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Architecture in Italy: 5 Branches of Cultural Gems

Welcome to our journey through the captivating world of Italian architecture. As we start this exploration, you might find yourself pondering the essence of Italian architectural brilliance, its historical significance, and the renowned architects. What pivotal role does Italy’s architectural heritage play in shaping the nation’s cultural identity and influencing architectural innovation worldwide?

In this article, we traverse the landscape of Italian architecture, from the contemporary works of modern-day visionaries like Stefano Boeri and Massimiliano Fuksas to the timeless masterpieces of Renaissance giants like Filippo Brunelleschi and Andrea Palladio. Join us as we unravel the mysteries, marvels, and innovations that define Italy’s architectural heritage.

Venice

1. Iconic Italian Architects

We decided to take a different approach and begin our exploration with the recent work of Italian architects, captivating the present before delving into the rich historical background that shaped their craft.

Join us on a journey that starts with contemporary masterpieces and gradually unravels the fascinating history of Italian architecture.

“It was never shameful to learn from any teacher things that are useful to know.”

Leon Battista Alberti

Stefano Boeri

Stefano Boeri, Photo by Columbia GSAPP

Stefano Boeri (1956) is an Italian architect and urban planner known for founding a research center and creating Vertical Forest of Milan (Bosco Verticale).  

Bosco Verticale in Milan

The Milan Vertical Forest is one of the architectural wonders, containing two residential towers in Milan, Italy, built in 2009.

They are covered with 800 trees, 5000 shrubs, and 15000 plants that reduce smoke and produce oxygen.

Massimiliano Fuksas

Massimiliano Fuksas (1944) is an Italian architect with offices in Paris, Vienna, and Frankfurt. He focuses on urban and suburban issues. Notable works include: The Cloud (Centro Congressi Roma La Nuvola), and Church of San Paolo Apostolo (Chiesa di San Paolo Apostolo – Foligno).

La Nuvola By Blackcat

The Cloud is a new Italian architectural project that has gained attention for its use of glass and steel to reinterpret simple proportions and geometries of 1930s rationalist architecture. The building also serves as two public squares for leisure activities.

The Church of San Paolo Apostolo, designed by Massimiliano Fuksas and Doriana Mandrelli Fuksas in 2009, uses reinforced concrete and features a box-within-a-box design.

Church of San Paolo Apostolo, Photo By Sailko

The interplay between the building, sky, and light creates a unique effect, enhanced by chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

Church of San Paolo chandeliers, Photo By Sailko

Renzo Piano

Renzo Piano, Photo by Columbia GSAPP

Renzo Piano (1937) is a renowned Italian architect, known for receiving the prestigious Pritzker architecture award in 1998.

He started his architectural career by building an office building and has many prominent works in Italian architecture. He is famous for Auditorium Parco della Musica and Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli.

Auditorium Parco della Musica, Photo By Patrizia Ferri

Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome is a versatile complex designed for various cultural and musical events under the Italian architecture style.

It houses three concert halls, each resembling the back of a beetle. With over 2 million visitors in 2014, it is Europe’s most visited cultural structure.

Pinacoteca Agnelli Wikimedia

The Agnelli Pinacoteca in Turin opened in 2002 with a futuristic crystal spaceship design.

It houses a selection of paintings and sculptures from the private collection of Gianni and Marla Agnelli.

“As an architect, you have to provide a shelter to enjoy art.”

Renzo Piano

Now that we have introduced you to a few contemporary Italian architects and their notable works, let’s shift our focus back to history and explore the pioneering architects of Italy and their significant contributions.

Filippo Brunelleschi

Filippo Brunelleschi

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) a prominent architect in the Italian Renaissance, is renowned for designing the dome of Florence Cathedral and contributing to the development of linear perspective in art.

He is widely recognized as one of the key figures who revolutionized architecture and played a crucial role in the development of perspective in art.

Florence Cathedral dome
Dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence Cathedral began construction in 1296 and is part of UNESCO World Heritage. It’s a cathedral complex located in the historic center of Florence, built in Italian Gothic and Early Renaissance styles.

Michelangelo

Michelangelo, Portrait by Daniele da Volterra, c. 1545

Michelangelo (1475-1564), a prominent 16th-century artist, is famous for masterpieces like the Sistine Chapel ceiling’s Nativity scenes, the Altarpiece of the Last Judgment, and his work on St. Peter’s Church.

