Officially known as the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana, in Italian), Italy is a country in Western Europe on the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with France, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, San Marino, and Vatican City. Italy is known as a major cultural and commercial center of Europe and has historically played a huge role in the development of societies and civilizations around the world. Italy covers a total area of 116,350 square miles (301,340 square km) and has an estimated population of 60.48 million. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
5 of the Largest Cities in Italy
- Overview, Photo: Andrey Popov/stock.adobe.com
- Rome, Photo: cge2010/stock.adobe.com
- Milan, Photo: Henry Bonn/stock.adobe.com
- Naples, Photo: minoandriani/stock.adobe.com
- Turin, Photo: saiko3p/stock.adobe.com
- Palermo, Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of krivinis - Fotolia.com
Attraction Spotlight: Castel Sant’Angelo
Just east of the Vatican City, Italy lies Parco Adriano, home to Castel Sant’Angelo. In a city like Rome, brimming with history and culture, Castel Sant’Angelo is often overlooked by tourists. A tourist visiting a foreign country usually believes that they should only visit the most famous spots of a city; little do they know that Castel Sant’Angelo was once the tallest building in Rome and is still a priceless site to behold.
When thinking of a Roman emperor, Julius Caesar is usually the first to come to mind. In fact, many Roman emperors ruled the city over the years, and although he may not have been as famous as Julius Caesar, Emperor Hadrian ruled the city in the early A.D. era. Hadrian was the 14th emperor of the Roman Empire and reigned until his death in 138 A.D. Along with assisting to rebuild the Pantheon in Rome, Hadrian wanted to build a mausoleum for himself and his family. For most of Hadrian’s adult life, he wanted power more than anything and would stop at nothing to achieve it. He was the most versatile of all the Roman emperors, which helped maintain his appeal among the people. Hadrian wanted his legacy to continue even after his death and the death of his family. In the end, the mausoleum was not completed at the time of Hadrian’s demise, therefore he was moved twice before finally resting at Castel Sant’Angelo.
The mausoleum was construction between 134 and 139 A.D. The name of this castel translates into Saint Angelo and was named after the Archangel Michael. It is now the final resting place of Hadrian’s ashes as well as those of his wife and his adoptive son, Lucius. Over the years after Hadrian's death, other emperors and nobles were also laid to rest in this castel. In 401 A.D., it was used as a military fortress, which lead to the destruction of parts of it. Due to the constant attack on the city of Rome, the artifacts and urns placed in the castel, including that of Hadrian, were thought to have been destroyed, but it appears to have since been recovered and now lives in St. Peter's Basilica. This castel was also used as a prison during the Papal State. Since 1901, the Castel Sant'Angelo has been known as a national museum.
Monuments and Levels
There is a depiction of the Archangel Michael in the form of a statue that lies at the top of the castel, as he is said to be the protector of Castel Sant’Angelo. Many legends were formed following the end of the Roman wars, and many people believed that the Archangel Michael stopped the battles from happening within the castel’s vicinity to avoid further damage and casualties.
There are seven official levels of Castel Sant’Angelo. Each level depicts a different part of the history of Rome. The first level is where the courtyard is located. The second level is the famous mausoleum where Hadrian’s urn was once kept. The third level was used first as a prison, then as a warehouse and storage unit. The fourth level was used for military purposes as well as papal use. There are 58 rooms on this level of the castel, which house paintings, furniture, and weapons. The fifth level was used as papal apartments and they are beautiful decorated with frescos from Giulio Romano and students of the School of Raphael. The sixth level of the Castel has a “treasure room,” filled with amazing frescos and paintings. This level also has a library room that holds more frescos and paintings than books. The seventh level is home to the famous statue of the Archangel Michael. A beautiful panoramic view is visible to anyone who visits the seventh level of Castel Sant’Angelo. In order to receive the full experience of Castel Sant’Angelo, one should visit all the levels open to the public.
