Anyone who is familiar with Italy-its glorious architecture, epic history, exquisite fine arts, and majestic landscape-understands Verdi's passionate words. For centuries, Italy has been an irresistible magnet for people from all corners of the world, attracting the most illustrious men and women of every age as well as visitors from every walk of life. Today, it remains a mecca for cultural travelers, uplifting, fascinating, and enchanting all who travel there. But what is behind Italy's remarkable appeal? What makes this country such an inexhaustible place of discovery, unforgettable to so many? Historically, Italy is one of the central fonts of Western culture, as the center of the Roman Empire, the cradle of Christianity, and the place where the Renaissance flowered. The sheer geographical density of masterpieces of art is one of the marvels of the world. Italy contains a stunning mix of history, architecture, art, and culture, all within settings of astonishing beauty. From its fabulous panorama of history and art, dating from ancient times to the modern, to its luminous landscapes and incalculable jewels of architecture, it would be hard to exaggerate the riches of this extraordinary country. Rome - A majestic, one-stop compendium of Western civilization, encompassing wonders from the ancient Palace of Domitian and the great Colosseum to landmarks of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the modern era in multilayered profusion Assisi - The lovely Umbrian hill town whose Church of St. Francis is one of the greatest monuments in European art Florence - A matchless treasure house of Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque art and architecture, where the masterworks of Michelangelo, Bernini, Brunelleschi, Caravaggio, and numerous others abound Pompeii - An amazingly preserved ancient time capsule, revealing the intimate realities of daily life in the Roman Empire Venice - A city that is itself a sublime work of art, and whose magical waterways and exquisite architecture give us one of the world's most romantic and historically rich destinations The Great Courses, in collaboration with the renowned Smithsonian, brings you The Guide to Essential Italy, your own grand tour of Italy that focuses on the most historically and artistically compelling sites. A world expert in cultural travel for over 45 years, Smithsonian Journeys, the Institution's worldwide travel program, has created an Italian itinerary that has been honed over time to present a fascinating picture of this amazing destination. With their experts, we created a circuit that explores some of the most culturally significant landmarks, gives the opportunity to view countless impressive masterworks of artistic genius, and examines the impact of Italian history on the rest of the world. A breathtaking travel journey, this 36-segment course is a video tour and travelogue that lets you walk the streets and savor the heritage of Italy's premiere destinations of Rome, Tuscany, and Venice, with side trips to additional treasures of Italian civilization. The Guide to Essential Italy is a specially tailored journey of a kind no guidebook anywhere can offer-a personally guided tour that lets you explore the most famous and culturally important sites: splendorous palaces, grand piazzas, dazzling statuary, glorious cathedrals and churches, monumental artworks, and much more. In the process, you'll take time to visit hidden gems and less traveled byways, and to make unusual and fascinating discoveries. Your guide is Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett of the University of Toronto, an esteemed historian and scholar who knows these remarkable places in intimate detail, having traveled to Italy every year since 1970. As a cultural tour leader there for decades, Professor Bartlett knows Italy like few others do, and demonstrates a special talent for uncovering its most memorable historic, cultural, and artistic riches. Professor Bartlett introduces you to the essential sites of these incredible cities, using location footage from the Smithsonian Journeys program as well as plenty of detailed maps so that you always know exactly where you are. In superbly illuminating commentary, he reveals the history and cultural significance of these places in detail, and offers viewing tips for appreciating what you'll experience-whether you're planning a trip to Italy, thinking of traveling there, or would simply like to discover this superlative culture from your armchair. Each lecture in this course is organized as a detailed walking tour, which you can take with you and listen to as you walk through the vias of Italy, as well as follow and enjoy as a spectacular visual journey from the comfort of home. Plus, the Smithsonian provides travel advice that appears at the end of every lecture: dozens of expert suggestions for off-the-beaten-path