Vicenza – A Site for Pilgrims of Architecture
A total of 23 classic, renaissance buildings by the celebrated Andrea Palladio make Vicenza a site for pilgrims of architecture. And leaves even the uninitiated like me awestruck.
You can hardly pass through the gates to Vicenza’s historic centre without stumbling over one of the grandiose white buildings designed by the 16th century architect Andrea Palladio. The central Piazza del Castello leads directly to Corso Andrea Palladio, which would have been an ordinary high street if it wasn’t for the harmonious palaces of stuccoed brickwork lining the street.
Palladio’s genius was his ability to communicate power and wealth not by the use of expensive materials but in proportion and his strict adherence to classical Roma building principles. These houses are built to impress visitors and boost the ego of the owner by underlining their importance through tall porticos and elevated main floors known as the piano nobile.
Today banks and chain stores selling clothes and mobile phones have taken over the buildings on street level, but they still convey a baffling mixture of purity and pretention.
Nicknamed After Pallas Athene
Born in Padua in 1508, Palladio was originally a stonecutter and a bricklayer of modest background, but at the age of 30 he was discovered by a benefactor who stimulated the young builder’s education. Impressed by his genius, Andrea’s first patron nicknamed him Palladio after the Greek Goddess of wisdom and arts and the name stuck. Shortly afterwards commissions started to flow in and Palladio ended up designing 23 palaces in Vicenza and a great many churches and villas in the countryside.
I have previously admired Palladio’s work in Udine and Bassano, but I wasn’t prepared for anything like Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza. The main square that hosts the local market on Tuesdays and Thursdays is surrounded by astounding buildings. And from his plinth in the corner Andre Palladio looks out over a scene he designed more than 400 years ago.