a bend the river with a fantastic view.
I have heard many times that one always gets a good meal in Italy, and my own experiences support that notion. I ate at a classic Italian family pizzeria, and it was a time to savor. Real Italian pizza is much different from the states. They are served as individual pizzas, not precut, so you eat it with a fork and knife. The crusts in northern Italy tend to be thinner (while southern pizzas are more breadlink), and not overloaded with toppings, but they are nowhere near as greasy as some American pizzas. It was always better to order the house wine in Italian restaurants, because Italians take great pride in them. The house wine is chosen specifically by the restaurant curator from the local vineyards, so it is always high quality. Also, whereas Americans will tend to have pizza as an entire meal, Italians treat it as just a course -- I started with a lovely salat caprese (salad of tomatoes and buffalo mozzerella, mmmmmm), although ordinarily Italians eat salad at the end of the meal, not the beginning.
I wasn't in Vicenza very long, but long enough to say I was glad to be there, and to hope I get a chance to return. There's plenty enough there for a return trip -- I didn't visit the opposite side of the river that has the city's castles, nor did I venture to any of the outskirts. Let's hope I get that chance.
Trip taken 16 April 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin