Palladio Architecture Vicenza Basilica Palladiana Piazetta With Cafe Chairs And Umbrellas

Palladio’s Iconic Buildings in Vicenza

Palladio may be the godfather of NeoClassical architecture, but his own buildings are far more intriguing than the legions of cookie-cutter institutions copying him. Seeing Palladio’s buildings in person is a must for architecture fans, and luckily the small city of Vicenza is a treat to visit. An easy train ride from Verona or Venice, Vicenza holds the greatest concentration of Palladio’s work. We’ve included the most renowned examples below, plus a few lesser-known favorites. All sites are marked on our Google map.

Basilica Palladiana

Loggia del Capitaniato

Palazzo Chiericati (Pinacoteca Civica)

Teatro Olimpico

Palazzo Porto Breganze

Palazzo Barbarano da Porto (Palladio Museum)

La Rotonda

Visiting Vicenza & Further Reading

Before designing any buildings of his own, Andrea di Pietro della Gondola spent years studying classical Roman architecture. In fact he became the subject’s foremost expert, particularly in interpreting ruins and texts for modern audiences. His aptitude inspired his first patron to give him the classical-sounding name Palladio.

After publishing several guides to ancient works, Palladio began collecting his ideas – both theoretical and practical – into a landmark treatise. I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (Four Books on Architecture) provided designs and commentary which updated ancient innovations with Renaissance ideas and techniques. Future architects like Thomas Jefferson would call it their “personal Bible”.

Basilica Palladiana Vicenza Piazza Dei Signori With Medieval Tower And Palladio Renaissance Architecture
Vicenza Basilica Palladiana Roof With Pink And White Diamonds And View Of Bell Tower
Palladio Vicenza Basilica Palladiana Exterior Loggia With Italian Flags Man Walking
Palladio Basilica Palladiana Upper Loggia Vicenza Buildings Italian Flags

Palladio called the complex a basilica, after the ancient Roman houses of justice and administration. It does not include a church, even though some Christian churches are also called basilicas. They adopted the form, but not the function.

We highly recommend visiting the loggia roof, with views of the piazza and surrounding city. For visiting information, see the Basilica Palladiana website.

Compared to Palladio’s new loggia, the palace across the piazza began to look dated. For the residence of Venice’s representative – the most powerful individual in Vicenza – this would not do. Palladio himself was hired to create a new Loggia del Capitaniato (Captain’s Palace) in 1565. Construction stopped after just three bays were completed.

Palladio Palazzo Del Capitaniato Renaissance Loggia Vincenza View From Above Piazza Dei Signoria Cafe Umbrellas Pedestrians
The Loggia del Capitaniato, as seen from the upper loggia of the Basilica Palladiana
Palladio Loggia Del Capitaniato Vicenza Exterior Renaissance Architecture

An open site on the edge of town gave Palladio a chance to experiment with urban dwellings. By orienting the structure towards the expanse by the river, he created a semi-rural space where he could incorporate innovations from his villas. A colonnade on the piazza plays with the tradition of classical temples on Roman forums – but Palladio’s version has two levels rather than one, and fronts a private residence. 

Designed around 1550 but not completed until 1680, the palazzo remains mostly intact. Today it houses Vicenza’s Pinacoteca Civica, with paintings by Veronese, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, and Van Dyck as well as Vicentine artists. 

Towards the end of his life, Palladio championed the construction of a permanent theater based on the ancient Roman model. It’s hard to imagine an architect and a project better suited to one another: after a lifetime of interpreting classical architecture, Palladio understood better than anyone else how to revitalize the tradition.

Palladio Olympic Theater Interior Stage With Classical Statues And Columns Vicenza Italy
Palladio Teatro Olimpico Vicenza Classical Theater Stage Designed By Vincenzo Scamozzi

Perhaps the most striking feature of the Olympic Theater is the stage itself. Palladio chose to design a huge wall of classical-style reliefs rather than rely on flat, painted backdrops. The scheme may limit the type of performance – which is probably why the idea wasn’t used more widely – but makes the scenery feel real. His pupil Vincent Scamozzi took the idea even further with an elaborate false perspective in the rear, complete with a sloping floor to heighten the illusion of receding space. Scamozzi likely borrowed the idea from Palladio’s sketches when he took over the project shortly after his mentor’s death. Even so, Scamozzi deserves credit for his remarkable execution: most false perspectives don’t work from such a wide range of viewpoints. He even designed special lamps to illuminate the scenic windows at varying “distances”.

For those unable to see a performance in the Olympic Theater, we recommend timing a visit to coincide with the 10-minute sound-and-light shows. Event schedules are posted on the Teatro Olimpico website; the civic museums webpage contains general visiting information and the “Son et Lumière” schedule.

Palazzo Porto Breganze Palladio Architecture Vicenza Narrow Building Exterior With Oversized Columns
Palladio Museum Courtyard Vicenza

Palladio only saw a single building fully completed (including ornamentation) during his lifetime: the Palazzo Barbarano. Organized by the prestigious CISA foundation, the “museum-laboratory” aims to present Palladio in a way which both the general public and scholars find interesting. The cutaway models alone accomplish the task. See the Palladio Museum website for visiting information.

Most of Palladio’s 23 villas in the region require a car to visit. Luckily, the most famous one lies just outside Vicenza’s city limits.

Palladio La Rotonda Villa Vicenza Exterior Renaissance Architecture Steps Columns Statues
Palladio Rotonda Villa Vicenza Exterior Side View Renaissance Architecture
Palladio Villa Rotondo Interior Dome With Frescoes Vicenza

The only jarring note might be the 18th-century frescoes: we found them too busy for the villa’s sleek harmony. They were a far cry from the pastel wonderland painted by Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo in the nearby Villa Valmarana ai Nani. 

See the La Rotonda and Villa Valmarana websites for visiting information, including transportation via car, taxi, bus, and foot. Signposts guide visitors along secluded hillside paths running between the two villas; the walk takes about 10 minutes.

Visiting the sites above takes up the better part of a day. We could easily have spent much longer in Vicenza and recommend it as a base for anyone planning to drive out to Palladio’s villas in the region.

For more on Palladio’s architecture, see our post on Palladio’s churches in Venice.

See our Northern Italy page for more on the region’s architecture, including nearby Verona.