The Most Beautiful Piazzas In Italy You Must See

One of the most important civic features of Italian life are the central piazzas where people meet, markets set up their stalls and some of the finest sculptures are put on display for all to appreciate.

The word ‘piazza’ means a ‘square’ in English; and refers to the main public space in a town or city. Larger cities have many piazzas which serve neighborhoods and districts but there will usually be one or two major piazzas that are the focal point for a wide range of economic, religious and cultural activities.

The piazzas of Italy not only provide a public space for markets to sell their produce but they are also an important social meeting place for the inhabitants of the neighborhood. After dinner, in the evenings, it’s traditional for Italians to stroll slowly through the piazzas while talking with friends and neighbors they meet along the way.

You Should Always Visit The City’s Main Piazzas During Your Stay!

As a result of their cultural and civic significance, the piazzas of Italy are among the most beautiful in the world and are always worth visiting when you’re in a new town or city. The piazzas are often located right outside of major institutions, usually the city’s main cathedral, as well as being close to museums, town halls, galleries, restaurants and shops.

Must See Piazzas In Italy.

As a result of their cultural and civic significance, the piazzas of Italy are among the most beautiful in the world and are always worth visiting when you’re in a new town or city. The piazzas are often located right outside of major institutions, usually the city’s main cathedral, as well as being close to museums, town halls, galleries, restaurants and shops.

Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City, Rome.

The Piazza San Pietro, or ‘St Peter’s Square’ as it is usually known, is probably the most famous and imposing piazza in all of Italy. Located in the heart of the Vatican, St Peter’s Square is at the very center of the Catholic religion. The piazza hosts some of Christianity’s most important events, including the Pope’s Christmas Eve Mass which is watched by tens of millions of followers around the world as well as a live audience in the piazza itself.

St Peter’s Square is one of the largest piazzas in Italy and is also one of the most striking in appearance. It was designed during the 17th Century outside of St Peter’s Basilica and its primary landmarks include the giant obelisk, two huge fountains and, of course, the dome and façade of the basilica.

Although St Peter’s Square is not technically in Italy but in its own sovereign city state, the Vatican City, no trip to Rome would be complete without visiting it! Some of the things to look out for while you’re visiting St Peter’s Square include:

  • Bernini’s colonnade.
  • The Pope’s window and balcony.
  • The ‘Twin’ fountains.
  • The ancient Egyptian obelisk.
  • St Peter’s Basilica where you can see artistic masterpieces by Bernini and Michelangelo.

Piazza Delle Erbe, Verona.

The Piazza delle Erbe, or the ‘Herbs Square’, was the site of the original Roman Forum in Verona until it was repurposed to be the economic and civic heart of the city. It has hosted a market for hundreds of years and used to be best known for selling valuable herbs and spices – which is where it got its name from!

At the North side of the piazza you can see the original town hall, the Casa dei Giudici, and the beautifully frescoed Mazzanti Houses. To the left hand side of the piazza you can see the Palazzo Maffei, a stunning baroque building that’s adorned with Greek statues.

On the opposite side of the piazza there’s a white marble column that holds St Mark’s Lion which is a symbol of the Republic of Venice. This is because Verona was part of the Republic of Venice until the 18th Century when Napoleon’s troops invaded and claimed the city for his own growing empire.

The central fountain in the piazza, known as the Madonna Verona, was commissioned in the late 14th Century by Cansignorio della Scala, one of the city’s greatest rulers. The fountain was built on top of a thermal pool and topped with a 4th Century marble statue which is thought to have been in the original Roman Forum of Verona. This fountain became an iconic image of Verona, representing the city as a beautiful and majestic queen; which is appropriate for the ‘city of love’.

The Piazza delle Erbe is one of Italy’s best examples of how the central city square came to embody huge swathes of the region’s history. The Piazza delle Erbe contains artwork that stretches back almost 2000 years, to the time of the Roman Empire, but also encompasses additions by the Scala rulers of the 14th Century.

However the square does not just celebrate the past because it is still home to regular markets where local Veronese shop, socialize and catch up on the latest town gossip. In this sense the Italian piazza can be seen as a part of the living history of a place in a way that is quite unique in the rest of the world.

Piazza San Marco, Venice.

As one of Venice’s top landmarks, the Piazza San Marco, or ‘St Mark’s Square’, is a bustling hive of tourists, locals, cafes, market stalls and is surrounded by some of the city’s most important buildings.

While you’re in the square you should take the time to visit St Mark’s Basilica, climb its bell tower and tour the impressive Doge’s Palace! You can also see the city’s marble lions which are symbols of the Republic of Venice.

Following a flood in the 12th Century the piazza was upgraded to create the large, multi-purpose space that you see today. The square was divided into several main areas including the central piazza, the portion in front of the Doge’s Palace which borders the Grand Canal and the Piazzetta dei Leoncini which is located around the two lion statues that symbolized the original city state.

Some of the most interesting things to look out for while you’re visiting St Mark’s Square include:

  • St Mark’s Basilica, a Byzantine architectural masterpiece with fascinating Macedonian influences.
  • Venice Clock tower.
  • The Correr Museum.
  • The Doge’s Palace.
  • Marciana’s Library, where you can see some of the most important collections of classical texts in Italy.
  • Caffe Florian; the oldest cafe in the world that first opened its doors in 1720!

