Padua (Padova), Veneto

November 24th, 2008 | by Ainsley |

Too often it is overlooked by the tens of thousands of tourists who flock to Venice, some 25 miles east.

But the stunning medieval city of Padua (Padova to Italians), famed for its art, university and architecture, boasts countless attractions in its own right.

Padua is an ancient university city whose venerable seat of learning, founded in 1222, made it one of the most important cities in Renaissance Italy.

Famous alma mater include the astronomer Copernicus and the writer Dante, while Galileo and Petrarch also taught here.

And as you stroll through this serenely evocative city, along the arched porticos that flank almost every street, past the timeless monuments and across the bridges that span the River Bacchiglione, it is clear Padua has been impeccably preserved in the centuries since then.

Its most impressive monument to its rich medieval heyday is the Scrovegni Chapel. Restored between 1999 and 2001, it sits in Piazza Eremitani on the banks of the Bacchiglione and houses glorious early 14th century frescoes by Giotto depicting 28 scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Such is the clamour to see it that only 25 visitors at a time are allowed in. The strict admittance rules don’t end there: there’s an obligatory quarter-hour wait in a pre-chamber during which you watch a documentary on the frescoes while the chapel’s air temperature readjusts itself between visits.

That over with, your actual time in the chapel is limited to another quarter of an hour. Tellingly, there’s barely a single visitor who will complain the rigmarole wasn’t worth it.

The grounds of the piazza also hold the Chiesa degli Eremitani (Church of the Hermits) and the Museo Civico Eremitani (Hermits’ Museum).

The church, home of some of the city’s greatest art, was bombed out during World War II. It has been restored and some fragments of the original 13th century frescoes remain to testify to their brilliance.

A few minutes’ walk south of the square brings you to Piazza delle Erbe (Herbs Square) and Piazza della Frutta (Fruit Square), which, as the names would suggest, have housed fruit and vegetable market stalls for more than eight centuries.

They are split by the towering Palazzo della Ragione (Palace of Reason), built around 1219 as the seat of the city’s local government.

Renovated after a blaze some 200 years later, its grand hall features wall-to-ceiling 15th century frescoes of the signs of the zodiac and a giant wooden equine statue dating from the 1460s. The palazzo’s shops, bars, cafes and restaurants make this a very popular meeting point.

A few metres to the left lies Piazza dei Signori (Gentlemen’s Square), dominated by a 15th century clock tower. On the other side of Palazzo della Ragione, in Piazza Cavour, you find Caffe Pedrocchi, the world’s largest cafe when it opened in 1831, and Palazzo del Bo, the seat of the university.

However, nobody, but nobody, leaves Padua without a pilgrimage to the enormous Sant’Antonio di Padova basilica.

The edifice, completed in 1307, is topped by eight splendid domes. Outside stands the bronze Gattamelata equestrian statue while inside it is packed with ancient works of art in tribute to the city’s patron saint Anthony, simply known in Padua as Il Santo.

His tomb is one of the many housed in the basilica. It’s easy to spot as it will invariably be covered in floral tributes, photos and handwritten letters.

Finally, once you’ve explored its architectural delights, Padua has great open spaces in which to relax, such as the Botanical Gardens and the Prato della Valle, boasting nearly 90 statues and one of Europe’s largest public squares. It’s nearly enough to make you wonder: who needs Venice?

If you enjoyed reading this article, why not take a look at our range of property in Venice and Veneto?

You must be logged in to post a comment.