The earliest information on the prehistoric inhabitants of the Vicenza area date back to the IX century B.C. The pile dwellings in Lake Fimon and the necropolis at Angarano testify to the presence of the Euganei people who were later supplanted by the Veneti from Illyria, a vast area on the eastern shores of the Adriatic sea, roughly corresponding to the Roman Dalmatia.
The presence of the Romans is documented from the II century B.C. but it was only in 49 B.C. that Vicetia, as it was known, became a Roman "municipium". In began to grow in importance in Imperial times, becoming a wealthy centre in the woollen business, enriching itself with palaces, aqueducts, bridges, and even a theatre (the Berga theatre) of which only a few traces remain however.
In early Christian times the city became a diocese under the patriarchate of the Bishop of Milan (IV-V century) and later, in the V century, of Aquileia. Remaining from these times is the oldest part of the Basilica of S.S. Felice & Fortunato, from Constantinian period; its mosaic floor, dating from the IV century, can still be admired today. The subsequent barbarian conquest (Alaric in 401, Attila in 452) led to destruction and decline until stability was restored until the reign of Theodoric (493-526), king of the Ostrogoths who, though of barbarian origin, was an enlightened and cultured prince, educated in the court of Byzantium. This period of relative calm was shattered again during the second half of the fifth century when the Lombards invaded Italy. Under the new conquerors, Vicenza was separated from Rome and became the seat of one of the 36 Lombard Dukedoms. The legacy of this domination, which lasted about one hundred and thirty years, can still be seen in the local place names, as well as in the remains - household and funeral furnishings and arms - found during various archaeological excavations and now housed in the Santa Corona Museum of Archaeology.

A new historical phase began with the defeat of the Lombard dukes by Charlemagne, around 776, and Vicenza too was governed by a Frankish Count. As a result, the city maintained an important economic and cultural role (including the establishment of a public school by Lothair I, in 823) for the whole of the VIII century. The peace - and the buildings - which had been so laboriously put in place during Carolingian times were swept away by the devastating fury of the Hungarians in 899. A few towers and the oldest part of the city walls, erected during the X and XI centuries to protect the town, are all that remain of those events.
The epoch of the communes then witnessed the infighting between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, with alternating outcomes, until Vicenza was conquered in 1311 by the Veronese Scaligeri rulers. This family rebuilt the city walls around a greater area as a protection against the invasion of the Visconti family and they continued to rule the city until 1404, the year in which Vicenza put itself spontaneously under the protection of the Republic of Venice.
It was during the four hundred years or so in which it was part of the Serenissima that the Accademia Olimpica (1555) was founded and the great buildings were constructed, mostly the work of the architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), making Vicenza famous throughout Europe and giving it the unmistakable appearance which it retains today.

The city was occupied by Napoleon in 1796 and fell under Austrian dominion in 1806 with the defeat of the French. It participated in the Risorgimento movement in 1848, though with little success for it had to wait until 1866 to obtain definitive freedom from Austrian rule and become part of the new Kingdom of Italy.

The palaces which link Vicenza to one of the most significant periods of renaissance architecture, and led to the city's inclusion in UNESCO's World Heritage List, are inside the walls erected by the Scaligeri and by the Venetians, or in their immediate vicinity.

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