12 Italian Renaissance Places to Visit in Italy
Renaissance is the period following the Medieval Age and is marked as the period ‘rebirth’ of European culture, art, politics, and economics. The period is believed to begin in the 14th century and lasted throughout the 17th century. This era has seen some of the greatest artists, scientists, authors and thinkers that ever existed in human history.
The renaissance started in Florence, Italy and spread throughout Italy. If you want to know more about the Italian Renaissance, we curated this article on Italian Renaissance Places for you. There are many places that became popular during the Italian Renaissance.
Here is a list of 12 Italian Renaissance Cities which are known for its architectural marvel of the Renaissance Structures.
Italian Renaissance Architecture and Places
Check out these beautiful and historic Italian Renaissance Places in Italy.
flickr: David Martyn Hunt
Milan is a city in Italy, which is known as the global capital of fashion and design. Not only in terms of fashion, but Milan also has a lot in store for the people looking for Renaissance treasure and is home to a number of Rennaisance structures.
The main attraction in this city is Leonardo da Vinci’s infamous painting, ‘The Last Supper’ in the Church of Santa Maria Della Francesca. Brera Museum too has an innumerable masterpiece by great artists like Mantegna, Raphael and Piero Della Francesca to name a few. Milan’s spiked gothic cathedral of the Duomo has never failed to amaze people. It took 500 years to build this piece of pure excellence. The rooftop gives a mesmerizing view of the gilded Madonnina at the pinnacle and consists of 3600 statues and 135 spires.
Image by Valter Cirillo from Pixabay
Venice used to be one of the most influential city-states in Europe during the prosperity of the Italian Renaissance. All the major trade routes between East and West were under the control of Venice, which made Venice rich. This richness still reflects in Venice’s exquisite architecture.
Visitors are attracted by the sheer elegance of the magnificent palaces, churches, and monuments. People can visit the Piazza San Maco and admire the mosaic-decked domed basilica. Venice’s historic art gallery, Galleria dell’Accademia, Venetian masterpieces by Bellini, Titian and others are available. These masterpieces date from the 14th century to the 16th century.
Ferrara, which is now a hidden treasure with lots of palaces and luxurious houses, was once the hub of intellectuals. It was home to some of the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance. This place is designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO for its beauty. It has a lot of Renaissance structures.
Ferrara is a host to the court of the ruling d’Este family. The former home to the House of Este is a luxurious palace with splendid chambers, secret hallways, and creepy cells. Visitors may visit the Palazzo Schifanoia to admire the frescoes by Cosme Tura, an early Renaissance painter and the dazzling Renaissance-style palace with a façade of 8,500 marble blocks carved to represent diamonds – Palazzo dia Diamanti.
Arezzo is infamous for its connection with Piero Della Francesca, an esteemed early Renaissance artist. His ‘The Legend of the True Cross’, is a series of frescos, that is one of the foundations of Italian Renaissance art. It is found in the church Basilica di San Francesc.
Other attractions include the Piero Della Francesca’s fresco of Mary Magdalene found in the Gothic cathedral. People can also enjoy the view of the 16th-century Palazzo Delle Logge Vasariane at Piazza Grande.
Cortona is known as an Italian Renaissance city and is associated with Fra’Angelico, an early renaissance painter. It was his home as well as his workplace in the late 14th century. Museo Diocesano displays two of his infamous works, ‘Annunciation’ and ‘Madonna with Child and Saints’.
The entrance of church San Domenico features another work of artist Fra’Angelico which was painted in 1436. The museum also displays the work of Giuseppe Maria Crespi called the Ecstasy of Saint Margaret. People can also visit the villa Bramasole where the movie TuscanSun was shot in 2003.
Image by Andrea Corsi from Pixabay
Florence is located in central Italy and is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance by many scholars. It now hosts some of the most remarkable works of that period. The infamous Uffizi Gallery exhibits works of Botticelli, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio. Visitors are advised to reserve their entrance in advance as it is one of the most visited art galleries of the world and it remains quite crowded.
Another site for tourist attraction is the dome-shaped cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo. Even after 600 years of its existence, it is the largest dome built. People may also be interested to visit the church of San Lorenzo which contains the mausoleum of the Medici family- Medici Chapel.
Image by Mauricio A. from Pixabay
Rome is the capital of Italy, is an abode to several Renaissance structures. The most famous Renaissance architecture in Rome is the Piazza del Campidoglio which was built by Antonio de Sangallo and completed by Michelangelo. Works of Caraviaggo can be seen hanging in the churches Our Lady of the People and Church of Saint Augustine.
