Are you looking for somewhere a little different in Italy? A town with a blend of Italian and Central European culture? With Alpine air and a wealth of art and architecture?
If so, Trento is the town to visit, situated as it is in the Adige Valley and entirely surrounded by the Alps, which have played an integral role in its culture.
It became Alpine City of the Year in 2004. Today, Trento is a quiet provincial city but it hasn’t always been so. For many centuries, it stood between the Mediterranean and Germanic populations, and has been inﬂuenced by both these worlds.
In the past, it was a powerful bishopric ruled by princes, reaching its greatest splendour in the 16th century, when it was also the venue for the Council of Trent, set up by Pope Paul III to counter Protestantism.
In its dense network of streets, narrow alleys and small squares, there are many traces of the city's deep-rooted history, with buildings in Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic styles.
Former home of bishops
Our tour starts at Castello del Buon Consiglio, deﬁnitely worth the visit for its rich history and imposing architecture. It served as the Prince Bishops’ residence from the end of the 13th century to 1802.
Built originally for defence, its appearance has changed over the centuries.
Features to look out for include the mighty Torre d’Augusto, the swallow-tailed battlements, the Gothic windows and the elegant Venetian loggia.
But don’t miss the interior of Torre dell’Aquila, which houses the most important pieces of medieval art. A cycle of paintings, representing the months of the year, hidden at the end of a narrow passageway in the tower, covers the walls of a small room.
It depicts games, dances and entertainments of the court together with the daily life of ordinary people.
The moat surrounding the castle is where two famous nationalists from Trento were executed in 1916, Cesare Battisti and Fabio Filzi, who contributed to the demobilisation of the Austrian forces in the town.
Their cells are open to the public.
As you walk along the castle walls, Torre Verde comes into view, a medieval tower with an unusual spire, built to defend the port in the Adige river before it was diverted. Take via del Suffragio, a street renowned for its porticos, which was the commercial heart of the town.
Continue along via Manci, once known as Via Lunga, which is lined with aristocratic Renaissance palaces. Among them are Palazzo Salvadori and Palazzo Galasso.
The latter is known as the ‘Devilís Palace’ as legend has it that it was built in one night after a deal made with Satan. The Church of San Francesco Saverio, built in the 18th century, is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the city.
To reach the Cathedral, turn into via Belenzani, once known as Contrada Larga, one of the city’s most colourful streets, lined with Renaissance palaces with wonderful façades.
At the top of the street stands Palazzo Thun and on the opposite side lies Palazzo Geremia, where frescoes depict signiﬁcant historical events.
The exterior of Palazzo Alberti Colico is also exquisite.
You will also ﬁnd shops selling regional handicrafts: those shops where you can get lost simply wandering around, admiring ﬁne china and wood carvings.
As you enter the Piazza Duomo, note the two Case Rella, decorated with 16th-century frescoes depicting scenes from classical mythology and timeless subjects such as Virtue, Time, Fortune and Love.
Piazza del Duomo is a pleasant square ringed with arcades. In the centre stands the baroque Neptune fountain, honouring Tridentum, the Roman name of the town.
Palazzo Pretorio, with its battlements, was the archbishops’ residence, now housing the Diocesan Museum, with displays of local sacred art. The top ﬂoor provides a wonderful view of the entire square. Next to it is Torre Civica, built in the 13th century on the ruins of a Roman gate.
The Cathedral of San Vigilio is severe but elegant. The oldest part is built over a crypt and an early Christian Basilica which is also open to the public and certainly worth a visit.
The most remarkable features of the façades are two marvellous rosettes, the loggia, the ‘Bishop’s Door’ the portico and a beautiful main door. The apsidal section, looking onto via San Vigilio, has a porch, two series of splayed windows and the belfry of San Romedio.
Inside the building, the combination of Romanesque design and the height of the vaults recalling Gothic cathedrals is extraordinary.
A short distance from the Cathedral, up a side street off via Belenzani is the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, built in 1520, with a beautiful main door and noteworthy works of art.
The heart of Trento is a trafﬁc-free zone known as ‘Giro al Sass’, its shops and cafés crowded with young people, especially in the summer. It is worth searching out Enoteca Grado 12, at Largo Carducci 12, a beautiful and very old distillery with a good range of excellent wines and grappa.
Try a bottle of their excellent vinsanto. From here, doubling back to via Manci you reach Piazza Battisti, where Roman ruins have recently been uncovered.
Two churches worthy of a visit, both located close behind the centre of the city are: San Lorenzo (a beautiful 12th-century Benedictine abbey) and Sant’Apollinare (across the river, dating back to the 14th century, notable for its steeply-pitched roofs).
If you still have some time left, visit Trento’s museums, often with exhibitions of important collections. They include the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, in Palazzo delle Albere and the Museum of Natural Sciences in Palazzo Sardagna.
If, however, you prefer the outdoors, visit the monument to Cesare Battisti, on the so-called Doss Trento, from where you have a ﬁne view of the whole city. But if all this is too much, enjoy the peace of one of Trento’s parks!