St Peter's Basilica, Rome
Main façade and dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy

St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest Catholic church, was built in the Vatican in late Renaissance style and took over 100 years to complete from 1506 to 1626.

One of Michelangelo’s notable contributions to St. Peter’s Basilica is his work on the dome. When Michelangelo took on the project, the original design by architect Donato Bramante had already been started but was incomplete.

Dome Of St. Peter Interior
“Dome Of St. Peter’s”Photo by Paul VanDerWerf, Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Michelangelo made several modifications to the design and worked on the dome from 1547 until his death in 1564. He raised the height of the dome, making it more imposing and visually striking. Michelangelo’s modifications resulted in a dome with a larger diameter and a higher position than the original plan, creating a more harmonious and balanced composition.

See also  How & Why did the Renaissance Start in Italy?

Andrea Palladio

Portrait of Palladio by Alessandro Maganza

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was a Renaissance architect known for combining Roman and Greek elements in his influential style.

He designed villas, country houses, churches, and palaces, and his teachings are compiled in “The Four Books of Architecture.” His best known work is San Giorgio Maggiore.

San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Photo By Wolfgang Moroder

San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th-century Benedictine church in Venice, designed by Andrea Palladio in classical and Renaissance style.

The church’s bright white marble facade combines the classical temple style with the form of the Christian church.

Aldo Rossi

Aldo Ross

Aldo Rossi (1931-1997) was an Italian architect, designer, and painter who gained worldwide recognition in architectural theory, painting, design, and product design.

He was a leading figure in the postmodern movement and the first Italian architect to win the Pritzker Prize. Aldo is famous for San Cataldo Cemetery.

San Cataldo cemetery Wikimedia

San Cataldo Cemetery, built starting in 1976, features unique neoclassical architecture with an Italian style similar to the Costa cemetery.

It includes innovative design elements such as bologna porticoes, squares, and the creative use of shadows. Geometric shapes and natural light from above contribute to its distinctiveness.

See also  What are some Fun and Interesting Facts about Italy? 

After glimpsing some of the work of Italian architects, we invite you to explore top Italian cities with their striking architectural landmarks.

2. Top Italian Cities with Symbols

Italy’s architecture and design heritage encompass a diverse range of styles, including Baroque, Gothic, Byzantine, and Renaissance. Below are some top Italian cities that offer a rich cultural experience and showcase exceptional architecture:

Rome

Don’t miss out on this must-watch video! Meticulously crafted and packed with valuable information, we highly recommend setting aside time to watch it.

With a 28-century history, Rome, the capital of Italy, emerged from a fusion of Latins, Etruscans, and Sabines. Its architecture embodies this vibrant past, harmoniously blending structures from diverse eras, while its urban planning bears the imprint of influential rulers.

Public spaces, such as piazzas and fountains, continue to be the heart of Rome’s social and civic life. Iconic landmarks like the Roman Colosseum and Forum were purposefully designed for public enjoyment. Rome’s architectural and cultural legacy has left an indelible mark on global art and architecture, spanning from the Renaissance to the present day.

Let’s embark on a journey through some of its remarkable engineering marvels and architectural wonders.

Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct) By Benh

In ancient times, Rome’s water supply thrived through the ingenious aqueduct system. Constructed with arches, tunnels, and channels, these remarkable structures, dating back to the 3rd century BC, transported millions of gallons of water daily.

Essential for Rome’s growth, the aqueducts supplied water to public baths, fountains, and residences. Remarkably, numerous aqueducts stand today as a testament to the engineering brilliance of the ancient Romans.

The Outfall of Cloaca Maxima Wikimedia

The Cloaca Maxima, one of the earliest sewage systems worldwide, takes its name from the Roman goddess Cloacina. Constructed with arches, tunnels, and open channels, this system utilized sturdy stone blocks and waterproof cement to ensure a leak-free operation.

Its purpose was to manage the flow of rainwater, sewage from public toilets and latrines, as well as drain water from Rome’s public baths and fountains.

View of the Colosseum in Rom By Kasa Fue

The Roman Colosseum, constructed between 72-80 AD, utilized travertine limestone, volcanic stone, and brick concrete. Designed in the Roman architectural style by Vespasian and Titus, it could accommodate up to 80,000 spectators.

The Colosseum served as a venue for gladiator games, sea battles, and animal hunts, aiming to entertain and gain public support for the emperors. Gladiators were celebrated for their skills and courage, often fighting to the death.

