The Guide to Essential Italy

Watch The Guide to Essential Italy

  • 2015
  • 1 Season

The Guide to Essential Italy is a captivating journey through the wonders of Italy from The Great Courses Signature Collection. Starring the renowned historian Kenneth Bartlett, who is also a seasoned traveler and Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, the show takes viewers on an unforgettable trip across the country's most famous sites, uncovering hidden gems and historical facts along the way.

Throughout 24 captivating episodes, Bartlett shares his expert knowledge and passion for Italy, exploring key cultural, artistic, and historical landmarks, from Rome's Colosseum and the Vatican to Venice's canals and Florence's museums. Through his engaging and insightful commentary, viewers gain a deeper understanding of Italy's rich history, architecture, and art, as well as its cuisine, customs, and people.

The show covers a vast number of essential landmarks, delving into the country's Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. Bartlett takes us on a breathtaking journey through Rome's iconic monuments, such as the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain. He explains how the city's art and architecture have been shaped by the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, and the Renaissance. He also takes us to Vatican City, home of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, unveiling fascinating information about its history, art, and religious significance.

The Guide to Essential Italy also explores northern Italy's wealthy and cosmopolitan cities. Viewers are taken on a canal tour of Venice, showcasing its vibrant architecture, art, and culture, while explaining how the city has thrived despite its many challenges, from flooding to political instability. Bartlett also takes us to Milan, Italy's fashion and design capital, where the magnificent Duomo Cathedral and Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper await.

Tuscany and Florence are other highlights of the show, where viewers are transported back to the Renaissance era of art, literature, and culture. Bartlett shows us the birthplace of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo, and introduces us to masterpieces like Michelangelo's David, the Uffizi Gallery, and Palazzo Pitti. The show also covers other lesser-known, yet equally fascinating attractions, such as Pisa's Leaning Tower and Siena's Palio horse race.

The Guide to Essential Italy goes even deeper into the southern region, offering a glimpse into the cultural significance of Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast. From the colorful streets of Naples and the charming villages of Sorrento, to the beauty of Capri Island and Pompeii's haunting ruins, viewers learn about the history, geology, and cultural significance of each location. Bartlett also shows us how southern Italy's regional cuisine has shaped the country's famous foods, such as Neapolitan pizza, mozzarella, and limoncello.

What makes The Guide to Essential Italy so unique is Bartlett's enthusiasm for his subject matter. As a seasoned traveler, he provides valuable tips on how to navigate the country's diverse cities, how to avoid potential tourist traps and scams, and how to best experience the country's true essence. He also shares his own personal insights into Italian hospitality, customs, and lifestyle, making viewers feel like they're receiving insider knowledge.

Overall, The Guide to Essential Italy is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to experience Italy's diverse culture, art, and history, all of which make the country so unique. Through Kenneth Bartlett's expertise and passion, viewers will gain a new appreciation for Italy's past and present, catch a glimpse into its people's souls, and be inspired to visit the country and explore its riches for themselves.

The Guide to Essential Italy is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (36 episodes). The series first aired on August 21, 2015.

