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Things to Do in Italy - page 3

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La Fenice Opera House (Teatro La Fenice)
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Of the many famous opera houses in Italy, few are more legendary than Venice’s Teatro La Fenice. Originally opened in 1792, the theater quickly achieved the status of a major venue for opera performances. The theater’s name, “La Fenice,” means “The Phoenix.” It was a reference to an earlier theater owned by the same company having burned down, in an optimistic look toward the mythic bird that rises from its own ashes. Unfortunately, the name proved to be a prescient one - La Fenice burned down twice, in 1836 and again in 1996. Both times, the theater was rebuilt. The second fire (and subsequent “whodunit” mystery) was chronicled in John Berendt’s book, “The City of Falling Angels.”
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Piazza di Spagna
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Piazza di Spagna is one of Rome's best-known meeting places, thanks to a stunning statue, the iconic Fontana della Barcaccia and an attractive square that lies at the foot of the famed Spanish Steps. The landmark's central location grants travelers easy access to top attractions like nearby Trinita dei Monti, Keats-Shelley Memorial House and the Column of the Immaculate Conception.

Piazza di Spagna is also a prime destination for people-watching, thanks to the large number of visitors and locals who gather in the public garden and scenic space to celebrate sunshine when there's warmer weather.

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Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti)
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The Pitti Palace was built by rivals of the powerful Medici family in the mid-1400s. A century later, the Medicis took over the huge Renaissance palace, and it was the home of Florentine rulers until the early 20th century.

Today the massive palace houses a number of picture galleries and museums, and is surrounded by gardens and ornate fortifications. To see the entire collection would take days if not weeks, so choose your favorites and plunge in!

A tour of the royal apartments reveals the Medicis' taste for over-the-top decor. An impressive collection of Renaissance masterpieces is housed in the Palatina Gallery, with works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens.

To see the Medicis family's silverware, head to the Silver Museum, or take a stroll around the Renaissance Boboli Gardens, with its statues and grottoes.

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Bovolo Staircase (Scala Contarini del Bovolo)
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Tucked away down a side street not far from the Grand Canal, the Contarini del Bovolo palace is worth a detour if only to marvel at the magnificent spiral staircase that curls up the front of the building. Added to the original building in 1499, the famous staircase was designed by Giorgio Spavento and features a dramatic series of arches, spiraling around an imposing stone-brick tower – a striking effect that appears inspired by the coils of a snail’s shell.

The iconic stairs were immortalized on-screen in Orson Welles’ 1952 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, and have since become a popular tourist attraction, offering expansive views from the rooftop belvedere and making a unique photo opportunity.

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Piazza del Popolo
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The Piazza del Popolo is one of Rome’s many large public squares. This piazza is in the northern part of central Rome. The architect of the present-day piazza, built in the early 19th century, removed some existing structures to alter the shape from a trapezoid to a larger circular shape. While the piazza used to be a thoroughfare for cars, it is now a pedestrian-only zone. The center of the Piazza del Popolo is marked by an Ancient Egyptian obelisk, and on one side of the piazza are two matching churches - Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto - one on each side of one of the streets leading from the piazza. The two churches are not exact copies of one another, but their features are so similar that they provide a symmetrical anchor to that end of the piazza. A third church on the Piazza del Popolo is also dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and is one of the main tourist draws on the piazza.
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Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia)
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The Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia) is dominated by one artwork in particular - Michelangelo's staggeringly beautiful statue of David. Carved from a single block of marble by the 26-year-old genius, it’s true you can’t really grasp the statue’s size and detail until you see him up-close. The statue originally stood in the Piazza della Signoria, but was moved to this more protected environment in 1873. A copy now stands in the piazza. Also here are Michelangelo's muscular Prisoner statues and Florentine artworks from the 13th to 16th centuries.
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Seven Hills of Rome (Sette Colli di Roma)
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Before the Roman Empire rose to power, before a city called Rome even existed, the area had already been occupied for many years. The marshy valleys and steep hills offered natural protection, and while it is thought that individual communities developed on the different hills in the area, they eventually grew together as population increased.