Pollice Verso By Jean-Léon Gérôme

The grand spectacle also involved the showcasing and killing of exotic animals. Remarkably, the Colosseum was erected within a decade with the labor of approximately 60,000 Jewish slaves.

Colosseum at Night Wikimedia

Pantheon in Rom Wikimedia

The Pantheon, an ancient temple in Rome, was built around 125 AD. Initially a temple, it was later transformed into a church in the 7th century.

Designed by architects Trajan and Hadrian, its distinctive round shape and seemingly disproportionate rectangular portico contribute to its uniqueness.

The Pantheon stands as a powerful symbol of ancient Rome’s rich cultural heritage.

Rome Pantheon
Design of the Pantheon Dome Wikimedia

The Pantheon Dome is an extraordinary structure characterized by its massive concrete dome, boasting a diameter and height of 43 meters (142 feet).

Constructed using a combination of lightweight and dense volcanic rock, this architectural marvel holds the distinction of being the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever assembled.

The Interior of the Pantheon in the 18th Century

One notable feature is the oculus, a large circular opening positioned at the pinnacle of the dome, allowing natural light to permeate the temple’s interior and enabling rainwater to enter.

To effectively manage rainfall, the temple floor is ingeniously sloped, facilitating the drainage of rainwater through discreet small holes integrated into the floor design.

Temple of Saturn in Rome By Marcok

The Roman Forum, constructed in the 8th century BC, served as the bustling hub of ancient Rome for centuries, encompassing government structures, residential buildings, stadiums, and hosting diverse events such as public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial contests.

Its architecturally significant design, created by anonymous architects, has captivated artists and architects in Rome for centuries, showcasing the rich heritage of ancient Roman and Paleochristian culture.

Venice

Rialto Bridge in day
Rialto Bridge, Venice

Venice, one of the major cities and the capital of the Veneto region in northeast Italy, is famous for being a floating city with streets that can only be navigated by boat and its famous landmark.

The city consists of 118 islands connected by more than 400 bridges, and its streets can only be navigated by boat or on foot.

Its unique architecture and own characteristics reflect the city’s shallow location, blending Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance styles to create a distinct aesthetic. 

Venice’s architectural and cultural contributions include the Venetian Gothic style, which has influenced buildings across Europe, and its vibrant carnival celebration, which draws visitors from around the world.

The Doge’s Palace faces the lagoon By Didier Descouens

The Doge’s Palace, also referred to as Palazzo Ducale or Pałaso Dogal was built in 1340 in the captivating Venetian Gothic style.

Serving as the official residence of the Republic of Venice’s highest official, it stands as a remarkable testament to Venetian Gothic architecture.

The ground floor showcases intriguing elements of Byzantine-Venetian design, with visible stone walls and a herringbone pattern brick pavement, while the palace as a whole exudes the distinctive characteristics of the Venetian Gothic style.

The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark  By Zairon

The Basilica of San Marco, or San Marco Church, is an ancient Romanesque church located in southern Italy, dating back to the 9th century.

This magnificent structure showcases a unique architectural fusion, combining elements of Byzantine and Gothic styles, highlighted by its remarkable five-domed composition.

The design of the church is a testament to the influences of Middle Byzantine, Roman, and Islamic cultures, with later additions incorporating captivating Gothic elements.

The talented architect Domenico Contarini was responsible for the design of the church, while inside, the magnificent interior of San Marco Church is adorned with golden mosaics that depict saints, prophets, and captivating scenes from the Bible.

These awe-inspiring mosaics grace the church’s domes, vaults, and upper walls, adding to its grandeur and splendor.

San Marco Church, Photo By Tony Hisgett

Ca’ d’Oro façade overlooking the Grand Canal By Didier Descouens

Kodoro, also known as Ca’ d’Oro or Palazzo Santa Sofia, is a noble mansion facing the Grand Canal in Italy.

Here are some key points:

  • Its nickname, the Golden House, comes from its golden and multi-colored decorations.
  • The mansion’s design features a blend of Gothic, Byzantine, and Arabic architectural influences.
  • The architects responsible for Kodoro’s design are unknown.
  • The mansion’s facade showcases windows symbolized by small columns, reminiscent of the Duke’s Palace architecture.
  • The ceiling decorations are in Byzantine style and the walls are adorned with fancy-colored stonework.
  • Kodoro is a significant example of Gothic and Byzantine architecture in Venice.

“However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man.”

