Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Travel back to Ancient Times, wander through a Shakespeare novel and spend some time among masterpieces of art, Italy is like no other!
1 Colosseum – The Gladiator Experience
In the centre of the city of Rome sits the historic site of the colosseum. Also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre it was built in just 10 years completed in AD 80.
Made of concrete and sand it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Originally created as an entertainment centre as a gift for the Roman citizens, it played host to the infamous gladiator battles, animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles and executions.
For the Sea battles the colosseum would be flooded for extra effect. It could hold 80,000 spectators, with 80 entrances and 36 trap doors, some games and festivals would last up to 100 days. Used for entertainment for 390 years, in this time more than 400,000 people died and approx. 1 million animals died.
During medieval times the colosseum was no longer used for games, it was converted to workshops, housing and religious ceremonies.
In 1349 the stadium was damaged in an earthquake and the fallen parts were reused to build the St Peters Basilica.
Today it is one of Rome’s most popular attractions with millions of visitors walking through its gates annually.
2 Venice – The City Of Water
One of the most famous cities in the world, Venice is the picturesque water town of Italy where canals instead of roads run through its city streets.
It goes by many names, City of masks, city of canals, the floating city, city of water and city of bridges.
The city began as a refuge for people fleeing the invasion when the Roman Empire fell.
During the middle ages it was a major financial hub and maritime power as well as a trade hub for silk, grain and spice, this in turn made it one very wealthy city.
Up until the 18th century Venice was its own country known as the Republic of Venice and by the time it has become a city it had accumulated 200 churches. The most well-known is St Mark’s Basilica, completed in 1092 making this its oldest cathedral.
Venice is made up of 118 mini islands with 150 canals and 400 bridges.
The most photographed canal is the stunning Grand Canal. It is the central waterway, and is surrounded by 170 building most dating around 1200s and 1700s.
It is the largest and busiest canal in Venice, and was used as the main port for the shipping trade in the 10th century.
As beautiful as Venice is being a water city has its drawbacks. It is currently sinking at a rate of 2mm every year and is prone to flooding during high tide. Records dating back as far as 1240 are recorded as the city flooded as high as a man!
There is plenty to see and do throughout Venice, you can take a relaxing ride around town in an infamous gondolas, there are over 400 gondoliers and in 2010 Venice saw its first female gondolier. Stroll down St Mark’s Square and visit St Mark’s Basilica or take an iconic image of the Grand Canal and the beautiful Bridge of Signs made out of white limestone.
You can spend hours just weaving in and out of its maze like streets, and you can even try to squeeze in it smallest street, Calletta which is the world’s narrowest street at 53cm wide.
If its parties you are after why not join the festivities of the Carnival of Venice. This world famous carnival is known for its opulent masks, parades, masquerade balls and bouts of confetti! The festivities for this ancient celebration takes place leading up to lent and runs from January 26th to February 12th.
3 Verona – A love story
The charming Verona is rich in striking architecture and is considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities. UNESCO listed in 2000 it sits on the Adige River and features a stunning old town with many historical buildings.
To this day no one is sure where the city received its name and it remains a mystery. What is certain is that Verona has a turbulent and complex history, originally a Celtic settlement it was eventually to become a roman colony.
Over the years it was overthrown and taken and claimed by several Kings and in 1797 was occupied by Napoleon until he was eventually driven out. From there it became Austrian territory and didn’t return to Italy until 1866.
The city’s greatest claim to fame is as the town behind the inspiration for Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. You can visit the Casa di Giulietta which is said to be Juliet’s home and the infamous balcony where Romeo declares his love for his Juliet. The home itself showcases stunning gothic architecture from the 14th century.
Here you can leave a message of love on the outside wall as well as see the statue of Juliet. They say if you touch the statue it will bring you good luck in finding true love.
The house is not the only inspiration for Shakespeare famous play, the city is said to have been the scene of bitter rivalling Noble families which is depicted in the Shakespeare play.
Verona is home to various historical monuments and stunning roman architecture.
It is home to the third largest area in Italy - the Verona Arena. Completed in 30 AD it can seat 25,000 spectators on its marble seats. Used for gladiatorial entertainment back in the day, it is famous today for its opera festivals.
You can wonder to the Piazza delle Erbe an old town marketplace and shopping centre or the Pizza dei signori that is home to the Dante statue.
4 Pisa – The Leaning Tower
The Leaning tower of Pisa is another famous landmark in Italy.
The tower was built in 1173 and completed in 1399. It took approx. 199 years to complete due to several wars and government changes over the period.
This infamous tower came about as a result of a miscalculation due to its foundations built on soft soil which could not support its weight at 14,500 tonnes.
