What’s Outside the Wall – Top 5 Churches in Italy Outside the Vatican

Italy has earned an international reputation for being a land of grand architecture and religion, with an estimated sixty thousand plus churches scattered throughout the country. Since religion is such an integral part of Italy’s past, present, and future in terms of architecture and history, touring these basilicas and churches is frequently at the top of the wish list for tourists putting together an Italian vacation of a lifetime. But with thousands of stunning examples of history to visit and only days to a couple of weeks to explore, what are the top churches to see in Italy that are outside the Vatican wall?

There is little dispute that one of the most notable religious icons in Italy is the Vatican. It is a relatively small complex to pack as much historical, artistic, and religious punch as it does. Tourists flock to the Vatican in droves to see sights such as Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saint Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel, and more. While the area is certainly worth an Italian guided tour, it is not the only church in Italy.

One of the most charming things about Italian churches is their celebrated architectural and historical differences. Basilicas, cathedrals, and churches here can run the gamut in terms of square footage, design, and history, all of which can play an integral part in deciding which top churches in Italy should make the cut on your trip itinerary.

The Top 5 Churches in Italy

The following churches are often considered to be among the top churches in Italy because of their history, design, or a combination of the two. The Vatican is excluded from this list as it is already a universally known destination for tourists. Some of the churches of Italy listed below may be lesser known but are absolutely worth visiting during your trip.

  1. Mark’s Basilica in Venice
  2. Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi
  3. Santa Maria Assunta in Positano
  4. Siena Cathedral
  5. Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce

St. Mark’s Basilica

This basilica’s stunning structure makes it one of the most frequently visited sites in the city of Venice and one of the top churches in Italy. The opulent design of the church is lavish, with grand arched entryways and an extravagantly artistic roof on the exterior, and a marvelous showing of ancient golden Byzantine mosaics on the interior.

Points of Interest for St. Mark’s Basilica:

  • The church’s nickname is Church of Gold in honor of the thousands of square feet of Byzantine mosaics it features.
  • Breathtaking mosaics are prominent on the exterior and interior of the building, with enough square feet of mosaics to cover an American football field.
  • The Narthex of the church is home to gorgeous religious mosaics featuring key Biblical people and events.
  • The Pala d’Oro Altarpiece is an elaborate work with gold detailing that depicts Biblical people and events.
  • The church’s marble floor is a masterpiece in its own right that is colorfully and intricately patterned.

Basilica Di San Francesco

The Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi is not as obviously grandiose as that of St. Mark’s, but is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that pays homage to one of Italy’s most celebrated saints. The thirteenth-century structure is located in the region of Umbria on the side of a hill. The exterior of the building is impressive but simple, largely mirroring the work of the saint it is named after. The interior of this Italian church is simply stunning with high arched ceilings, intricate details, and hundreds of colorful frescoes.

Points of Interest:

  • The basilica was named and built in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.
  • The lower church features magnificent frescoes depicting Saint Francis’ and Christ’s lives, and historical fifteenth-century choir stalls.
  • A thirteenth-century altar and a number of colorful frescoes shine brilliantly in the bright and airy upper church.
  • This Italian basilica offers fantastic panoramic views of the lush, green valley below.

Church of Santa Maria Assunta

Amidst the colorful villas and buildings of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, sits the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. The church sits at the base of a hill just yards away from Marina Grande Beach in what is considered the heart of the city. The church’s exterior is largely simple with mostly clean straight lines, except for its iconic dome. This beautiful Italian church’s colorful backdrop of Positano often makes it a wedding destination of choice.

Points of Interest:

  • The church’s dome stands out among its surroundings with tiles of blue, green, and yellow that gleam in the sun.
  • The interior of the church is rich in gold and white Neoclassical design and an iconic Byzantine artwork of the Virgin Mary.
  • The legend of how the Virgin Mary artwork arrived at the church is captivating and is a huge part of its history.
  • This Italian church offers tranquil seaside views of the beach and Mediterranean Sea below.
  • The Festival for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary takes place annually in August.

Siena Cathedral

This thirteenth century cathedral of Siena dominates this small town, with a largely white and black exterior of hard lines and sharp points and a tall bell tower that features black and white striping. The theme of black and white striping, which has deep religious meaning, is continued in the interior to the columns and archways. This Italian church is unique in that much of the artwork is found on the floor rather than the ceiling.

Points of Interest:

  • Almost five dozen marble panels steal the show in the Duomo’s aisles and nave.
  • Renowned artists such as Nicola Pisano contributed magnificent sculpture works to the Duomo that can be seen throughout the cathedral.
  • Visitors can expect to see vibrant frescoes by the likes of Ventura Salimbeni and paintings such as the Madonna del Voto.

Basilica di Santa Croce

The Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce is one of the crown jewels of the city. It features highly ornate architecture of sharp lines, columns, statues, circular windows, and hundreds of artistic details quickly draw the eye of visitors. Construction of the basilica began in the sixteenth century but was not completed until the early seventeenth century. The interior of this Italian church features grand decorative columns, chandeliers, and a main center aisle.