The Vatican museums are an attraction for people as it displays world-famous art. Another tourist attraction is the Sistine Chapel which is famous for the frescoed ceiling by Michaelangelo and depicting the last supper on the altar wall.
Image by Christoph Schrattbauer from Pixabay
Pisa, as everyone knows, is infamous for its Leaning Tower. But, there are other Renaissance structures that attract people in this city. One of them is the Piazza del Duomo, also known, s as Piazza Dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). It is house to the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery).
Another place of attraction is the Palazzo Reale aka the Royal Palace which belonged to the Caetani patrician family. It is famous as it is the place where Galileo Galilei showed the planets he discovered with his telescope to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The palace is now a museum.
Image by Guy Dugas from Pixabay
Siena is Italy’s one of the most visited places. It has been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is infamous for the Palio horse race. Tourist attractions around the city include Piazza del Campo which is a shell-shaped town square. It is surrounded by Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia. All of these structures display a fine work of architecture.
Palazzo Pubblico contains an important art museum that displays some finest frescoes by Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti and also the infamous frescoes depicting the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’si.
Image by Jasmin Sessler from Pixabay
Also known as Genova, Genoa is the sixth-largest city of Italy. One of the famous tourist attractions of the city is San Lorenzo Cathedral which has a marvelous portal and dome designed by Galeazzo Alessi. The Lanterna, which is an infamous lighthouse of Genoa, is another attraction for the visitors. This old and upright lighthouse is visible across a distance of 30km beyond the sea. The city is also famous as the home of Christopher Columbus.
The Christopher Columbus House, where he is said to have lived as a child is located outside the city walls. The building was destroyed by the French naval bombing of 1684 and the current building was reconstructed in the 18th-century.
Mantua is known as the Italian capital of culture. Apart from its architectural excellence, artifacts, and renaissance structures, the city is also notable for its crucial role in opera. Out of many mesmerizing monuments, one of them is the Palazzo Ducale which was once the residence of the Gonzaga family.
The structure has a room, Camera Degli Sposi, which was frescoed by Andrea Mantegna. Another notable structure is Palazzo te where Giulio Romano lived in his last years. This palace is built in Renaissance style and was the summer residential villa of Federick II of Gonzaga.
Image by Adrián Winter from Pixabay
Verona is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Italy because of the heritage of its artworks and various fairs and shows. The phenomenal architecture and structures have put Verona’s name in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. One of the main attractions from the renaissance is the Verona Urbs Picta. The walls of the palace became canvasses upon which artistic frescos were made by the local painters.
Renaissance architecture in Verona includes structures like the first Renaissance palace of the Veneto: the wonderful Loggia del Consiglio, as well as palaces and monumental works of Michele Sanmicheli.
Italy, during the Renaissance, saw the upheaval of many artistic, cultural and architectural marvels. Many of the cities, to date, speaks for the wonders that were created during that era. People who are interested in historical monuments and arts should visit these Italian Renaissance cities to admire the beauty that they behold. If you are going Europe the first time, do read Travel tips for europe for first-timer.
The Renaissance was a fervent period of European cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” following the Middle Ages. Generally described as taking place from the 14th century to the 17th century, the Renaissance promoted the rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature and art. Some of the greatest thinkers, authors, statesmen, scientists and artists in human history thrived during this era, while global exploration opened up new lands and cultures to European commerce. The Renaissance is credited with bridging the gap between the Middle Ages and modern-day civilization.
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From Darkness to Light: The Renaissance Begins
During the Middle Ages, a period that took place between the fall of ancient Rome in 476 A.D. and the beginning of the 14th century, Europeans made few advances in science and art.
Also known as the “Dark Ages,” the era is often branded as a time of war, ignorance, famine and pandemics such as the Black Death.
Some historians, however, believe that such grim depictions of the Middle Ages were greatly exaggerated, though many agree that there was relatively little regard for ancient Greek and Roman philosophies and learning at the time.
During the 14th century, a cultural movement called humanism began to gain momentum in Italy. Among its many principles, humanism promoted the idea that man was the center of his own universe, and people should embrace human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science.
In 1450, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press allowed for improved communication throughout Europe and for ideas to spread more quickly.
As a result of this advance in communication, little-known texts from early humanist authors such as those by Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio, which promoted the renewal of traditional Greek and Roman culture and values, were printed and distributed to the masses.
Additionally, many scholars believe advances in international finance and trade impacted culture in Europe and set the stage for the Renaissance.
The Renaissance started in Florence, Italy, a place with a rich cultural history where wealthy citizens could afford to support budding artists.