Construction took place over three stages. It began in 1173 with the Ground floor but it wasn’t until 1178 when construction began on the second floor that the structure began to sink. Due to the design flaw from the on start, the weight of the tower could not be supported in the soft soil it was constructed on.
Then for half a century the construction stopped due to various wars however this allowed the soil time to settle and possibly save the tower from toppling over.
Construction resumed again in 1272 and in an effort to compensate for the tilt the builders installed upper floors with one side taller. This made the tower curve and then again in 1284 construction stopped due to another war.
The seventh floor was completed in 1319 and the bell chamber added in 1372. The bell tower is 8 stories high, 55.86 m on the low side and 56.67m on the high side with 294 steps and seven bells one for each musical major note.
It was UNESCO in 1987 and in 1990 to 2001 the lean was partially fixed and declared stable for at least another 300 years. Originally the tower leaned at 5.5 degrees but was restored to 3.97 degrees.
During WWII the Germans used the tower as a look out, when the allies discovering this they were sent to bomb to structure. However they ultimately refused, as it was said they were impressed by its beauty and refused to destroy it.
During Italy’s dictatorship, Benito Mussolini hated the tower and saw it as an embarrassment. He set out to fix it however he ended up making it worse. The plan was to drill holes at the base and pump out the grout and mortar in hope of setting the structure straight, but this only created a heavy base and made the tower lean more.
A millions visitors a year travel to the tower and take to iconic photo of holding the tower up.
5 Trevi Fountain – Fountain Extravaganza
The Trevi fountain is Italy’s largest and most world famous fountain. It is a stunning example of roman architecture and has graced the backdrop of many movies.
Located in the Quirinale district of Rome, the fountain sits at 85 feet tall and 65 feet wide and uses 2,824,800 cubic feet of water every day. It took its name from its location, Fontana di trevi meaning Three Street Fountain.
It took 30 years to build with work beginning in 1732 and completed by 1762.
An estimate 3,000 euros are thrown in the fountain each day and in 2016 an estimated 1.5 million US dollars was thrown into the fountain.
Tossing coins into the fountain is a tradition dating back to ancient Rome. Locals would toss the coins to appease the Goddess of the Waters to protect them on their journey on the sea and for a safe return. Today legend has it that tossing a coin with your back to the fountain with your right hand and over your left shoulder should ensures you will return again to Rome.
Each day the coins are collected and given to a local charity who use the money to supplies groceries for needy.
It is illegal to take money from the fountain with local police cracking down on thieves. The most notorious thief was caught after 34 years!
The fountain is so well loved in Italy that fashion designer Fendi offered to pay the restoration bill of 2.2 million euro in 2013. It took 20 months to complete the restoration.
Visiting the fountain is a must do for every traveller in Rome.
6 Rome - The Eternal City
Home of pizza, pasta and gelato, Italy’s capital is the 3rd most visited city in Europe and it’s not hard to see why with its stunning ancient buildings and striking architecture.
Its history dates back some 3000 years to 753 BC, however there are records it was inhabited for many years before this and is one of the oldest continually occupied European cities.
Rome became the official capital of Italy in 1870 and is considered the origins of western civilisation.
Believed to be named after its founder King Romulus. Legend has it that Romulus and his twin brother Remus were abandoned as babies and raised by a she wolf. Later Romulus killed his brother and went on the rule Rome as its first leader. The she wolf is now a mascot of Rome.
Rome has an extensive history, back in the day the Roman Empire was a force to be reckoned with and at its peak it covered 2.5 million squares of territory in 117 AD.
They were the creators of some the world’s most extraordinary structures and with several UNESCO listed sites. They were the inventors of concrete (created some 2100 years ago and used in sites such as the colosseum, pantheon and the roman forum) as well as the 12 month calendar year that we use to this day (introduced by Julius Ceaser in 46 BC) and perhaps the inventor of the shopping mall with the creation of the Trajan market built in 110 AD. It is considered the world’s oldest shopping mall and consists of 150 shops.
It is home to 2.7 million residents with 280 fountains and more than 900 churches.
Rome offers many attractions from the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum to name a few. Each year 12.6 million tourist visit Rome with 5.5 million visiting the Vatican and 5.1 million the colosseum.
7 Vatican City – A Country within a Country
A country within the city of Rome, It is the smallest and only UNESCO listed country in the world.
Surrounded my medieval style walls, it sits on 44 hectares with a population of just 1000 which includes 71 cardinals, 109 Swiss guards, 51 members of the clergy and one nun.
It is home to some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures, housed in St Peters Basilica, the Sistine chapel and the Vatican museums.
The Vatican City officially became a country in 1929 after a 60 year standoff with the Italian government over territory. It was finally settled when Benito Mussolini signed the Lateran Pact and the Vatican was given $92 million as compensation.
