One of my favorite things to do during an Italian vacation is to visit the cathedrals in Italy. With their grandeur of architecture and deep history, the beauty and atmosphere in and around cathedrals is something truly special.
Each cathedral, basilica, and duomo is unique in its own way. With different architectural styles, centuries they were built in, and cultural significance to their community, they are incredibly fascinating and absolutely stunning.
Read on to discover what I believe are twenty of the most beautiful and important cathedrals in Italy and the unique touch that they add to their communities.
1. Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist – Torino
The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist is incredibly significant to Catholicism. It was built in Turin in the years between 1491 and 1498. The Holy Shroud is kept here, bringing pilgrims from all over the world to see the site for themselves. While there is debate over the artifact, it is believed that the shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.
Insider Tip: The Holy Shroud is not always on display, make sure to check the official website to try and plan your trip around a time when it will be showcased.
2. Basilica of San Nicola – Bari
In the region of Puglia, the Basilica of San Nicola can be found in Bari. The Basilica is a gorgeous Romanesque church whitewashed in the traditional apulian limestone. Built during the Italo-Norman domination of Puglia, construction started in 1087 and it was opened in 1197. The Basilica was built to house the relics of Saint Nicolas, or more commonly known as Father Christmas, that were stolen from Myra (modern day Turkey) by sailors from Bari.
Insider Tip: After marveling at the Basilica, wander around Bari’s cobblestoned old town to discover locals making and selling the iconic pasta of Bari, orecchiette.
3. Amalfi Cathedral
This gorgeous cathedral in Italy is in Amalfi’s Piazza del Duomo and was built in the 9th century. It is commonly referred to as the Cathedral of Saint Andrew. The Amalfi Cathedral is very unique when compared to other cathedrals throughout Italy because it has a blend of Arab-Norman, Byzantine, and Gothic architectural style. Many pilgrims visit each year to see the relics of Saint Andrew.
Insider Tip: The cathedral is located at the top of a staircase overlooking Amalfi and the Mediterranean Sea. The terrace has one of my favorite views along the Amalfi Coast.
4. Basilica of Loreto
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was constructed between 1469 and 1587 in the town of Loreto. The belief holds that the house of the Virgin Mary, also known as the Holy House of Loreto, was miraculously transported here from Nazareth. With intricate designs, the basilica is a gorgeous mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
Insider Tip: Make sure to also visit the Piazza della Madonna and surrounding monuments such as the Sixtus V, the Apostolic Palace and the Fontana Maggiore.
5. Santa Maria del Fiore – Florence
Taking almost 150 years to complete construction that started in 1296, the Santa Maria del Fiore is located in the heart of Florence. With Gothic architecture, one of the most famous things about the duomo is its magnificent dome designed by Brunelleschi. Also known as the Florence Duomo, it is very special to the people of Florence and is considered a symbol of Italian culture.
Insider Tip: It can get incredibly busy and lines can be long, so make sure to book your tickets in advance.
6. Lecce Cathedral
The Lecce Cathedral was constructed originally in 1144, but a complete restoration took place starting in 1659 when a 70-meter-tall bell was added. With intricate carvings, the main architectural style of the cathedral is Baroque. In the quaint, cobblestoned town of Lecce, this is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy and is a highlight of a trip to Puglia.
Insider Tip: To fully take in the beauty of the Baroque architecture, make sure to explore the surrounding streets of the Lecce Cathedral and marvel in the beauty and historical significance of the area.
7. Saint Peter’s Basilica – Rome
Considered a spiritual center of Catholicism and the burial site of the first Pope, Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is one of the most important landmarks in Italy. With notable architects such as Michaelangelo and Carlo Maderno, the main architect was Donato Bromante and it was constructed from 1506 to 1626. With Renaissance and Baroque styles, the basilica holds immense significance to Italians and the local culture of Rome.
Insider Tip: To fully immerse yourself into the fascinating history, art, and culture that Saint Peter’s Basilica offers, we recommend you take a guided or audio tour during your visit.
8. Palermo Cathedral
The Palermo Cathedral can be found in Palermo, Sicily, and is incredibly important to the cultural significance in Italy. There have been various influences on its architectural style throughout the years. Starting in 1184, the finished product of these different influences showcases elements of Norman, Arab, Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles. It serves as a symbol of the blend of different civilizations that have shaped Palermo’s history.
Insider Tip: Climb the rooftop to enjoy the view of the city and to see the unique architecture up close.
9. Collevalenza Sanctuary
Mother Speranza founded the Collevalenza Sanctuary, or Sanctuary of Merciful Love, in 1951 in Collevalenza. It inspires those seeking healing and spiritual guidance and is known for its healing waters. The healing waters are used for bathing, drinking, and collecting for later use. With a simple and modern style, visiting the sanctuary provides a very peaceful atmosphere.
Insider Tip: Visiting Collevalenza Sanctuary is a perfect chance to explore Collevalenza, Todi, and Umbria, which are very religious and spiritual towns significant to Italian culture.
10. Saint Mark’s Basilica – Venice
Incredibly famous in Venice, Saint Mark’s Basilica was constructed between the 9th and 11th centuries and is a stunning example of Byzantine architecture. It features domes, arches, and beautiful mosaics as well as marble sculptures. It is hugely significant to Venice as it houses the relics of Saint Mark and symbolizes Venetian power and wealth throughout history.