Filter by Source

Sestiere Castello and the Outer Islands
36. Sestiere Castello and the Outer Islands
August 21, 2015
Within the treasure-laden Castello district, discover one of history's greatest equestrian statues, the astonishing ducal tombs of the church of San Zanipolo, and a jewel-box church where wedding parties arrive and depart by gondola. Finally, take a vaporetto to picturesque islands in the lagoon, home to the traditional crafts of glass-making and lace-making.
The Rialto and Sestiere San Polo
35. The Rialto and Sestiere San Polo
August 21, 2015
Begin at the enchanting Rialto bridge, a defining landmark of Venice. From there, walk the San Polo district, a historic mercantile quarter, and visit streets and edifices recalling Venetian trading. Finish at two extraordinary treasure houses of art: the Frari, a great Franciscan church, and the glorious Scuola Grande di San Rocco.
The Upper Grand Canal and San Marco on Foot
34. The Upper Grand Canal and San Marco on Foot
August 21, 2015
Among further riches of the Grand Canal, visit sumptuous waterside palaces, the former Jewish ghetto, and view the sweep of historic commercial buildings from Venice's maritime past. Then explore the San Marco district, featuring magnificent Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, and learn about the lore of the Venetian gondola.
Along the Giudecca and Grand Canals
33. Along the Giudecca and Grand Canals
August 21, 2015
On the glorious Venetian waterways, take a vaporetto to view Palladio's churches and the resplendent Santa Maria della Salute, which dominates the waterfront. Stop at fabulous palace museums along the Grand Canal, such as the great Galleria Accademia and the Casa Rezzonico, a stunning evocation of 18th-century Venetian life.
Venetian Civilization
32. Venetian Civilization
August 21, 2015
Enter the palace's Hall of the Great Council, called the most dramatic room in Europe, and learn about the Venetian republic's governing body of patrician representatives. Visit the palace prisons and the famous Bridge of Sighs en route to the Correr Museum of Venetian Civilization, which celebrates the republic's institutions, customs, arts, and trades.
The Ducal Palace
31. The Ducal Palace
August 21, 2015
Begin your visit to the palace at the monumental Staircase of the Giants within the regal palace courtyard. Enter the rooms of state by the Golden Staircase, leading to the elegant ducal apartments. Learn about the lifestyle and role of the Doge, as you view majestic rooms glorifying Venetian power and myth.
The Basilica of San Marco
30. The Basilica of San Marco
August 21, 2015
The interior of this great basilica is one of almost hypnotic magnificence. Enter through the atrium, and admire the symbolic floor mosaics and the gilded mosaics of the vaults, among the greatest anywhere in the world. Study the church's sublime decoration, highlighting the sacristy doors, the Golden Altarpiece, and the Cappella dei Mascoli.
The Drawing Room of Europe: Piazza San Marco
29. The Drawing Room of Europe: Piazza San Marco
August 21, 2015
On the magical Piazza San Marco, take account of the Renaissance Procuratie Nuove, housing Venice's Procurators, and Napoleon's grand neoclassical palace. Discover the remarkable clock tower, with its two beautiful and ingenious public timepieces. View artistic treasures adorning the exterior of the Basilica, and learn about Venice's historic cisterns and wells.
Venice: The Center of Power
28. Venice: The Center of Power
August 21, 2015
As an introduction to Venice, contemplate the political and commercial history that gave rise to one of the world's most phenomenally beautiful cities. Then learn about the Molo, Venice's quayside entry point; the Doge's Palace, a brilliant masterpiece of Gothic architecture; and the Basilica di San Marco, a triumphal monument to Venetian glory.
Arezzo, Perugia, and Assisi
27. Arezzo, Perugia, and Assisi
August 21, 2015
On a leisurely route to Venice, stop at three romantic hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria. Begin with Arezzo, with its picturesque Piazza Grande and glorious, art-laden churches. Then discover the magnificent guildhalls, Palace of the Priors, and papal fortress of Perugia, and Assisi's Temple of Minerva and sublime Church of St. Francis.
Romantic Views: San Miniato and Fiesole
26. Romantic Views: San Miniato and Fiesole
August 21, 2015
Here, visit one of Italy's most beautiful Romanesque churches, San Miniato al Monte, highlighting the collective artistic genius of the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal. Then travel to the hillside town of Fiesole, with its beautiful Villa Medici, Romanesque cathedral, and spectacular views over the city of Florence below.
The Ognissanti, Palaces, Parks, and Villas
25. The Ognissanti, Palaces, Parks, and Villas
August 21, 2015
Travel the Borgo Ognissanti, an important historic entry into Florence. Admire elegant palaces on the way to the church and monastery of Ognissanti, with their splendid frescoed Vespucci Chapel, Sacristy, and refectory. Enjoy the lush beauties of the Cascine Park and the Bardini Gardens, and visit the Jewel Villa, where Galileo lived.
The Medici Legacy
24. The Medici Legacy
August 21, 2015
