Italy

Spotlight on Italy

Italy is a land celebrated for the arts, and not the least among the arts that have attained their highest expression in Italy is the art of hospitality. The Italian welcome is as warm and traditional as a glass of fine wine. This comparison is apt, for travelers in ancient times gave the country its first name: Land of Wines. Italians are such good hosts because they get so much practice welcoming visitors from all over the world.

Italy is one of the most popular vacation countries in Europe, all seasons being good for a visit. In summer, Italy is an international playground, with visitors from all continents mingling with vacationing Italians at the famous resorts. Spring comes early to Italy and autumn lingers - and so will the wise traveler who wants to enjoy at a more leisurely pace the art centers, the large cities and the holiday resorts such as those in the Lombardian lake region where spring and fall are ideal seasons.

In winter, the Italian Alps are unequaled for scenery and skiing. In northern Italy are some of the world's most renowned winter sports resorts, easily reached from such centers as Torino, chief city of the westernmost Piemonte region; from Milano, hub of the central mountain and lake district; and from Venezia, leading city of the eastern region. Skiing is also a summer sport in the Torino Alps and the lofty mountains surrounding the Valle d’Aosta.

From the sunny southern slopes of the Alps to the lush orange groves of Sicilia, Italy offers enormous variety in its natural scenery and historical backgrounds. Because a good part of Italy grew up as a collection of independent city-states, customs and food vary greatly from region to region. This rich history is preserved in the colorful folklore festivals that take place in all of Italy's regions throughout the year.

Most of the year the beaches are sunny, with 5,310 miles of shoreline bordering Italy and its islands. You can usually find waters where the temperature is right for swimming. And history is always in season: choose any time of year to tour historic buildings and view the world's greatest art treasures, for this is a land that has been writing and preserving its history for over three thousand years.

Rome - Sprawled across seven legendary hills, romantic and beautiful Rome was one of the great centers of the ancient world. Although its beginning is shrouded in legend and its development is full of intrigue and struggle, Rome has always been and remains the Eternal City.

   Rome enjoyed its greatest splendor during the 1st and 2nd centuries when art flourished, monumental works of architecture were erected, and the mighty Roman legions swept outward, conquering all of Italy. These victorious armies then swept across the Mediterranean and beyond to conquer most of the known world. With Rome’s establishment as capital of the western world, a new ascent to glory began.

Today’s Rome, with its splendid churches, ancient monuments and palaces, spacious parks, tree-lined boulevards, fountains, outdoor cafés and elegant shops, is one of the world’s most attractive and exciting cities. Among the most famous monuments is the Colosseum. As you walk its cool, dark passageways, imagine the voices that once filled the arena as 50,000 spectators watched combats between muscled gladiators and ferocious animals.

   Stop to see the remains of the Forum, once the city’s political and commercial center. In later times, Rome’s squares were enhanced with such imposing structures as the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and grandiose fountains like the Fontana di Trevi. Join the millions who stand in awe of Christendom’s most magnificent church and admire the timeless masterpieces of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

   Rome jars the senses and captures the soul. Grasp all you can during the short, precious time you have available in the Eternal City. With so much to see and do, a day or two will only allow you a sampling of the city's marvelous treasures.

Caution: As in many big cities and tourist destinations purse snatching and pickpocketing is common. Valuable jewelry and excess cash are best left in a safety deposit box in your hotel.

Shopping For most visitors shopping for beautiful Italian leather articles, designer shoes, fashions for men and women, linens, knitwear, silk scarves and ties is a favorite pastime. Except for tourist-oriented shops, the majority of stores are closed on Sundays. Some of the department stores, such as Rinascente, open in the late afternoon on Sundays. The local currency is the lira.

Cuisine Rome's choice of restaurants is mindboggling as is the variety of cuisine. Whether your meal is at a top-rated restaurant or a rustic trattoria, you can be sure that you will enjoy your food, especially when accompanied by wines from the hill towns surrounding Rome.

Other Sights Rome's attractions are endless, and depending on how much time you have at your disposal a careful selection has to be made about what to see. Be aware of horrendous traffic conditions and major construction work all around the city in preparation of Jubilee 2000, the Holy Year. Some of the sights not to be missed:

    Piazza Venezia -- This busy square is easily recognized by its imposing Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. The white marble structure was inaugurated in 1911 as a symbol of Italy’s unification.