Points of Interest:

  • Don’t miss the unusual sculptures of griffins, lions, and other symbols on the building’s façade.
  • The interior is filled with paintings that colorfully depict key Biblical events and more than a dozen different altars.
  • The Baroque style seventeenth century altar designed by Francesco Antonio Zimbalo is widely considered to be one of the best expressions of Baroque sculpture in the area.

To venture outside the Vatican wall and discover some of the other top churches in Italy is to see into the country’s proverbial soul. The challenge for avid history and architecture lovers visiting Italy is not finding churches to visit, but finding time to visit all the churches. If your getaway is limited to only a short time, the above top churches in Italy can be a great starting point. For those who have the luxury of an extended stay, consider visiting at least one church in every destination you visit for a remarkable and unparalleled glimpse into the religious history of Italy.

Adam was the First: Michelangelo’s Top 4 Most Famous Works of Art

Michelangelo is one of the most renowned artists in history, with much of his work having close ties with the country of Italy. Being born, working, and passing away in his homeland, much of his work can still be found in museums or churches across Italy. Make Michelangelo’s finest masterpieces a part of your next vacation to Italy and lose yourself in some of the finest Renaissance period paintings and sculptures known to modern man.

Michelangelo, Renowned Sculptor and Painter

Toward the end of the fifteenth century, the artist many simply refer to as Michelangelo was born as Michelangelo Buonarroti in a village in Tuscany, Italy. From his early adolescence, he gravitated toward the discipline of art which only continued to flourish under the guidance of prominent patron of the arts Lorenzo de’ Medici and sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni in Florence. In his twenties, the accomplished Renaissance artist spent much of his time in Rome where one of his most famous works was commissioned, Pieta. Over the course of his eighty plus years, Michelangelo created dozens of paintings and sculptures that are considered still today to be some of the finest works of art ever created.

Adam Was the First

One of the first of Michelangelo’s masterpieces to become well know was a vibrant fresco titled The Creation of Adam, which can be found inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The fresco is thought to date back to the early sixteenth century and is a depiction from the Biblical book of Genesis when God created the first man, Adam. The scene shows an older figure, presumably God, reaching out to a nude Adam to bestow life upon him. The fresco is one of the main highlights for visitors coming to the Sistine Chapel and is considered one of Michelangelo’s most captivating works.

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam is a must see when on vacation in Italy

Michelangelo’s Top 4 Most Famous Works

As wonderful as a trip to the Vatican to see The Creation of Adam is, it’s just one of many of Michelangelo’s artistic masterpieces to be found in Italy. To see only this particular fresco, is to see just a small snapshot of the artist’s talents, which included dozens of works including paintings, sculptures, and even poetry. With this in mind, avid historians and art lovers alike may enjoy incorporating visits to more of his famous works during a vacation to Italy.

The top four most famous works of Michelangelo outside of The Creation of Adam may include:

  1. David
  2. Pieta
  3. The Last Judgement
  4. Moses

David

Michelangelo’s early sixteenth century sculpture, simply titled David, is perhaps his most iconic work and can be seen at Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia. The white marble statue which took two years to create stands approximately fourteen feet tall and is in the form of a muscled and handsome nude male figure that represents the historical man of David from the Bible in the first book of Samuel.

As stated in the Bible, David is a young Israelite shepherd boy who cleverly battles a giant Philistine named Goliath using only a slingshot. The statue captures the young boy as he must have looked right before going into the infamous battle.

What To Look For:

  • The slingshot, which ultimately won the battle for David, can be seen worn across his body. Although visible, its appearance is quite subdued, which many believe to be a nod to the way in which David used primarily his mind in bringing down a giant adversary with only the aid of a simple slingshot.
  • Notice the details of the tense posture of the figure as he is portrayed readying for battle. This tautness of the sculpture’s body and the fine details of even the pronounced veins on the back of the hand lend itself to David’s feelings moments before battle.

Pieta

One of Michelangelo’s earlier works is that of the statue titled Pieta. The Pieta is a religious marble sculpture that often evokes feelings of spirituality and emotion in onlookers. The grand statue is a representation of the Virgin Mary holding Christ in her arms in the sad moments between his crucifixion and burial in the tomb. Pieta can be found in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

What To Look For:

  • Note the sculpture features two individuals. This was highly unusual for a sculpture of the Renaissance era due to the complexity involved and materials required.
  • Pay close attention to the expression of the Virgin Mary. Spectators often comment on Michelangelo’s efforts to give Mary an expression of peaceful acceptance amidst the heartbreak of watching her son die.
  • Look for Michelangelo’s name. It is said to be the only one of his works to bear his signature.

