A TALE OF TWO VILLAS
Vicenza has one of the most famous villas by Andrea Palladio; “Villa Almerico Capra also called La Rotonda.” Nearby there is another celebrated Villa; “Villa Valmarana ai Nani.”
By car, it is rather complicated to get to see them closely. Walking instead, can be quite an enjoyable experience and not too far either, it is just about 3 miles from the famous Piazza dei Signori, the center of the town.
Moving to Piazza delle Erbe by crossing the Palladio Basilica, and then keeping right on Contrá Pescaria, taking a left into via Paolo Lioy, and proceeding into Contrá San Tommaso and then Contrá Santa Caterina.
There are numerous beautiful palazzi, and points of interests to be seen along the way, like Ponte San Michele, Porton del Luzo, the oldest gate of the city, or just a short walk away, the beautiful church of Santa Chiara.
After the Santa Caterina neighborhood, crossing the street to Porta Monte and taking the “scalette,” a narrow series of steps leading up to Monte Berico, you are almost there. The steps are not too demanding, in sets of six, they are well shaded and easy to do.
Just up the steps, and way before the Monte Berico basilica, there is a beautiful panorama of the city. Then on the left, there will be a pedestrian street lined with private residences, leading to Villa Valmarana ai Nani (dwarves).
The name comes from the 17 dwarves that decorate the sidewall of the Villa, once scattered in the park, they are now lined up on the boundary wall.
The villa, although inhabited by the noble Valmarana family, is open to the public six days a week, like the nearby Villa Capra called “La Rotonda” by Palladio, owned by another branch of the Valmarana family. The driveway to the villa branches off from the road to the Rotonda, just a few hundred meters away.
The main building and the guest quarters were frescoed by Giambattista Tiepolo and his son Giandomenico in 1757, at the behest of Giustino Valmarana. In particular, the main building traces mythological and classic themes, with scenes from the Iliad, from the Aeneid, from mythology, from the “Liberated Jerusalem” of Torquato Tasso and from Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso.”
The frescoes are very well preserved and a joy to the eyes, part of the family furniture is still in exposition, creating gracious reminiscences of everyday life in the villa.
After the visit, it is possible to stop at their Caffe for refreshments, before proceeding to Villa La Rotonda.
VILLA LA ROTONDA
A rather rough path leads you there. You can’t miss it!
Villa Almerico Capra called La Rotonda (also known as Villa Capra Valmarana), built by Paolo Almerico, who commissioned it from Andrea Palladio in 1566-1567 but was then completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1605.
La Rotonda, as it is best known, is one of the most famous and imitated buildings in the history of modern architecture—most notable the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC, and Jefferson’s home in Monticello. No doubt this is the most famous villa of Palladio, and probably of all the Venetian villas. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1994.
From the lodges, it is possible to enjoy the wonderful view of the surrounding countryside, since the villa was knowingly designed to be in perfect harmony with the landscape. Although the Rotunda may appear completely symmetrical, there are deviations, designed so that every facade was the complement of the environment and of the surrounding topography; consequently, there are variations in the facades, in the width of the steps, in the retaining walls, etc. In this way, the symmetry of architecture dialogues with the asymmetry of the landscape, to create a particular harmony as a whole. The environment surrounding the villa offers a panoramic view of trees, meadows, and groves, with Vicenza on the horizon.
Visiting the interior is not easy as the owner (who recently died), was not fond of visitors and tourists, however, it is possible to visit the interior. See here for more information.
After the visit it is possible to walk back to Vicenza by a short and pleasant walk following the bike/pedestrian lane.
If one wishes to eat something before the walk or after, I suggest the restaurant “Garzadori,” in Contrá Piancoli 4, just a short walk away from Piazza Dei Signori. It is located in the beautiful Palazzo Garzadori, where once Goethe was a guest (there is a plaque as testimony)1/, it is now lovingly restored, and offers ample seating arrangements and a beautiful outdoors for a lunch/dinner al fresco.
1/ On September 21, 1786 Goethe passing through the city of Vicenza, he then visited the Palladian monuments including the Villa Valmarana ai Nani, and Villa La Rotonda.