Welcome dear readers! Join us today on a journey from the top of the boot to the tip, exploring the iconic Italian sceneries that have graced the silver screen in cinematic masterpieces. From the craggy peaks of its Alpine north to the sun-bleached hues of its southern islands, the country sure provides a vast, sprawling canvas that has seduced filmmakers and spectators alike. So, pack your bags and let's take a tour through Italy’s celluloid grace!
Movies that were shot in multiple Italian reverie sites
Let’s begin our journey in Northern Italy, where we encounter the tranquil and idyllic Lago di Como, with its serene cerulean waves nestled against a décor of towering mountains, which was transformed into the botanical planet of Naboo in Star Wars Episode II (by George Lucas/Disney). It was there, at Villa del Balbianello, where “Anakin Skywalker” (Hayden Christensen) and “Padmé Amidala” (Natalie Portman) pledged their secret wedding vows, adding an earthly allure to the epic space saga. Villa del Balbianello was built in the late 18th century on the site of a Franciscan monastery. Its architectural style is a combination of influences, including Gothic, Renaissance and Romantic. It has also gained recognition in popular culture through the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale (Ian Flemming/Martin Campbell).
Close to Villa del Balbaniello is Lago di Garda, the setting for the emotionally rich narrative of Call Me by Your Name (by Luca Guadagnino). This coming-of-age drama explores the delicate nuances of first love between Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), with the ethereal beauty of Lago di Garda as a backdrop.
Traveling further east, we reach Venice, a city whose ageless grandeur and romance have also served as a backdrop for numerous cinematic narratives. The city’s labyrinthine canals, historic palazzos and atmospheric ambiance offer the perfect setting for the thrilling psychological twists and turns in The Talented Mr. Ripley (by Patricia Highsmith/Anthony Minghella). Here, Tom Ripley's (Matt Damon) pathological manipulation unravels amidst the city's haunting beauty. The sun-soaked island of Ischia offers the film a vivid portrayal of an opulent Italian summer. With its crystal-clear waters and rugged coastline, Ischia embodies the luxurious and carefree lifestyle that lures the ambitious and resourceful Tom Ripley.
As we leave the enchanting canals of Venice behind, we make our way to the vibrant city of Turin. Known for its rich history, exquisite cuisine and architectural marvels, Turin was prominently featured in the original 1969, The Italian Job (by Peter Collinson). Starring Michael Caine and Noël Coward, this British comedy caper tells the tale of a motley crew of thieves plotting an audacious gold heist in Turin.
One of the most memorable scenes from The Italian Job is the iconic car chase featuring three Mini Coopers racing through Turin’s streets. The Fiat Factory’s rooftop test track, the Palazzo Madama, and the grand Stadio Olimpico are among the city’s landmarks that feature in the picture’s high-speed chase sequences. The city, as seen from the vantage point of the racing Mini Coopers, is woven into the very fabric of the film, making Turin an essential character in this classic caper.
Further south, Rome, the Eternal City, comes to life as a key location in The Talented Mr. Ripley and as the heart of the gripping narrative of Angels & Demons (by Dan Brown/Ron Howard). Following the trail of symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), viewers are treated to a thrilling tour of the Vatican City, the enigmatic Castel Sant'Angelo and the impressive Pantheon. The city's ancient history and architectural splendor provide a captivating setting to this fast-paced mystery thriller.
Some of the key filming locations in Rome included the Piazza San Pietro and the Piazza della Rotonda, where the Pantheon is situated. The filmmakers aimed to capture the grandeur and atmosphere of these iconic sites while incorporating them into the thrilling narrative.
Descending a little bit on the western coast of the boot, we arrive at Caserta, a town located north of Naples, which holds a special connection to the production of Star Wars Episode I. The city is home to the magnificent Reggia di Caserta, a grand palace that served as an inspiration for the fictional palace of Theed in the film. Although the actual shooting did not take place in Caserta, the neoclassical buildings and grandeur of the Reggia di Caserta influenced the design of Theed, the royal capital of the planet Naboo depicted in the movie. The site’s vast dimensions, impressive colonnades and majestic staircases bear a resemblance to the fictional palace, adding an element of real-world splendour to the Star Wars universe.
Finally, Sicily! The island was not only the setting for The Talented Mr. Ripley, but also for the legendary Godfather Trilogy (by Mario Puzo/Francis Coppola). The island's charming villages and evocative streets of Palermo add depth and authenticity to these stories. The rustic charm of Savoca and Forza d'Agro and the timeless appeal of Bar Vitelli, create a vivid canvas on which the epic saga of the Corleone family unfolds. The island's known old-world aura provides a striking backdrop for the shifting power dynamics and poignant familial bonds portrayed in Francis Ford Coppola's iconic trilogy.
The film showcases several notable locations, including the charming town of Corleone, which shares its name with the iconic Corleone family from the films. The crew also filmed in the town of Taormina, known for its breath-taking views of the Mediterranean Sea and its historic Greek amphitheatre. The scenes set in Sicily depict the early life of Vito Corleone, played by Robert De Niro, and explore his rise to power as a young mobster. The rugged beauty and cultural richness of Sicily served as the ideal backdrop for these moments in Vito's life.
The production team made efforts to portray Sicily authentically, using local extras and showcasing traditional Sicilian customs and architecture. This attention to detail helped create a sense of realism and immerse audiences in the world of the Corleone family.
