Historic city squares, old towns and villages in Italy

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco, in English as St Mark's Square, is the principal public square of Venice and central point of interest for visitors. The Square is dominated at its eastern end by the great Basilica of St. Mark. To the left is the long arcade along the north side of the Piazza, the buildings on this side are known as the Procuratie Vecchie, the old procuracies, formerly the homes and offices of the Procurators of St. M ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Venice, Italy

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona was built on the site of the 1th-century Stadium of Domitian and follows the form of the open space of the stadium. Defined as a public space in the last years of 15th century, when the city market was transferred there from the Campidoglio, Piazza Navona was transformed into a highly significant example of Baroque Roman architecture and art during the pontificate of Pope Innocent X. He reigned from 1644 ...
Founded: 1644-1655 | Location: Rome, Italy

Vernazza

Vernazza is one of the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre region. Vernazza is the fourth town heading north, has no car traffic, and remains one of the truest 'fishing villages' on the Italian Riviera. It is the only natural port of Cinque Terre and is famous for its elegant houses. The first records recognizing Vernazza as a fortified town date to 1080. Referred to as an active maritime base of the Ober ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Vernazza, Italy

Quattro Canti

Quattro Canti was laid out on the orders of the Viceroys between 1608-1620 by Giulio Lasso and Mariano Smiriglio at the crossing of the two principal streets in Palermo, the Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The piazza is octagonal, four sides being the streets; the remaining four sides are Baroque buildings, the near-identical facades of which contain fountains with statues of the four seasons, the four ...
Founded: 1608 | Location: Palermo, Italy

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the most southern village of the five Cinque Terre, all connected by trail. The water and mountainside have been declared national parks. The village, dating from the early thirteenth century, is known for its historic character and its wine, produced by the town"s vineyards. Riomaggiore is in the Riviera di Levante region and has a shoreline on the Mediterranean"s Gulf of Genoa, with a small ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Riomaggiore, Italy

Manarola

Manarola is a small town, a frazione of the comune of Riomaggiore. It is the second-smallest of the famous Cinque Terre towns frequented by tourists, with a population of 353. Manarola may be the oldest of the towns in the Cinque Terre, with the cornerstone of the church, San Lorenzo, dating from 1338. The local dialect is Manarolese, which is marginally different from the dialects in the nearby area. The name 'Mana ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Riomaggiore, Italy

Portofino Village

Portofino is an Italian fishing village and holiday resort famous for its picturesque harbour and historical association with celebrity and artistic visitors. Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – AD 79) referred to Portus Delphini (Port of the Dolphin) as on the Ligurian coast between Genoa and the Gulf of Tigullio. The village is mentioned in a diploma from 986 by Adelaide of Italy, which assigned it to the nearby Abbey of ...
Founded: 10th century AD | Location: Portofino, Italy

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso al Mare is one of the five villages in Cinque Terre (meaning 'Five Lands'), a coastal area within Liguria. The coastline, the villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cinque Terre is mentioned in documents dating to the 11th century. Monterosso and Vernazza were settled first and the other villages grew later, whilst within t ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Monterosso al Mare, Italy

Villa Rufolo

The Villa Rufolo, which overlooks the Piazza Vescovado, is the historical and cultural center of Ravello. Built by a wealthy merchant family in the 13th century, the Villa Rufolo has a rich and storied past. Boccaccio, one of the earliest authors of the Italian renaissance, wrote a story about the villa and its owner in his Decameron, which was published in 1353. In its prime, it was one of the largest and most expensiv ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Ravello, Italy

Piazza della Loggia

Piazza della Loggia is fine example of Renaissance piazza. The construction of eponymous Palazzo della Loggia (current Town Hall) began in 1492 under the direction of Filippo de" Grassi and completed only in the 16th century by Sansovino and Palladio. Vanvitelli designed the upper room of the palace (1769). On the south side of the square are two 15th–16th century Monti di Pietà (Christian lending h ...
Founded: 1492 | Location: Brescia, Italy

Corniglia

Corniglia is a frazione within the comune of Vernazza. Unlike the other localities of the Cinque Terre, Corniglia is not directly adjacent to the sea. Instead, it is on the top of a promontory about 100 metres high, surrounded on three sides by vineyards and terraces, the fourth side descends steeply to the sea. The origin of the village dates back to the Roman Age as testified by the name, which finds its roots in Gen ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Vernazza, Italy

