Frommer's Italy (2015)
Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune Fountain), Bologna.
Alot of travelers zip through this northernmost stretch of central Italy as they hurry along the well-worn path between Florence and Venice. Which is good news for anyone wishing to slow down long enough to experience a region that’s a little less discovered and a little more engaged in everyday Italian life than more-visited places are. Not that there’s not plenty to see and experience in Emilia-Romagna’s cities—treasure troves of art and culture and hedonistically devoted to fine food.
Bologna is one of Europe’s largest remaining medieval enclaves, its old palaces are filled with art, and its stony piazzas host an animated street life revved up by students at Europe’s oldest university. Parma proudly shows off its famous hams and cheeses, its musical traditions, and its art. Ravenna is awash in glittering Byzantine mosaics, and Ferrara is a time capsule of the Renaissance. It’s easy to get from one place to the other by train—Bologna makes a handy base for exploring the entire region—and once you reach these old cities, the preferred mode of transport is bicycle.
151km (94 miles) SW of Venice, 378km (234 miles) N of Rome
It’s easy to love a city that’s so enamored of food that it’s nicknamed La Grassa (the Fat); so devoted to scholarship (home of Europe’s oldest university, founded in 1088) that it’s called La Dotta (the Learned); and so noted for its fiery libertine politics that it’s known as La Rossa (the Red). There are plenty of other reasons to like Bologna, too. The lively working city of more than a million residents is built around one of the Europe’s largest and best-preserved medieval cores, and an attractive swath of palaces and towers, grand piazzas and narrow lanes are all easily traversed on foot. Quirky museums and art-filled churches seem all the more appealing against a backdrop of animated street life and shop windows brimming with the region’s famous hams and cheeses. You don’t even have to carry an umbrella in Bologna, because 24 miles of sidewalks are covered with handsome loggias.
GETTING THERE By Plane The international Aeroporto Guglielmo Marconi (www.bologna-airport.it; 051-6479615) is 6km (33⁄4 miles) north of the city center and served by such domestic carriers as Alitalia and Meridiana; all the main European airlines also fly to this airport, including Ryanair (London-Stansted), EasyJet, and British Airways (both London-Gatwick), making flights from the U.K. especially competitive. A bus (marked aerobus) runs daily (6am–12:15am) every 15 to 30 minutes from the airport to Bologna’s rail station (Stazione Centrale). A one-way ticket costs 6€, and the trip usually takes 20 minutes.
Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore.
By Train Bologna’s Stazione Centrale is at Piazza Medaglie d’Oro 2 ( 892021). High-speed trains arrive hourly from Florence (trip time: about 30 min.) and Milan (about 1 hr.) Regional trains connect Bologna with other cities in the region. Note that most service between Bologna and Florence and Milan is now via high-speed train, and only a very few slower and less expensive trains run on these routes. Bus nos. A, 25, and 30 run between the station and the historic core of Bologna, Piazza Maggiore. Taxis use the meter, which starts at 3.15€—expect to pay around 6€ for trips into the center. You can make the walk easily in about 15 minutes, and it’s mostly under covered loggias.
By Car If you are driving in from Florence, continue north along A1 until reaching the outskirts of Bologna, where signs direct you to the city center. From Milan, take A1 southeast along the Apennines. From Venice or Ferrara, follow A13 southwest. From Rimini, Ravenna, and the towns along the Adriatic, cut west on A14. See the note on p. 268 about driving and parking in Bologna; if you have a choice, it’s much easier to arrive in Bologna without a car.
VISITOR INFORMATION The main tourist office (www.bolognawelcome.com; 051-239660) is at Piazza Maggiore in the Palazzo del Podestà, open daily 9am to 7pm. There is another office at the airport, in the arrivals hall ( 051-6472113; open Mon–Sat 9am–7pm, and on Sun and holidays 9am–4pm).
GETTING AROUND Central Bologna is easy to cover on foot; most of the major sights are in and around Piazza Maggiore, and most of the sidewalks are famously covered. City buses leave for most points from Piazza Nettuno or Piazza Maggiore, and the train station. Free city maps and bus maps are available at the storefront office of the ATC (Azienda Trasporti Comunali) at Piazza XX Settembre (www.atc.bo.it; 051-350111). You can buy tickets at one of many booths and tabacchi in Bologna, or pay in machines on the buses. Tickets cost 1.50€ on the bus (no change), or 1.20€ if you buy in advance from a tabacchi, and are valid for 1 hour. A citypass—a single ticket that allows 10 rides—costs just 11€. Once on board, you must validate your ticket or you’ll be fined up to 150€.
