Rome, Florence, and Venice offer remarkable feats of engineering, from iconic monuments and palatial estates to improbable domes and humble homes. Most surprisingly, much of it was built quickly and is still standing. Here are some highlights of famous Italian architecture in Italy’s most renowned cities.

Rome

  • Pantheon: Two thousand years after being built, the Pantheon still features the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. It has inspired countless others—including Florence’s Duomo.
  • St. Peter’s: It’s not just the scale of this cathedral that’s impressive; it’s the fact so many different architects (including Michelangelo and Bernini), working in different centuries, were able to create so harmonious a structure.
  • Colosseum: Setting the standard for stadium design, the Colosseum was equipped with features many modern arenas lack—such as retractable roofs and underground storage facilities. Incredibly, it took only eight years to build.
  • Trevi Fountain: This baroque fountain was meant to impress. It does that, not just for its size but the dramatic quality of its statues and stage-like setting that can be viewed from every angle of the piazza.
  • MAXXI: Rome isn’t only about ancient architecture. New structures, like this one designed by starchitect Zaha Hadid, are becoming contemporary classics.
statues and facade of Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain in Rome. Photo © Dreamstime.com.

Florence

  • Duomo: Filippo Brunelleschi’s ingenious dome design relied on a double shell and eight ribs bound together by horizontal rings.
  • Campanile: None of the many bell towers in Italy are as graceful or elegant as this one, begun by Giotto.
  • Ponte Vecchio: The oldest bridge in Florence is also the only one with a private corridor for getting the rich and powerful across unseen.
  • Palazzo Davanzati: Not quite medieval, not quite Renaissance, this modest palace sits on the cusp of two eras and was equipped with early examples of indoor plumbing and dumbwaiters for moving goods between floors.
Rooftops and Duomo of Florence lit by city lights at dusk

Florence’s Duomo is an impressive sight. Photo © sborisov/iStock.

Venice

  • Basilica di San Marco: This one-of-a-kind church is an early example of architectural multiculturalism and a result of Venice’s cultural ties to the Orient. Domes, mosaics, and exotic sculptures are the work of Middle Eastern craftsmen hired to decorate the elaborate exterior and stunning interior.
  • Ca’ D’Oro: Of all the Venetian Gothic palaces along the Grand Canal, this is the finest. The delicate exterior façade looks like it’s made of fine linen rather than stone.
  • Rialto Bridge: Mocked by many at the time it was built, this bridge today remains an innovative example of Venetian architecture.
  • Cottages of Burano: Sometimes simplicity and understatement are the best solution. Each colorfully painted cottage in Burano has an individual charm some say helped fishermen find their way home.
gondola in the canal near the Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge in Venice. Photo © Dreamstime.com.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Rome, Florence & Venice.