Veneto is a region of extraordinary artistic and cultural richness. Long before Venice swallowed up all the territory around it, many urban centers sprung up around the area – often surrounded by mighty walls to protect their territory – which today we can admire in all its splendor. These vary from large cities, as is the case with Padua, Verona, Vicenza, and Treviso, to smaller urban settlements which, despite their small proportions, are the keepers of outstanding artistic and architectural treasures. Visiting the smaller cities allows you the possibility to understand the true depths of the history and culture of this territory and of Venice, by which it distinguished itself during its predominance for many centuries. It also means discovering secret destinations less exposed to mass tourism and its effects, to conserve the integrity of its authentic territory ultimately.
If you have access to a car, it is definitely worth driving along with the Strada del Prosecco (the road of Prosecco), which begins at Conegliano and finishes in the center of Valdobbiadene. It is a spectacular drive especially in the months that lead up to the grape harvest, which usually takes place during the first few days of September. The vocation of winemaking is very prominent in this area. Conegliano holds the most distinguished Enological School in Italy, where winemakers are trained and end up working in the best wine cellars in Italy and abroad. Parking along the main roads is free only on Sundays.
For those who do not have a car, Conegliano’s old town is just a few meters from the train station. It is therefore very easy to get there from Venice by simply taking one of the many trains that go in the direction of Treviso, Udine or Belluno.
Once you arrive at Conegliano station, simply follow Via Carducci (the street opposite the exit of the station), and at the end of the street, follow the staircase up that takes you to Via XX Settembre. This opens out onto the piazza, which the Accademia Theatre towers over.
This piazza was the setting for many scenes from the famous 1960s film Signori e signore, directed by Pietro Germi (awarded the Golden Palm at the Cannes film festival in 1966, despite only being available in Italian with Italian subtitles). The film is a merciless portrayal of the Trevigiana middle class, who occupy themselves with parties, excessive drinking, exuberant eating and amorous passion, often to the detriment of their legitimate husbands and wives. It is an irreverent film that plays with the notion of Catholicism, Veneto and the regimented social orders imposed by religion and society.
I would avidly recommend visiting Conegliano on a Sunday because it is the only day on which – thanks to the invaluable work of many volunteers – it is possible to visit all the wonderful places in the city without paying!
Proceeding to the left of the piazza just a few meters on, you find the Cathedral. However, if you are searching for the classical architecture of a church, you may just miss it! The Cathedral is inserted between the houses that continue along the road. The construction began in the second half of the year 200 and completed in the 15th Century due to the work of the Brotherhood of the Battuti, which reunited the secular disciples of charity and generosity.
Externally it is characterized by an elegant façade with nine arches, above you see the immensely valuable frescoes of Lodovico Pozzoserrato. It is the most decorated wall with frescos in the whole of the Veneto region.
Inside there are three naves still in pristine condition that date back to the year 300, ornated with frescoes of the period. But the work of art that draws everyone’s attention is La Madonna in Trono e Santi (Madonna with Child enthroned with Saints), painted by Giovanni Battista, known as Cima da Conegliano.
When visiting a sacred Church know what to expect, if a Sunday morning mass is already in motion it is best to wait until mass finishes and take yourselves off to the School of the Battuti in the meantime.
Along with the Cathedral, the School constitutes part of a unique compound, thought up and implemented by the brotherhood of the Battuti. All the paintings from Pozzoserrato’s frescoes on the Cathedral façade to the frescoes in the Saladei Battuti, to Cima da Conegliano’s works of art, were created within the time frame of a century. This was done with the intention of narrating the Storia Della Salvezza (History of Deliverance) through a coherent project, as relevant to the Brotherhood and all Conegliano’s citizens.
You access the School by passing through a small gate to the right of the entrance of the Cathedral and taking the two flights of stairs (the school is open from on Saturday between 3 pm-6 pm and on Sunday from 10 am-12 pm). You arrive immediately at the Sala dei Battuti, completely draped in frescoes. They convey scenes from the Bible that recall each episode from the Creation of the Universe to Judgment Day. Noticeably the wall decorated in original Francesco da Milano frescoes inspired Albrecht Dürer as seen through his engravings.
The tour then proceeds to the Sala del Capitolo, which holds the precious tapestries that narrate the story of David and Bathsheba. If you are lucky enough to know some Italian, the volunteers that occupy the rooms will be very happy to take you through the tour with careful explanations. After touring the Cathedral and the Sala dei Battuti, it is up to you to decide if the time has come for a little break, or if you want to continue ahead to the next stage.
Whether you fancied a break or not, the moment has come to confront the pedestrianized hill that leads you to the Castle (Calle Madonna Delle Nevi). It’s not an easy one, but it is fine as long as you approach it calmly and appreciate that it usually takes 15 minutes to walk. To find the road, simply take via Accademia, which flanks the Accademia Theatre, the pedestrianized way is literally in front of you.
It is worth walking all the way to the top, especially if it is a clear and sunny day. You will be able to enjoy the view that extends across the plains and gives you a real sense of its initial purpose, as a defense mechanism. There’s not much left of the Castle, only the main tower, now a museum, and a severed tower destined to become a restaurant. However, during the walk up, once you arrive at the peak, you can admire the well-preserved walls. They were constructed by the Scaglieri (family from Verona) and Carraresi (family from Padova), to defend itself before the town became part of Venice. After which these great defensive walls, like all those in Veneto towns, became redundant.
Along the ascent, you will see the small Church of the Madonna Delle Neve, only open on Sundays between 2:30 pm-5 pm. The petit building is found propped directly onto the walls and conserves precious remains of several frescos. Unfortunately the entrance to the spectacular walk that runs alongside the wall is private and only accessible once a year, on the Sunday after 18 October.
Inside the church, you go up the internal staircase that guides you towards the small bell tower (careful of the low ceiling!) where you can have the exciting experience of ringing the two bells (all visitors are welcome to do so!).
Heading back to the center, our last visit will be the house of Cima di Conegliano (open on Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 3 pm to 6 pm). It’s a fascinating building, not only because it was the home of a great painter, but because it is also a perfect demonstration of a bourgeoisie house of the 500s. The volunteers here would also be more than happy to conduct a little tour for you. There’s also usually one that speaks a little English too! The reproductions of some of the most famous paintings of Cima are beautiful. They inspire you to go and seek the great painter’s works in Venice or in other cities where the originals are preserved.
After visiting Cima da Conegliano’s house, I would highly recommend a stroll along via XX Settembre that once upon a time was a main road in medieval Conegliano. It contains several precious buildings, besides being absolutely sprinkled with little bars and traditional restaurants that could perhaps capture your attention.
Have a nice trip to Conegliano!