Members of the powerful Medici family, which ruled Florence for more than 60 years, were famous backers of the movement.
Great Italian writers, artists, politicians and others declared that they were participating in an intellectual and artistic revolution that would be much different from what they experienced during the Dark Ages.
The movement first expanded to other Italian city-states, such as Venice, Milan, Bologna, Ferrara and Rome. Then, during the 15th century, Renaissance ideas spread from Italy to France and then throughout western and northern Europe.
Although other European countries experienced their Renaissance later than Italy, the impacts were still revolutionary.
Some of the most famous and groundbreaking Renaissance intellectuals, artists, scientists and writers include the likes of:
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519): Italian painter, architect, inventor and “Renaissance man” responsible for painting “The Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536): Scholar from Holland who defined the humanist movement in Northern Europe. Translator of the New Testament into Greek.
Rene Descartes (1596–1650): French philosopher and mathematician regarded as the father of modern philosophy. Famous for stating, “I think; therefore I am.”
Galileo (1564-1642): Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer whose pioneering work with telescopes enabled him to describes the moons of Jupiter and rings of Saturn. Placed under house arrest for his views of a heliocentric universe.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543): Mathematician and astronomer who made first modern scientific argument for the concept of a heliocentric solar system.
Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679): English philosopher and author of “Leviathan.”
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343–1400): English poet and author of “The Canterbury Tales.”
Giotto (1266-1337): Italian painter and architect whose more realistic depictions of human emotions influenced generations of artists. Best known for his frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
Dante (1265–1321): Italian philosopher, poet, writer and political thinker who authored “The Divine Comedy.”
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527): Italian diplomat and philosopher famous for writing “The Prince” and “The Discourses on Livy.”
Titian (1488–1576): Italian painter celebrated for his portraits of Pope Paul III and Charles I and his later religious and mythical paintings like “Venus and Adonis” and “Metamorphoses.”
William Tyndale (1494–1536): English biblical translator, humanist and scholar burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English.
William Byrd (1539/40–1623): English composer known for his development of the English madrigal and his religious organ music.
John Milton (1608–1674): English poet and historian who wrote the epic poem “Paradise Lost.”
William Shakespeare (1564–1616): England’s “national poet” and the most famous playwright of all time, celebrated for his sonnets and plays like “Romeo and Juliet.”
Donatello (1386–1466): Italian sculptor celebrated for lifelike sculptures like “David,” commissioned by the Medici family.
Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510): Italian painter of “Birth of Venus.”
Raphael (1483–1520): Italian painter who learned from da Vinci and Michelangelo. Best known for his paintings of the Madonna and “The School of Athens.”
Michelangelo (1475–1564): Italian sculptor, painter and architect who carved “David” and painted The Sistine Chapel in Rome.
Renaissance Art, Architecture and Science
Art, architecture and science were closely linked during the Renaissance. In fact, it was a unique time when these fields of study fused together seamlessly.
For instance, artists like da Vinci incorporated scientific principles, such as anatomy into their work, so they could recreate the human body with extraordinary precision.
Architects such as Filippo Brunelleschi studied mathematics to accurately engineer and design immense buildings with expansive domes.
Scientific discoveries led to major shifts in thinking: Galileo and Descartes presented a new view of astronomy and mathematics, while Copernicus proposed that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the solar system.
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Renaissance art was characterized by realism and naturalism. Artists strived to depict people and objects in a true-to-life way.
They used techniques, such as perspective, shadows and light to add depth to their work. Emotion was another quality that artists tried to infuse into their pieces.
Some of the most famous artistic works that were produced during the Renaissance include:
- The Mona Lisa (Da Vinci)
- The Last Supper (Da Vinci)
- Statue of David (Michelangelo)
- The Birth of Venus (Botticelli)
- The Creation of Adam (Michelangelo)
While many artists and thinkers used their talents to express new ideas, some Europeans took to the seas to learn more about the world around them. In a period known as the Age of Discovery, several important explorations were made.
Voyagers launched expeditions to travel the entire globe. They discovered new shipping routes to the Americas, India and the Far East and explorers trekked across areas that weren’t fully mapped.
Humanism encouraged Europeans to question the role of the Roman Catholic church during the Renaissance.
As more people learned how to read, write and interpret ideas, they began to closely examine and critique religion as they knew it. Also, the printing press allowed for texts, including the Bible, to be easily reproduced and widely read by the people, themselves, for the first time.
In the 16th century, Martin Luther, a German monk, led the Protestant Reformation – a revolutionary movement that caused a split in the Catholic church. Luther questioned many of the practices of the church and whether they aligned with the teachings of the Bible.