Taxis are on 24-hour radio call at 051-372727 (Cooperativa Taxisti Bolognesiare) or 051-4590 (Consorzio Autonomo Taxisti). The meter starts at 3.10€ and goes up 1.05€ to 1.15€ per kilometer.
Where to Stay
Bologna hosts four to six major trade fairs a year, during which times hotel room rates rise dramatically. You’ll save a lot of money if you choose another time to visit (fair dates vary yearly; check with the tourist office). Bologna has a booming bed & breakfast scene, as well as many short-term rental apartments. A good place to browse offerings is Airbnb.com.
An important note on driving and parking: Much of central Bologna is closed to cars without special permits from 7am to 8pm daily (including Sun and holidays). When booking a room, be prepared to present your car registration number, which the hotel will then provide to the police to ensure that you are not fined for driving in a restricted area. Parts of the central city are entirely off limits to traffic on Sundays, so you will have to park outside the center. Ask when booking, and also ask about parking facilities (a hotel-issued parking permit is required in some areas) as well as the most efficient route to take to reach your hotel, because many streets are permanently closed to traffic. Best yet, come to this easily walkable city without a car.
Albergo delle Drapperie This centuries-old guesthouse is smack dab in the middle of the bustling market streets and only steps from Piazza Maggiore. The four top-floor rooms, the largest and best, have vaulted ceilings, exposed wooden beams, gables, window seats that double as extra beds, and lots of other atmospheric touches. Rooms on the lower floors are considerably smaller and furnished with not much more than beds, though they’re enlivened with homey iron bedsteads and the occasional fresco or coffered ceiling. You’ll have to do some climbing to reach any of these guest quarters, as well as the lobby and breakfast room. The Drapperie also rents out apartments in a nearby building.
Via della Drapperie 5. www.albergodrapperie.com. 051-223955. 21 units. 75€–85€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Bus: A, 11, 20, 27, or 28. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Alberta D Bed and Breakfast What must be some of the homiest lodgings in Bologna are scattered across two floors of a sophisticated and rambling home in what was once part of a medieval hospital complex. Three of the character-filled units face a tranquil inner courtyard, set up for warm-weather lounging, and two others, include a triple, are part of a separate, large upstairs apartment and share a kitchen and sitting room (the apartment can also be rented in its entirety). Much of the furniture is antique or vintage, accompanied by chic accessories, and Alberta and her son, Pierfrancesco, are welcoming and helpful hosts. They serve a filling breakfast that includes Alberta’s home-baked breads and cakes, homemade jams, fresh juices, and fine hams and cheeses.
Via Sant’Isaia 58. www.albertadbedandbreakfast.com. 051-333479. 5 units. From 75€ double. Rates include breakfast. Bus: 21. Amenities: Sauna; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Accademia The lobby and public rooms are a bit time-worn, but one of the few hotels in the university district reveals some surprises upstairs. The large guest rooms have high ceilings, and are spiffily up to date, with shiny wooden floors, blonde contemporary furniture, tastefully muted colors, and shiny bathrooms, many with that ever-so-rare fixture in less-expensive Italian hotels, a bathtub. Clubs, bars, and affordable student-oriented osterias cram the surrounding streets—a plus that can be a late-night curse for guests in street-facing rooms, and a good reason to ask for a room facing the quiet courtyard in back.
Via delle Belle Arte 6. www.hotelaccademia.com. 051-232318. 28 units. 69€–79€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 15€ per day. Bus: A, 11, 20, 27, or 28. Amenities: Bikes (free); Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Commercianti You can’t stay any closer to San Petronio than you will at this atmosphere-rich palazzo—in the best of the rooms and suites, you can lay in bed, sit on a leafy terrace, or even soak in a deep tub while admiring the church’s bulk, so close you can almost reach out and touch the exquisite brickwork and statuary. Exposed timbers and fresco fragments lend a medieval aura to the distinctive decor, though many of the furnishings are plushly contemporary, with comfy armchairs and couches that invite you to settle in and relax after forays into the surrounding sights and markets. In the lower level breakfast room, a morning buffet is served beneath vaulted arches that betray the premise’s 13th-century origins.
Via de’ Pignattari 11. www.bolognaarthotels.it. 051-7457511. 34 units. 136€–179€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 28€ per day. Bus: 11, 13, 20, or 30. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; bikes (free); room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Metropolitan This stylish haven is just a few steps off Via Independenzia but a world removed, an oasis of calm and comfort. Soothing whites and neutral shades offset Indonesian antiques and other Asian pieces in the lobby and breakfast room and extend to the contemporary guest rooms upstairs. All rooms have large mosaic-tiled bathrooms, and many have a small sitting room for a little extra space and privacy. Five airy, two-room suites open off a leafy roof terrace planted with olive trees and must be some of the most restful accommodations in the city center. Guests have access to a nearby swimming pool and spa/fitness facility, and the train station, Piazza Maggiore, and most city sights are an easy walk away. The hotel also rents out modern and well-equipped apartments near Piazza Maggiore; rates range from 100€ to 400€ per day depending on the size of the apartment and time of year.
