There’s a host of top Historic sites in Italy to visit and among the very best are Ostia Antica, The Doge’s Palace and Herculaneum. Other popular sites tend to include Hadrian’s Villa, The Colosseum and Pompeii.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Italian cultural places, landmarks and monuments, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic sites in Italy, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic sites in Italy?
Ostia Antica is an extraordinary Roman site that contains the ruins of the ancient port town that served as the gateway to Rome. Just half an hour from central Rome by train, Ostia has all the inspiration of Pompeii without the throngs of tourists.
Today, visitors can view a great many ruins from the ancient town, including a well preserved Roman theatre, the Baths of Neptune, remains of the military camp, temples to ancient deities, the forum and even Ostia Synagogue, which is the oldest known synagogue site in Europe.
There is a small museum on site which has a number of artefacts and further information on the history of Ostia Antica.
The Doge’s Palace of Venice is a gothic style structure in St. Mark’s Square which served as the residence of each successive ‘Doge’ or leader of the Venetian Republic until its fall in 1797.
One can now either tour the Doge’s Palace independently with audio tours or take the pre-booked secret itinerary tour, which includes a visit to the prison cell of the infamous Giacomo Casanova and other parts of the building only accessible through this tour. The wealth of history and architecture, including the Bridge of Sighs and the Doge’s apartments, make the Doge’s Palace a fascinating attraction.
Herculaneum was a port town established by the ancient Romans in what is now modern Ercolano. Like nearby Pompeii, Herculaneum was engulfed by the lava and mud which spewed from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and, as a result, much of the town was preserved throughout the centuries.
In fact, Herculaneum arguably withstood the natural disaster better than Pompeii with many of its upper floors still being intact. This, combined with the fact that Herculaneum is less crowded and easier to walk through makes it a great site to visit. Some of the most stunning sites at Herculaneum include the thermal spas and baths, the gymnasium, the House with the Mosaic Atrium and the House of Neptune.
Hadrian’s Villa is perhaps the best-preserved Roman villa complex in the world. Built in the early 2nd century, the villa was the central hub of power in the Roman world for the latter years of Emperor Hadrian’s reign.
Hadrian’s Villa covers almost 250 acres and consists of over 30 buildings and a number of other points of interest. It includes a large colonnaded swimming pool, libraries, the Palestra and the famous Maritime Theatre. Most intriguing of all are the remains of the Emperor’s small island retreat – including his personal toilet – which served as Hadrian’s private escape from the stress of Imperial life.
The Colosseum is a site like no other. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, nothing represents the sheer power and magnificence of the Roman Empire like this stunning piece of ancient architecture. A visit offers an insight into the lives of Roman citizens and those who had the misfortune of fighting there.
In particular, it is now possible to tour the underground hallways and corridors where the gladiators of ancient Rome would prepare to fight and ponder their mortality. Also recently opened are the higher areas of the structure, from where you can take in views of the Roman Forum. There is a museum within the Colosseum with a wealth of interesting artifacts and information and audio guides are available in a number of languages.
One of the best known ancient sites in the world, Pompeii was an ancient Roman city founded in the 6th to 7th century BC and famously destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Today, Pompeii is one of the world’s most famous archeological sites. It is a ghost town filled with the bodies of its tragic citizens, many of whom died from asphyxiation and who were preserved by the ash and cinders which buried them.
The most intriguing aspect of Pompeii and what makes it such a popular site to visit is the extent to which its homes, buildings and artifacts have remained intact. Essentially, walking through Pompeii is treading in the footsteps of ancient Roman life, with its houses, shops, walkways, pedestrian stones and carriage tracks. Pompeii Amphitheatre is also staggeringly impressive, it being a 20,000 seat structure and the first ever stone amphitheatre.
Palazzo Vecchio in Florence is an iconic fourteenth century palace. Completed in 1322, it served as the seat of the city’s governing body, a function it still fulfils today. Housing a stunning collection of artwork and sculptures by some of Italy’s most celebrated artists such as Donatello, Bronzino and Michelangelo, it’s a fascinating and beautiful site.
For children, Palazzo Vecchio has a series of “secret rooms” to explore, although note that this must be booked in advance. Guided tours are available.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the world’s most famous buildings, particularly due to its leaning stance which leaves it forever appearing to be toppling over. The tower began to lean very early on in its construction, apparently around the time of the construction of its third floor. The reason for the lean is that the ground on which it was built is sandy and unstable and the foundations used for the tower were insufficient to cope with this.
Today, visitors can admire the ornate white marble structure and climb the 186 feet to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa up a staggering 300 steps.
Paestum is a Greco-Roman site located south of Naples which contains the stunning remains of three ancient Greek temples which still stand tall today. Visitors to Paestum can still see the spectacular temples – the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Neptune and the Temple of Ceres.
The site also contains impressive defensive walls, a Roman forum, the basic remains of a Roman amphitheatre and a number of ancient tombs. Paestum also boasts an early Christian church and Paestum Museum, which has a wealth of information about the local sites.
Saint Mark’s Basilica is a world famous Byzantine cathedral in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, sometimes known as Chiesa d’Oro or “Church of gold”. Every aspect of the basilica is on a grand scale, from its three-part façade with ornate theological carvings to its Greek cross-shaped interior with its ceilings covered in golden mosaics. In fact, the basilica is so elaborate that its entrance or “narthex” is intended to prepare visitors for what they are about to see.
Guided tours are available or an independent walk around St Mark’s Basilica only takes approximately ten minutes to half an hour. There is also a museum and access to the bell tower.