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Now that you know the basic architectural styles that span the centuries of European history, here are five cities that boast exceptional architecture. The following is a quick tour of some of their architectural highlights. 

1.     Rome. Rome is a city whose history goes back to ancient times, and whose architecture encompasses all of the major styles, from the Classical to the Post-Modern. The best way to experience the city is on foot. When you start at the neighborhood around the Forum and the Coliseum, you go back in time to when Rome was the most powerful city on earth, and her empire covered much of the known world. Going north, toward the Spanish Steps, you experience the Baroque style in the Piazza di Espagna. Saint Peter’s Cathedral, in the Vatican City, is a classic example of the Renaissance style. But the ancient buildings in the Classical style are the main attraction. Visit the Coliseum. It is an imposing structure, even though it is partially in ruins, and you can imagine what it must have been like during the Roman Empire, when it was filled with mobs of people during one of the many spectacles that were staged here. Adjacent to the Coliseum is the Arch of Constantine, a well-preserved example of the Classical triumphal arch. Next, visit the Forum, which was the original center of ancient Rome. Now mostly in ruins, you can still get an idea of what this public area was like, with its combination of temples and government buildings.

2.     Florence. Going north and east from Rome, to the center of the peninsula, you arrive in Florence. Despite being known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence has some wonderful examples of earlier styles in architecture. Most of the architectural jewels of the city are centered around the Florence Cathedral, known as the Duomo. The Bapistry is a beautiful structure in the Romanesque style, and is believed to be the oldest building in the city. Facing the Bapistry is the Doumo itself, which is an imposing cathedral in the Italian Gothic style, topped by a Renaissance dome by Brunelleschi, one of the major architects of the Renaissance period. Another Gothic masterpiece, Giotto’s Campanile or Tower, was designed by the artist Giotto, and stands adjacent to the Duomo. One more Florentine architectural feature of note, spanning the river Arno, is the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge that is lined with shops and restaurants.

3.     Venice. Venice, on the northeast coast of Italy, is another city known for its Renaissance art, but containing buildings from the Gothic period as well. Saint Mark’s square is the center of Venice, and here you will encounter many of its architectural treasures. The massive Doge’s Palace is a fine example of the Italian Gothic style, serving as the seat of the Venetian government for centuries. Next to the palace is the Basilica of Saint Mark’s, a church which dates back to the 10th and 11th centuries. The basilica is an example of an architectural style more common in the east than the west – the Byzantine. Byzantine architecture was the architecture of Constantinople, known today as Istanbul. The buildings across from the Doge’s palace are in the Renaissance style, while the imposing Campanile is a structure originally built during the Middle Ages, but which was rebuilt in its current form during the Renaissance. It arose again, in the same form, in 1912, after it collapsed in 1902.

4.     Paris. Known as “The City of Lights”, Paris could also be called the city of architecture. You will find many beautiful buildings here, although, unlike the more compact Florence and Venice, you will have to cover more of the city to see them. Buildings in Paris date back to Roman times, when the name for Paris was Lutèce. The Arènes de Lutèce, 49 rue Monge in the 5th arrondissement, are the remains of a gallo-roman amphitheatre in the Classic style built in the 1st century AD. St-Germaine-des-Prés, 3 place St-Germaine-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement, is the oldest church in Paris, and a notable example of the Romanesque style. Paris has numerous fine examples of Gothic architecture. In addition to Notre Dame, there is the nearby Sainte-Chapelle, known for its exquisite stained glass. The Pace des Voges, in the Marais, exemplifies the Renaissance style, while the Palais du Luxembourg is a fine representation of the Baroque. There are numerous Neo-Classical structures, such as the Arc de Triomphe, and for Modern and Post-Modern architecture, pay a visit to La Défense, which boasts such Post-Modern buildings as the CNIT. And the city’s most famous landmark? The Eiffel Tower displays a style called Victorian Structural Expressionist.

5.    Vienna. Vienna could well be the “City of the Baroque”, due to the number and magnificence of the Baroque structures that grace its streets and public spaces. Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, however, contains examples of the both the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The older part of the church represents the Romanesque, but the choir and the towers are magnificent examples of the Gothic. And of course, there are many fine representations of the Baroque. The Schonbrunn Palace and the Bellevedere Palace are both excellent examples. The Hofburg, or Imperial Palace, was the winter home of the Hapsburgs (the Schonbrunn was their summer palace). Spanning centuries, it includes every style from Gothic to Art Nouveau within its vast expanse. Seen from the entrance on Michaelerplatz, among the horse drawn carriages and crowds of people, this impressive building is perhaps the perfect image of Vienna.

By Michael Norris
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