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32km (20 miles) W of Padua, 74km (46 miles) W of Venice, 51km (32 miles) E of Verona, 204km (126 miles) E of Milan

Vicenza pays heartfelt homage to Andrea di Pietro della Gondola (born in Padua in 1508, died in Maser in 1580). He came to Vicenza at the age of 16 and lived out his life and dreams here under the name Palladio at a time when Vicenza was under the sway of the still-powerful Venice Republic. Palladio was the most important architect of the High Renaissance, one whose living monuments have inspired and influenced architecture in the Western world over the centuries to this very day.

Vicenza and its surroundings are a mecca for the architecture lover, a living museum of Palladian and Palladian-inspired monuments -- and, consequently, Vicenza was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. But even if you've never heard of Palladio, you'll find an evening stroll through illuminated piazzas and boutique-lined streets plenty enjoyable. Plan on taking home a wealth of knowledge about architecture -- a day in Vicenza is worth a semester back in school.

Today Vicenza is one of the wealthiest cities in Italy, thanks in part to the recent burgeoning of the local computer-component industry (Federico Faggin, inventor of the silicon chip, was born here). It is also the center of the country's gold-manufacturing industry (one-third of Italy's gold is made here, and each year three prestigious international gold fairs make finding a hotel in these parts impossible) and is one of Europe's largest producers of textiles. The average Vicentino is well off, and it shows.