I was invited to a ‘Villas of the Veneto’ event last week – my lovely kind host Gabriella invited me to join her and her husband Sandro. Off we went to a beautiful country house built on the banks of the Brenta, just a short distance from Venice.
From the 16th century onwards, wealthy Venetian families built large country houses on the banks of the ‘Naviglio di Brenta’. These houses had beautiful gardens, elegant rooms for entertaining and picturesque views of the river. These villas were designed for parties, they were ideal for entertaining friends.
During the course of the morning speakers from Verona, Vicenza and the local area described the challenges facing these beautiful historic houses. Almost 90% of these properties are in private ownership and there is no money available from central government to maintain these important historic houses. What’s more there’s about 4500 of these large, historic villas in the Veneto region alone. These huge country houses, set in private parks, often with elaborate frescoed interiors are a unique part of the heritage of the Venetian Republic. So the question is, how on earth do you deal with that number of ‘gently falling down’ piles of….history and joy?
Many of these houses were built in the Palladian style. Andrea Palladio was the popular architect of the day (1508-1580) he designed symmetrical country houses, located on the banks of the Brenta. The houses were set in beautiful parks, with fields surrounding each estate. The idea was to create elegant country houses, perfect for entertaining friends and business associates.
I’ve been studying Andrea Palladio the architect for years. He was the Most famous architect of the 16th century. He worked in Vicenza, Verona and the Veneto region for his whole life. He studied the principles of Roman architecture recorded by Vitruvius. His style was classical and symmetrical. There are about 42 buildings directly attributed to Palladio still standing in the Veneto. These buildings are mostly country houses (villas) some public buildings and several churches. Construction of all these projects started before 1580. The actual, genuine Palladio designs are the ‘creme de la creme’ of architectural heritage.
THE PALLADIAN LEGACY
However Palladio’s style of architecture was so influential and so enormously popular that it was copied and imitated by many others. Lord Burlington, whilst travelling in Italy on The Grand Tour in the early 18th century was so impressed with Palladian design that he arranged a translation of Palladio’s ‘Four Books of Architecture’ into English. He also commissioned Burlington House, in Piccadilly, London in Palladian style. Later he built Chiswick House, in the country, inspired by Palladio’s masterpiece ‘La Rotonda’ in Vicenza. Palladian houses were built all over the British Isles. Palladian architecture even spread to the USA – where Jefferson built Monticello in the Palladian style. The influence of Palladio and his legacy lives on. In the Veneto region of north-east Italy alone there are thousands of historic villas in the Palladian style. To learn more about my favourite authentic Palladian properties you can read more in one of my recent articles: The Palladian Villas of the Veneto
VILLAS OF THE VENETO
To get a flavour of last week’s event here are a few photos!! Just note the fabulous frescoes on the walls and ceilings. There’s always humour in the paintings. My favourite was the parrot observing activities and no doubt with an opinion of what’s going on….
The challenge of maintaining these villas and securing this historic legacy for the future is enormous. Italy doesn’t have a National Trust, as we do in the UK. Funds from government sources are either inconsistent or completely non-existent.
In recent years several local groups have got together to organise crowd-funding style exercises to raise money and awareness. A good example of this is Villa Villa Forni Cerato a Villa designed by Palladio that had fallen into extreme disrepair. A local group is no working on restoration at the property and using social media to spread the word!
To learn more about the villas of the Veneto – you can follow my blog: Educated Traveller
I also suggest looking at: Istituto Regionale Ville Venete this is the government body based at Villa Venier Contarini on the Brenta, responsible for promoting, assisting and preserving this exceptional villa heritage in the Veneto region.