There is a secret passageway, used by the Popes, which leads from St. Peter's Basilica to Castel Sant’Angelo. This passageway was built to keep the Pope safe in case the Basilica was under fire and he needed a place to hide. This secret passage is no longer a secret, but the public has no access to the passageway.
The Castel Sant’Angelo is located on Luongotevere Castello road. It is easily accessible by foot from the Palazzo of Justice and the Saint Spirit Hospital in Rome. The castel is located within meters of Saint Peter's Basilica and the Square of the Vatican City.
50 Luongotevere Castello, Rome 00186, Italy
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Attraction Spotlight: Cerveteri
Cerveteri is located in the northern part of the Lazio region, close to the city of Rome. This stunning town was once an ancient Etruscan city, occupying 15 times more land than it does today. This quiet town often gets brushed aside by tourists because it is not well known among the tourism community. Traveling to this remote town is a great way to break free from the daily chaos that encompasses Rome.
The city of Cerveteri was not always called by this name. To the Etruscan people, Cerveteri was known as Caere or Cisra and was located less than 10 miles from the coast. The closeness of the sea helped turn this city into a huge seaport district and trade was much easier as the shore was close to the city center. During the 7th century B.C., trading was a common practice among the Etruscan people, and rich and noble families from Greece, Southern Italy, and Sicily all wanted the chance to work out a trade agreement with the city of Cisra. Jewelry and pottery became the top products sold within the city and to outside buyers. The townspeople of Cisra also detested pirates and swore to never to become involved in that kind of activity. The name Caere is first mentioned in the history books in the Battle of Alalia, in 540 B.C. These depictions are not favorable to Caere, however, due to the fact that prisoners were stoned to death within these city walls. Throughout history, Caere always maintained a firm relationship with the city of Rome. Both cities knew that they needed one another to survive in the world. Unfortunately for the Etruscans of Caere, the Romans could not be trusted and the Roman Empire eventually took over the city of Caere and its people. Needless to say, the friendship between the two strong cities ceased to exist, and by the beginning to the 1st century A.D., it became apparent that the wealth and richness of the city had been completely taken over by the Romans. Excavations of the ancient city have been underway for many years and although progress has been slow, it has remained steady. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was the city of Caere. It took hundreds of years to bury this city and it could take hundreds of years to completely rediscover it. UNESCO named Cerveteri a World Heritage Site in 2004, along with the neighboring city of Tarquinia.
During the 700–300 B.C. era, the Etruscans decided they needed to build a place to bury the dead of Caere, and so the necropolis of Banditaccia was built in order to preserve the bodies. The most famous attraction of Cerveteri is called Necropoli della Banditaccia, whereby a necropolis, or city of the dead, is a large, ancient cemetery.
Out of the 1,000 acres of land occupied by the necropolis, only 25 acres can be visited by tourists. The tombs of the wealthy can be easily distinguished among the other burial sites as if a person was poor or from the middle class, they were most likely have little more than a hole or a pit in which their bodies were laid to rest. The Etruscan people believed that they would live another life after death, therefore they were often buried with their personal items. The wealthier families also had sculptures or other designs carved to represent themselves or loved ones.
The most famous tombs that have been uncovered so far are the Tomb of the Painted Lions (620 B.C.), the Tomb of the Reliefs (4th- 2nd century), and the Regolini-Galassi Tomb (7th century). The Tomb of the Reliefs bears inscriptions revealing that the Mantuni family was buried there. The Tomb of Regolkni-Galassi was uncovered in recent years, and gold and jewelry were found within the tomb. The necropolis was built to resemble the streets of the ancient Etruscan city of Caere in order to make the burial process easier for the people.
The palace of the royal family Ruspoli was built in Cerveteri in 1533. Through an enclosed bridge, it connects to the Santa Maria Maggiore Church. Another church, the Sant’Antonio Abate Church, bears a wall fresco painted in 1472 by Lorenzo da Viterbo, an Italian artist and painter who worked on many churches and buildings during the Renaissance.