Piazza Del Campo, Siena.

This stunning medieval piazza in Siena, Tuscany, is one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. The atmosphere of the piazza has a magical quality and was recognized by UNESCO as one of the best examples of European medieval architecture in 1995. The Piazza del Campo has played a central role in the public life of Siena for hundreds of years hosting markets, meetings and social gatherings.

The ‘square’ is actually more like the shape of a shell, or an amphitheater, and is best known for hosting the biannual Palio di Siena horse race; where riders representing their city districts race through the streets in front of cheering crowds that gather from near and far. The piazza also acts as the finish line for the yearly Strade Bianche road cycling race.

The whole piazza is surrounded by important city buildings including the Palazzo Comunale which acts as a visual focus for the square. While you’re at the piazza it’s worth visiting a few nearby landmarks, including:

  • Torre del Mangia; at just over 100 meters in height this is Italy’s second highest tower and is open to the public, offering superb views of the city below.
  • Palazzo Comunale; the old municipal building is now a museum with an interesting array of exhibits that detail aspects of the city’s cultural heritage and history.
  • St Mary’s Chapel; this elegant marble chapel, situated at the base of the Torre del Mangia, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
  • The Fonte Gaia; the square’s huge central fountain. The city legend says that when the fountain was built in the 14th Century it brought such happiness to the inhabitants that it was named the fountain of joy!

Piazza Dei Miracoli, Pisa.

The Piazza dei Miracoli is home to one of Italy’s world famous landmarks, the Leaning Tower of Pisa; and is an unusual but extremely beautiful piazza. One of the things that makes this piazza so unique is that it is largely covered with grass instead of cobbled stones or paving slabs like in most cities. Another unique feature of the Piazza dei Miracoli is that it is surrounded by a small wall which makes it feel more like a public garden than a town square.

The Piazza dei Miracoli, or the ‘Square of Miracles’ in English, creates a wonderful environment to see the Leaning Tower itself which appears to defy gravity! The piazza was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 in recognition of its beauty and architectural significance.

The piazza was originally constructed in the 13th Century and is a superb example of the Romanesque architecture that is typical of the Renaissance era Tuscany. The piazza encloses the entire complex of Pisa’s primary cathedral, the Santa Maria Assunta. In fact, the elaborately decorated and somewhat bizarre Leaning Tower is actually the bell tower of the cathedral. The piazza also contains the cathedral’s cemetery and the baptistry so it has played a vital role in the religious life of Pisa for almost 1000 years.

Italy’s Most Unusual Town Square – Piazza Del Duomo, Trani.

One of Italy’s most unusual town squares is the Piazza del Duomo in Trani, Puglia. This stunning piazza is located right on the harbor and has incredible ocean views and deserves to be visited simply for its unique beauty.

Part of the reason for the unlikely position of the piazza is because the 12th Century cathedral is also built right on the oceanfront. The cathedral, which is dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim who died in Trani in the 11th Century, is one of Puglia’s finest examples of Romanesque architecture and dominates the skyline of the charming coastal town.

The sharp architectural lines of the Romanesque cathedral and the elegant piazza in its foreground must have felt like a heavenly mirage to weary travelers arriving by boat to the important coastal town. For modern visitors to the Piazza del Duomo it provides an incredible photo opportunity of one of Italy’s most unusual town squares!

Italy’s Most Controversial City Square – Piazza Pretoria, Palermo.

Located in Palermo, Sicily, the Piazza Pretoria is one of Italy’s most controversial town squares! Also known as the ‘Piazza della Vergogna’, or the ‘Square of Shame’, it has a large fountain as its central feature which was the cause for all the controversy that the square became so infamous for.

The fountain was originally designed and built in 1554 by Freancesco Camilliani for the Florentine Palace San Clemente but in 1573 the Senate of Palermo bought the fountain and transported it to Palermo for their new piazza. The leaders of Palermo had hoped that the grandiose baroque style fountain would give their city more prestige but instead it only brought the wrath of prominent local religious figures!

The fountain, which contains 16 nude statues, including nymphs, mermaids, satyrs and humans, was deemed to be vulgar and shameful and there were public demands for it to be removed! Critics of the fountain claimed that the vulgar statues were not only shameful but also represented the corruption of the city’s leadership.

However, the city leaders refused to listen to their critics in the church and the public and so the fountain remained in place. However, the piazza would forever be known as the ‘Square of Shame’; which puts it top of the list for Italy’s most controversial public squares. Fortunately, in modern times the fountain is considered to be a masterpiece and is highly treasured by the people of Palermo.

Piazzas Are A Central Part Of Italy’s Living History.

The town square plays a major role in the cultural life of Italy. They are also incredible records of the history of a city as they capture elements of the different rulers, empires and societies that inhabited the area over the centuries.

However, unlike other important historical sites, the piazzas of Italy have remained vital and continue to throng with markets, public events, concerts and religious celebrations throughout the year.

So whether you’re an Expat or a tourist visiting the country, it’s essential to spend some time exploring and appreciating the piazzas of Italy to get a deeper and more realistic understanding of the nation’s remarkable cultural life.

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