When considering touring Italy, most visitors probably want to see the major cities of Florence, Rome, Venice. Without a doubt, these are the highlights for a reason. But smaller towns can provide a better understanding of Italian history and offer their own fascination. These places were the backdrop for the struggle for power that comprised much of the drama of Italian history.Cremona, founded by the Romans in 218 BC, is quite simply the violin capital of the world. The streets are lined with the shops of makers of all manner of stringed instruments.
You can see a demonstration of violin-making and make a visit to the collezione di Palazzo Comunale where the town collection is on display. These beloved instruments - the oldest by Andrea Amati dates back to 1566 - are played regularly to keep them in good physical condition.It's hard to miss the town's connection with Stradivarius, who is perhaps the most famous of the illustrious line of violin-makers of Cremona. The Stradivarian Museum contains objects from his workshop, there's a statue to him on the Piazza Stradivari and there's the Tomb of Stradivari in the Piazza Roma. The International Violinmakers School is also located in Cremona at the Palazzo Raimondi. If you aren't on a tour, your first stop should be the tourist information office in the Piazza del Comune, for a map and information.
Parma is the next stop and it is indeed the home of the famed Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Although famous for its food, Parma was once the capital of a grand duchy ruled over by the Farnese family. It was, for a time, a possession of Austria. It is also known for a scent produced locally, Violetta di Parma.The town associated with the famous composer Giuseppe Verdi is Roncole where he was born.
It has since changed its name to Roncole-Verdi in his honor. His home is the main attraction of the tiny village. His professional career began when Antonio Barezzi, a wealthy merchant, asked him to move to Busseto and become a music teacher for his daughter, Margherita. Barezzi became not only Verdi's patron, but also his father-in-law when Verdi married Margherita in 1836.
A monument to Verdi overlooks the town square, which is also the site of the annual Verdi Festival. There is, of course, a museum to the famous son and a tiny gem of a theatre built in his honor. It is said that Verdi never actually set foot in the theater which opened in 1868. Verdi was against building it, saying the theater was too expensive and would be useless in the future.
But the town fathers went ahead regardless of his resistance. He was absent at its opening even though one of his most famous operas, Rigoletto, was performed. The elegant theater has been restored and reopened, but in a sense Verdi was right. It only holds 300 people.As you journey from one city to another, it soon becomes clear that the history of Italy is intertwined with the story of the Gonzagas, one of the richest and most powerful families. Mantova was the seat of that dynasty.
The 500-room Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale) took centuries to build. The Palazzo Te, built by Federigo Gonzaga for his mistress, stands outside of the walled part of the city. Mantova has ancient stone churches, many small shops, lovely squares and sidewalk cafes.If it isn't already, Verona may become your favorite city. It has everything, tumultuous history, ruins stretching back to the Roman era, sophistication and great beauty. The ancient heart of the city contains a huge amphitheatre built by the Romans in the 1st century AD.
This arena, one of the largest outside of the Roman coliseum, is now restored and used as an opera house during the summer season. It makes up one side of the Piazza Bra, the gracious town square. The tourist information office is also located there.Even if you don't come during the opera season, there is the lure of romance at 23 Via Cappello, Juliet's House.
The story of Romeo and Juliet has some basis in truth. The house and its balcony form a popular attraction. Verona also has intimate street markets lined with buildings still showing their early frescoes (Piazza delle Erbe) and elegant shopping streets paved with marble (Via Mazzini).
Called the capital of the Este family, who flourished around the 13th to 15th centuries, Ferrara is famous for its wide streets and Renaissance palaces. Originally a medieval town, by the end of the 1400s the city was sufficiently prosperous that Duke Ercole I commissioned an architect to create a new Renaissance city and join it to the older medieval section. The project included constructing new palaces, villas and parks with a clearly more modern and airy feel.
Here again, try to arrange for a tour of the castles. It is the history, the stories of the people who lived, loved and fought that brings meaning to these stone buildings.Ferrara is best known for its University founded in 1222, among the oldest in Europe and the Scrovegni Chapel with its frescoes produced by the artist Giotto. There are 36 frescoes depicting the lives of Mary and Jesus. Plant lovers will probably want to visit the Botanical Garden founded in 1545 containing rare plants and the old library and botany collection of the University.Without a doubt, Venice deserves its reputation.
It is a heart-breakingly beautiful city. Built on 117 separate islands, Venice has an extensive water bus system (as well as water taxis) rather than ground transportation. It has narrow paths, houses whose front doors literally open onto the water and no cars and around every corner is a canal and a bridge and one magnificent building after another. But it is also a tourist magnet with all the problems that go with that popularity.
The cruise ships pull in and disgorge thousands of visitors who line up to visit St. Mark's Basilica, buy gelato in the Piazza San Marco and stroll along the Grand Canal. And for some reason you won't be able to understand, they like to feed the pigeons and have their picture taken covered in birds. Venice is also a big city with the hustle and bustle of commerce. Part of that commerce is the lucrative tourist trade. There's no shortage of shops catering to visitors selling Venetian masks, Murano glass and more.
Venice is divided into sestieres or boroughs. The most famous is San Marco which contains the major sights. Visit the Galleria dell'Academia with its collection of Venetian masters and the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery with its more modern works. Stand near the Bridge of Sighs that links the Doges' Palace to the old prisons.
The pity of Venice is that it is sinking into the lagoon. During rains the water can rise up and cover the piazzas, seep into hotel lobbies and threaten the viability of a beautiful marvel of engineering. And in the summer it is overrun with tourists. But see it anyway. It is worth it.
.Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Travel.Article Source: http://EzineArticles.
By: Michael Russell