Pal­la­dian beau­ties

No­ble fam­i­lies in Italy’s Veneto re­gion are open­ing their vil­las to tourists

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays For Seniors - MAEV KENNEDY

PICKEDout by the sharp light of an early sum­mer’s day, Villa La Ro­tonda looks un­nat­u­rally per­fect, its shal­low dome echo­ing the low hill on which it stands, an ex­er­cise in pure geom­e­try, a cross on a square on a cir­cle, milky pale as if carved out of ice-cream.

The house has stood since 1567. It sits just out­side the small north­ern Ital­ian town of Vi­cenza, in the Veneto. This is the re­gion that sur­rounds Venice, its cap­i­tal, form­ing a lush agri­cul­tural plain in the shadow of the Dolomites. From Venice, it stretches to­wards Verona and Mi­lan in the east, and south to­wards Bologna.

Vi­cenza is a pleas­ant lit­tle town, but if it weren’t for the works of An­drea Pal­la­dio, a miller’s son from Padua who, in­spired by the ar­chi­tec­ture of an­cient Rome, cre­ated the Ro­tonda and scores of other build­ings in the town and across the Veneto, it is doubt­ful many tourists would search it out.

Pal­la­dio de­signed some of the most eerily per­fect build­ings ever con­structed. For cen­turies ar­chi­tects, artists, po­ets, and wealthy tourists have come to re­vere them and gone home to im­i­tate. His in­flu­ence sur­vives not just in man­sions such as the White House but in count­less town halls, li­braries and mu­se­ums across the world.

Villa La Ro­tonda is the most fa­mous of his vil­las; Villa di Maser, on the out­skirts of the vil­lage of the same name, and where Pal­la­dio died in 1580, is per­haps even more beau­ti­ful, cut into a hill­side with breath­tak­ing views and in­te­ri­ors cov­ered in rav­ish­ing fres­coes by Veronese. Both are UNESCO World Her­itage sites, but there are dozens more scat­tered across the Veneto, and lit­er­ally thou­sands by other ar­chi­tects. ‘‘Per­haps the art of ar­chi­tec­ture has never reached such a height,’’ the Ger­man poet and philoso­pher Jo­hann Wolf­gang von Goethe wrote in his note­book when he came to La Ro­tonda in 1786 on a per­sonal pil­grim­age.

Goethe ev­i­dently man­aged to get in­side, since he de­scribed the domed cen­tral hall as ‘‘of the most beau­ti­ful pro­por­tions’’. Many pil­grims have been less for­tu­nate. Most of the pri­vately owned houses have never opened to the gen­eral pub­lic, and the ones that were open kept odd and un­pre­dictable hours, with no cen­tral in­for­ma­tion point to help plan vis­its.

But this year, a new ini­tia­tive has launched to pro­mote th­ese trea­sures, with pri­vate, pub­lic and com­mer­cial own­ers co-op­er­at­ing for the first time. A Ville Venete web­site now de­tails the pro­ject of ‘‘open­ing up’’ the houses, and so I man­aged to get into sev­eral Pal­la­dio vil­las across the re­gion, some of which host guests for overnight stays.

I strolled at dusk through a pri­vate wood scat­tered with carved stones from older build­ings right back to the Ro­mans. I tried not to stare too hard at side­boards cov­ered in pho­to­graphs of half the ti­tled fam­i­lies in Europe that I re­called vaguely from Hello! mag­a­zine’s royal wed­ding spreads; stood in fres­coed halls just as the Vene­tian aris­to­crats once stood gaz­ing at their vines and fields stretch­ing to the hori­zon.

I even stayed in a huge fres­coed room in an­other palace, Villa Cor­ner della Regina, near Tre­viso, a charm­ing town by­passed by mil­lions of tourists ev­ery year on their

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.