Day 11: Palladio Villa tour

I researched to find someone knowledgeable to guide us through some of Palladio’s villas. There are a lot of tours and you can even do some by electric bicycles which start at the courtyard of this building. But a private tour worked better for us to accommodate Scott’s knees.

Roberta Parlato’s PhD thesis was on the topic of one of Palladio’s villas. She now conducts tours of Palladian villas.

She started by taking us to the most iconic villa constructed by Palladio, the Villa Capra, nicknamed “La Rotonda”, in reference to the Pantheon in Rome. It’s not far from Vicenza’s centre. It is often described as a suburban villa, begun in 1566 for Count Paolo Almerico, the canon of Pope Pius IV and Pope Pius V, who lived in it as a retirement home. The second owners were two brothers of the family Capra and the family name appears on the facade.

The site is on a gentle wooded hilltop, with views of the countryside in all directions.

The villa is perfectly symmetrical, with four identical facades with porticos around the domed centre. Palladio often designed with strict mathematical proportions. Cubes and proportions of 3 to 5 were his favourites. The height of the Villa base is exactly the height of the attic, and the width of each portico exactly half the length of the facade.

La Rotonda is unique in having north-south, east-west axes from the corners of the building and not the porticoes. This was to provide more light inside.

The interior frescos were painted by Ludovico Dorigny and were not part of Palladio’s plan. The building was especially influential in inspiring “Neo-Palladianist” buildings such as Thomas Jefferson’s Montecello in Virginia built 200 years later.

Our second stop, Villa Barbaro (begun 1557) at Maser, was built for the brothers Marcantonio and Daniele Barbaro, who were important in politics and religious affairs in the Veneto, or Venice region. The long facade is perfectly balanced. The interior has both classical and religious motifs.

Unfortunately no photos are permitted of the interior. The central hall, The Hall of Olympus on the ground floor, is decorated with Roman gods and goddesses, but the long upper floor is in the form of a cross and Christian images predominate. The villa also has a series of remarkable frescos and ceiling paintings by Paolo Veronese combining mythical themes with scenes of everyday life. The interior design was believed to have been dictated by one of the Barbaro brothers, not Palladio. Scholars continue to debate the interpretation of some of the scenes which start with mythical figures in the ceiling and shift to more everyday scenes, imaginary landscapes and faux marble decoration in the lower registers. In the Veronese frescoes, we spotted four dogs. They look remarkably like the dogs lounging outside. No poodles and very chill—they didn’t even lift their heads as we walked near them.

Behind the villa, Palladio created a remarkable nymphaeum, or Roman fountain, with statues of the gods and goddesses of the major rivers of Italy. The pool was used to keep fish fresh for later eating.

We stopped for lunch at Hotel Cipriani in Asolo. We sat on the terrazza which over looked gardens and a pool below.

Our final stop was Villa Emo near the village of Fanzolo di Vedelago, in the Province of Treviso. The patron of this villa was Leonardo Emo and remained in the hands of the Emo family until it was sold in 2004. Building commenced 1555 or 1558, Palladio’s later period. The layout of the villa and its estate is strategically placed along the pre-existing Roman grid plan.

The design is considered more typical of Palladio’s villas but each villa shows creative design and none are the same.

There is a long rectangular axis that runs across the estate in a north–south direction. The central building of the villa is framed by two symmetrical long, lower colonnaded wings, or barchesses, which originally housed agricultural facilities, like granaries, cellars, and other service areas. This was a working villa like Villa Barbaro and a number of the other designs by Palladio. Both wings end with tall dovecotes which are structures that house nesting holes for domesticated pigeons. An arcade on the wings face the garden, consisting of columns that have rectangular blocks for the bases and capitols.

The interior design consisting of mythical and religious scenes is less sophisticated than Villa Barbaro.

After a long day, we went to Bar Borsa in the Basilica Palladiana where we could have a simpler meal. The place was hopping especially outside where there are a lot of tables basically in an open corridor of the building.

I had pasta with a sardine and capers sauce.

Scott had a “fish and chips” and an antipasto of anchovies and sweet peppers.

This was the start of a four-day weekend in Italy. Tuesday is Liberation Day commemorating when the Resistance ousted the Nazi-Fascists from Milan. As it falls on a Tuesday this year, Monday is also a holiday. Some places are open but some are not and the weather is not looking promising.

We are revising our plans but after this long tour day, plans are likely to involve rest.

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