The Via Romea Germanica (VRG) is a relatively recently recreated pilgrimage route. The Italian section from the Brenner Pass to Rome passes through towns that are home to some of the masterpieces of Italian art history. On my walk in the spring of 2018, I had the opportunity to revisit a few of my favourite places as well as discover new ones.
In this post, I’ll cover some of the highlights in terms of art and architecture as well as typical buildings representing the changes you’ll encounter as you walk the route from the alpine areas, across the valley of the Po and then through central Italy .
Villages in the mountainous north of the route often had charming little churches, sometimes with decorated facades.
Church interiors are typically Austrian style baroque in the Südtirol /Alto Adige area.
A village house.
The valleys are lined with castles such as this one, Straßburg from the 13th century.
The town of Sterzing or Vipiteno in Italian has a beautiful historic centre.
I was enchanted by the cloister attached to the cathedral at Brixen/Bressanone with its fascinating frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries
Further south, above the town of Klausen, the 12th century chapel of Sankt Jacob or Saint James also has beautiful frescoes.
A village house.
Trento has decorated buildings typical of the Trentino and Veneto regions.
The much loved and emblematic wooden bridge at Bassano del Grappa was designed by Palladio in 1569.
The Veneto region is famous for its Palladian villas and you’ll pass by quite a few on this walk. This is the Villa Contarini at Piazzola sul Brenta designed by Palladio in the 1540s but heavily modified and extended in the 17th century.
The city of Padova boasts many artistic treasures such as Ghiotto’s fresco cycle. The Basilica of Saint Anthony is a obligatory stop and you can get their stamp for your credenziale.
Ferrara’s renaissance historic centre is one of Italy’s many world heritage listed sites. The castle dominates the town centre.
A lesser known place to visit is the church in the convent of Sant’Antonio in Polesine where you can admire a set of frescoes from the school of Giotto.
Ferrara also has an excellent archeological museum featuring finds from the long lost Etruscan city of Spina, near Comacchio.
The World Heritage listed mosaics of Ravenna are well worth a visit and the VRG takes you there! The beautiful Mausoleum of Gallida Placidia was built around the year 430.
The church of San Vitale from 548 has an amazing display of mosaics. Amongst them is this one of the Empress Theodora, with a group of court women and eunuchs.
The Tuscan renaissance style church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Pianetto offers a stark contrast to the florid baroque church interiors seen earlier in this walk.
There’s some controversy as to whether the bridge at Meldola dates back to medieval or Roman times although it has been rebuilt following serious damage inflicted during World War 2.
The Basilica of St Francis in Arezzo is home to one of the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance – Piero della Francesca’s fresco cycle of the ‘Story of the True Cross’ painted between 1452 and 1466. The large crucifix painted by an unknown artist is from the 13th century.
Detail from one of the frescoes.
A piazza in Arezzo.
The imposing bulk of Orvieto’s cathedral can be clearly seen from the VRG when you are still over 10 kilometres away.
These frescoes in the cathedral are from the 14th century.
This little church of San Michele Arcangelo which dates from the time of the Longobards 1,300 years ago, makes an interesting contrast to the little mountain church at the start of this post.
A typical farmhouse, also providing an interesting contrast to houses at the start of the Italian section of the VRG.
The town of Civita di Bagnoregio has become a symbol of the VRG as it’s featured on the front page of the guide book. It’s known as ‘la città che muore’ or the town that’s dying as the tuff outcrop on which it’s built is gradually crumbling away.
The VRG and the Via Francigena which comes from France and beyond come together at Montefiascone or more precisely at the church of San Flaviano.
This 11th century building has a two level interior making it virtually two churches in one orientated back to front to each other. The upper level may have been for women.
Just outside the ancient town of Sutri is the archeological park containing, amongst other things, an amphitheatre from the 1st century BC cut out of the volcanic rock. This area has many Etruscan tombs and ruins but unfortunately I never came across anything open.
The fascinating church of Santa Maria del Parto is also cut out of the rock and is thought to have been originally a Mithraic temple. The medieval fresco shows how pilgrims of previous ages dressed.
Not far from Sutri is Rome, the end point of our pilgrimage and whose cultural treasures are well known.