Michelangelo

view of Santa Maria dei Miracoli
Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Venice By Andraszy

Santa Maria dei Miracoli, also known as the “marble church,” was built between 1481 and 1489.

facts:

  • The church was constructed to house a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary.
  • Pietro Lombardo was the architect responsible for the church’s design.
  • The style of the church is Venetian Renaissance architecture.
  • The church’s vaulted wooden ceiling is adorned with fifty figures from the Old Testament, saints, and prophets.
  • The figures on the ceiling are decorated with gilded molds.
  • Santa Maria dei Miracoli is a notable example of Venetian Renaissance architecture.

See also  Italian Renaissance Architecture: Your Essential Guide with 20 Answers 

Bologna

Bologna was a prominent center of education and culture during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. As the second largest city in Europe, it boasts a wealth of significant medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings, including towers, arcades, and churches built in the style of Etruscan and Roman architecture.

Le due Torri: Garisenda e degli Asinelli Wikimedia

Due Torri is the most famous architectural monument of Bologna, known as the two towers.

  • The two towers are named Asinelli and Garisenda.
  • The Asinelli and Garisenda towers were built by the Asinelli and Garisenda families.
  • The style of the towers is medieval architecture.
  • The towers are inclined towards the inside and have heights of 97 meters and 48 meters.

View of the Basilica of San Petronio
Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna Wikimedia

San Petronio is a famous church in Bologna facing the city’s main square and was constructed in 1388.

  • The interior of San Petronio is magnificent, featuring mosaics, decorations, and statues.
  • The church’s unfinished facade adds to its unique appeal.
  • Architects Consiglio Generale dei Seicento designed the church.
  • The style of San Petronio is Italian Gothic.
  • The Basilica measures 132 m in length, 66 m in width, and 47 m in height, making it the “grandest” church in Bologna.

Castle of Rocchetta Mattei Wikimedia

The Rocchetta Mattei is a historical residence located in Bologna, Italy.

  • It was the residence of Count Cesare Mattei, who was a researcher, scientist, and doctor.
  • The building features a combination of architectural styles, from medieval to Moorish.
  • The Rocchetta Mattei is known for its unique blend of medieval, neoclassical architecture, Moorish, and Gothic architectural features.

Turin

Turin, Photo By Fabio Fistarol

Torino was the first capital of Italy between 1861 and 1865. This city has a rich culture and history and was famous for its churches, palaces, opera houses, museums, and other places in the 16th and 18th centuries in northern and central Italy.

Turin is sometimes called the Cradle of Italian Liberty”.

Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista Turin
Turin Cathedral By Zairon

  • Constructed in the 15th century AD.
  • Features statues of Christ’s apostles in a semi-circle around its entrance.
  • Designed by architect Mario Botta.
  • Built-in the Baroque style.
  • The key shape symbolizes the key to heaven.

Palazzo Carignano in Turin Wikimedia

  • Commissioned by Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy in 1679 in the center of Turin, Italy.
  • Served as the Egyptian Museum and Academy of Sciences.
  • Designed by architect Modena Guarino Guarini.
  • Built-in the Baroque style.
  • The 17th-century Carignano Palace was the residence of the Princes of Carignano until 1831.
  • Features a unique reddish and wavy shaded facade.

Mole Antonelliana in Turin By Mongolo

Designed in 1863 and completed in 1889 by architect Alessandro Antonelli

  • Originally planned as a synagogue, it later became a monument for national unity.
  • At 167.5 meters tall, it was the tallest brick building in Europe at the time.
  • The garland of the building features a gilded copper statue of an elf holding a spear and a palm branch.
  • The statue also has a small five-pointed star on its head.

Turin, Italy

Florence

Florence, Tuscany, Italy Wikimedia

Florence is a remaining center of Renaissance art, culture, and architecture and was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from 1865 to 1871.

It was also a prosperous commercial center during the Middle Ages.

Florence Cathedral By Petar Milošević

  • Construction began in 1296 and was structurally complete by 1436.
  • The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile, both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
  • The architects of the cathedral were Arnolfo di Cambio and Emilio De Fabris.
  • The style of the cathedral is Italian Gothic and Early Renaissance.
  • It measures 153m in length, 90m in width, and 90m in height.
  • The exterior is made of multicolored marble bordered with white.
  • Its large brick dome was the world’s largest until new building materials were developed.