Local Wines Nearby
Cerveteri is known not only for its ancient Etruscan city and large ancient cemetery. The area surrounding Cerveteri also produces some of the most delicious red and white wines in the region, and while the harvests are limited, the end result is a pure glass of heaven. The wines are often blended with other wines to produce a richer flavor and taste.
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Attraction Spotlight: Castelli Romani
When they hear the word Castelli, many people automatically think of castles, since this is the literal translation of Castelli. However, the Castelli Romani are not castles, but rather refers to the villas and hill towns located in a forested, green countryside located a short distance from the major city of Rome, Italy.
Located at the base of the Alban Hills, Castelli Romani is made up of 17 towns scattered throughout the countryside. Nestled in between the lakes of Nemi and Albano, Castelli Romani is a tranquil place where ancient wealthy families and nobility came for a vacation. The area of Castelli Romani was named as such because there is at least one mansion or castle-like home located in each of the 17 towns. Unfortunately, over time some of these have been destroyed. The cities of this area include: Albano Laziale, Ariccia, Castel Gandolfo, Colonna, Frascati, Genzano, Grottaferrata, Lanuvio, Lariano, Marino, Monte Compatri, Monte Porzio Catone, Nemi, Rocca di Papa, Rocca Priora, and Velletri. While it may be hard to check out every one of these places, one could choose the most interesting to explore. These villages and towns extend over a 50-square-mile area.
One of the most visited towns of the Castelli Romani is Castel Gandolfo. This town was built on top of volcanic ash. The family Gandolfo was the original family who built their homes in this town, hence the name of the town. For years, this town has served as the top vacation destination for the Pope and the Palazzo Apostolico served as the papal home away from home up until 2016. This palace now serves as a public museum.
Ariccia is quaint town among the Castelli Romani and has one of the most spectacular parks in the region, the Parco Regionale dei Castelli Romani. Before Rome rose to fame, Ariccia was a prominent city that was quickly gaining power that could have overthrown Rome. Unfortunately for Ariccia, Rome took the upper hand and became the powerhouse of Italy. The Church of Assuntawas built in the early 17th century. The amazing frescos on the walls were painted by Ambrogio Borgognone, whose other works can be seen at the National Gallery in London and the San Simpliciano in Milan.
The town of Rocco Priora houses one of the many castles throughout the region of Castelli Romani. The amazing green hills are a nature lover’s paradise. This castle is called the Baronial Palace and has been slowly deteriorating over time. The town has called upon famous architects to fix the structure, but it would seem that nothing can be done. It is now a symbolic monument to some of the towns greatest accomplishments.
In Lanuvio, the Fountain of the Scogli has become a true gem of the town. The fountain was built by Carlo Fontana and has been admired by locals and tourists for over 400 years.
The town of Genzano is filled with art and culture artifacts that have withstood the test of time and the Palazzo Sforza Cesarini is the main focal point of the village. The last Roman emperor was born in Genzano and the walls of his former home can still be admired at the Villa of the Antonini. In June of each year, a traditional feast called an Infiorata is held to celebrate the beauty of the flowers surrounding the village.
The town of Nemi is the closest town to Lake Nemi, which is a volcanic crater lake and features Castello Ruspoli, a 16th-century castle that was built for the noble family of Ruspoli. This castle has been well preserved over the years by the people of the town. Nemi is quite possibly most famous for its delicious strawberries, which are grown in the rich soil of the volcanic hills nearby. The gorgeous blue water of Lake Nemi can be tempting, but unfortunately swimming is prohibited here.
The villages surrounding Castelli Romani are famous for making the most delicious wines in the region and the village of Lanuvio in particular makes the most succulent vintage, freshly picked from the Languini Hills. In fact, what was once the town jail in the city center of Lanuvio is now a local wine making company.
The village of Lanuvio is not the only town that makes wine. The village of Frascati is also a popular destination for wine lovers. The white wine made here has been cultivated in the same way since the 5th century B.C., and ancient Romans always had a glass of this crisp white wine to drink with their meals.
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