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CITIES AND TOWNS OF ITALY
Rome is halfway on the western coast of Italy, about 20 km from the sea. In spite of its big size, central Rome with its historical sites is within walking distance from the main central station , the “ Stazione Termini”. You can start from the Colosseum and, walking through the nearby Forum, continue to Piazza di Spagna and willingly reach the Vatican in one day, but you might consider it rather over-ambitious. All the main monuments are on the west side of the station, however we recommend you to go around with a city map in order not to get lost around the many secondary streets and waste your precious time. The Palatine and the Forum are the heart of ancient Rome. From the Forum you can reach Piazza del Popolo to the north, walking through via del Corso, or Piazza di Spagna and the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) on its eastern side. Northwest of the Forum, on the other side of the river “Tevere” there is the Vatican. Most of the less expensive hotels also called “pensione” (two star hotels) are around the area of the central station “Stazione Termini” . Anyway, you might find it more attractive and confortable to stay in more central hotels, some of which are slightly more expensive. You can eat nice and non expensive meals around the streets of Piazza Navona or Trastevere.
Everyone knows Venice. Gondolas bobbing on the Grand Canal, and a picturesquely decaying city sinking slowly into the waters of the Lagoon. And yet Venice is a city of many surprises and delights for the visitor. The first one is that you will spend most of your time walking – the pavements play as major a role in the city as do the canals. The one thing you won’t see is cars, drivers have to leave their vehicles at the city gate, and that makes exploring this romantic, art-filled and utterly unique city very enjoyable. And though tourists crowd the city, most of them head straight for the Basilica di San Marco and the Doge’s Palace; a little trip off the beaten track yields huge rewards, as you nip down narrow alleys and find beautiful little churches, street markets and yet another canal before you.
Is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. At one time this charming city was the European capital of art, architecture, commerce, and politics. Florence has survived centuries of battles with wars and acts of nature and still remains one of the most captivating, artistic cities in all of Europe. In 1966, the people of Florence banded together with tourists to save important and priceless works of art when the Arno River flooded the city. You can see plaques located on some buildings that indicate how high the river flowed. Florence is the perfect city for walk- ing, sitting, and enjoying life. Sit at a café next to the Duomo or stroll along the narrow, cobble-stoned streets by the Uffizi Museum. However you enjoy life, Florence is guaranteed to deliver.
First and foremost, Naples has a grand position on the Bay of Naples that has few places to rival it in Italy. The views over Naples are stunning. Naples has its grand architecture. There is a world-class archaeological museum with the best finds from Pompeii & Herculane- um. It is the home of pizza and the kind of spaghetti Americans know best. So why is it not one of the great destinations in Italy? First of all, Naples is urban-earthy in a way that might remind you of the big inner-cities in the northeastern USA, places you are probably not anxious to visit. This is a very poor city, terribly overcrowded and in desperate need of a facelift. You can also meet some of the friendliest, most generous and genuinely honest people in Italy on a trip to Naples, as I have. There are lots of pluses and minuses to consider. Before planning a stop at Naples, talk to someone who’s been there or do some reading so you can make an informed decision.
The foundation of the very ancient Pompeii with Oscan origins goes back to the 4th century B.C., even if some historians assert that it existed already in the 8th century. For some points Pompeii had the same history of Naples: being attacked by the Etruscans, it allied with the Greeks from Palepolis and Cumae; conquered by the Samnites, in 310 B.C. it tried to defend itself from the attacking Romans, who already con- trolled the region Campania, but it had to surrender. In 89 B.C. Silla took Stabia and assaulted Pompeii occupying it totally.
Ravello rises in a high and particularly fortunate and suggestive position; Between the two valleys of Valle del Dragone and Valle del Reginna at a distance of 27 kilometres from Salerno it can be reached by a street of great beauty and is placed in one of the points with the largest view over the Gulf. Far away from exasperated worldliness and full of an atmosphere of, the place always fascinated everyone who stayed there, like Wagner, Boccaccio and Grieg. Tradition tells that it was founded by the Roans in the 6th century.
Lucca is the most wonderful small town; its famous walls enclose a place that can be wandered or pedaled with ease yet remains full of secrets. One of Italy’s finest mediaeval treasures, the centre is relatively unspoiled and is sprinkled with palazzi, towers and al- most countless splendid churches. The surrounding hills produce some excellent wines and arguably the finest olive oil anywhere, whilst the beaches and nightlife are but a small hop away. The historical centre of Lucca lies within a unique wall system. These walls, built of small red bricks specifically created for their construction, were many years in the making (16th to 17th century). They were built as a defense against the ‘old enemy’, Florence, but were never in fact put to the test in war. However they have remained intact. Their bulk alone would have protected them from willful destruction. But they also have the love of the inhabitants of Lucca.