Historic Centre of Mantua

Mantua is a city and comune in Lombardy. Mantua"s historic power and influence under the Gonzaga family, made it one of the main artistic, cultural and notably musical hubs of Northern Italy and the country as a whole. Mantua is noted for its significant role in the history of opera and the city is known for its several architectural treasures and artifacts, elegant palaces or palazzi, and its medieval and Renaiss ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Mantua, Italy

Late Baroque Town of Modica

Modica is a city and comune of 54.456 inhabitants situated in the Hyblaean Mountains. Rebuilt following the devastating earthquake of 1693, its architecture has been recognised as providing outstanding testimony to the exuberant genius and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe and, along with other towns in the Val di Noto, is part of UNESCO Heritage Sites in Italy. odica consists of two urban centres, 'Mo ...
Founded: 17th century | Location: Modica, Italy

Late Baroque Town of Caltagirone

The city"s name derives from the Arabic 'qal"at-al-jarar' ('Castle of jars') – a name that attests to the antiquity of the pottery works which are still thriving. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as shown by the presence of two necropoleis dating from the second millennium BCE and by numerous other archaeological finds. It was later inhabited by the Sicels pre-Roman pop ...
Founded: 17th century | Location: Caltagirone, Italy

Sabbioneta

Sabbioneta is a town and comune in the province of Mantua. Sabbioneta was founded by Vespasiano I Gonzaga in the late 16th century along the ancient Roman Via Vitelliana, on a sandy bank of the Po; he was its first duke, using it as a personal fortress and residence. In 2008, Sabbioneta was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as a recognition of its perfect example of practical application of Renaissance  ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Sabbioneta, Italy

Triora Village

Triora is a picturesque village in a lovely setting of wooded valleys well into the Ligurian hills of north-west Italy. Triora is officially classified among the most beautiful villages in Italy. The centuries-old village of Triora is at the foot of the Trono Mountain, overlooking the Argentina valley, where it preserves almost intact its medieval appearance. In the heart of the village you will enjoy exploring the ancie ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Triora, Italy

Apricale Village & Castle

Apricale is a picturesque small village to the north-east of Dolceacqua in western Liguria and surrounded by forested hills, included on the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The Lucertola Castle next to the square towards the top of the village dates from the 12th century and you can still see two towers and parts of the walls. The two churches also both contain interesting historical artefacts such as a med ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Apricale, Italy

Cittadella

Cittadella is a medieval walled city founded in the 13th century as a military outpost of Padua. The surrounding wall has been restored and is 1,461 metres in circumference with a diameter of around 450 metres. There are four gates which roughly correspond the points of the compass. The town was founded in 1220 by the Paduans to counterbalance the fortification of Castelfranco. It was built in successive stages in a poly ...
Founded: 1220 | Location: Cittadella, Italy

Palmanova

Palmanova is a town in northeastern Italy and an excellent example of star fort of the Late Renaissance, built up by the Venetians in 1593. Palmanova was built following the ideals of a utopia. It is a concentric city with the form of a star, with three nine-sided ring roads intersecting in the main military radiating streets. It was built at the end of the 16th century by the Venetian Republic which was, at the time, a ...
Founded: 1593 | Location: Palmanova, Italy

Late Baroque Town of Palazzolo Acreide

The area around Palazzolo Acreide has been inhabited since ancient times. The old city was probably destroyed by the Arabs, in the first half of the 9th century. The new city was built around a Norman castle, which no longer exists. An earthquake in 1693 destroyed almost the entire city, which was slowly rebuilt in the following centuries. Thanks to the many fascinating buildings in Baroque style, Palazzolo Acreide ...
Founded: 17th century | Location: Palazzolo Acreide, Italy

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle is a Norman castle, founded in 1093. It survived many changes of ownership and is now the largest privately owned castle in Wales. It was the birthplace of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII of England) in 1457.

Pembroke Castle stands on a site that has been occupied at least since the Roman period. Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury founded the first castle here in the 11th century. Although only made from earth and wood, Pembroke Castle resisted several Welsh attacks and sieges over the next 30 years. The castle was established at the heart of the Norman-controlled lands of southwest Wales.

