Venice, Vicenza and the Architectural Style of Andrea Palladio

by Richard Frisbie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 15, 2009

Come along as EDGE's Richard Frisbie tours his favorite architecture sites in Venice!

When booking a trip to Italy, I was excited to read that my first hotel, the Molino Stucky Hilton, was a 25 minute boat ride from the airport. That's when the reality of it finally hit me. I was going to Venice!

My interest in this part of Italy is primarily architecture. Andrea Palladio is the Italian Architect responsible for the classic look of the buildings in Venice and Vicenza. His designs are copied all over the world. Besides designing or influencing the design of most of the important buildings in Venice, nearby Vicenza has a unique position in the world of architecture.

Andrea Palladio

There are 23 examples of Andrea Palladio's work in the town of Vicenza, with walking tours laid out to view them all. An additional 16 villas in his elegant classical design are located outside the town in the Vicenza region, of which Venice is a part. All are designated as unique buildings on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Even though Andrea Palladio is identified as a Vicenzian, he was born in Padua in 1508. He became established as the "go to" architect of the Vicenza elite in the 1540s after extensive construction experience and years of studying the architecture of Rome. He spent the next decades developing his distinctive Palladian style through the design and construction of the finest buildings of his, and some say, of all time.

At the height of his career, in 1570, he published "The Four Books of Architecture", a compendium of all he learned about classic design and the uses of concrete. This collection of his teachings led to the development of the school of architecture known as Palladianism, which is still studied over four centuries later. Today, Andrea Palladio is widely recognized as the most influential architect of all time.

Architecture Tours

My visit to Venice was a whirlwind walking and boating tour. Think graceful archways flanked by columns, Palladio's signature design and classic elements in nearly every facade on the Grand Canal. Piazza San Marcos is surrounded by them, too, so the walking tour was filled with evidence of Palladio's brilliance. The Villas in the mainland of Vicenza offered me a better opportunity to see the gorgeous interiors he incorporated into his designs.

My visit to Vicenza included a walking tour through the ancient streets to view the perfection of his designs of churches, palaces and public buildings. The ratios of one element to another, the proportions and sizes of the arches and columns, the distinctive balance of classical beauty and functionality all epitomize Andrea Palladio's design.

Teatro Olimpico

The highlight for me was the Teatro Olimpico, or Olympic Theater. It is an amazing lesson in perspective. The stage back has three openings, or gates, through which one can see streets recreated within the theater in a diminishing scale from front to back.

The theater itself gave the impression of being "open air", with the ceiling painted as the sky. An actor could exit the stage by strolling through the gates into the city and disappear into a backstreet. No picture can do it justice, and my walking tour did not include the stage, but trust me - in 1580 Palladio designed a stage set to rival anything Hollywood could build today. Unfortunately, he never saw it completed. His son, Silla, oversaw the completion in 1583 as a fitting tribute to his father's genius.

Palladio Villas

The 16 Palladio Villas in the surrounding countryside were built for a leisured and moneyed class. I toured by car on routes developed and mapped to allow tourists and students of architecture easy access to them - many of which are open to the public. They were considered the epitome of style and design for rural (often summer) residences. Those used year-round were elaborately painted with murals on the interior walls and ceilings by the top painters of the day, such as Dorigny & Tiepolo.

Up next: More architecture and the wines to match, plus getting to and staying in Venice!

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and "La Rotonda"

Andrea Palladio's designs are familiar to North Americans, where perhaps the best known example of the "Palladian Style" can be seen in Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello. It is modeled after the most famous Palladio building, Villa Almerico Capra Valmarana, also known as "La Rotonda".

Designed in 1566 for a retiring Papal official, this symmetrical square building has a round center-domed room originally open at the top to the elements. La Rotonda commands a hilltop view of the river lowlands and the Town of Vicenza. It was truly a grand design based on Plato's concept of universal order, where the cube, with corners marking the points of the compass, houses a sphere with a central hall as magnificent as any church. It is unique in Palladio's civil architecture, and a "must see" on any tour.