Situated on a steep hillside in the heart of Tuscany, was the chief rival city of Florence during the Italian Renaissance. It was here that artists such as Duccio, Simone Martini, and the Lorenzetti brothers invented the distinctive Sienese style, a highly developed Gothicism that was an excellent artistic alternative to the Florentine style. As a result of the Black Death that hit the city in the 14th century, however, over three-quarters of the population perished, and Siena’s opulent economy and social fabric were forever lost. Siena was unable to regain its former glory, which caused to city to not undergo expansion and further development, allowing the city to retain a distinct medieval flair.
Cortona is surrounded by ancient fortified walls, and this built in planning restriction has meant that nearly all new development has occurred lower down the hill, leaving Cortona as a delightful mediaeval town to explore on foot. Cortona is blessed with numerous very good restaurants, many of which are just a moment or two from the main focus of Cortona, the central Piazza della Repubblica, dominated by the Town Hall and the steep steps leading up to it – the ideal grandstand for watching the busy little town pass by.
Assisi is the most famous and visited city in Umbria. It sits high on a hill overlooking the neighboring land. Despite the number of tourists that flock to the area, the town remains relatively unblemished. St. Francis was born in this town in 1181. He attracted many loyal followers and consequently changed the history of the Catholic Church. Due to the town’s history with the St. Francis, Assisi has become a pilgrimage for young Italians in hope to find the serenity and peace that St. Francis gave the city so long ago. Do not miss the basilica of San Francesco. This is one of Italy’s most renowned monuments and construction began shortly after the Saint’s death. What makes this church so unique is that it is actually two churches built on top of each other. The lower church is v ery dark and contains various frescoes, paintings, and relics from St. Francis and other members of the order. The upper church is much more luminous and open. There are 28 frescoes by Giotti that portray significant events in the life of St. Francis. All the paintings are viewed in order from left to right.
One of the best-preserved medieval towns in all Italy, is known as the “city of beautiful towers” because of the tall medieval towers that rise in varying shapes and sizes all over the city. Many of the towers were dismantled, or the stone was used to build structures elsewhere, but fragments still remain. Today the official tower count is 14. There were at one time some- where between 70 and 76. The towers were built in the13th century to defend against invaders, but some believe they were built to act as command for San Gimignano’s feuding families. Once a thriving town based on textiles, and pilgrims, the local economy and town population declined dramatically in the days of the Black Plague. Little money was left after the plague to update the town, and by the 19th century visitors found an almost perfectly preserved medieval town.
Verona is under visited because there are so many other places higher on the list for Italy. But it’s a shame how many miss it when traveling between Milan & Venice. Verona has some great points going for it — (1) it’s highly walkable, (2) it has some terrific Roman ruins, one of which — the impressive arena — is so “unruined” that it is used now for opera performances, (3) for people stay- ing overnight it’s a terrific place to enjoy the evening passagiata (in Piazza Bra, by the arena), (4) it has a terrific medieval core, including a castle with fortified bridge, and it has dramatic views along the river that winds around the central city.
Bologna is notable for its reputation as the gastronomic capital of Italy as well as for its splendid medieval core. Its a treat to wander old Bologna, where you get deeply immersed in medieval architecture that’s taken for granted as the everyday center of a vibrant culture. There are seemingly endless blocks of medieval covered walkways that make it possible to walk much of the central city in comfort during inclement weather. Don’t hesitate to crawl the markets to taste cheeses and meats in this city where food preparation is raised to a fine art. You won’t want to drive in old Bologna. The easiest way to visit is to stop when traveling by train between Florence & Venice, or on a daytrip by train from Florence. Take a taxi from the train station to the Piazza Magg iore — save your feet for walking the old town.
Linked to the myth of the mermaids, who according to the legend bewitched seamen in this stretch of the sea, placed at a distance of 50 kilometres from Naples and perched on a tufa stone bastion of the peninsular, among a luxuriant vegetation, Sorrento is the most famous resort of the peninsular and considered to be one of the most beautiful coasts of the world. Probably it was inhabited already in the Neolithic era, but the city is said to be founded by the Greeks; it underwent temporarily the supremacy of the Etruscans.
This little town gives the name to the tortuous and panoramic Amalfi Drive, which seems to be cut into the rock and winds for 35 kilometres on the southern side of the Sorrentine peninsula, along the trunk road 163. Amalfi is placed at a distance of 25 kilome- tres from Salerno in a position between sea and mountains and with a fall of white houses pushing into the narrow valley “Valle dei Mulini”. It has ancient origins melting with legend. According to the tradition Hercules,the heathen God of strength, loved a nymph named Amalfi.