The Guide to Essential Italy

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Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
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Course No. 3032
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What Will You Learn?

  • Tour the Colosseum and the Forum, the ruins of Pompeii, and other classic Italian attractions.
  • Explore lesser-known grand piazzas near the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Victor Emmanuel Monument.
  • Visit the Orsanmichele, the Bargello, the Palazzo della Signoria, the Uffizi, and the Pitti Palace.
  • Sail down the Grand Canal and explore where Casanova was interrogated and imprisoned.

Course Overview

The Guide to Essential Italy

Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett, University of Toronto

You may have the universe, if I may have Italy.“ — Giuseppe Verdi

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 façade, 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.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Rome: The Eternal City
    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. x
  • 2
    The Capitoline and the Colosseum
    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. " x
  • 3
    Imperial Palaces of the Palatine Hill
    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. x
  • 4
    Pompeii: A City Frozen in Time
    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. x
  • 5
    The Roman Forum
    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. x
  • 6
    Along the Via Sacra to the Capitoline
    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. x
  • 7
    The Via del Corso and Princely Palaces
    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. x
  • 8
    The Trevi Fountain and Baroque Rome
    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. x
  • 9
    Above and Beyond the Spanish Steps
    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. x
  • 10
    At the Bend in the Tiber
    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. x
  • 11
    The Pantheon to Campo dei Fiori
    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. x
  • 12
    Piazza Farnese to the Ara Pacis
    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. x
  • 13
    Piazza del Popolo to San Clemente
    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. x
  • 14
    The Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica
    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. x
  • 15
    Orvieto, Siena, and San Gimignano
    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. x
  • 16
    Florence: Politics in Art and Architecture
    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. x
  • 17
    From the Piazza del Duomo to San Marco
    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. x
  • 18
    Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel
    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, containing a stunning spectrum of artistic riches, including works of Donatello, Giotto, and della Robbia. Finish at the Pazzi Chapel, a masterwork of architectural geometry. x
  • 19
    En Route to the Ponte Vecchio
    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. x
  • 20
    The Pitti Palace
    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. x
  • 21
    The Oltrarno
    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. x
  • 22
    Walking to Santa Maria Novella
    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. x
  • 23
    From Santa Maria Novella to San Lorenzo
    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. x
  • 24
    The Medici Legacy
    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. x
  • 25
    The Ognissanti, Palaces, Parks, and Villas
    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. x
  • 26
    Romantic Views: San Miniato and Fiesole
    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. x
  • 27
    Arezzo, Perugia, and Assisi
    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. x
  • 28
    Venice: The Center of Power
    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. x
  • 29
    The Drawing Room of Europe: Piazza San Marco
    On the magical Piazza San Marco, take account of the Renaissance Procuratie Nuove, housing Venice's Procurators (municipal officials), 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. x
  • 30
    The Basilica of San Marco
    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. x
  • 31
    The Ducal Palace
    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. x
  • 32
    Venetian Civilization
    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. x
  • 33
    Along the Giudecca and Grand Canals
    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. x
  • 34
    The Upper Grand Canal and San Marco on Foot
    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. x
  • 35
    The Rialto and Sestiere San Polo
    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. x
  • 36
    Sestiere Castello and the Outer Islands
    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. x