Dal Maso Wine

Man cannot live on architecture alone. The Palladio tour left ample time for delicious meals and wine tastings in the local vineyards. The wine I most enjoyed in Vicenza was from the Dal Maso Winery (Via Selva 62 I-36054 Montebello, Vicenza, +390444649104). Many times the vintages I taste on trips like this are not exported, but thankfully I can buy this one in the US. Nicola Dal Maso served a Primis Spumante made with all white grapes from a process his family perfected over the last 200 years. Crisp, dry and bubbly, not sweet, it really hit the spot on a hot afternoon. It is tastings like this that can help to create a memorable trip; a trip I can now relive at home every time I pop open a chilled Dal Maso Primis.

Dinner at Villa Godi Malinverni

Andrea Palladio also designed the perfectly proportioned Vill Godi Malinverni (Via Palladio 44
36030 Lugo di Vicenza)
now housing the restaurant Torchio Antico. This was my favorite of all his buildings, and the setting, on a hillside surrounded by formal, statue-strewn gardens, is striking. The original kitchen is singled out as a fine example of Palladio's setting of service rooms. The barrel-ceilinged basement room was the site of my dinner on the final day of my visit. The walls were hung with antique copper utensils and tools. There was a huge stone sink in one corner, with a fireplace and an ancient wood stove along the walls.

The whole event was to promote "Palladio by Night", uniting the 1542 Villa Godi Malinverni with three other Palladio designed Villas in the neighborhood in an illuminated series of evening open houses. These include local wines, food, even musicians, in a dramatically lighted interior and exterior tour of his classic designs. Definitely include this on your tour, but I'd recommend seeing all the villas by day, first.

Seeing the magnificence of the settings, the formal gardens and manicured grounds by daylight is a must. Then, subscribe to the evening tour to see the architectural elements and details of the exteriors illuminated as sunlight never could. They are beautiful! Inside, you can reacquaint yourself with the vaulted and muraled interiors by flickering candlelight. It will give you a whole new perspective on the distinctive design and intimate atmosphere created for each Villa by Andrea Palladio

Dinner itself was of the simplest ingredients. Fresh local vegetables and grass-fed meat were paired with still and sparkling wines from the surrounding vineyards. Talk about being locavores! Everything they served me originated within sight of the villa's beautiful entry staircase.

During dinner cannon-fire very reminiscent of a fireworks display. Then I realized that it was July 4th, but my hosts explained that the thunderous noise was used to deter hail storms, not to celebrate America's birth. It was like listening to the 1812 Overture, the boom of the cannons signaling a perfect end to an incredible architecture tour.

Getting There and Staying There

Air France flies to Venice via Paris.

The Molino Stucky Hilton (rooms from $200) is in a beautifully restored 100 year old brick flour mill occupying its own island across the Canale della Giudecca from Venice. With 380 rooms, many retaining the architectural details of the original mill, and a rooftop bar with views over the bay and the skyline of Venice, it is a convenient, high profile place to stay. Their Aromi Restaurante serves American fare and Veneto specialties both inside and on the expansive waterfront landing. The Molino Sticky Hilton also provides a free shuttle boat to St. Mark's Square every half hour. It is a 25 minute boat ride from Venice's Marco Polo Airport.

Hotel Palladio in the heart of Vicenza is a very stylish conversion of an ancient building into a chic boutique hotel. Original 15th century architectural details remain, juxtaposed with extremely modern touches and all the conveniences one expects in a very good hotel. It is within walking distance of all Vicenza's major attractions. Offering free wireless broadband internet access, the 23 rooms start at 130 euros.

The Vicenzia region is to Venice what the State of New York is to the City of New York, the second home and vacation area that produces all the goods and services that keep the city running. From ski resorts in the Italian Alps to world class Palladio architecture, from excellent vineyards in the midlands to organic farms on the lowlands, this region is a tourist destination in its own right.

For more information or to plan a trip to Venice, visit

Click here, to read more of Richard Frisbie's musings about his time in Venice and to see a video clip of his tour down the city's famed canals.

Richard Frisbie is a bookseller and publisher in New York State whose food & wine travel articles appear in LGBTQ and regional periodicals, as-well-as at, and He accepts free copies of books for review, restaurant meals to critique, bottles of wine and liquor for tastings, and all-expense-paid trips in exchange for articles about the destinations. He is paid for these articles. Richard promotes informed, authentic information about food, wine and travel, and does not allow the financial arrangements and/or sponsorship to affect his judgment. You can email him at: [email protected]