Ara Pacis Museum
The Ara Pacis Museum is an aggressive modern structure housing the Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) consecrated by the Roman Senate on January 30 in 9 BC. The 2006 museum, designed by American architect Richard Meier, was not well received in Italy or abroad, and Meier eventually agreed to modify it. His hallmark columns and expanses of glass are untouched, however, as is the richly-detailed altar they exult.
Carnevale and Mardi Gras
Venice is famous for its masked celebrations, but the seaside town of Viareggio is equally worth a visit at carnival time. Started in 1873, the Viareggio revelries now feature huge papier-mâché satirical floats that parade along the seafront promenade for five Sundays between late January and early March (dates vary). At other times of the year, projects and miniature models of the most memorable floats can be seen in a dedicated museum.
Castel Sant' Angelo
This round tower-like building began as the emperor Hadrian’s tomb, then became a castle under papal rule, then a fortress and later a prison. The name comes from the story that the Archangel Michael appeared atop the structure in 590 BC, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague. Climb to the top to appreciate superb views of Rome.
The Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina (CCCS) is part of the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation and was created as a showcase for different approaches, practices and trends in contemporary art and culture both locally and internationally. The 11-room exhibition space is located in the former cellars under the magnificent courtyard of the Palazzo.
Climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa
No visit to Italy is complete without a trip to the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa, whose construction began in 1173 but was soon interrupted because the ground was giving way, causing the tower's famous tilt. Advance ticket reservations are highly recommended, especially for visits during peak tourist seasons. The Tower is situated behind a Romanesque cathedral, also worth a visit.
Doria Pamphilj Gallery
Less well-known and an insider favorite is the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, a museum housed in a 16th-century palazzo still owned by the same noble family who built it and filled the ornate rooms with their treasures. The painting collection includes seminal works by Velázquez and Titian.
Turin's Museo Egizio is one of the earliest and most important collections of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt. The Rock Temple of Ellessiya was presented to the museum by the Egyptian government as a token of gratitude for Italian efforts to save monuments threatened by the construction of the Aswan Dam.
This a must-stop for Michelangelo's iconic David and his powerful unfinished slaves meant for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Yet most visitors fail to appreciate the museum's Gothic and Renaissance paintings and its remarkable collection of musical instruments. Late openings are usually scheduled on one or two nights weekly throughout the summer months.
Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola
Each of Genoa’s 20-plus museums bears witness to the city’s merchant and trade history and the fantastic Galleria Nazionale, which houses masterpieces by Giordano, da Messina, and Reni, is no exception.
This world-renowned museum (Venice’s largest) houses an excellent collection of pre-18th-century art, including several must-see pieces like Titian’s Pieta, Giorgione’s Tempest, and Da Vinci’s Dorsoduro.
Ipogeo dei Volumni
One of the finest Etruscan tombs in Italy. Visit the underground chamber filled with cinerary urns – an entire family clan is buried here. The tomb is decorated with carved reliefs, including Medusa heads.
Rome’s Jewish Museum first opened in 1960 next to the city’s Great and Spanish Synagogues. It showcases the traditions, religion, and history of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world through displays, objets d’art, films, and special exhibitions. After extensive refurbishing, it reopened in 2005 with active programs for research and education.
Testaccio, the former meatpacking district on the southern end of the city, is one of the edgiest of Rome's reinvented areas, home to new arrivals like the MACRO, a comprehensive collection of Italian art from the 1960s on, which opened in 2003. Its newer wing, MACRO Testaccio, opened in 2007 in an adjacent former slaughterhouse.
Located on the northern outskirts of the historic city center behind an old factory complex, Maxxi has given Rome a showstopping national venue for contemporary art. The building opened in the spring of 2010, but had become a major critical success before its official debut. Architectural critics praised Zaha Hadid’s project, a decade in the making, for its sweeping modern lines, a cantilevered, glass-fronted box at the entrance, and a series of glass-topped tunnels letting natural light into the exhibition spaces.
Museo di Palazzo Reale
The Palazzo Reale museum is worth a visit for its lavish Roccoco rooms stuffed with classical paintings, tapestries, and ceramics.
Museo Nazionale del Bargello
Originally the headquarters of the town's top magistrate and prison, the Bargello became a museum in 1865 and now houses the most comprehensive collection of Donatello’s sculptural works, plus pieces by other Renaissance greats like Cellini, Verrocchio, Giambologna, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, and Michelangelo. The ticket is a bargain and queues are not a problem. Closed 2nd and 4th Mondays. It’s a good idea to send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) in advance to book tickets and find out any changes in opening hours.
Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli opened his house to the public for the Milan National Exhibition in 1881. His eclectic collection includes paintings (and a tapestry!) by Botticelli, tapestries, jewelry, and weapons. Frequent temporary shows ensure the museum’s leading role in Milan’s art scene.
The Brera Art Gallery, originally set up by Napoleon, is home to an important collection of works including Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin and Piero della Francesca’s Madonna with Angels.
Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens
Built by Luca Pitti and later bought by the Medici, the palace contains five museums: the Palatine Gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Costume Gallery, the Museo degli Argenti, and the Porcelain Museum. The 79-acre Boboli Gardens rank among the world's finest landscaped gardens. Buy the three-day combined ticket if you plan on visiting the whole complex.
Visit the home of Giacomo Puccini, the great composer of operas Madam Butterfly, La Boheme, and Turandot. Situated in Lucca, his home is now a museum containing an assortment of personal items including original librettos of his early operas and his piano. In nearby Torre del Lago, catch the Puccini Festival (www.puccinifestival.it), an annual line-up of performances and events.
Famed as the Pantheon of Italian Greats, Florence’s Franciscan basilica houses the tombs of the likes of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo. Every nave, sacristy, and cloister contains masterpieces – notably Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel and Giotto's groundbreaking frescoes in the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels. The unremarkable façade is a 19th-century addition.
The Borghese Gallery
The Borghese Gallery in the Villa Borghese is an absolute must-see, with one of the world's most beautiful statuary collections, including the Bernini masterpieces Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Proserpina. It's hard to find better examples of a true genius creating a sense of movement in unwieldy marble. You must reserve your ticket ahead of time as visitors plan tours months in advance.
Santa Maria del Fiore was built to Arnolfo di Cambio's design starting September 8, 1296. Added in 1436, Brunelleschi's iconic dome is well worth both the almost $12 ticket and the 463-step climb. The remains of the former Santa Reparata cathedral can be seen at a lower level, while the façade dates from the 19th century.
The Last Supper
The 15th-century church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is famed for housing Da Vinci's mural The Last Supper and is a World Heritage site. The celebrated painting survived both a bomb attack in 1943 and the hoards of tourists who appeared in the wake of Dan Brown’s book. Make reservations at least four weeks in advance.
Built by Vasari in 1560 as the Medici administrative offices (hence their name), the Uffizi are home to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michelangelo's Tondo Doni, Da Vinci’s Annunciation, and Caravaggio's Medusa to name but a few. If you are an art lover, allow a full day, but even a dilettante can easily spend a few hours here.
This famous villa is worth visiting for its medieval tower, 19th-century rooms, and art, including an excellent bronze statue by Ammanati, and outside frescoes depicting Medici family exploits.
One of the twelve cities of the Etruscan confederation, Volterra stands in a commanding position over the Cecina and Era valleys, surrounded by cyclopic walls incorporating the imposing Porta dell'Arco gateway. Don't miss the Vallebuona archaeological site with the Roman Theatre (still in use) and the famous “Evening Shadow” votive bronze statue in the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum.
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