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Your professor

Kenneth R. Bartlett

About Your Professor

Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
Dr. Kenneth R. Bartlett is Professor of History and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto, where he earned his Ph.D. and has taught for the past 30 years. A distinguished teacher, Professor Bartlett has received numerous teaching awards and honors. These include the 3M Teaching Fellowship-awarded by the Canadian Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education-and the inaugural President's Teaching Award from...
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The Guide to Essential Italy is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 137.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I haven't been to Italy...yet! I got this out of curiosity to see what the course would have to offer, and to my amazement, it offered everything! The lectures are comprehensive and the overhead shots give a "sense of place" to someone touring through the area and are handy in the tours and suggesting what to look for while passing by. The buildings are highlighted so as not to miss anything, and the professor describes the entire area, so one feels that they are taking the tour with him. He describes the places in Italian so a person going to Italy would have a sense of pronouncing these correctly while they are there. Great scenes, good art and a friend to guide you through Italy has me approving this Course wholeheartedly.
Date published: 2019-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Do not visit big cities of Italy without doing this first. Especially Venice and Floremce!!! EXCELLENT!!!!
Date published: 2019-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Summarizes the course very well. I bought this course a few years ago and have viewed it several times. The course is an excellent guide to several of Italy's treasures and can be used to establish an itinerary for visiting Italy. Logically organized and very well presented.
Date published: 2019-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Just begun to watch these I do wish I had viewed these prior to traveling to Italy. It's fun to recognize some of the places we visited.
Date published: 2019-03-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This is my first purchase from Great Courses; I've just completed viewing the first CD. The knowledge conveyed by the instructor is invaluable and the visuals were inspiring, however, I felt that the unimaginative "studio" scenes greatly detracted from the overall richness of the experience.I have a few suggestions-the first would be to have the instructor on site in Italy. If that isn't possible... the studio should be transformed into a beautiful, Italian inspired space from which to ground the storyteller, thus the viewer.I didn't feel that much thought went into the instructor's clothing, either. Because I received an " introductory" rate I will keep it and learn what I can from it.
Date published: 2019-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic lectures!! We are truly thrilled with the 36 lectures, the lecturer and his presentation with pics etc. Could not be happier and we are learning more than we could going to classes in our home town. Wonderful.
Date published: 2019-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So many places we want to explore We purchased the DVD and are presently “cycling thru Italy”. We turn on an episode and ride our stationary bicycles while watching. I value having the full transcript of the program so we can go back and highlight what we want to see if we ever get there in real life.
Date published: 2019-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful historical tour of key parts of Italy Loved this series. The lecturer is top notch and the overlays showing what a site looked like in the past vs today provided an excellent teaching tool. His tour of the streets of Rome with all the ancient key sites is especially informative - I will take detailed notes of this with me on my next visit to Rome so I can see what I've missed on prior trips. It is a wonderfully researched and easy to follow overview of the history of key locations.
Date published: 2019-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great photos. The overhead photos that pivot as the lecturer speaks provide wonderful references. This course is a must to take on a tour of Italy.
Date published: 2019-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Tour In this lecture and course guidebook series, Professor Kenneth Bartlett provides a grand tour of many of the more popular places of Italy. Considering that the series only lasts for 36 half hour lectures, it is rather amazing how much material he covers. For whoever takes this course, however, the student should be aware that the series particularly emphasizes Rome, Florence, and Venice with a few outlying towns such as Pompeii, Perugia, and Assisi. Consequently, if you are hoping to see such cities as Naples or Pisa, you won't. There just isn't the time. Nevertheless, the cities that Professor Bartlett covers are done very professionally, and sometimes entertainingly. Unlike many of the other courses from this company, The Guide to Essential Italy, provides many views of the subject namely Rome, Florence, Venice and the surrounding areas. This includes palazzi (palaces), basilicas, piazzi (town squares), statues, churches, art, cafes, shops, and on and on. When Professor Bartlett takes you on a tour, he does an excellent job in helping students feel they are really there, at least, as far as viewing the sites. I particularly loved seeing the Roman ruins and the interior of many of the cathedrals and palaces. One of Professor Bartlett's techniques, that I particularly enjoyed was his use of geography to structure his lectures. As we begin in Rome and eventually finish in Venice, he takes the student every step (almost literally) of the way by showing the street and direction for each stop along the tour. Consequently, a serious traveler to this part of the world could use these lectures and guidebook as a very useful tool in determining the location of various sites, and determining which ones should be emphasized. The Professor does, however, admit that if one becomes lost in these very confusing cities, that it could simply be an adventure with many things to see that may not have been mentioned in the lectures. This is especially the case in the very confusing city of Venice. Something else I enjoyed about the lectures was Professor Bartlett's use of history, religious belief, and/or urban legend to make a specific site or building more interesting. In some cases, however, it may be a little hard to tell what is fact and fiction in the lecture. In summary, for anyone who is planning on touring Italy, particularly to those three locations, this course, in my opinion, is indispensable. Professor Bartlett, in my opinion, is a very capable lecturer and continues to keep the student interested throughout this lengthy course.
Date published: 2019-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoying Being Informed I wanted to be more knowledgeable about Italy before our trip to Italy. I've been to Italy many times, jhowever, I wanted to be more informed and prepped before the trip; the illustrations of ruins what was and now currently is very helpful. I like the suggested walkways to your destinations to make the most of your experience. Granted, I'm not going to see all of Italy on my trip, however I look forward to other areas to explore.
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Guide to Essential Italy This course brings back great memories for the many things in Italy that I have seen and it also provided valuable information to me as to things that I missed. There is so much to see and do in Italy that it is easy to leave undiscovered great places worthy of a visit. This is a must consult cross check to fill out your itinerary of places to go on your next visit to Italy.
