Siena Cathedral. One of the best cathedrals in Italy

Best Cathedrals in Italy

Culture Travel & Tourism

With St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City in Rome, Italy naturally springs to mind when people think of cathedrals. But the country is bursting with beautiful cathedrals and churches. Read our short list of the best cathedrals in Italy.

The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins recently listed his top cathedrals in Europe. Among them was Milan Cathedral. We certainly agree with its inclusion, and no trip to Milan would be complete without at least a walk around it’s wonderful Gothic exterior.

However, we think there are several others worthy of mention. Here are ItalyNews.Online’s best cathedrals in Italy.

Basilica of Superga, Turin (Piedmont)

Basilica Superga, Turin. One of the best cathedrals in Italy

Completed in 1717, the Basilica di Superga stands on a hill overlooking the city of Turin. It is of a late baroque and neoclassical style. Built by King Vittorio Amedo II in gratitude to the Virgin Mary after defeating the French who besieged Turin in 1706.. In the crypt are the Royal Tombs where important personalities and members of Savoy Family lie.

At the rear of the church is a memorial to the Grande Torino football team. On May 4, 1949, the plane carrying the team, returning from Lisbon, crashed into the back of the complex. All on board died.  

Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower (il duomo), Florence (Tuscany)

Florence duomo - best cathedrals in Italy

A pilgrimage for everyone visiting Florence, the duomo is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Neo-Gothic styles. Its beauty comes in part from the use of the same materials: white marble from Carrara, green from Prato, red from Maremma, and terracotta tiles.

Brunelleschi’s dome houses an astronomical instrument for studying the sun: a gnomonic hole that provides a projection of the star on the shadowed surface of the cathedral floor.

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (Rome)

St Peter's Basilica, Rome. One of the best cathedrals in Italy

The Mother Church and Head of all the Churches of the City and of the World, St Peter’s Basilica is not the cathedral of Rome. However, it is a monumental building which can hold tens of thousands of worshippers.

Along the aisles there are 45 altars and 11 chapels, which house various masterpieces. One of the most famous is the Pieta by Michelangelo. The papal altar and the external area were the work of Bernini.  

Cathedral of Palermo (Sicily)

Palermo cathedral - best cathedrals in Italy

One of the most important architectural monuments in Sicily. Built in 1184, the Normans re-converted a Christian church on the site of a Muslim mosque. The mosque in turn had been built over a Christian basilica.

A UNESCO heritage, the cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. The Madonna is represented in three different iconographies. One is the Dormition of the Mother of God which belongs to the Byzantine tradition. Another is the Assumption and the Coronation in Heaven which belongs to Latin tradition. The third representation was the “Madonna della Luce” (The Mother of God of Light), known in Sicily as Madonna del Lume.

Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice (Veneto)

St Mark's basilica, Venice. One of the best cathedrals in Italy

The Basilica di San Marco (St Mark’s Basilica) is the cathedral church of Venice, located in the Piazza San Marco. Construction began in 828 to house Saint Mark’s relics; they had been smuggled out of Alexandria, Egypt.

The Basilica’s interior is gold-coloured, hence its nickname “Chiesa d’Oro” (Golden Church). The four gold-plated bronze horses in the Logia dei Cavalli are in fact replicas. The originals are in the museum and were originally in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, pillaged during the Fourth Crusade.

 Milan Cathedral (Lombardy)

Milan cathedral, St. Bartholomew. One of the best cathedrals in Italy

Milan cathedral needs no introduction. It is the symbol of the city and dominates the piazza in which it stands. There are sculptures everywhere – adorning the outside and creating talking points inside. One such is the statue of Saint Bartholomew. At first glance, you could think the muscular figure has a cloak carelessly tossed over his arm. Closer look reveals it is his own skin. The saint was flayed alive.

Fine examples of work carried out on the cathedral during the time of the powerful Borromeo family are the Quadroni di San Carlo and the wooden choir. Another, and the most important relic, is the nail of the True Cross, also known as the Sacred nail. Suspended above the main altar, believers get to see it every 3rd May.

Siena Cathedral (Tuscany)

Siena cathedral - one of the best cathedrals in Italy

A personal favourite, Siena Cathedral is majestic in every way. The interior features the work of Italy’s finest artists of the day: Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Donatello, Pinturicchio, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Bernini.

The black-and-white stripes of the cathedral’s pillars contrasts with the rich blue ceiling spangled with gold stars. However, for all its beauty, especially when draped with the flags of the seventeen contrade during August, it is the floor which will grab your attention. Its 56 panels took from the 14th through the 18th centuries to complete, beginning with the cartoons, or drawn designs, all but one created by Siena’s leading artists. And then there is the Piccolomini Library to the left of the nave…

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