Town hall in Florence
Palazzo Vecchio By Petar Milošević

In 1299, Florence planned a grand, secure palace to reflect its significance. Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of the Duomo, started construction on the ruins of the Uberti family’s rebellious homes, ensuring they would never be rebuilt.

  • It houses a replica of Michelangelo’s David.
  • The palace was built to increase the defense power of the people against enemy attacks during wars and rebellions.
  • The style of the palace is Gothic and Florentine.
  • It is cube-shaped and made of solid masonry.
  • The palace has two rows of Gothic-style windows featuring arches in the shape of three feathers.

Florence, Italy: Palazzo Vecchio

Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence By Ввласенко

Basilica of Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan church in the world.

  • It comprises 16 different churches decorated with wall paintings and several bell towers.
  • The complex became public property as part of the religious houses after the war in 1866.
  • The architect of the church is Saint Francis.
  • The style of the church is Gothic and Renaissance.
  • The decorations of the church feature marble and a prominent Star of David.
  • The original building contained 16th-century altars and plasterwork that were removed during restoration.

“Among the planets of the arts, architecture is the dark side of the moon.”

Bruno Zevi

After gaining insights into Italian architects and exploring notable Italian buildings in their major cities, the captivating history of Italian architecture emerges as a truly mesmerizing aspect of this article. Let’s delve deep into its enchanting depths.

3. History of Italian Architecture

The history of Italian architecture is a captivating narrative that unfolds across centuries, encompassing a rich tapestry of styles and influences. Originating in the grandeur of Ancient Rome, where the foundations of architectural brilliance were laid, Italian architecture has evolved through diverse epochs.

The enduring legacy of Roman architecture, the Byzantine influences that followed, and the transformative Renaissance period mark pivotal chapters. As the Western Roman Empire played a central role, Italy became a melting pot of architectural styles. The transition from Romanesque to new architectural styles signifies a dynamic shift, echoing the changing tides of history.

Today, contemporary architecture in Italy not only reflects a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation but also incorporates elements inspired by foreign influences. As the nation grapples with future challenges, architects explore forward-thinking solutions, contributing to an ever-evolving legacy of Italian architectural excellence. This exploration through time unveils Italy’s architectural journey, from ancient marvels to the promise of future innovations.

Model of an Etruscan temple Rom, Photo By Carole Raddato

Building the Etruscan architectural sites emerged among the Etruscans between 900 and 27 BC and was influenced by Greek architecture from 630 BC.

  • Skilled builders of various structures in urban spaces using stone and wood.
  • A common use of stone arches and marble pillars.
  • Exteriors decorated with minimal adornment.
  • Hill-shaped houses and tombs made with mud bricks and terracotta.
  • Smooth-sided wooden pillars and beams were widespread.
  • Wooden pillars were used.
  • Bases and pillars are placed in painted pottery.
  • Decorative painting on all roof edges.
  • Shared features with Roman villas and Greek temples.

La Villa Giulia

Classical Greek Architecture

The classical architecture of Greek is known for its formal structure and decoration, including the construction of temples and open-air theaters dating back to around 480 to 525 BC in Italian architectural style.

  • The transition from wooden to stone and marble buildings.
  • Greek influence on using exterior decorations and details.
  • Deep classical Greek influence on ancient Roman villas and architecture.
  • The emergence of architectural orders in Greece (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian).
  • The distinction between architectural orders in columns, capital details, form, and proportions.

  • Short and regular pillars without a base.
  • Pillars narrowing from bottom to top.
  • Circular and spiral-shaped capitals with curves on top of pillars.
  • 20 grooves with sharp edges meeting at the pillar length.
  • Presence of reliefs and decorations in classical architecture.

Ionic columns with volutes and architrave By Paolo Villa
  • Narrow, grooved pillars with large bases and opposite spirals.
  • Headstone similar to Doric, but with horizontal band decoration.
  • Separate, shallow grooves on pillars with smooth strips between.
  • Typically 24 grooves along the pillar length.
  • Relief motifs in strip-shaped decorations.

Design of Ionic order
Detail of Ionic order Wikimedia

Corinthian order in Helsinki
Corinthian order. Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral By Ivo Kruusamägi

  • Derived from Ionic Order.
  • Similar structure to Ionic Order.
  • Pillars narrower than previous orders.
  • Pillar heads have more intricate patterns than Doric and Ionic Orders.
  • Decorative, bell-shaped pillar heads.
  • Pillars adorned with ivy flowers or twisted roses.