When William Rufus died, Arnulf de Montgomery joined his elder brother, Robert of Bellême, in rebellion against Henry I, William's brother and successor as king; when the rebellion failed, he was forced to forfeit all his British lands and titles. Henry appointed his castellan, but when the chosen ally turned out to be incompetent, the King reappointed Gerald in 1102. By 1138 King Stephen had given Pembroke Castle to Gilbert de Clare who used it as an important base in the Norman invasion of Ireland.

In August 1189 Richard I arranged the marriage of Isabel, de Clare's granddaughter, to William Marshal who received both the castle and the title, Earl of Pembroke. He had the castle rebuilt in stone and established the great keep at the same time. Marshal was succeeded in turn by each of his five sons. His third son, Gilbert Marshal, was responsible for enlarging and further strengthening the castle between 1234 and 1241.

Later de Valence family held Pembroke for 70 years. During this time, the town was fortified with defensive walls, three main gates and a postern. Pembroke Castle became de Valence's military base for fighting the Welsh princes during the conquest of North Wales by Edward I between 1277 and 1295.

Pembroke Castle then reverted to the crown. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle was a place of peace until the outbreak of the English Civil War. Although most of South Wales sided with the King, Pembroke declared for Parliament. It was besieged by Royalist troops but was saved after Parliamentary reinforcements arrived by sea from nearby Milford Haven. Parliamentary forces then went on to capture the Royalist castles of Tenby, Haverfordwest and Carew.

In 1648, at the beginning of the Second Civil War, Pembroke's commander Colonel John Poyer led a Royalist uprising. Oliver Cromwell came to Pembroke on 24 May 1648 and took the castle after a seven-week siege. Its three leaders were found guilty of treason and Cromwell ordered the castle to be destroyed. Townspeople were even encouraged to disassemble the fortress and re-use its stone for their purposes.

The castle was then abandoned and allowed to decay. It remained in ruins until 1880, when a three-year restoration project was undertaken. Nothing further was done until 1928, when Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps acquired the castle and began an extensive restoration of the castle's walls, gatehouses, and towers. After his death, a trust was set up for the castle, jointly managed by the Philipps family and Pembroke town council.

Architecture

The castle is sited on a strategic rocky promontory by the Milford Haven Waterway. The first fortification on the site was a Norman motte-and-bailey. It had earthen ramparts and a timber palisade.

In 1189, Pembroke Castle was acquired by William Marshal. He soon became Lord Marshal of England, and set about turning the earth and wood fort into an impressive Norman stone castle. The inner ward, which was constructed first, contains the huge round keep with its domed roof. Its original first-floor entrance was through an external stairwell. Inside, a spiral staircase connected its four stories. The keep's domed roof also has several putlog holes that supported a wooden fighting-platform. If the castle was attacked, the hoarding allowed defenders to go out beyond the keep's massive walls above the heads of the attackers.

The inner ward's curtain wall had a large horseshoe-shaped gateway. But only a thin wall was required along the promontory. This section of the wall has a small observation turret and a square stone platform. Domestic buildings including William Marshal's Great Hall and private apartments were within the inner ward. The 13th century keep is 23 metres tall with walls up to 6 metres thick at its base.

In the late 13th century, additional buildings were added to the inner ward, including a new Great Hall. A 55-step spiral staircase was also created that led down to a large limestone cave, known as Wogan Cavern, beneath the castle. The cave, which was created by natural water erosion, was fortified with a wall, a barred gateway and arrowslits. It may have served as a boathouse or a sallyport to the river where cargo or people could have been transferred.

The outer ward was defended by a large twin-towered gatehouse, a barbican and several round towers. The outer wall is 5 metres thick in places and constructed from Siltstone ashlar.

Although Pembroke Castle is a Norman-style enclosure castle with great keep, it can be more accurately described as a linear fortification because, like the later 13th-century castles at Caernarfon and Conwy, it was built on a rocky promontory surrounded by water. This meant that attacking forces could only assault on a narrow front. Architecturally, Pembroke's thickest walls and towers are all concentrated on its landward side facing the town, with Pembroke River providing a natural defense around the rest of its perimeter.