Top five: architectural wonders beyond the big hitters

Italy is a history buff's paradise, with incredible architectural feats in all corners of the country. Here are a few not to be missed

Published 15 Jan 2019, 11:16 GMT, Updated 19 Jul 2021, 12:32 BST
Isola Bella's Borromeo Palace

Isola Bella's Borromeo Palace

Photograph by Getty

Italy is full of jaw-dropping architecture, from the big guns like the Colosseum and Florence's Duomo to St Mark's Basilica, the list goes on. It's a serious undertaking to do them all in one trip, however. Our advice? Cherry-pick from this lot below — a clutch of lesser-known gems, some charmingly weathered, others painstakingly restored, but all with excellent credentials.

Here, Luisa from Cosmos takes us on a whistle-stop tour:

Isola Bella's Borromeo Palace
This elegant palace on the pinprick island of Isola Bella will take your breath away, presiding over immaculate terraced gardens with a sprinkling of peacocks — it's a prime example of Lake Maggiore's old-school glamour.
Why now? The palace was built by the Borromeo family to host sumptuous parties and theatre shows for the aristocracy. Today, its dazzling interiors are a treasure trove of stuccos, armours, tapestries and paintings by Old Masters.

Click here to find out more about this Cosmos tour.

Castel del Monte
This 13th-century, UNESCO-listed castle in Puglia certainly deserves its accolade. Perched on a hillside and visible from miles away, Castel del Monte continues to baffle historians as to why Frederick II built it in the first place; recent speculation suggests it was some sort of wellness centre, comparable to a Moorish hammam. Regardless of its origins, it remains one of Puglia's must-see sights.
Why now? Some theorists claim the landmark's octagonal shape reflects the geometrical, theological and astronomical knowledge of the time. Head here for beautiful views over the Apulian countryside.

Click here to find out more about this Cosmos tour.

Doric Temple of Concord

Photograph by Getty

Doric Temple of Concord
Plot a course to the UNESCO-listed Valley of the Temples in Sicily and weave your way to this spectacular site, built by the Greeks around the fifth century: it's every bit as captivating as the Athenian Parthenon.
Why now?
Because it's the best-preserved Doric temple in Sicily. It's withstood 2,400 years of history and change, witnessing the presence of Romans, Byzantine, Moors, Normans, the Hohenstaufen, Angevins and Aragons, and resisted the bombing of Agrigento, a town located nearby, in 1943.

Click here to find out more about this Cosmos tour.

Montecassino Abbey
This exquisite abbey was established by Saint Benedict in the sixth century and was once home to celebrated philosopher, Thomas Aquinas. It sits majestically atop a 1640ft hill overlooking the town of Casino, and in a bizarre twist, is the oldest monastery in the world known for producing beer. In fact, thanks to a partnership with Peroni, it is soon to start brewing once again.
Why now?
Learn about its fascinating but tragic history. The building was destroyed during the Second World War because of a mistake made by a British junior officer. While translating an intercepted radio message, he mistook the German word for 'abbot' for 'battalion,' and convinced Allied generals to attack. The abbey was blitzed, and almost 300 people lost their lives, but it's since been rebuilt in all its former glory.

Click here to find out more about this Cosmos tour.

Orvieto Cathedra

Photograph by Getty

Orvieto Cathedral
The facade of this beautiful cathedral is decorated with magnificent mosaics that appear different colours depending on the time of day. Yet inside it's cavernous and austere, with a white-tiled nave atop huge basalt and travertine columns.
Why now?
This is no ordinary cathedral: the duomo's construction began in 1290 at the behest of Pope Nicholas IV and ended three centuries later in 1591, having been worked on by more than 20 different artists.

Click here to find out more about this Cosmos tour.

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