Corinthian order

Ancient Roman Architecture

Roman Theatre of Mérida, Spain By Benjamín Núñez González

Rome architecture, spanning from 509 BC to the 4th century AD, inherited styles from Greek, Etruscan, and Corinthian architecture. 

  • Use of classical Greek architecture orders of Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
  • More incorporation of  Roman arches and domes than in previous styles.
  • Detached pillars are utilized as decorative elements, even when no longer needed for structural support.

Medieval Period

Basilica of San Vitale, Photo by Isatz

The architectural influence that originated in the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, known as Byzantine architecture, along with Byzantine art had a profound impact on the development of medieval architecture throughout Europe and the Middle East.

  • Round domes and intricate mosaics are prominent features in Italian Byzantine architectural works.
  • Structures typically follow a square plan with a central focus and include pillars resembling the Corinthian order.
  • Pillars exhibit smoother surfaces with embossed leaf motifs and often incorporate animal imagery in the Eastern tradition.
  •  Draped windows with sheets to regulate the influx of light.

The monastery of San Vittore alle Chiuse, Genga, Photo by Massimo Roselli

Southern Italy Romanesque architecture emerged during the 10th century and remained in vogue until the end of the 12th century, encompassing two distinct periods – early Romanesque and Romanesque style.

Characteristics of Romanesque style:

  • Thick walls, precise stone cuts, round arches, large towers, and decorative arcading contribute to the stability and similarity of Romanesque architecture in many Tuscan Romanesque buildings.
  • More than half of the buildings in the Romanesque style feature a symmetrical rectangular plan with a sturdy foundation. Thick stone pillars and wall bases serve as protective barriers.

Milan Cathedral, Photo By Daryan Shamkhali

Gothic architecture emerged in the 12th century as a blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles, created by monks. However, initially, Italian architects preferred traditional methods and Rome architecture and were not influenced by the Gothic style.

  • Decorative materials such as brick and marble are used in its construction technique.
  • The Gothic period is characterized by tall and elegant structures, which evoke spirituality and display wealth.
  • It is commonly used in church construction, featuring verandas, large windows, balconies, and external staircases.
  • Gothic architecture commonly incorporates pointed arches, ribbed arches, and arched columns.
  • Detailed paintings and stained glass windows are typical features of Gothic architecture.
  • More than half of the style creates a unique atmosphere through the use of colored glass and manipulation of light.

Italian Renaissance Architecture

Scuola Grande di San Marco, Venice, Photo by G.dallorto

The Renaissance period in architecture began in Florence during the 15th and 16th centuries as an Italian architectural style, incorporating ideas from ancient Greek and Roman architecture. This period followed the Gothic style but featured a more modern and classical style.

The emergence of Michelangelo’s artwork was also a notable aspect of this period.

  • Often uses symmetrical square or rectangular plans.
  • Renaissance architecture generally avoids sharp angles.
  • Low-pitched roofs with decorative cornices or balustrades are a characteristic feature of this style.
  • Curved lines, especially in arched and stained glass windows, are a prominent element of this style.

See alsoHigh Renaissance in Italy: The Art of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael

Italian Baroque Architecture

Royal Palace of Caserta, Photo By Carlo Pelagalli

The late Baroque architecture style evolved from the Renaissance style, continues to neoclassical architecture, and is characterized by dense decoration, with a focus on domes, cross naves, columns, and central highlights.

  • The baroque concept features irregular and winding construction techniques that prioritize emotions over reason.
  • Free design is employed in baroque art to create a three-dimensional appearance in its own style.
  • Curved walls, sculptures, and relief work are prominent in baroque art, with lavish decoration and unique colors.
  • Light is used in the baroque concept to create a double effect on the facade, and some buildings may intentionally be left unfinished.
  • Plaster and marble are commonly used materials in baroque architecture.

Modern and Contemporary Architecture

Casa Galimberti, Milan, Photo By Melancholia

There were lots of changes in Italian architectural style at the beginning of the 20th century. This period was marked by a surge in creative energy and a strong artistic expression of Italian style and culture, especially in art nouveau.

  • Showcased diverse aesthetic and artistic inspired movements in architectural designs, including the Liberty style by Ernesto Basile.
  • Embraced both Italianism and modernism.
  • Art Nouveau style emerged and influenced figurative arts and liberty style.
  • Movement for urban spaces and architectural decorations impacted furniture and decoration designs.

