Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
Behind the high altar in the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, also known as the Duomo di Torino is the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, containing one of most famous and controversial religious relics in world history.
The Shroud of Turin, as the Holy Shroud is popularly known, or Sacra Sindone, is a piece of linen cloth said to have been laid over the body of Jesus Christ following his crucifixion. It bears the faded image of a bearded, longhaired man who appears to have wounds consistent with Bibilical traditions of those suffered by Christ at his execution.
Whatever the shroud's authenticity, it is certainly old, and its existence has inspired and renewed the faith of innumerable Christians throughout history. Given its importance, the Church has gone to great lengths to preserve it; currently, it is housed in a climate-controlled case filled with a special atmosphere comprised of argon and a little bit of oxygen, and it is rarely displayed.
Portovenere, on the Italian Rivera and located in close proximity to the famous Cinque Terre, is known for its picturesque harbor. Known mostly to the Italians, that is. Many tourists sadly skip over this seaside village, favoring the brightly colored houses of the Cinque Terre instead.
Far less crowded Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, Portovenere has its own colorful houses that line the harbor. Here you’ll also find the picturesque black and white striped church of San Pietro, which sits dramatically on a rocky promontory, narrow Medieval lanes that snake up to the hilltop 12th-century Doria Castle, and the rocky alcove known as Byron’s Cave, where the poet Lord Byron himself used to swim. There are also many shops selling local wares – wine, ceramics and olive oil – making for plenty to do in Portovenere.
Genoa's cathedral is dedicated to St. Lawrence – or San Lorenzo in Italian – and there are a few names you might see that all mean this same church. The Genoa Cathedral, St. Lawrence Cathedral, the Genoa Duomo, or the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo – all of those refer to the same place.
Originally founded in the 5th or 6th century, the San Lorenzo Cathedral was built in the early 12th century. It was partly rebuilt in the early 14th century – including the completion of the facade – and there are internal features that have been added since then. Those with a keen eye for architectural styles will no doubt notice the different time periods represented both inside and out.
The Palazzo di Reale, or Royal Palace of Turin, was originally the Bishops Palace in old Turin, when the city became the capital of Savoy. It was taken over by Duke Emmanuel Philbert and became his residence until his death in 1580, at which point his son, Charles Emmanuel I moved in.
Though already large and opulent, the Palace grew in magnificence following the marriage of Charles Emmanuel's son, Victor Amadeus, to French Princess Christine Marie. She is responsible for modernizing the palace to 17th century standards, employing renowned architect Filippo Juvarra. The most famous of his additions is Scala delle Forbici, a magnificient staircase. Christine Marie eventually moved into a different palace, la Palazza Madama, also rebuilt by Juvarra. Today, the palace is a premier example of classic European aristocracy. It houses a museum dedicated to the House of Savoy, and its armory is a point of interest, as it contains a wide variety of historical arms and armor.
The Ligurian town of Portofino is popular with visitors for its pastel-colored buildings, but it's also home to an important protected marine area – the Area Marina Protetta. The site covers just under 350 hectares of the sea off the coast around the whole promontory (not just the town), and was established in 1999. It is known for its diverse sealife, and its protected status helps ensure those populations remain. Different parts of the protected area include Zone A, where everything from boating and anchoring to diving is prohibited, and Zone C, where there are far fewer restrictions on activities. In some places, visitors are more than welcome to swim and even kayak, stand-up paddleboard or dive.
Most Italian cities have so many busy piazzas it's hard to tell which one is the main square. In Genoa, the Piazza de Ferrari is that main square – and once you're there, it's easy to understand why.
The expansive Piazza de Ferrari sits right in the city center, between the historic district and the more modern part of downtown, and many important buildings face the piazza. Around the square you'll find the Palazzo Ducale (although the main entrance is on another piazza around the corner), the gorgeous former stock exchange building, and the Teatro Carlo Felice - Genoa's opera house.
The Piazza de Ferrari is named for Raffaele de Ferrari, a 19th century Italian nobleman who once lived in a palazzo near the square. His wife was the one who bequeathed the Palazzao Rosso and Palazzo Bianco – once private homes owned by her family – to the city of Genoa upon her death to be used as public museums.
One of the most famous historic streets in the center of Genoa is the Via Garibaldi. This street has had a few names over the centuries, but it's always been a fashionable address.
What we know today as Via Garibaldi was first built in the mid-1500s, when it was called Strada Maggiore – or “Great Street.” Later, it became known as “Strada Nuova,” or “New Street.” It was renamed in 1882 for Italy's great revolutionary leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and in 2006 the street and the historic palaces on it were added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.
From the time when the Via Garibaldi was first designed and built, it was intended to be a street upon which the wealthy families of Genoa would build their homes. The street was soon lined with palaces, each occupied by a noble family, and many passed down through generations and hundreds of years.
More Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
Portofino's waterfront is a jewel of the Italian Riviera with its pastel-colored buildings, but the vibrancy also extends onto the surrounding hills, where the bright yellow Church of San Giorgio sits overlooking the Portofino harbor. The original church on this site was built in the 12th century before it was expanded and later totally destroyed during World War II. The church seen today dates from 1950, although some features are from earlier structures. The church takes its name from Portofino's patron saint, whose relics were brought to the city after the Crusades and are kept inside the church in a shrine. The small piazza in front of the church offers wonderful views over Portofino.
From the 14th through the 18th centuries, the rulers of Genoa were called doges, and they ruled from the Doge's Palace – the Palazzo Ducale in Italian – in the historic city center. Today, the palace is open to the public as a museum. The Palazzo Ducale was built starting in the 1250s, although the finishing touches on the building weren't complete until the 1530s. The palace once served as both the residence for the ruling doge and the offices from which he would govern the Republic of Genoa. The palace was added to at various points over the years, and partially rebuilt twice (once after a fire in the 1770s).
There are two main entrances to the Palazzo Ducale. The main entrance is on the Piazza Matteotti, and a secondary entry is on the famous Piazza de Ferrari. Today, the palace serves various civil functions. There are regular exhibitions held in the palace, including visiting contemporary art shows, as well as a couple of large halls that are often used for events.
This protected area in the heart of La Spezia was designated Italy’s first national park in 1999. Since then its 4,300 acres, which include the five towns that make up Cinque Terre, have been attracting globetrotters from around the world. A network of scenic hiking trails linking cliff-side villages to one another are among the park’s main attractions, but the protected marine area and quiet fishing communities help to draw some 3.5 million travelers a month to these hills. An impressive array of Mediterranean flowers, trees and plant life dot Cinque Terre trails and visitors are likely to spot a handful of animals unique to the region on a hike through this popular destination.
Most cities have iconic buildings that serve as the symbol of the city – the Eiffel Tower, for instance, suggests Paris to even those who have never been there. The city of Turin in northern Italy has such a symbol, but both Turin and its iconic building are just enough off the tourist radar that they aren't quite world famous. This, of course, means you'll be one of the rare people “in the know” when you visit Turin and see the Mole Antonelliana.
The Mole Antonelliana looks a bit like the top of a tower that's missing most of the actual tower. The dome isn't round, but instead the four sides of the dome curve upward toward a spire that shoots up to a height of 550 feet.
Turin's low skyline makes the Mole Antonelliana stand out for its height, but the shape of the building and its tall spire would make it noticeable almost anywhere. The building was built in the late 1800s, and is named for the architect Antonelli.
Turin is home to legendary car makers Fiat and Alfa Romeo, so it's only fitting that it's also home to Italy's National Museum of the Automobile. The Museum of the Automobile (Museo dell'Automobile) was founded in 1932, making it one of the oldest automobile museums in the world. It officially opened in 1960, in the building it still occupies, which was designed specifically for the museum. It was extensively renovated and expanded in 2011. The collection contains nearly 200 cars, including some of the first cars made in Italy – an 1896 Bernardi and an 1899 Fiat – as well as racing cars made by Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. There are cars from eight different countries on display, plus an extensive library on automotive history.
The scenic stretch of sandy beach that runs along the Monterosso coast makes this popular Cinque Terre village one of the area’s most-visited summertime destinations. Divided into old and new towns, this pedestrian-friendly, cars-optional spot tends to overflow with tourists once the season heats up. Easy access to crystal clear waters mean it’s the perfect place to cool down.
In addition to relaxing on the quiet shores of Monterosso, travelers can check out historic castle ruins tucked into the idyllic hillside or experience iconic religious frescos in the church of St. John the Baptist. But it’s the vast collection of work from artists like Van Dyck and Luca Cambiasco that make the convent of Monterosso al Mare an essential stop on any visit to this famous village.
Travelers wandering Riomaggiore’s main road—known to locals as Via Colombo—will find picturesque views of rolling hillsides and the Ligurian Sea that Cinque Terre is known for. This tiny hamlet has become famous for its Sciacchetra, a signature dessert wine available by the glass in most restaurants and bars, as well as by the bottle in the local Coop shop.It’s true that the laid back vibe and natural beauty of this coastal village attracts plenty of tourists seeking quiet escape, but thrill seeking adventurers will find plenty to keep them occupied, too. One of the most popular activities is cliff diving into the Mediterranean, where crystal clear waters reduce the chance of hitting rocks (or sharks!) on the way down.
One of the most dominant features of Genoa's enormous port is something that looks a bit like a space probe sticking out of the water. That multi-pronged white structure that resembles a many-armed crane is called the “Bigo,” and it's Genoa's “panoramic elevator.” Bigo was designed by noted local architect Renzo Piano, the same man who designed Genoa's aquarium, in 1992 for the anniversary of Columbus' journey to the New World. From one of the arms, an elevator cabin can be raised, and then it rotates 360 degrees to give you a complete view overlooking the city. An audio-guide in the elevator cabin helps you make sense of what you're seeing. Not surprisingly, Bigo's design was influenced by the many huge cranes that seem to be always at work in Genoa's port, lifting goods on and off of the massive cargo ships in the harbor.
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