Walking through Florence on a daily basis and traveling throughout the country whenever I can, I often marvel at the street art. And I don’t just mean graffiti, of which there is a lot, but I am talking about Italian palaces. Their grandeur, elegance, and style always seems to knock me off my feet. I love meandering through their halls and thinking about how the inhabitants lived hundreds of years ago.
Visiting Italy’s palaces and stepping back in time is just as culturally fulfilling as visiting all of the churches and museums. Italian palaces give visitors an opportunity to obtain some additional exposure to important artifacts and works of art. The architecture of these impressive buildings is an exploration into art in and of itself. Why not spend a few hours imagining how the elites lived hundreds of years ago?
Join us on a journey from northern Italy to southern Italy to learn more about these important buildings, their history, and their enduring significance in Italian culture.
Characteristics of Italian Palaces
One of the main characteristics of an Italian palace, or palazzo, is its exterior, which might reflect influences from either the Renaissance, Romanesque, or Italian Gothic periods. Some of the more well-known and recognizable palaces can be seen along the Grand Canal in Venice and in Florence.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is responsible for identifying places of importance to cultural heritage, and that is why so many Italian palaces have been named UNESCO World Heritage sites or are in cities that carry that same distinction.
Palaces are very typical of the late Italian Medieval period of architecture. This style is known for its large walls, small windows, tall towers, and rolls of arches. Examples include the the Bigallo in Florence, Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, and Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra.
Italian palaces were built for wealthy families during the Italian Renaissance, so it’s understandable that this time period would have an important influence on the style. They rose to popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries and typically have symmetrical, corniced, basemented, and neat rows of windows.
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1. Doge’s Palace (Venice)
The Doge’s Palace is likely one of the most recognizable examples of typical Gothic Italian architecture and landmarks for tourists. The building process started in 1340 and was completed in 1442 by Doge Francesco Foscari. It contains many priceless architectural details, including the Golden Staircase, the Great Council Chamber, and the Bridge of Sighs. Tickets are available through their website. A full-price ticket costs €30 but discounts are available.
2. Palazzo Madama (Turin)
The site of this ancient Italian palace dates back to the first century BC and was part of the Roman walls of the city. In the 14th century, the House of Savoy enlarged it into a castle and Ludovico of Acaja made renovations to include a portico and inner court. Today, it houses the Turin City Museum of Ancient Art, a rare collection of artifacts from various excavations, as well as many pieces from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. Tickets can be purchased using TicketOne and GetYourGuide, which are €10 each.
3. Spinola Palace (Genoa)
The Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria in Genoa is one of 163 Palazzi dei Rolli of Genoa, a network of private residences where notable guests of the Republic of Genoa were hosted during state visits. Various masterpieces, including Praying Virgin by Joos van Cleve, Allegory of the Peace and the War by Luca Giordano, and Portrait of a Nun by Bernardo Strozzi, are located here. The entry fee is €11 and tickets can be purchased on their website.
4. Palazzo Litta (Milan)
Palazzo Litta, also known as Palazzo Palazzo Arese-Litta, is a shining example of Baroque architecture in Milan. Franceso Maria Richini built Palazzo Litta from 1642-1648 for Count Bartolomo Arese. Count Arese eventually became president of the Senate of Milan in 1660, increasing the importance of the structure. Today, this Italian palace is used as a cultural center and includes exhibition spaces, offices, and a theater.
5. Ducal Palace (Mantua)
This impressive Italian palace was built between the 14th and 17th centuries for the noble family, Gonzaga, as their royal residence. The complex is composed of 500 rooms and is approximately 34,000 square meters, making it the sixth largest palace in Europe. As if that weren’t impressive enough, it also is famous for housing Mantegna’s frescos in the Camera degli Sposi, or Wedding Room, as well as other architectural details and painted elements. A daily ticket is €15 and can be purchased through the Ducal Palace’s website.
6. Palazzo Carignano (Turin)
The construction of Palazzo Carignano began in 1679 for Prince Emanuel Philibert of the House of Savoy. Today, it houses the Museum of the Risorgimento, where various uniforms, weapons, flags, printed and written documents (including the Italian national anthem, Il Canto degli Italiani), and various artworks. Depending on the time of year, entrance costs €5 or €6 for adults.
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7. Pitti Palace (Florence)
As someone who lives for the opportunity to walk around Florence, I often find myself with my mouth open in complete shock when I pass by the Pitti Palace. Its sheer size – even before setting foot inside – is breathtaking. The core of the palace was built in 1458 and was the original home of Luca Pitti, a Florentine banker. It was bought by the Medici family in 1549. It houses an incredible array of priceless works of art, and the grounds are also spectacular. Entrance to the palace is €17 and tickets are available on the Uffizi’s website. Visitors to the Pitti Palace often add tickets to the adjoining Boboli Gardens for €6 more.