Italian Fascism Architecture

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Photo By Ágatha Depiné

Fascist architecture emerged in the late 1920s, blending different architectural styles with a blend of extreme nationalism and modernism. Under Benito Mussolini’s leadership during World War II, Rationalism gained prominence as a favored form of Fascist architecture in Italy from 1922 to 1943.

  • Reflects a “return to order” and features similarities with ancient Roman architecture, reflecting the values of fascism as a political ideology.
  • Strong concrete structures were built during this era to spread fascist ideals and display power.
  • The adoption of Fascist architectural styles was part of Mussolini’s efforts to revive culture in Italy and promote national pride.

Italian Modernism Architecture

The Ostiense post office in via Marmorata

Italian modernism emerged in the 20th century after wwi and lasted until the mid-century,by an inspired movement. Modern Italian architecture rejected historical styles in favor of innovative designs that had roots in the Age of Enlightenment.

  • Followed the principle of “form follows function” and prioritized the integration of technology and industry in design.
  • Strived for social equality and accessibility for everyone.
  • Utilized modern materials, techniques, and engineering, which transformed the look of architecture.
  • Rationalism, which was influenced by the Fascist era, influenced the new architectural style.

Now that we’ve discussed the history of Italian architecture, we want to share with you some of the stunning works by international architects that you can’t miss during your visit to Italy. Get ready to be amazed by these incredible structures!

4. Impact of International Architects 

MAXXI, Rome – Architect: Zaha Hadid

Oscar Niemeyer (1907 – 2012) was a Brazilian architect known as one of the most important figures in the development of modernist architecture.

He was admired for his sculptures and monumental constructions and his use of abstract shapes and curves.

Exterior design of Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium
Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium Wikimedia

Oscar Niemeyer theater in southern Italy features curved designs and geometric forms resembling a giant bird. Its entrance, shaped like a mandolin or medieval helmet, leads to the inner hall. The theater includes a tower with a stunning view, a theater complex, and an open field for cultural events.

Palácio Mondatori Photo By Carlo Dell’Orto

The Mondadori building in Milan occupies a spacious 190,000 square meter green area. It showcases unconventional architectural details while utilizing common materials like reinforced concrete and steel.

The absence of arches and symmetrical arrangement distinguishes it from modernist architecture.

Santiago Calatrava Valls (1951) is a Spanish architect, structural engineer, sculptor, and painter. He received his diploma in architecture and then pursued higher studies in urban planning.

Santiago is known for his designs of railway stations, stadiums, museums, and sculptural forms that often resemble living creatures.

Beautiful view of Constitution Bridge
Constitution Bridge By Christoph Radtke

The Ponte della Costituzione, designed by Santiago Calatrava, is Venice’s fourth bridge over the Grand Canal. It features geometric forms, arched structure, and a unique stairway with alternating stone and glass steps illuminated by fluorescent lamps.

The gondola lift of the Constitution bridge

Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi British architect, artist, and designer who was recognized as one of the main figures of architecture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

She was described by the Guardian as the “Queen of the Curve” who liberally used architectural geometry and gave it a whole new identity.

At the time of his death, many of his works were unfinished, and several awards were given to him posthumously.

Stazione Marittima di Salerno Wikimedia

Salerno Marine Station, the city’s cruise terminal at Port of Salerno, is a creatively designed shell-like structure representing the transition from land to sea. It opened in April 2016, shortly after Zaha Hadid’s passing.

Richard Meyer (1934) is an American abstract artist and architect who uses white color a lot in his geometric designs.

Richard Meyer, the winner of the 1984 Pritzker Architecture Prize, has designed several iconic buildings, including Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Designed by Richard Meyer, the Arapacis Museum in Rome features a blend of steel, travertine, glass, and plaster. It represents the first expression of Fascist urban architecture in the city center, showcasing elements of the Western Roman Empire style and captivating visitors with its impressive white surfaces.

Richard Meier, the American architect, designed the arched and curved Citadel Bridge, spanning 185 meters, for traffic purposes. It replaces the previous bridge destroyed in a 1994 flood, serving as a modern connection between the city’s past and future with its concrete and painted steel structure.

Jubilee Church – Rome Wikimedia

Richard Meier constructed the Jubilee Church, a Catholic place of worship and community center in Rome. The site comprises the church, community center, terrace, recreation court, and west parking lot. The ship-like design features three significant curved walls made of precast concrete, aimed at reducing heat load inside.

Norman Foster (1935) is a British architect and designer who is known as a key figure in British modernist architecture.