As a result, a new form of Christianity, known as Protestantism, was created.
End of the Renaissance
Scholars believe the demise of the Renaissance was the result of several compounding factors.
By the end of the 15th century, numerous wars had plagued the Italian peninsula. Spanish, French and German invaders battling for Italian territories caused disruption and instability in the region.
Also, changing trade routes led to a period of economic decline and limited the amount of money that wealthy contributors could spend on the arts.
Later, in a movement known as the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic church censored artists and writers in response to the Protestant Reformation. Many Renaissance thinkers feared being too bold, which stifled creativity.
Furthermore, in 1545, the Council of Trent established the Roman Inquisition, which made humanism and any views that challenged the Catholic church an act of heresy punishable by death.
By the early 17th century, the Renaissance movement had died out, giving way to the Age of Enlightenment.
Debate Over the Renaissance
While many scholars view the Renaissance as a unique and exciting time in European history, others argue that the period wasn’t much different from the Middle Ages and that both eras overlapped more than traditional accounts suggest.
Also, some modern historians believe that the Middle Ages had a cultural identity that’s been downplayed throughout history and overshadowed by the Renaissance era.
While the exact timing and overall impact of the Renaissance is sometimes debated, there’s little dispute that the events of the period ultimately led to advances that changed the way people understood and interpreted the world around them.
The Renaissance, History World International.
The Renaissance – Why it Changed the World, The Telegraph.
Facts About the Renaissance, Biography Online.
Facts About the Renaissance Period, Interestingfacts.org.
What is Humanism? International Humanist and Ethical Union.
Why Did the Italian Renaissance End? Dailyhistory.org.
The Myth of the Renaissance in Europe, BBC.
5 Key Ideas of the Renaissance
The Renaissance was one of Europe’s most significant historical periods, and is often characterised by the magnificent outpouring of art, literature, and scientific developments witnessed between the 15th and 17th centuries.
During this time new ideas spread across the continent, focused on the possibilities of mankind, the achievements of the individual, and the teachings of the ancient world – pushing Europe out of the ‘Dark Ages’ and towards a more enlightened and modern society.
Here are 5 key ideas fostered during the Renaissance:
The Renaissance – meaning rebirth – found its roots in a growing reverence for the classical world that was emerging amongst scholars in the 15th century. Many believed that the societies of ancient Rome and Greece demonstrated qualities highly important to the success of civilisation, and that their emulation would reinvigorate Europe’s stunted progress during the ‘Dark Ages’.
A scramble for lost ancient texts thus began, with humanists methodically searching the monastic libraries of Europe, where many lay disregarded on dusty shelves.
It was not until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that many of these texts resurfaced however, when Byzantine scholars were forced to flee to northern Italian cities like Florence, bringing them with them a host of new material. These texts laid the foundation of the Renaissance in Italy and indeed Europe as a whole, influencing everything from artwork to political tracts.
As such, the ancient world is reflected in many of the Renaissance’s most famous works – from Raphael’s School of Athens to Shakespeare‘s Coriolanus, ancient figures feature as characters to emulate or learn from.
St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, constructed between 1506-1626 in the Renaissance style. Its columns, dome, and arches all evoke the architectural design of ancient Rome.
Image Credit: Shutterstock
Classicism also translated heavily into Renaissance architecture, with symmetry, proportion, and geometry viewed as beautiful and valuable attributes to have in the public sphere. The columns, domes, and niches of ancient Rome reappeared in Italy’s cities and soon spread throughout Europe, replacing the more complex and irregular designs of medieval buildings.
Often intertwined with and informed by the classical world was the study of humanism. Humanism placed man at the centre of his own universe, and awarded great emphasis and interest in the study of humans and their activities throughout history. Thus, it threaded itself throughout many aspects of Renaissance life where humanists teachings could be widespread.
This became far easier in 1450 when the Gutenberg printing press was invented and a more rapid spread of information and ideas was now available. Texts by Italian humanists such as Petrarch and Boccaccio were printed and distributed, encouraging a return to ancient cultures and values, and it became easier than ever to be informed on new ways of thinking.
In spreading these ideas, humanists sought to create a society in which every citizen was able to speak, read, and write eloquently, contribute to their civic societies and encourage virtue in one another – as they believed the societies of the classical world had.
On the humanist agenda was also the sometimes-tricky subject of religion. Though most humanists were religious, many sought to ‘purify and renew Christianity’, seeking a return to the simplicity of the New Testament and a move away from the complicated doctrines of medieval worship.