Insider Tip: Don’t rush your visit when viewing the mosaics. Look up and observe the beauty and details.
11. Basilica of San Francesco di Paola – Naples
Completing construction in 1846, King Ferdinand I commissioned the Basilica of San Francesco di Paola as a dedication to Saint Francis of Paola in Naples. Pietro Bianchi designed the magnificent neoclassical architecture showcased in it, drawing inspiration from the Pantheon in Rome. The grandeur attracts both locals and visitors and symbolizes the rule of the Bourbon monarchy.
Insider Tip: Check to see if there are any musical performances during your visit, many performances and concerts are held inside the basilica.
12. Cathedral of Saint Ciriaco – Ancona
One of the most extraordinary cathedrals in Italy, the Cathedral of Saint Ciriaco was built in Ancona in the 11th century. It contains a combination of Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles. It is dedicated to Saint Ciriaco, who is the patron saint of Ancona and is a symbol of the city’s rich heritage. The gorgeous cathedral features a rose window with intricate stone carvings.
Insider Tip: Visit the Museo Diocesano across the street from the cathedral to soak in the history, heritage, and art of the cathedral.
13. Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Peter – Bologna
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Peter is dedicated to the first pope, San Pietro and was built between the 10th and 11th centuries. The cathedral symbolizes loyalty between the city of Bologna and the Catholic Church. With a Baroque façade and white marble, the cathedral is gorgeous and very easily recognizable.
Insider Tip: It can be difficult to get a good photo of the cathedral, try using a wide angle and shooting from below for your best chance at getting everything in frame.
14. Cathedral of Saint Cetteo – Pescara
More modern than many of the other cathedrals in Italy, the Cathedral of Saint Cetteo was constructed in the 1930s. It celebrated the signing between fascist Italy and the Catholic church and was dedicated to the patron saint of Pescara. Being the main Catholic church in Pescara, it holds significant importance to the locals who come here to worship.
Insider Tip: Pescara has a vibrant local culture and beautiful beaches, combine your visit to this cathedral in Italy with exploring the sites that the city has to offer.
15. Duomo of Siena
Showcasing a fascinating mix of Gothic and Romanesque style, the Duomo of Siena dates all the way back to 1215 in Siena, Tuscany. It boasts a very impressive façade with north, east, south, and west all showcasing different and fascinating artistic styles. The historic center of Siena, including the Duomo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Duomo is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, holding a large significance to the local people.
Insider Tip: Make sure to visit the Piccolomini Library, located inside the Duomo to see an incredible collection of Renaissance frescoes by renowned artists.
16. Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi – Assisi
Made up of the Lower Basilica and the Upper Basilica, the construction of the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi took place between 1228 and 1253 in Assisi. The Lower Basilica is simple, in contrast to the Upper Basilica which boasts stunning frescoes by incredible artists. The Basilica is dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi who is a hugely respected saint in Catholicism. It has become a pilgrimage site for millions of people coming to honor him.
Insider Tip: If possible, attend a service here to get the full experience of the spiritual ambiance of the Franciscan community.
17. Cathedral of Bitonto
Modeled after the Basilica of San Nicola in the 11th century, the Cathedral of Bitonto is primarily Romanesque and Gothic and is the largest church in the Puglia region. Located in Bitonto, the Cathedral was dedicated to Saint Valentine and is home to many pieces of valuable artwork and religious artifacts. It also holds the Crypt of Saint Valentine underneath the cathedral, an ancient underground space with relics of Saint Valentine.
Insider Tip: Check the local calendar to see if any events or religious celebrations are taking place during your trip to Bitonto, participating in these events gives you the opportunity to witness the cathedral’s role in the community’s religious traditions.
18. Milan Cathedral
The famous Milan Cathedral, or Duomo di Milano, is not only one of the largest cathedrals in Italy, but also in the world. Construction lasted from 1386 to 1965, taking nearly six centuries. While the architectural style is primarily Gothic, there are also some hints of Renaissance and Neoclassical architectural styles.
Insider Tip: One of my favorite things to do during a trip to Milan is visiting the rooftop terrace during sunset for a drink while overlooking the plaza below.
19. Genoa Cathedral
In the city of Genoa, construction of the Genoa Cathedral started during the 12th century and took place over many centuries. With a gorgeous blend of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles, the cathedral has gorgeous artwork and details. Christopher Columbus’ father, Domenico, used to worship at the Genoa Cathedral.
Insider Tip: Keep your eye out for the sculpture of a small marble dog on the exterior wall. While the cathedral was being built, a dog was constantly hanging out the window. However, after the dog disappeared, the builders decided to honor him with a sculpture.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Difference Between a Cathedral and a Duomo?
A cathedral refers to a principal church that contains the seat of a bishop and serves a diocese. Duomo is the Italian word for cathedral and can refer to either a current or a former cathedral, especially if a town no longer has a bishop.
What Makes a Basilica Different from a Church?
The Pope grants basilicas a special designation within the Catholic Church due to their historical, architectural, or spiritual significance. They are symbolic and often house important relics or historical artifacts.
What Architectural Style is Prominent in Italian Cathedrals?
Cathedrals in Italy often have Gothic style architecture. There are also often mixes of different architectural styles incorporating Renaissance, Baroque, and Romanesque elements.