Now discover Michelangelo's New Sacristy, burial place of Medici nobles and a brilliant integration of sculpture and architecture. From there, take in the spectacular Chapel of the Princes, resting place of the Medici monarchs; view the phenomenal Laurentian Library, pride of the Medici clan; and learn the intriguing history of Florence's old markets.
From Santa Maria Novella to San Lorenzo
23. From Santa Maria Novella to San Lorenzo
August 21, 2015
Continuing at Santa Maria Novella, view the superlative frescoes of the Green Cloister and the Spanish Chapel. Visit Europe's oldest operating pharmacy, founded in the 12th century, followed by the Medici Fortezza da Basso fortress, en route to the Basilica of San Lorenzo, whose Old Sacristy is a masterwork of Brunelleschi's geometric design.
Walking to Santa Maria Novella
22. Walking to Santa Maria Novella
August 21, 2015
Begin at the beautiful Ponte Santa Trinita bridge, dating from the 16th century, and grasp its political and civic symbolism. Then walk the fashionable Via Tornabuoni to the vast Dominican complex of Santa Maria Novella. Explore the complex's great preaching church, with artistic treasures including the Tornabuoni Chapel, one of Florence's great masterpieces.
The Oltrarno
21. The Oltrarno
August 21, 2015
Hear the romantic story of the house of Bianca Cappello, a tale of Renaissance intrigue. Then explore the great basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito, with its dazzling altar canopy and 38 family chapels. Also enjoy the decoration of the nearby Brancacci Chapel, one of the most important examples of Renaissance painting.
The Pitti Palace
20. The Pitti Palace
August 21, 2015
Learn the colorful history of the Palazzo Pitti, which now contains several extraordinary museums. Focus on the renowned Palatine Gallery, a veritable treasury of Western culture featuring Flemish and Italian masterpieces of painting. Then savor the delights of the Boboli Gardens, a vision of a Renaissance and Baroque paradise.
En Route to the Ponte Vecchio
19. En Route to the Ponte Vecchio
August 21, 2015
Travel the streets of Florence, beginning with the Via del Proconsolo, one of the city's most historic thoroughfares. Enjoy architectural and historical treasures such as the Abbey of Florence, Dante's house, the fascinating Museum of the Old Florentine House, and the gorgeous Palazzo Bartolini-Salimbeni, before reaching the romantic Ponte Vecchio.
Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel
18. Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel
August 21, 2015
Begin here at Florence's Accademia, home to Michelangelo's David, before visiting other superlative Florentine museums. In particular, explore the magnificent preaching church of Santa Croce, which contains a stunning spectrum of artistic riches, including works of Donatello, Giotto, and della Robbia. Finish at the Pazzi Chapel, a masterwork of architectural geometry.
From the Piazza del Duomo to San Marco
17. From the Piazza del Duomo to San Marco
August 21, 2015
Walk to the magical Piazza del Duomo, which encompasses all of Florence's rich history. Admire the vast Duomo (cathedral), with its world-famous dome, one of the wonders of the Renaissance. Marvel at the Baptistery's extraordinary doors, Ghiberti's masterpiece, before exploring the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, home to treasures including the superb Medici Chapel.
Florence: Politics in Art and Architecture
16. Florence: Politics in Art and Architecture
August 21, 2015
Begin your tour of Florence by delving into the history of the feudal clans and merchant class that built the city. Visit the Uffizi, another of the world's greatest repositories of art; the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, with its dramatic Medici history; and the Orsanmichele, a building central to the medieval Florentine economy.
Orvieto, Siena, and San Gimignano
15. Orvieto, Siena, and San Gimignano
August 21, 2015
En route to Florence, discover three idyllic Italian towns. First visit Orvieto, with its glorious cathedral, vast Palace of the Popes, and intact medieval quarter. Continue to the UNESCO world heritage site of Siena, an astonishing medieval time capsule, and the exquisite San Gimignano, of dramatic towers and historic churches housing sublime frescoes.
The Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica
14. The Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica
August 21, 2015
Learn the history of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, one of the most important repositories of art in the Western world, and savor treasures including the superlative Rooms of Raphael and Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling. Conclude your Roman tour at the Renaissance Basilica of Saint Peter, the world's largest church and the seat of Roman Catholicism.
Piazza del Popolo to San Clemente
13. Piazza del Popolo to San Clemente
August 21, 2015
Here, admire the lovely church of Santa Maria del Popolo, with its magnificent frescoes, and the lovely Villa Museo Borghese, boasting masterworks of Bernini, Titian, Raphael, and Caravaggio. Linger at the fabulous papal basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, the Scala Santa (Holy Stairs), and the extraordinary three-level church of San Clemente.
