Cremona’s native sons put this town in central Lombardy on the map by crafting the world’s earliest and best violins. In the 1530s, Andrea Amati began developing an early form of the violin, one that was solidified by around 1600 in Cremona. But it was Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)—known as Stradivarius—who elevated this instrument to new heights. Stradivarius was born in Cremona and apprenticed with Amati. After the master’s death, he began to experiment with new forms and new varnishes, which resulted in a perfected instrument. The Stradivarius violin remains the bench­mark by which violins are measured.

Today, Cremona’s craftspeople look to the historical models for inspiration, and restore antique models, but they also put their own personal stamp on the works. Many of Cremona’s violin makers were born and raised locally, but others have made Cremona their adopted home, drawn from as far afield as Germany, France, Colombia, and Japan by the international reputation of this town. For them, a diploma from Cremona’s International Violin-making School is a require­ment for success, as is recognition from one or more of the world’s most presti­gious violin-making competitions.

The art of the liutaio, or stringed-instrument maker, begins with the right wood. Legend has it that Stradivarius hiked in the Dolomites in search of the perfect wood for crafting violins. Spruce is the standard wood for the top, or soundboard, while maple is preferred for the back of the instrument. While the inside workings of the violin are fairly standard, the exterior is a blank canvas, and artisans fill it with elab­orate inlays, varnishes, and different kinds of woods, making each violin unique. It can take more than 200 hours to craft a single instrument by hand.

Read more about the artisanal traditions of Italy–and find the best places to shop for authentic souvenirs–in my guide, Made in Italy. 

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