In the 4th century B.C., what are known as the seven hills were joined together by the Servian walls—the ancient walls of Rome—and while modern Rome has far outgrown its original limits, the area around these seven hills still forms the geographical heart of the city. According to the legend, the central hill of Palatine was where Rome was founded by Romulus on the site of older settlements. Today, the whole ridge is an archaeological site that houses the residence of Augustus, the Temple of Apollo and the Great Mother. The biggest of the seven hills is Esquiline Hill.

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Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)
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In Ancient Rome, a “circus” was an oblong arena where events like chariot races, games, and other performances were held. As you might guess, the Circus Maximus was - in a word - huge. It was the Roman Empire’s largest stadium, measuring more than 2,000 feet long by 387 feet wide and capable of holding an audience of 150,000.

First built in the 6th century B.C.E., the Circus Maximus was expanded over the next several centuries (and rebuilt occasionally after fire and flood damaged), until it was rebuilt by Emperor Trajan in the early 2nd century AD. In addition to chariot and horse races, the Circus Maximus also held religious ceremonies, and parades. The last recorded uses of the Circus Maximus are in the 6th century AD, and today there’s very little left of the structures. The site is now a public park, and you can see the overall oblong shape where the Circus used to be, as well as some of the starting gates.

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More Things to Do in Italy

Trastevere

Trastevere

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The Trastevere neighborhood of Rome is one of the city’s oldest districts; walking through its cobbled streets during the day you’re apt to forget the busy Roman streets and crowds outside the Colosseum. In the Trastevere, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into an Italian village. Because, in a way, you have.

The name “Trastevere” means “across the Tiber” (which is “Tevere” in Italian), which should tell you it lies on the opposite side of the river from monuments like the Roman Forum and Colosseum - it’s actually on the same side of the river as Vatican City. There are many inexpensive places to eat in the Trastevere, but the area is essentially hotel-free. To stay here, you’ll need to book an apartment rental or guesthouse, as that’s basically all that’s available for lodging.

By day, the Trastevere is almost unfailingly charming, and the small Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is straight out of an Italian countryside hill town.

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La Scala Opera House (Teatro alla Scala)

La Scala Opera House (Teatro alla Scala)

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La Scala is one of the world’s great opera houses. Built in Milan a stone’s throw from the Duomo in the late 1770s, the theater has seen premiers of some extraordinarily well-loved operas, including works by Rossini, Puccini and many by Italy’s beloved Verdi. The word “scala” means “staircase” in Italian, but the theater gets its name because it was built on the site where the church of Santa Maria alla Scala once stood.

The theater at La Scala holds more than 3,000 spectators, and the walls are adorned with gold and the boxes are lined with red velvet.

Although La Scala’s opera season isn’t year-round you can still get a peek inside. Plan to visit La Scala’s museum, which is inside the opera house. If your museum visit doesn’t coincide with a rehearsal on the main stage then you get to walk into one of the theater’s red velvet boxes for a few minutes.

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Mangia Tower (Torre del Mangia)

Mangia Tower (Torre del Mangia)

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Rising high above the Piazza del Campo is the bell tower, Torre del Mangia, built in the early 1300s. It reaches nearly 90 metres above the Palazzo Pubblico and was intended to be exactly the same height at the bell tower of the Duomo to indicate equality between church and state. These are the two structures that still soar high above the historic center of Siena.

If you have the stomach for heights and no fear of tight spaces, climb the 500 steps for a great view down onto the square and across the city beyond. The irony is, of course, that the tower is named after its first watchman, an overweight glutton, hence the name Tower of the Eater. It’s not sure he would ever have made it up the top to see the view.

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Florence Central Market (Mercato Centrale)

Florence Central Market (Mercato Centrale)

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Designed by the renowned architect Giovanni Mengoni in the late 19th century, Florence’s Mercato Centrale is a cavernous, two-storey market hall that’sl full of Tuscan foods. The biggest market in the city, on the outside it’s all iron and lots of glass. Enter on the ground floor to see rows and rows of meats and cheeses including mounds of fresh buffalo mozzarella, and food bars where you can stop for a snack or a panini. The northern corner’s where to buy fish and shellfish, while the second floor is given over to vegetable stands.

All kinds of foods can be bought here, from fresh bread to pasta and pizza, gelato and chocolate. There’s also the popular Chianti Classico wine store, which you can arrange to have any wine you buy shipped home. You can also sign up for wine tasting classes or head to the market’s cooking school.

