Saturday, 29 October 2016

Letter from Venice (23) 29-10-16

My second train journey takes me to Vicenza, another wealthy Veneto town whose success is built on gold, precious metals, Venetian rule and good geography between two rivers. This town is famous for being the home and burial place of Andrea Palladio and is littered with his productions. The railway station has a beautiful backdrop of a wooded hillside clothed in autumn colours which can be seen from the platforms. I cross the vast Common between the station and the town and soon encounter Palladio’s art in a small lodge in a park and a lovely unfinished fragment in the Piazza di Castello. From here, I follow the classy Corso di Palladio and, dipping into the Corso Antonio Fogazzaro, see the lovely façade of the Palazzo Valmarana Braga. Ten minutes later I am sitting in one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, the Piazza Signoria where the stunning Basilica Palladiana, punctuated strikingly by circular holes in the marble, faces the glorious Loggia del Capitanato and is flanked by a beautifully slender and incredibly high clock tower. There is a statue of Palladio in the adjoining Piazzetta named after him. Having drunk all of this in, I descend behind the Basilica to a small street off the Piazza delle Erbe where I quickly find the Casa Pigafetta. This has a façade practically embroidered with Spanish Gothic stone. Beneath the ground floor windows are two panels bearing the words (in old-style French for some reason) – ‘Il n’est rose sans espine’ (No rose without a thorn). Pigafetta was one of only 21 men who survived Magellan’s first ever circumnavigation of the globe ending in 1522. From here to the extraordinary Teatro Olimpico designed by Palladio just before his death and completed by his son and Scamozzi. Ninety statues adorn what seem to be Palladian facades brought indoors. They are made of brick for lightness. The curtain of the stage is a Palladian façade pierced with three arches beyond which wooden trompe l’oeil stage sets disappear to vanishing points. The ceiling of the theatre is painted with blue sky and fluffy white clouds. Not replete with Palladio I decide to see some of his out of town efforts. I cut across town and come to the foot of the Scalette – 192 steps leading up towards the Villa Valmarana ai Nani (of Dwarves). Exhausted at the top I then follow cobbled lanes along a high spur past many forbidding residential walls. Eventually I come to a wall surmounted by around twenty statutes of different male and female dwarves. There is speculation that the family who ordered this had a dwarf child and that it was done to give him or her friendly familiars. The Villa has Tiepolo ceilings but is closed from 12 till 3. Through the garden I can see the soft wooded hillside view opposite the Villa. In the sunlight it is a pure pleasure to the eye. I content myself with descending the lane until it reaches a road. Barely twenty yards away is the entrance to one of the most famous pieces of architecture ever conceived – Palladio’s Villa La Capra usually known as La Rotonda. I see one facade from the outside – it is a perfection of clear geometry simply centred around a cube and a circle.

I am exhausted when I reach the station in time to catch the 14.02 back to Santa Lucia and fall asleep immediately on the train, waking in time to alight 40 minutes later and emerge once again onto the station steps.

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