The Veneto region is home to unique villas. Designed in the mid-1500s by the architect Andrea Palladio for the wealthiest families of the region, these are the famous Palladian Villas. Along with the city of Vicenza, they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city of Vicenza prospered under Venetian rule from the early 15th to the end of the 18th century. Andrea Palladio based his work on a detailed study of classical Roman architecture, which gives the city its unique appearance. Palladio’s buildings had a decisive influence on the development of architecture. His work inspired a distinct architectural style known as Palladian which spread to England and other European countries, and also to North America. Possibly the most famous Palladian inspired building in America is the White House.
Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1994, the Venetian site initially comprised only the city of Vicenza with its twenty-three buildings attributed to Palladio, as well as three villas’ extra muros. Twenty-one Palladian Villas located in several provinces were later included in the 1996 site extension.
The Palladian Villas of Veneto were not just summer residences but also productive centres. Surrounding the beautiful and well-proportioned buildings were vineyards and cultivated fields.
What makes a villa Palladian?
The core of a Palladian villa is the house-temple, embellished with a monumental staircase and crowned by a pediment supported by columns of the loggia.
The pediment and columns characterised Classical forms, with symmetry and strict proportion also evident. Whilst the exteriors of Palladian buildings were elegant, they were also austere as they also served the purpose of a ‘modern’ castle. Inside, however, there was elaborate decoration, gilding and ornamentation creating an opulent environment.
Palladio also published a treatise on architecture, written in Italian, in four volumes: I quattro libri dell’architettura.
Visiting Villa Badoer – a Palladian Villa
Writer Deborah Cater spends much of her time in Veneto. In 2012, the year she moved to Italy, she visited the Villa Badoer in Fratta Polesine.
As the train pulled away from the deserted train station, where weeds push through the cracks in the platform and hug the rail tracks, we headed down the dusty road lined with trees and concrete buildings that slept behind plastic shuttered eyes.
The town of Fratta Polesine was not showing its best side, but from the moment we came across the first of the fifteen villas and palazzos that fill this little town, it turned from modern mediocrity to past perfect.
A rapid procession of palazzos and villas line either side of the once navigable canal that runs through the town but is now home to ducks, dragonflies and low footbridges. The most popular of the villas is the Villa Badoer. Commissioned in 1554, and designed by Andrea Palladio, it stands on the site of the ancient castle of Salinguera. Palladio, whose works have been copied across the world, quite prolifically in the UK and USA, only created his buildings in the Veneto region of Italy.
The style of temple pediment supported by columns that the Villa Badoer sports is possibly the most recognisable of Palladio’s, and Badoer can claim to be the first villa to have such a façade.
Frescoes and Events
The Giallo Fiorentino frescos that decorated the walls of the villa had been covered by plaster and hidden from view for years. Restoration work uncovered them. However, sadly, in places the damage was very severe and the artwork could barely be seen. (This was in 2012). The images represent mythological scenes (some of which related to the territory) and grotesque (ornamentation that interprets decorative motifs derived from classical antiquity).
We wandered around the villa and its grounds at our leisure. We found a modern lecture theatre in one of the basement rooms, the ground floor also had a couple of interactive touch screens and a building block model which explained the mechanics of Palladio’s constructions. Indeed, the villa holds many educational and cultural events. In one of the barchessas the National Archaeological Museum has a permanent, and interesting, display.
Many of the villas and palazzos in Fratta Polesine are open at some point during a month, but it would be advisable to check before planning a trip to the town specifically to view the internals of the buildings. Only the Villa Badoer was open to us, but to wander the town and admire the architecture from the outside is worthwhile.