Pavia - Lombardy
Pavia lies on the banks of the Ticino River, near where it intersects with the Po. In many ways, it is similar to its neighbor, Milan; in fact, it is Milan's wealthiest satellite town. Until the 11th century, it actually rivaled Milan itself. Then, it was occupied by Spain, then Austria, and briefly by France by way of Napoleon. Pavia remains a medieval city, complete with incredible canals devised by Leonardo da Vinci.
Once the capital of the Cisalpine Republic and the western half of the Roman Empire, Milan has always been a stronghold for political power; and, during the mid-13th century the city was ruled by a series of important families such as the Torrianis, the Viscontis, and the Sforzas. Milan entered Spanish rule in 1535, but was quickly passed to Austria in 1713. Maria Theresa of Austria left her mark on the city by coloring the façades of the La Scala Opera House and the royal palace with her favorite hue, a pale yellow. Napoleon himself made Milan the capital fo his Italian Republic in 1802, and the city witnessed his coronation as King of Italy and Milan three years later. Though Austrian rule returned briefly, Vittorio Emmanuele II helped incorporate Milan into the new Kingdom of Italy within short order thereafter. During World War II the city was heavily bombed, but fortunately most of the artistic and cultural treasures managed to survive fairly unscathed.
The Carthusian monastery nearby, accessed using Pavia as a base, is called Certosa di Pavia. It is certainly one of the most outstanding pieces of monastic architecture in all of Italy, and worth a half-day trip. The monastery's interior is Gothic, with Italian Rennaisance features. Of special note are the cloisters-small individual cells, housing one monk each. Castello Visconti is a castle at the city's northern end, built in 1360. Today it houses terra cotta decorations, paintings, sculptures, and other galleries, as part of the Museo Civico. The castle is situated in a beautiful park. No journey to Pavia would be complete without visiting the ancient University of Pavia. Founded in 1361, it's the burial place of Alessandro Volta and Christopher Columbusits most famous alumni.
The town was once protected by watchmen on 100 medieval towers. Sadly, only three towers on Piazza da Vinci are all that is left of what must have been an amazing sight.
Pavia is also home to the third-largest duomo in Italy, which da Vinci helped design. Next, the Basilica di San Michele was built in 1090 and features a Romanesque-style façade. It was rebuilt in the 12th century after a devastating earthquake, with a rebuilt fresco illustrating the Coronation of the Virgin.
Go by bus to Pavia from Milan, or take a brief train ride from Genoa or Milan.