    The Forum -- Once the civic heart of ancient Rome, today the remains include a series of ruins, marble fragments, isolated columns and some worn arches.

    Colosseum -- No visit to Rome is complete without a stop at this awe-inspiring theater, which is among the world’s most celebrated buildings. Here ancient Rome flocked to see gladiatorial contests and numerous other spectacles.

    Trevi Fountain -- Take a stroll to Rome's famous fountain. A spectacular fantasy of mythical sea creatures and cascades of splashing water, the fountain is one of the city's foremost attractions. Legend has it that visitors must toss a coin into the fountain to ensure their return to Rome.

    St. Peter’s Square -- Part of Vatican City, this square created by Bernini is considered one of the loveliest squares in the world. Twin Doric colonnades topped with statues of various saints and martyrs flank either side of the square. In the center stands an 84-foot obelisk, brought from Egypt in 37 A.D.

    St. Peter's Basilica -- At the head of the square stands Christendom’s most magnificent church, which was begun in 1452 on the site where St. Peter was buried. Throughout the following 200 years, such Renaissance masters as Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini worked on its design and created an unparalleled masterpiece. Of special note are Michelangelo’s Pietà and the bronze canopy over the high altar by Bernini. The immense dome was designed by Michelangelo.

    Vatican Museum -- To see this museum's immense collection would take days. As you enter, there are special posters that plot a choice of four color-coded itineraries. They are repeated throughout the museum and are easy to follow. It is a good idea to pickup a leaflet at the main entrance and concentrate on exhibits of major interest. Of course, the Sistine Chapel is a must. Most likely you may have to wait in line to enter.

Florence/Pisa (Livorno)– Livorno serves as a convenient gateway to Tuscany - which is known for classic landscapes and lush vineyards. Visitors come to see great art centers of Florence, Lucca and Pisa - where names like Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Boticelli, da Vinci, Donatello and Dante come to mind. Pisa is known for its brilliant monuments, which include the 11th-century Cathedral, the Baptistery and the leaning Bell Tower. Lucca is one of the most handsome Romanesque cities in Europe. Its historic center features several fine old churches and lovely squares. Lucca is also known as home of composer Giacomo Puccini, whose birthplace is now a museum. Walking in the historic center, shopping in its elegant stores and enjoying a meal of renowned Tuscan cuisine are some highlights of this area. Downtown Livorno has a fine local market and a variety of fine shops and restaurants. Sights include the 14th-century Loggia della Signoria assembly hall in Florence; the Uffizi Gallery, which houses one of the world's famed museums and the Accademia best-known for Michelangelo's sculptures.

Venice -  With a great historic past and incomparable art treasures, Venice is renowned as one of the world’s great cities. Its 118 islands are separated by more than 150 canals and spanned by 400 bridges. During Venice's artistic golden age many magnificent structures were erected to create world-famous masterpieces. One of the best sightseeing routes is along Grand Canal, with many palaces lining the famous waterway. St. Mark’s Square offers access to some of Venice’s most famed attractions - St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. From Piazza San Marco, a maze of narrow streets is lined with shops, cafés and restaurants. A popular pastime is sitting at an outdoor café facing the square while people-watching and letting the whole marvelous scenario unfold. Venice’s Murano, Burano and Torcello Islands comprise an area famous as home of Venice’s glass-blowing industry and known for their charm, skilled lace-making and medieval monuments. Relax on a gondola ride, see art treasures in museums, churches and palaces, and have a sumptuous meal - all in this incomparable city.

Naples - From Naples visitors can explore the rugged Amalfi coast, Italy's most romantic stretch of coastline. Near Amalfi is the resort of Positano, where visitors enjoy strolling through streets and shopping in small boutiques. Take an excursion to legendary Pompeii, an ancient Roman city covered and preserved by the debris from the violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The monuments of this city are considered to be among the finest of any ancient city in Europe, and visitors can spend a day here learning about life in a Roman town during the first century A.D. The Cathedral of San Gennaro, a fine medieval building, has one chapel containing the tomb of Charles of Anjou, while another houses the cathedral's gold and silver treasure. Among the Christian underground burial vaults discovered in an area of suburban heights, the Catacombs of San Gennaro can be visited. Capodimonte Park - a well-kept tropical park - has a royal palace built by Charles III in 1738 that now houses Naples' picture gallery, the National Museum of Capodimonte.

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