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Green Grotto (Grotta Verde)

Green Grotto (Grotta Verde)

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The Green Grotto, also known as the Grotto Verde, is a popular sea cave on the island of Capri, just off the coast of Naples, Italy. However, it is not typically as crowded as the even more popular Blue Grotto. One of several caves along the coast of Capri, it gets its name from the green light that reflects on the rocks inside of the cave, creating a beautiful visual effect for visitors to the cave. The cave has two openings, the smallest of which lets in the sunlight. It is also possible to swim through the grotto, but you may need to ask the driver of your boat to let you off on one side to swim to the other.

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Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino)

Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino)

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Standing proud behind the Colosseum and steps away from the beginning of the Via Sacra, the imposing triumphal Arch of Constantine was erected by the Roma Senate in 315 AD in honor of Emperor Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge that took place three years earlier. At 69 feet (21 meters) tall, the ornate monument was carved from a single enormous block of gray and white marble. In typical Classical style, the great central gateway is mirrored by two smaller side arches and supported by eight Corinthian columns. The arch is decorated with reliefs plundered from other long-forgotten memorials that describe feats of bravery by earlier Roman emperors, as well as inscriptions praising the achievements of Constantine.

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Mazzorbo

Mazzorbo

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Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

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Historic Palazzo Vecchio ('old palace') has been at the political heart of Florence for more than 7 centuries. With its late-medieval crenellated roofline and soaring defensive tower, it dominates the lovely buildings and sculptures of Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence.

The striking building was built in the early 1300s, and was redecorated by the ruling Medici family in the 16th century. Inside you can imagine how life at the top was lived in Renaissance Florence by touring the luxuriously decorated chambers.

From the courtyards to the chapel and private rooms, you’ll see elaborately decorated ceilings, frescoes by the celebrated Renaissance painter Vasari, and statues by such luminaries as Donatello and Michelangelo.

Climb to the top of the tower for stupendous views of Florence and the Arno valley.

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Monumental Cemetery of Pisa (Camposanto Monumentale)

Monumental Cemetery of Pisa (Camposanto Monumentale)

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Camposanto Cemetery is a monumental complex of buildings on Piazza dei Miracoli.

Constructed in a cloister design with wings sprouting from a central dome, the massive complex was built on hallowed earth brought to Pisa from Calvary in the Holy Land, during the Fourth Crusade.

According to legend, this soil is reputed to reduce bodies to skeletons within a day of burial.

The cemetery is also famous for its precious frescoes. Most of the artworks were destroyed during WWII, but those that remain are displayed in the Fresco Room. The most famous are the Triumph of Death and Last Judgment.

You’ll also see Roman sarcophagi, reused during the Middle Ages as the final resting place of prominent Pisans.

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Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

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One of Naples' more interesting religious sites is the church of Gesù Nuovo in the city's historic center. Its spiky stone facade overlooks the wide open Piazza del Gesu, a popular spot for Neapolitans to meet, mingle and enjoy the fine Mediterranean weather.

The piazza used to be one of the main entrances to the city of Naples, while today it is notable for the two churches that face onto the square and the spire at its center. The 15th-century church of Gesù Nuovo, as mentioned, has an intimidating stone facade that belies its ornately decorated interior. The 14th-century church of Santa Chiara is a monastery and also houses an archaeological museum.

The center of the Piazza del Gesu is marked by an ornate statue called the “Guglia dell'Immacolata,” or Spire of the Immaculate Virgin. It was commissioned in the 17th century to ask the Virgin Mary to protect the city from the plague.

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Natural Arch (Arco Naturale)

Natural Arch (Arco Naturale)

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The Natural Arch on the Italian island of Capri is all that remains of what was once a deep and incredibly high grotto. Thought to date all the way back to the Paleolithic era, today the limestone arch stands about 12 meters wide and 18 meters tall. Avid photographers will find that the arch can provide an ideal picture frame for capturing seascapes in the distance. Located on the east side of the island, the walk to reach the Natural Arch is one of the most beautiful on Capri. From a small square facing the arch visitors can also enjoy tremendous views of the Sorrentine Peninsula, Punta Campanella and the islets of the Li Galli archipelago.

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