More than architectural style, Italy is known for its architectural achievements. The architecture of Italy spans almost 3000 years and is divided roughly into six time periods – Classical, Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque, 19th Century and 20th Century. Each of these made their own architectural contribution to the world.
The arch, developed in the Classical period beginning around 200 B.C., was a uniquely Roman invention and can be seen throughout the country in structures like the aquaducts and in the most famous of all buildings, the Colosseum. In addition, cement was the brainchild of the ancient Romans.
The Byzantine era brought us the modern concept of the basilica. In Roman times, the basilica, a long narrow building, served as a public building usually located in the forum of a city. During the Byzantine age, the basilica style was adopted by the church and became the basis for the magnificent churches we see today. The Basilica of San Marco in Venice is a prime example of the Byzantine influence which combined the architectural and decorative styles of East and West. Along with this, perhaps one of the major developments of this era was the building of domes over square or rectangular spaces.
Speaking of domes, the Renaissance era produced on of architectures greatest achievements
of its time – the Brunelleschi dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral of Florence. It was the largest dome ever constructed without the use of scaffolding.
The Baroque era produced a unique style rather than any particular architectural achievement. The affect of this style was theatrical and can be seen in St. Peter’s Square. It is shaped by two colonnades constructed on a colossal scale and meant to inspire awe. Baroque churches had powerful facades and were lavishly decorated. During this period, facades were often grafted onto older churches.
The 19th century of Italian architecture brought us the world’s oldest building purposely built for shopping – the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. It was also the first building in Italy to be built of iron, glass and steel and the first time glass was used as a part of the structure rather than as windows or a mere adornment.
Although Italy is known more for its pre-18th Century architecture, nonetheless the 20th Century has produced a number of architectural achievements. The Torre Velasca, a 26-floor tower in Milan, pioneered the use of reinforced concrete in modern building. The Pirelli Tower in Milan, was one of the first skyscrapers to break from the traditional block design with a long, narrow profile and tapered sides like the bow of a ship. It has been praised as one of the most elegant tall buildings in the world.
While much of Italian architecture reflects achievements, nonetheless Italy is awash with grand architecture wherever you go. From plazas to palaces, from churches to cathedrals, from villas to venues, Italian architecture will provide a lifetime of memories on your vacation to Italy.