Venice Side-Trips: The Best of Veneto
Pulling on hip boots, we settle into the muck of Venice, then take a speedboat tour of the lagoon. On the mainland, we head for Padua to tour a once-illegal anatomy theater and track the restoration of Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel. In Vicenza, we admire elegant Palladian-style streets and villas. In Verona, we climb the Roman colosseum, jostle with tourists to rub the brass breast of Juliet, and taste-test grappa before riding the train to Ravenna for its dazzling 1500-year-old mosaics.
- Read the script from the show.
Europe's first great anatomy theater (from the 1500s) is worth a look if you have time for a tour. Despite the Church's strict ban on autopsies, students would pack this theater to watch professors dissect human cadavers. If the Church came a-knockin', the table could be flipped, allowing the corpse to fall into a river below and be replaced with an animal instead. While it's free to visit the university, you must pay for a 30-minute tour to see the Anatomy Theater. . Only 30 may enter at a time, and school groups often book the entire visit. Confirm tour times and availability by calling 049-827-3047 or stopping by the ticket window (located inside the palace, in the hall just outside the bar, opens 15 min before tours).
Reserve in advance to see this glorious, recently renovated chapel, wallpapered with Giotto's beautifully preserved cycle of nearly 40 frescoes, depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Painted by Giotto and his assistants from 1303 to 1305, and considered by many to be the first piece of modern art, this work makes it clear: Europe was breaking out of the Middle Ages. A sign of the Renaissance to come, Giotto placed real people in real scenes, expressing real human emotions. These frescoes were radical for their 3-D nature, lively colors, light sources, emotion, and humanism.
The chapel was built out of guilt for white-collar crimes. Reginaldo degli Scrovegni charged sky-high interest rates at a time when that practice was forbidden by the church. He even caught the attention of Dante, who placed him in one of the levels of hell in his Inferno. When Reginaldo died, the Church denied him a Christian burial. His son Enrico tried to buy forgiveness for his father's sins by building this superb chapel. After seeing Giotto's frescoes for the Franciscan monks of St. Anthony, Enrico knew he'd found the right artist to decorate the interior. To protect the paintings from excess humidity, only 25 people are allowed in the chapel at a time. Prepaid reservations are required. You can reserve online at www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it. If you reserve by phone, you may need to be persistent and call several times (tel. 049-201-0020).
Palladio's last work is one of his greatest. It was commissioned by the Olympic Academy, a society of Vicenzan scholars and intellectuals (including Palladio), for the purpose of staging performances and intellectual debates. Begun in 1580, shortly before Palladio died, the theater was actually completed by a fellow architect, Scamozzi.
Modeled after the theaters of antiquity, this is a wood-and-stucco festival of classical columns, statues, and an oh-wow stage bursting with perspective tricks. Behind the stage, framed by a triumphal arch, five streets recede at different angles. The streets, depicting the idealized form of the city of Thebes, were created for the gala opening of Oedipus Rex, the first play ever performed in the theater and now a tradition for every season.
Many of the statues in niches on the stage are modeled after the people who funded the work — junior members are portrayed as Roman soldiers of antiquity, senior members as senators. The panels at the top show the labors of Hercules, in keeping with the classical antiquity theme that was all the rage in the 16th century. In contrast to the stunning stage, the audience's wooden benches are simple and crude (entry only with Card Musei, which covers other Vicenza sights — no separate theater ticket available, tel. 0444-222-800)
Contrà S. Antonio 1
Enoteca Oreste (Oreste dal Zovo Wine Bar)
Vicolo San Marco in Foro 7
Ca' de Ven
Via C. Ricci 24