8. Palazzo Ducale (Lucca)
This large Italian palace used to occupy one fifth of the city until it was destroyed by the people of Lucca in 1370. Although it was restored and used as a residence by Paolo Guinigi in 1401; however, after his fall in 1429 it was again dismantled. In its center, it features a statue of Lucchese lawyer Francesco Carrara. The palace itself is home to many statues. These days the palace hosts many special events and shows.
9. Riccardi Medici Palace (Florence)
Built between 1444 and 1484, the Riccardi Medici Palace was built for Cosimo Medici, head of the Medici banking family. The ticket includes access to other areas, including the Hall of Mirrors, marble museum, and exhibitions in progress. Tickets cost €10 and are available for purchase on the website.
10. Chigi Palace (Rome)
Today, Chigi Palace in Rome is the home to the Italian prime minister. But, it has more than three centuries of history – in years past it was utilized as a noble residence. Building this Italian palace began in 1562 by Giacomo della Porta, and over time has gone through various stages of renovations. The Library Hall holds an enormous collection of books from cardinal Flavio Chigi, as well as thousands of valuable manuscripts. Access to the palace is limited for those who are interested; information is available on the Chigi Palace website.
11. Palazzo Barberini (Rome)
In 1645, Matteo Barberini bought the site where this Italian palace stands from the Sforza family. Matteo Barberini would eventually become Pope Urban VIII and the site of this impressive white palace would eventually become a shining example of Italian architecture. Today it houses the Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Antica, or International Gallery of Antique Art, the main collection of older paintings in Rome. Tickets to enter the palace and the gallery are separate and each costs €12. Purchase tickets on the palace’s website.
12. Ducal Palace (Urbino)
The Ducal Palace is one of the main monuments of the city of Urbino and an impressive example of Italian Renaissance art and architecture. It is the seat of The National Gallery of Le Marche, which showcases some of the most important Renaissance art in the world. Entrance is €10 and tickets are available online.
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13. Royal Palace of Caserta (Caserta)
Welcome to the Italian version of Versailles. The Royal Palace of Caserta was constructed for King Charles VII of Naples starting in 1751. It is the largest former royal residence in the world, covering more than 47,000 square meters. As if that wasn’t enough, there is an enormous park on the grounds that has five fountains throughout. Tickets are €15 and available through their site.
14. Royal Palace of Naples (Naples)
The Royal Palace of Naples serves as a museum and tourist destination. In years past, it was the royal residence of the Bourbons. The facade was completed in 1616 and the interior was frescoed in 1620. The outside is particularly known for its sculptures, which depict former kings of Naples. Tickets for select attractions are available on their site.
15. Norman Palace (Palermo)
This stunning palace in Italy is also called the Royal Palace of Palermo. Built in 1072, it’s the oldest royal residence in Europe. At one time it was the seat of the Kings of Sicily. Visit to experience the Cappella Palatina, considered to be the best example of the Norman-Arab-Byzantine style. You can purchase tickets for €15 through their official site, just click “Biglietteria Online.”
16. Palazzo Corvaja (Taormina)
This late 14th-century castle is located in Sicily and was named after one of the most important families in Sicily. Today, it is used as an exhibition center for the tourism office.
17. Palace of the Princes of Belmonte (Santa Maria di Castellabate)
Castellabate is located just south of Italy’s infamous Amalfi Coast and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find the Palazzo Belmonte, a unique, 17th-century historic residence right by the sea. Book a few nights here and you will be transported in time.
18. Palazzo San Giacomo (Naples)
Palazzo San Giacomo is an important building in the history of Naples. Today, it serves as city hall and houses the mayor and the offices of the municipality of Naples. In 1816 King Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies commissioned the building of the palace to serve as a centralized location for the government. People who would like to visit the palazzo can submit requests at the website below, as it is open for various exhibits and guided tours.
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19. The Royal Venaria (Venaria)
Travel north to Turin and you will find The Palace of Venaria. This stunning Italian palace is another former royal residence of the Royal House of Savoy. It was built in 1675 and was commissioned by Charles Emanuel II. Marvel at the architectural details or simply explore the expansive grounds. Tickets are available online and vary in price, depending on your desired experience.
20. Palazzo Regio-Cagliari (Cagliari)
When they say something is built for a king, they really are talking about this Italian palace. Palazzo Regio, also known as Viceregio, used to be the residence of the king of Sardinia. It was built in the 14th century and is located in the Castello district, which in Italian means “castle” – very appropriate. Visit the palace to marvel the stunning interior as well as frescoes and other artwork. Purchase tickets on the palace’s website for €5.
What are the Largest Italian Palaces?
The Royal Palace of Caserta is the largest, but others include the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, Palazzina di Caccia di Stupinigi in Turin, Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo, and more.
What is the Italian Version of Versailles?
The Royal Palace of Caserta is known as the Italian version of Versailles. In fact, it is the largest former royal residence in the world,coming in at nearly two million square meters. It was built by the Bourbon-Two Sicilies family to serve as their primary dwelling.
How Many Royal Palaces are There in Italy?
According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 300 royal palaces in Italy; however, it is hard to know the exact number due to how many have been lost over time. Make sure to visit these historical time capsules if you have the opportunity.