Piazza Farnese to the Ara Pacis
12. Piazza Farnese to the Ara Pacis
August 21, 2015
Begin at the Piazza Farnese, one of Rome's most majestic squares, and visit its great Renaissance palace. Then take in the Palazzo Spada, with its ingenious Borromini interior, and discover one of Rome's greatest jewels, the Villa Farnesina. Conclude with two hugely important ancient sites, the Mausoleum of Augustus and the Ara Pacis.
The Pantheon to Campo dei Fiori
11. The Pantheon to Campo dei Fiori
August 21, 2015
Immerse yourself in the lore of the iconic Pantheon, the resting place of Raphael and other celebrated Italians. Explore architectural treasures including splendorous Gothic and Renaissance churches en route to the teeming Piazza Navona, center of Roman social life. Also visit the Palazzo della Cancelleria, the finest early Renaissance palace in Rome.
At the Bend in the Tiber
10. At the Bend in the Tiber
August 21, 2015
The Piazza Montecitorio comprises the political heart of Rome. Begin with the Palace of Montecitorio, a Bernini masterpiece now housing the Italian parliament. Marvel at the storied Palazzo Chigi, the imposing Temple to Hadrian, and the sublime interior of the church of Sant'Ignazio, and the Solarium Augusti, a gigantic sundial.
Above and Beyond the Spanish Steps
9. Above and Beyond the Spanish Steps
August 21, 2015
Walk down the famous Via Veneto to Bernini's Fontana Tritone fountain, continuing to the massive Palazzo Barberini, now a superlative art museum. Explore the picturesque Spanish Steps area, highlighting the Villa Medici, the elegant Via Condotti, and the great Palazzo Borghese, one of Rome's most lavish princely dwellings.
The Trevi Fountain and Baroque Rome
8. The Trevi Fountain and Baroque Rome
August 21, 2015
A beloved symbol of Rome, the dazzling Trevi Fountain was a showpiece for Baroque papal power. After exploring the fountain, walk to the Piazza Quirinal, and visit its two majestic Baroque palaces. Also visit churches by Bernini and Borromini, highlighting Santa Maria della Vittoria, which contains Bernini's Cornaro Chapel and Ecstasy of Santa Teresa.
The Via del Corso and Princely Palaces
7. The Via del Corso and Princely Palaces
August 21, 2015
Delve into the history of this famous street, and how it was named. Visit the Palazzo Doria Pamphili (containing a superb private art museum), the Palazzo Odescalchi, and the vast Palazzo Colonna, and learn about the lives of princely families. Discover the frescoes of the Galleria Sciarra, one of Rome's little-known gems.
Along the Via Sacra to the Capitoline
6. Along the Via Sacra to the Capitoline
August 21, 2015
Continuing with highlights of the Forum, grasp the economic and civic functions of the Basilica Aemilia and the Basilica Julia. Take in important pagan shrines, the Curia or Senate House, and the Arch of Septimius Severus, and learn the remarkable stories of the Church of Saints Mark and Martina and the Mamertine Prison.
The Roman Forum
5. The Roman Forum
August 21, 2015
Learn about the history of this monumental public space, the epicenter of Rome's empire. Visit essential sites of the Forum, including the Temples of Venus and of Rome, the Arch of Titus, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, and the House and Temple of the Vestal Virgins.
Pompeii: A City Frozen in Time
4. Pompeii: A City Frozen in Time
August 21, 2015
Take a detour to the amazingly preserved city of Pompeii, with its fascinating view into the lives of ordinary Roman citizens. Envision the grandeur of Pompeii's forum, with its temples, municipal buildings, and public baths. Explore luxurious mansions, brothels, and bakeries; the theatre, outdoor gymnasium, and arena; and the beautiful Villa of Mysteries.
Imperial Palaces of the Palatine Hill
3. Imperial Palaces of the Palatine Hill
August 21, 2015
Learn about the marvels of Roman hydraulic engineering, and visit the massive Circus Maximus and the spectacular ruined baths nearby. Then discover the great palace complex of Domitian, with the emperor's private quarters and ceremonial rooms, the houses of Augustus and Livia, and the Renaissance Farnese Gardens.
The Capitoline and the Colosseum
2. The Capitoline and the Colosseum
August 21, 2015
Adjoining the Capitoline Hill, take in the grand Piazza Venezia, with its Renaissance and Baroque palaces, famous talking statues, and masterful church of Santa Maria di Loreto. Continue with the imposing forums of Trajan and Augustus, finishing with the history and lore of Rome's iconic Colosseum, site of ancient entertainment and ritual.
Rome: The Eternal City
1. Rome: The Eternal City
August 21, 2015
Begin your journey with sites along the Tiber River, which tells the story of Rome through the ages. Climb the Monte Caprino, one of Rome's seven hills, to see monumental sculptures, Michelangelo's magnificent piazza and palaces, and the outstanding decoration and artworks of the Church of the Aracoeli. #Better Living
Where to Watch The Guide to Essential Italy
The Guide to Essential Italy is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch The Guide to Essential Italy on demand at Apple TV Channels, Amazon Prime, Amazon and Kanopy.
  • Premiere Date
    August 21, 2015