opportunities to explore more about the art, architecture, history, culture, and landscape. These tips build upon the professor's vivid insights and offer fresh nuances to consider. The Eternal City Your Italian journey begins in the phenomenal urban landscape of Rome. In a full fourteen lectures on this center of Western civilization, you'll delve into historic treasures such as these: At sites such as the Forum Romanum, the Colosseum, the Claudian aqueduct, and the massive Baths of Diocletian, appreciate the majesty and power of the Roman Empire as well its astounding feats of architecture and engineering. Explore great Renaissance and Baroque palaces evoking the lavish opulence of the Roman nobility, including the Chigi Palace and Palazzo Borghese, among the grandest private houses in all of Rome, and the Villa Farnesina,one of Rome's most glorious jewels. Among triumphs of civic architecture, admire theCampidoglio, Michelangelo's masterpiece of urban planning; the Piazza Navona, crowned by Bernini's spectacular Fountain of the Four Rivers; and the 19th-century Victor Emmanuel Monument. Experience the splendor of the Roman church at the Capitoline, the papal basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, the Vatican's Apostolic Palace and Basilica of St. Peter, and Bernini's superlative Cornaro Chapel. Florence and Tuscany Here, embark on the glorious Florentine streets as you uncover the dramatic history of the city-state and savor the masterworks of art that have defined Florence for the ages. Chart the development of the Florentine republic at sites such as the majestic Bargello and Palazzo della Signoria; stand in awe of the Medici monarchy at the Palazzo Vecchio, Fortezza da Basso, and the Chapel of the Princes; View Botticelli and da Vinci at the renownedGalleria degli Uffizi, Rubens and Raphael at the Palazzo Pitti, and the genius of Michelangelo at the Accademia, all among the greatest repositories of art in the world. Admire the extraordinary Duomo, whose dome is one of the wonders of the entire Renaissance; Ghiberti's golden doors for the Baptistery, which Michelangelo declared worthy to be the Gates of Paradise; and the Boboli Gardens, among the most uniquely beautiful gardens on earth. On your way to Florence, stop at the hill towns of Orvieto, noted for its religious architecture; Siena, where you'll enjoy the most beautiful piazza in all of Italy; and San Gimignano, with its celebrated medieval towers. Venice: "La Serenissima" In the course's final section, you'll experience the ethereal beauty and historic magnificence of Venice, a city like none other in the world. Investigate the history and ethos of the Venetian republic and its trading empire, as you view triumphal public architecture on the Molo of Venice, the Piazzetta San Marco, and the Piazza San Marco, attesting to Venetian glory and independence. Explore the Gothic masterpiece of the Doge's Palace, with its resplendent decoration exalting the Venetian state, and the Byzantine-style Basilica of San Marco, with its exquisite Door of the Flowers, elaborately adorned facade, and transcendent gilded interior. Travel by vaporetto on Venice's romantic canals and waterways, and visit wondrous churches constructed by merchants to proclaim their power and influence, sumptuous Baroque palaces and waterside museums, and imposing commercial buildings from Venice's maritime past. Walk the winding backstreets of this most dreamlike of cities, and discover jewels such as the beloved Rialto bridge, the splendid Augustinian church of San Stefano, and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a treasure trove of art and one of Venice's greatest wonders. A Journey to the Heart of Italian Culture As a notable benefit of the course's walking tours, you'll discover exceptional gems that most tours don't have time for. You'll encounter the remarkable "talking statues" of Rome, explore daily life in a Florentine Renaissance palace, and visit the prison cell in Venice where Casanova was held-until, of course, he escaped! Vivid 3-D maps allow for clear understanding of the sites, and special-access video footage takes you inside museums, numerous architectural landmarks, and brings alive additional side trips to the volcanic ruins of Pompeii and the idyllic hill towns of Arezzo and Perugia. Each lecture includes the Smithsonian's travel insights, which are carefully crafted to lead you deeper into Italian art and culture with additional on-the-ground experiences. In The Guide to Essential Italy, you'll travel through the towering human achievements and the ravishing beauties of this extraordinary country-its incomparable art, romantic streets and piazzas, glories of architecture, and multifaceted history. These 36 richly enjoyable lectures form a unique resource for both the traveler and the appreciator of an endlessly fascinating culture.