All About Italy
Italy is the heartland of the ancient Roman Empire, the birthplace of the Renaissance, and the seat of the Catholic church, a repository of some of the greatest cultural treasures of human history. It’s almost impossible to compile even a short-list of Italy’s highlights. Do we start in Rome, the city of the Caesars and the Pope?
The era of gladiators and togaed emperors resonates through the Colosseum, Pantheon, and ancient Roman Forum, and the rest of Rome is filled with museums and churches packed with works by the greatest names in the history of art—just inside Bernini’s gargantuan St. Peter’s basilica is the Pietà carved by a 19-year old Michelangelo, who later returned to paint the ceiling of the neighboring Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. But Rome is so much more than just the sights. Its bustling streets are lively with trattorie and cafes and fashionable boutiques past which everybody strolls during the collective evening passeggiata.
Or do we start in Florence, where cobblestone tangle of medieval streets seems little changed since Dante’s era, and where paintings by Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da VInci, Botticelli, Giotto, and many more all battle for wall space in the museums, and where the local art school keeps Michelangelo’s David in a rotunda for inspiration and Brunelleschi’s mighty cathedral dome dominates the skyline?
Perhaps we begin in the medieval maritime republic of Venice, one of the world’s most remarkable cities, comprised of hundreds of tiny islands linked by footbridges, threaded by canals rather than roads, its churches and palaces decorated by Titian and Tintoretto, and the entire glorious, decorative bulk of it slowly sinking under the weight of thousands of Gothic stone palazzi.
We still haven’t even gotten to the Leaning tower of Pisa, Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan, the medieval hilltowns and world-class vineyards of Tuscany and Piemonte, the ancient Roman ghost towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum around the bay from pizza-obsessed Naples, the lake district of Lombardy, the baroque towns of Sicily, the resorts of the Italian Riviera, the hiking trails of the Cinque Terre, the ski villages of the Alps and the Dolomites—not to mention Bologna, Verona, Padua, Genoa, Palermo, Ravenna, Bari, Turin, and a dozen other cities so jam-packed with art, history, and cultural icons that they would be, in any other country, the most famous place in all the land… if that land weren’t the amazing, incredible embarrassment of riches that is Italy.
When to Go to Italy: Italy has Mediterranean climate—though, as a long peninsula, it varies from the hot summer in the south to snowbound winters in the Alps to the north. Most folks visit Italy between spring and fall; summer can be a bit too hot, and certainly very crowded.