Its beginnings can be traced back to the fire of Rome in AD 64. The emperor at the time Nero executed St Peter and other Christians as scapegoats at the base of Vatican Hill.
In the 4th century AD Emperor Constantine I ordered the construction of the Basilica over St Peters grave.
From there it developed into a pilgrimage site over the years but was abandoned in 1309. It wasn’t until 1377 that the church returned to the area and the infamous Apostolic Palace, Sistine Chapel and St Peters Basilica were constructed.
The infamous Sistine Chapel ceiling artworks were created in 1508 when Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the biblical scenes. The St Peters basilica dome was also designed by Michelangelo.
Pope Julius II then began the Vatican museums with his sculpture collection. The gallery was officially opened to the public in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV. The country is governed by monarch with the Pope as the head. It has been the home of the Pope since 1377 and has seen more than 50 popes.
The pope has been protected by the Swiss Guard since 1506. They are highly recognisable in their traditional renaissance era uniforms. There is no tax system within the Vatican. Its economy is supported by the sale of tourist souvenirs and mementos, stamps and museum ticket sales.
It boosts its own bank, post office, pharmacy, newspaper, radio and TV stations. They even have their own euros, stamps, passport, licence plates, flag and anthem.
The Vatican Museum is over 14 kilometres long and it is said to see all of the collections it would take 4 years!
8 Pantheon Presence
This is one of ancient Rome’s best preserved buildings. The former roman temple is now a church dedicated to St Mary of the Martyrs.
It is said that when Michelangelo saw the Pantheon for the first time he said it looks more like the work of angels not humans. Named after the Greek word for honour of gods, its exact age is unknown. The building we see today was built in 126 AD. It is believed the original was constructed around 27 BC however was lost in the great fire of Rome in 80 AD.
It again burnt down in 110 AD after being struck by lightning. Then in 120 AD reconstruction began again by Emperor Hadrian. He worked with Greek Architect Apollodorus of Damascus on the project but after a disagreement over the design Emperor Hadrian had Apollodorus executed.
Its dome is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and it took 5 years to build the dome. There is a 27 foot wide hole in the ceiling of the dome called oculus (the Latin word for eye).It is the only source of natural light and may have been used as a sundial in its day.
The Pantheon is also the burial ground for famous artist such as Raphael who passed in 1520.
In 2013 alone over 6 million visited the site.
9 Florence – Dreams of a Beautiful City
With its impressing cathedrals, stunning art and beautiful scenery so much so even Hitler declared its bridge Ponte Vecchio was too beautiful to destroy during WWII.
It’s not hard to see why it is rated as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
In its former life it was a centre for trade and finance, was the original capital of Italy, is often referred to as the Athens of the Middle Ages and is considered the birthplace of the renaissance.
Its historic centre was UNESCO listed in 1982 and is home to a third of the world’s art treasures. It was first city in Europe to have paved streets in 1339, was where the piano was invented and was the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale and Pinocchio.
There are many things to see and do in Florence from visiting museums and cathedrals to just gazing upon its beautiful streets or strolling across the Ponte Vecchio.
Must see sites in Florence include visiting the Florence Cathedral with its II Duomo that took 140 years to build. If you are game enough you can take the 463 steps to the top for a panoramic view of the city. You can spend a day immersed in art at the Uffizi Gallery which boosts to have the world’s largest collection of renaissance art or marvel at the infamous statue David by Michelangelo at the Accademia Gallery.
In 2014 the city of Florence set a record of 8.5 million tourist in one year.
10 Spanish Steps – Walk this Way
This scenic spot in Rome is the perfect stop for a sit down and enjoy the surrounds. The Spanish Steps were built in 1725 by designer Francesco de Sanctis.
It has 135 steps and was originally created as a link between the Trinita dei Monti church found at the top of the stairs and the Spanish square below.
Named after the Spanish embassy that was located near the steps, the area was considered as Spanish Territory during the 17th century. Originally the steps attracted artists and models now days is a popular meeting spot for all.
At the base in Piazza di Spagna there is a Baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia, which translates to Fountain of the Ugly Boat. Built in 1629 it was inspired by the legend of the flooding of the Tiber River in the 16th century that carried a small boat into the square at the very spot the fountain is now built on.
A popular tourist attractions, it is said to be one of the longest and widest staircases in Europe. In an effort to keep the site clean, new laws have been introduced no longer permitting visitors to eat or drink on the steps.
It has featured in several movies such as A Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck and The Talented Mr Ripley with Matt Damon.
For a different view of the steps visit in spring when the stairs are decorated with beautiful pink Azaleas.