Erasmus, often termed the ‘Prince of Humanism’, was influential in preparing new Greek and Latin versions of the New Testament in the 16th century that had wide-reaching implications for the future of Catholic worship, particularly with the Protestant Reformation looming on the horizon.
One of the period’s most pertinent and long-lasting ideas was that the individual was capable of great things, and should aspire to be well-rounded and skilful in many disciplines.
This gave rise to the concept of the polymath or the ‘Renaissance man’, someone who was skilled in a variety of pursuits from art and sculpture to engineering and mathematics. Leonardo da Vinci for example, was both an extraordinary artist and a skilled inventor, while Michelangelo excelled in both sculpture and architecture.
With this new focus on individualism, artists in particular enjoyed a new-found sense of freedom and creativity. Often they had wealthy secular patrons who afforded them a degree of control over their work, and were as such not consigned to painting only religious or monarchical subjects. They painted self-portraits, signed their work, and strove to refine their skills, with artists like da Vinci conducting lengthy studies on the human form and its individual attributes.
Superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck by Leonardo da Vinci, c.1510.
Image Credit: Royal Collection / Public domain
With personal success also came personal wealth and the ability to choose one’s lifestyle. A rise in the merchant class and available markets meant a wider range of goods were available, with exploration bringing a vast array of new commodities to Europe such as sugar, coffee, and spices to delight the tastebuds. Individual tastes were allowed to blossom, accompanied by a growing appreciation of the secular world.
Alongside Renaissance ideas of the individual came a rise in secularism and worldliness. More value was placed on life on earth and making it as special and comfortable as possible, rather than just passing it in sufferance on the journey to heaven. Many Renaissance figures believed cities and public spaces in particular should be beautiful to uplift their citizens and encourage them to behave in civilised and gracious manners.
Religious paintings became more lifelike and relatable, encouraging active rather than merely contemplative virtue in their audiences. Images of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus were no longer stiff and unapproachable, and goodness could and should be achieved by anyone, not just those inside the walls of the monastery.
Sistine Madonna by Raphael, c.1513-14. Here the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus reflect a relatable quality – they look like a real mother and infant child, rather than a pair of heavenly beings.
Image Credit: Public domain
This philosophical mission was largely instigated by powerful patrons of the arts such as the Medici family, who aspired to build their cities as glorious centres of truth, virtue, and progress as the ancient societies had done, and commissioned art that too encouraged these attributes.
Another key idea of the Renaissance was scepticism, with Renaissance thinkers encouraged to ask questions, ponder, consider, and experiment. Where previously an unwavering faith in God’s plan was encouraged by the medieval Church, the Renaissance promoted the idea that the world was full of mysteries waiting to be discovered through human achievement.
Developments in science rapidly followed after a period of stagnation during the Middle Ages, with new and world-altering discoveries in astronomy, mathematics, anatomy, geography, and engineering exploding during the period. Mathematician Luca Pacioli developed the basis of modern-day accounting, while Andreas Vesalius reached important conclusions regarding the human skeleton.
Portrait of Luca Pacioli by Leonardo da Vinci, 1495. Pacioli was an Italian mathematician and early contributor to the field of accounting.
Image Credit: Public domain
Astronomy in particular made huge leaps during the Renaissance. Copernicus first hypothesised that the Earth moved around the sun, not the other way around as had been previously assumed, while Galileo invented the first telescope revealing that the moon was in fact cratered and did not give off its own light, but instead reflected it.
Alongside the telescope came eyeglasses and microscopes, while the first mechanical clocks and cannons signalled a move away from the feudal medieval world of ‘church time’ and knights in armour.
Scepticism and the rise in new scientific discoveries was not welcomed by all however. When Galileo publicly agreed with Copernicus’ hypothesis on the earth’s movement, he was put under house arrest by the Catholic Church!
Spreading throughout the length and breadth of Europe, the Renaissance made an enduring impact on art and architecture, science, politics and law. Rob Weinberg puts the big questions about this world-changing period to Professor Jerry Brotton of Queen Mary University of London.
Similarly, when Martin Luther’s denial of the Catholic Church’s authority and virtue became influential in the Protestant movement, they launched a brutal and bloody Counter-Reformation in attempts to stamp out what they considered heresy. Even Erasmus who had remained a moderate Catholic all his life risked being accused of heresy for his questioning of the Church, and soon many forms of Renaissance thinking became akin with religious dissent.
With a whole new sphere of ideas rippling throughout Europe, the stage was set for brand new social and religious challenges. Blind subservience to the Catholic Church was no more, new realms of the globe had begun to be colonised, new technologies had been harnessed on an increasingly wide scale. The making of the modern world had begun.