Discover Italy through the lens of the Tuscan atmosphere
Now we follow our cinematic journey through the mesmerizing region of Tuscany, where the rolling hills and cypress-lined roads of Val d’Orcia paint a picture that is almost too perfect to be real. This UNESCO World Heritage Site served as the evocative decor for Ridley Scott’s epic historical drama, Gladiator. The film follows the journey of Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russel Crowe), a Roman general, who is betrayed and finds himself fighting as a gladiator. The lush landscape of Val d’Orcia is masterfully showcased as Maximus's homeland. His famous scenes walking through fields of wheat with his hand outstretched, as well as his nostalgic dreams of returning home, are shot here.
As we travel further into the heart of Tuscany, we arrive in Arezzo, Cortona and later make our way to the Amalfi Coast’s gem, Positano. These locales form the vibrant canvas on which Under the Tuscan Sun (by Audrey Wells) unfolds. This movie is a romantic drama that tells the story of Frances (Diane Lane), a recently divorced writer who impulsively buys a villa in the Tuscan countryside, in an attempt to change her life. Arezzo, with its medieval architecture and charming streets, serves as one of the first Tuscan towns that Frances encounters. The town’s Piazza Grande and the frescoes of Piero della Francesca are a sight to behold. Next, we head to the enchanting hilltop town of Cortona, which is essentially Frances's new home. The picturesque town, with its cobblestone streets and vibrant piazzas, captures the essence of Tuscan life. The Villa Laura, which plays the role of Bramasole in the film, is where Frances immerses herself in restoration, both of the villa and her spirit.
Finally, the protagonist’s journey takes us to the stunning coastal town of Positano, located on the Amalfi Coast. With its colorful houses clinging to the cliffs and the azure sea below, Positano epitomizes Mediterranean charm. It’s in this spellbinding setting where Frances finds the true meaning of la dolce vita.
Unveiling Italy's Cinematic Charm, An Ode to Florence
Ah, Florence! A city so rich in culture and history that it feels like stepping into a living, breathing work of art. The cradle of the Renaissance, Florence is famous for its cathedrals, art galleries and artistic views, making it a much-loved destination for filmmakers and tourists alike. Our cinematic journey continues into this city that is the heart and soul of Tuscany. Here, the iconic novel-based movie A Room with a View (by Edward Forster/James Ivory) unfolds. This production, featuring a stellar cast that includes Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands and Maggie Smith, paints a vivid image of Edwardian-era England and Italy. The film narrates the story of young Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) who, during a trip to Italy, finds herself grappling with the constraints of her restrictive Edwardian society while exploring love and identity. The city of Florence serves as the mise en scène for Lucy's emotional awakening.
Several Florence landmarks play a critical role in this motion picture, the most famous being the Piazza della Signoria. The square, known for its impressive sculptures and the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, is the setting for the passionate scene where George Emerson (Julian Sands) kisses Lucy. The rich landscape of Fiesole, a town overlooking Florence, and the grandeur of the Santa Croce Church, further augment the picture's narrative with their indelible charm.
Continuing our exploration of Florence, we transition from the Edwardian romance of A Room with a View to the chilling thriller, Hannibal (2001). Ridley Scott’s gripping sequel to The Silence of the Lambs brings the brilliant but terrifying Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to Florence.
In Hannibal, Dr Lecter is living under a false identity in Florence, immersing himself in the city's art and culture. The movie takes viewers on a macabre tour of the city, showcasing it in an entirely different light than the romantic hues of A Room with a View. The Palazzo Vecchio, also featured in this motion picture, returns in a more sinister role, serving as Dr. Lecter's workplace. Lecter’s dramatic escape occurs on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence's oldest bridge, known for its unique construction and gold shops. The Capponi Library, where a gruesome scene unfolds, and the Rialto Market, are also essential sites in the narrative, all contributing to the film’s eerie atmosphere.
Florence is an embodiment of romance, awakening and sophistication, while also holding the ability to echo chilling narratives of suspense and darkness.
The Biblical aura of Matera
Traveling further south in Italy, we finally find ourselves at the end of our filmography journey in the ancient city of Matera, located in the region of Basilicata. Known for its historical center Sassi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Matera has been the backdrop for numerous footages, but none as renowned as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004).
This emotionally intense biblical drama portrays the final twelve hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, leading to his crucifixion. Jim Caviezel's moving performance, coupled with the film's authentic representation of biblical times, struck a chord with worldwide reception.
The rugged, stone-carved city of Matera served as the perfect location to recreate Jerusalem of the early 1st century. The city's Sassi district, with its labyrinth of cave dwellings and ancient stone houses, formed the ideal setting for this poignant tale. Walking through the hauntingly beautiful streets of Matera is akin to stepping back in time and the area around the Church of San Pietro Caveoso, where many scenes were filmed. The Church of San Pietro Caveoso itself is a captivating structure, illustrating the rich history and religious traditions of the region. Its interior boasts remarkable frescoes, stunning arches, and a tranquil ambiance that adds to its spiritual significance.
The decision to shoot in Matera and specifically to utilize the Church of San Pietro Caveoso as part of the movie's décor reflects the desire to bring authenticity and historical depth to the portrayal of Jesus' final moments. The rugged vistas and ancient structures of Matera helped transport audiences to the biblical era, enhancing the film's immersive experience.
Today, visitors to Matera can explore the Church of San Pietro Caveoso, appreciating its unique architectural beauty and reflecting on its historical and spiritual significance.
Italy, the perfect backdrop
Many cities and countryside have played integral roles in an array of films, each bringing its unique charm to the narratives. From the passionate romance of A Room with a View and the suspenseful thriller Hannibal in Florence to the spiritual journey of The Passion of the Christ in Matera, these movies have immortalized the diverse sceneries and culture of Italy.
Join us on this quest to unravel the stories and beauty of these cities first hand!