Foster initially focused on the construction of office buildings.

Now he manages the design and construction of innovative, safe, and sustainable buildings in some of the world’s most inhospitable and unstable regions.

Norman Foster constructed the Einaudi Campus in 2013 to foster connectivity between 5,000 students, the environment, and the community. The modern interpretation features two interconnected buildings with a shared canopy, while the campus landscape includes meandering walkways and riverside paths that link to local transportation.

In the upcoming section of the article, we have compiled a list of fascinating videos, books, universities offering architecture courses, and Instagram accounts that you should check out. Get ready to explore some fantastic resources!

5. Sources You Can’t-Miss

Here are some videos that will transport you to different eras and cities in Italy.

  1. Are you curious about the sinking city of Venice? Then, you can’t miss this 

  1. If you’re a fan of the Renaissance period, you’ll love this documentary that focuses on the era of

  1. Have you ever wondered about Etruscan architecture? Check out this documentary that portrays its features during their era: 

  1. For a detailed introduction to the architecture of the Italian Renaissance, this video is a must-watch:

  1. Ready to explore Florence? This video provides interesting information about the historic Renaissance city of Tuscany: 

  1. Last but not least, if you want to know everything about Rome, this video is for you:

Great books

We’ve curated a list of some amazing books on Italian art and architecture that will take you on an unforgettable journey through time. 

  1. Art and Architecture in Italy, 1250-1400 (The Yale University Press Pelican History of Art)
  1. Architecture in Italy, 1500-1600 (The Yale University Press Pelican History of Art)
  1. Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King
  1. Italian Architecture from Michelangelo to Borromini (World of Art)
  1. Italian Splendor: Castles, Palaces, and Villas (Rizzoli Classics) Hardcover – September 29, 2015

Architectural Universities and Courses

Politecnico di Torino

Did you know that the Politecnico di Torino, also known as the Polytechnic University of Turin, was the very first university of architecture in Italy? It was founded back in 1859 and it’s still a top choice for students looking to pursue a career in this exciting field. 

Here’s a list of some popular universities and architecture courses in Italy for those who are interested in studying architecture:

  1. Politecnico di Milano
  2. Università Iuav di Venezia
  3. Università degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza”
  4. Politecnico di Torino
  5. Università degli Studi di Firenze.

These universities offer a wide range of courses covering everything from architectural history and design theory to urban planning and construction technology. And if you want to gain some hands-on experience, you can even participate in study abroad programs, internships, and research projects.

“Architects have to dream. We have to search for our Atlantises, to be explorers, adventurers, and yet to build responsibly and well.”

Renzo Piano

Italian Architects on Instagram

Follow These Italian Architects on Instagram for Design Inspiration

If you’re looking for some eye-catching and inspiring content, make sure to follow these architects on Instagram:

  • Massimiliano Fuksas (@massimilianofuksas_architects) – he’s worked on some pretty impressive projects, including Fiera di Milano and the New Rome/EUR Convention Centre. His Instagram feed is a must-see!

  • Stefano Boeri (@stefano.boeri) – he’s famous for his “Vertical Forest” projects, where he covers high-rise towers with lush greenery. Get ready to be blown away by his unique and innovative designs.

  • Carlo Ratti (@carloratti) – he’s all about sustainability and technology, and his projects like the “Digital Water Pavilion” and “Cloud Castles” installation are sure to leave you in awe.

Architecture in Italy: A Recap

Italy’s architectural legacy stands as a testament to a rich and dynamic cultural history, weaving together influences from the Etruscans to the Romans and beyond. From the grandeur of Ancient Rome, where architectural styles took root, to the Byzantine and Etruscan influences, the country’s diverse architectural tapestry reflects a continuous dialogue between the past and present.

The juxtaposition of modern architecture, exemplified by structures like Brunelleschi’s Dome, with ancient marvels such as Roman villas and the iconic Trevi Fountain, showcases Italy’s architectural prowess. The Pisa Cathedral, with its leaning tower, stands as a symbol of Italian innovation, while Southern Italy’s buildings carry an Eastern twist, blending diverse influences seamlessly. Italian architects, drawing inspiration from their historical heritage, continue to create designs that honor the past while embracing contemporary trends.

As art galleries become showcases of innovation and creativity, Italy’s architectural evolution remains a captivating journey, where the bulky stones of ancient structures find harmony with the sleek lines of modern buildings, exemplifying a timeless and enduring commitment to architectural excellence.