St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture in Italy, and one of the world’s largest and most beautiful churches. Its iconic central dome dominates the skyline of Rome, and its façade is flanked by tall colonnades. Its entire interior is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, sculptures, and over 100,000 square feet of mosaic. Look out for Michelangelo’s Pietà—considered the Vatican’s greatest artistic treasure—a statue of Mary and Jesus carved from a single piece of marble.
St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice
With its mosaic-covered domes and grandiose Italo-Byzantine architecture, it’s no wonder that St. Mark’s Basilica is the focal point of St. Mark’s Square and the official cathedral of Venice. Its interiors boast more than 80,000 square feet of gilded Byzantine mosaics, mostly from the 11th-13th centuries, which cover the church’s vaulted ceiling and cupolas. But don’t forget to look down: the basilica’s intricately-patterned floor is a stunning mix of mosaic and marble laid out in a geometric design.
Cathedral of Palermo
The Cathedral of Palermo is one of the most important architectural monuments in Sicily. It was built in 1184 by the Normans as a re-converted Christian church on the site of a Muslim Mosque that was previously built over a Christian basilica. This Cathedral is a must see when visiting Palermo! The reason for building this cathedral was to surpass in beauty the Cathedral of Monreale so you can imagine how architectural exaggeration was involved due to the competitiveness. What we see today is the result of a stratification of styles over the centuries from Gothic to Medieval, Arabic (an actual passage from the Koran is still engraved on one of the columns) to Neoclassical.
The Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi
Consecrated in 1253, this bi-level architectural masterpiece is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highlight of many Christian pilgrimages in Italy. It consists of two churches: a Gothic-style Upper Basilica and a Romanesque-style Lower Basilica adorned with medieval frescoes painted by artists like Cimabue, Giotto, and Pietro Lorenzetti. The High Altar, topped by a marble slab from Constantinople and flanked by delicate columns, is one of the cathedral’s highlights.
Cathedral of St. Agatha, Catania
Though it’s been destroyed and rebuilt several times due to earthquakes and eruptions of the nearby Mount Etna, St. Agatha’s Cathedral still remains one of Sicily’s most stunning churches. It features a striking, tri-level Sicilian Baroque façade carved out of Carrara marble and adorned with Corinthian columns, and a bell tower that dates back to 1387 (it’s also the third-largest church bell in Italy, after St. Peter’s Basilica and the Duomo of Milan). Inside, you’ll find vaulted ceilings, 17th-century frescoes of saints, and exquisite wood carvings depicting the life of St. Agatha.