Date published: 2018-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Course! Like many other reviewers, I watched this course as preparation for a trip to Italy. I watched it again after my return. I found the course a terrific resource. The images and videos are beautiful, and the graphics and use of Google Earth provide geographic context and really aid planning and execution on the ground. Prof. Bartlett has an obvious love for his subject matter, and his enthusiasm held my interest as he marched through this material, some of which, in lesser hands, could have been a tad dry. All in all, a great course for the Italian or armchair traveler. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2018-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful graphics and excellent "guide!" Professor Bartlett deserves the praise that he has received. His enthusiasm and knowledge make all of his courses a learning pleasure.
Date published: 2018-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! As European consultant for decades, I have stayed at 15th c palazzo on the Grand Canal, Pisani-Moretta, not far from Peggy Guggenheim's, thanks to meeting the owner in NY and helping her cash a check!
Date published: 2018-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent preparation for anyone going to Italy I rank professor Bartlett among the very best I've listened to. The only criticism I can raise about the course it's that it is too short. It only covers northern Italy. I wish it were longer, venturing into the southern part of the peninsula and on the islands. I wish it never ended. All that I can hope is that the lecturer is just as familiar with the rest of the country and Teaching Company commissions him to produce another course covering the rest. In terms of specific observations, I should like to praise the excellent and highly engaging delivery. The material is perfectly organized which is remarkable considering the wealth of information covering multiple fields (art, history, etc. conveyed. In conclusion, I would highly encourage anyone interested in Italy, architecture, painting, or just in search of a perfect travelogue to fill a couple of days in a more delightful manner than watching any TV serial, to choose this course instead. Thank you, professor Bartlett!
Date published: 2018-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gr course This course, as is all courses from The Great Courses Co., is very good, very informative and well worth the price.
Date published: 2018-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perhaps the "Greatest" of the Great Courses! This course is one of the best programs I've ever seen. Professor Bartlett covers all the highlights of Italy along with many fascinating historical side stories. The program is interesting and informative, and anyone going to Italy should consider watching this series of lectures long before their trip.
Date published: 2018-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic details! We watched this prior to traveling to Italy and it hit all the key spots that we were visiting. It gave us such a depth of knowledge about what we were going to see, and even helped point out some features that we would have otherwise missed (such as the “talking statues” in Rome). An absolute must if you plan to travel to any of the major sites in Italy!
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Professor! I watch this wonderful course lesson by lesson while I am on my treadmill!! I have "travelled" to such wonderful cities in Italy and have heard such wonderful stories about life in pre-modern Italy from Professor Bartlett!! He makes each lesson so interesting that I usually repeat each lesson several times. I would love to go on one of his tours in person!!
Date published: 2018-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wish I had the course the times I went to Italy? This is one of the best Teaching Company courses. It combines history with the beauty. Wish I had it before the times I went there.
Date published: 2018-08-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointed This course is for the person interested art and history to a greater degree. Without such a background the course quickly becomes very long. I personally have gained some knowledge of both Renaissance history and art from other Great Courses, and thus would rate it higher for myself. There are many buildings and much art if that interests one.
Date published: 2018-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Travel Companion We just returned from a two week trip to Rome, Venice and Florence. If you want to get a thorough discussion of the highlights this is a great way to go. We took several guided tours and having watched these lectures added tremendously to my experience with the guides on the ground. Those days were we were on our own I was able to get quite a bit more out of the experience having seen the sights on the lecture. I just wish there were equivalent lectures for other countries.
Date published: 2018-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential travel preparation I prepared for my first trip to Italy using this course, and it really was essential! A week spent in Rome, and a week in Florence, were considerably enriched by Prof. Bartlett's recommendations and historical background. The details come fast in these lectures, but you are left with an excellent and integrated sense of the whole slice of history that these ancient cities represent. My only regret is that the course guide does not come with city maps that trace the routes described in the lectures. One highlight, for which I especially have to thank Prof. Bartlett, is the recommendation to take a day-trip to Arezzo. This was a wonderful city to visit from Florence, and the Piero della Francesco fresco cycle was particularly worthwhile. This course is also excellent for "armchair travelling". I did not actually visit Venice, but the lectures on this city were fascinating and rewarding in their own right.
Date published: 2018-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Detail guide to Italy’s Best sites We bought this course at discount price as advertised in the catalog we received. We are planning a trip next year and wanted to preview the best sites to see before we go. We are delighted to know the historic details along with a scenic tour of Italy’s countryside.
Date published: 2018-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from To The Point Very useful for anyone visiting the places mentioned, and if you have already been it tells you what you have missed ! It was like being there and walking around, with an excellent commentary.
Date published: 2018-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tons of information! I listened to these lectures before a trip to Rome and Venice. I referred to the information and history constantly. Saw so many great things that I would have never thought to see! Very knowledgeable professor.
Date published: 2018-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from in Depth tour with a very qualified guide I have learned so much about places we have been to and now need to go back to see the areas we have learned about in the CD's
Date published: 2018-03-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Guide to Essential Italy The narrator was boring and monotone. He did not know what to do with his hands which kept distracting the information he was trying to present. The history was too long and in-depth for laymen. This was a missed opportunity to make the history of Italy come alive!
Date published: 2018-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Guide to Essential italy I purchased this for my daughter as she is going to Italy this summer and thought it would be a great overview of Italy. She received it on Thursday and watched all 36 - 30 minute sections by Sunday night. She is even more excited to go to Italy now and has said she will need to make some changes to her itinerary.
Date published: 2018-03-29
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