The Last Judgement

Also found in Vatican City is Michelangelo’s famous painting, The Last Judgement, which can be found on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. He began this artistic work in the second quarter of the sixteenth century and is said to have taken an estimated four years to complete it. The title of The Last Judgement is said to describe the second coming of Christ as stated in the Bible. This astounding painting is made even more so by its sheer size, which is forty-eight feet by forty-four feet.

The painting depicts a judgement day theme, but the eye travels over a vast array of different scenes including the joy of the saved, the resurrection of the dead, the despair of the damned, and the angels and saints.

What To Look For:

  • The Christ figure can be found near the center of the painting.
  • Notice the expressions on the other figures’ faces as Christ appears to be arranging for their existence in heaven or hell.
  • Search for key Biblical figures such as the Virgin Mary, Michael the Archangel, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Peter, and countless others.

Moses

Michelangelo’s early sixteenth century sculpture titled Moses was originally intended to be an integral part of Pope Julius II’s tomb but can be seen today in the church of San Pietro in Rome. The sculpture was created to portray Moses’ reaction to finding the Israelites worshiping other gods shortly after the delivery of the Ten Commandments. The artist is said to have considered Moses one of his most lifelike works, so much so that upon completion of the sculpture he allegedly hit it on the knee and commanded it to speak.

What To Look For:

  • Note Moses’ expression is one of deep anger which his body mirrors with intricate details such as flexed muscles and pulsating veins.
  • Find the two horns on the top of Moses’ head which are said to be present due to a problematic translation of the Bible book of Exodus in which rays where incorrectly translated as horns.
  • Look for some of the details that contribute to the sculpture’s lifelike presence as noted by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo is an integral part of Italian culture, history, and art. Make some of his most famous works a highlight of your Italian getaway while getting lost in the beauty of the museums and churches they live in.

Ponte delle Torri – A bridge between two fortresses

Spoleto_Umbria_Rocca_castle_bridge_of_the_Towers_blgIn a large gorge south of Spoleto, an imposing limestone bridge arises from a sea of lush vegetation. The precise, man-made structure juxtaposes with the wild, organic flora that surrounds it to create a breathtaking panorama unforgettable to those who have the chance to admire it. Spoleto’s Ponte delle Torri (Bridge of Towers) is not only the most iconic symbol of the city, but for centuries it has been an inspiration to countless poets and artists (from famed German writer Johann Goethe to British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, and many more).

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The Ancient Chocolate of Modica

The south-easterModica Spicy Chocolaten Sicilian city of Modica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its stunning Baroque architecture.  Along with seven other towns in the Val di Noto, like Ragusa and Catania, Modica was rebuilt in 1693 following a powerful earthquake that devastated the area. The construction after the earthquake resulted in remarkable city planning and the culmination of Baroque style of art and architecture in Europe.  Though Modica is stunning and filled with beautiful architecture, this city tucked away in the Hyblaean Mountains is also internationally famous for a much sweeter reason: chocolate.

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The Charming Hills of Piacenza

Piacenza Hill Country and CastlesWhen most tourists plan their itinerary around Italy, they think about the usual cities, such as Rome, Venice, Milan and Bologna, among so many others. There are smaller destinations along the way that will truly give you an untouched and authentic feeling of what Italian culture and history is all about. Continue reading “The Charming Hills of Piacenza”

Flower Festival of Genzano

Relax And Smell The Roses…Plus A Million Other Flowers

Genzano spring festival infiorataIn Italy, everything is about beauty, art and celebration. In the second week of June, they all come together in the “Infiorata”, or Flower Festival, held in Genzano, which is just outside of Rome.

It is a tradition that started in the 1700s, but it pays homage to the Christian celebration of Corpus Christi back in the 13th Century, when townspeople would throw sacrament petals during the procession through the streets.

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Sea Salt comes from Sicily

Sicily Salt Road Marsala Erice TrapaniA vacation in Sicily may evoke a myriad of images; uncontaminated landscapes, centuries-old traditions, Greek temples, delicious traditional food and a crystal clear sea. Stop by the beautiful Erice and drive along the unique Salt Road with the many red-roofed windmills. The white pyramids of the sea salt piled along the evaporation basin is just one of the many breath-taking views that will be stuck on your mind forever.

Archaelogical site of Pompeii

Pompeii Naples Italy Acheological sites 13 BodiesThe archaeological site of Pompeii is one Italy’s and the world’s most popular tourist destinations. This ancient Roman city was destroyed by the volcanic ashes from a catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 79 A.D. Today, one can see the well preserved remains of a city and its local population that was buried alive, later rediscovered in 1748.

Murano Island Venice Glass artisan shop

Murano Artisan Glass tile Venice ItalyWhen in Venice, be sure to visit the Island of Murano, home to artisan glass shops where unique handmade glass products have been produced for thousands of years, using the same ancient techniques particular to Murano glass making . From simple small glass figurines available in different colors to much more elaborate pieces such as chandeliers, there is something to suit everybody’s fancy and pockets while observing the glass-artisans at work is a unique experience!