Via Dell’Orso 6. www.hotelmetropolitan.com. 051-229393. 50 units. 150€–170€ double. Free parking. Bus: A, 11, 20, 27, or 28. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; babysitting; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Porta San Mamolo Most of these rather romantic rooms surround a leafy courtyard, bringing the sense of a country retreat to the heart of Bologna—Piazza Maggiore is only a 15-minute walk away (or an easy ride on one of the bikes available for free). Nice-sized, tile-floored rooms are done in soothing creams and warm golds and reds, with light furnishings that are vaguely Florentine in style and offset with plenty of exposed beams, vaulted ceilings, and other architectural details. A few of the rooms have large terraces, others open directly into the garden, and breakfast is served in an airy, greenhouse-like pavilion that seems summery even during the gray Bolognese winter.
Vicolo del Falconi 6–8. www.hotel-portasanmamolo.it. 051-583056. 43 units. 100€–172€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 20€ per day. Bus: 29B or 52. Amenities: Bikes (free); room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Roma What this old Bologna fixture lacks in chic style it makes up for with plenty of old-school charm and hospitality and a wonderful location just off Piazza Maggiore. Downstairs lounges and a small bar are gracious and welcoming, and the plain, no-nonsense guests rooms upstairs are large and pleasantly done with brass beds and gleaming wooden floors; many open to small terraces overlooking the surrounding pedestrian streets, and many of the large tiled bathrooms are windowed. The excellent in-house restaurant, C’era Una Volta—which tellingly translates as Once Upon a Time—carries on the Roma’s old-fashioned ways with Bolognese classics served by crispy uniformed waiters.
Via Massimo d’Azeglio 64. www.hotelroma.biz. 051-226322. 86 units. From 120€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 20€ per day. Bus: 11, 13, 20, or 30. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; bikes (free); room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Il Convento dei Fiori di Seta The former “Silk Flowers Nunnery” is now a retreat as refined as the name implies. Enough of the 14th-century surroundings remain to remind you where you are—a crucifix looms over the chic balcony breakfast room, fresco fragments and exposed timbers offset crisply contemporary furnishings and lots of high-tech lighting and gadgetry, and curved walled, double-height rooms are cleverly carved out of the former chapel. But the emphasis is clearly on worldly comforts that include fine linens, luxurious, mosaic-tiled bathrooms, and a little spa where guests can soak and steam after a day of sightseeing.
Via Orfeo 34-4. www.ilconventodeifioridiseta.com. 051-272039. 10 units. 160€–190€ double; 220€–270€ suite. Rates include continental breakfast. Parking 25€. Bus: 11, 13, 32, or 33. Amenities: Bar; concierge; Jacuzzi; room service; sauna; Wi-Fi (free).
Where to Eat
The Quadrilatero is the gastronome epicenter of Bologna, where you can snack your way through a number of venerable food shops on a warren of lanes behind Piazza Maggiore. At Tamburi, one of Italy’s most lavish food shops, Via Caprarie 1 (tamburini.com; 051-232-226), a buffet selection of pastas, meats and fish, soups and salads, vegetables, and sweets is accompanied by 200 wines by the glass, and La Baita, Via Pescherie Vecchie 3A ( 051-223-940), lets you choose from a dizzying selection of hams and cheeses and enjoy them in a busy mezzanine dining room. Eataly (Via degli Orefici 19; www.eataly.it; 051-095-2820), Bologna’s outpost of the shop that’s taken New York and other cities by storm, sells books as well as cheese, hams, and other gourmet products and wine, consumed picnic-style at indoor and outdoor tables. Osteria del Sole, Vicolo Ranocchi 1D (osteriadelsole.it; 348-225-6887; closed Sun) is an invitingly rundown room with a bring-your-own policy—as in food; they supply the wine for 2€ a glass. Good places to shop for the accompanying meal are the enticing Salumeria Simoni at Via Drapperie 5/2A ( salumeriasimoni.it; 051-231-880) and Enoteca Italiana, Via Marsala 2/B (www.enotecaitaliana.it; 051-235-989); you might want to add some bread and a pastry from Atti, Via Caprarie 7 (www.paoloatti.com; 051-220425). Bologna’s central food market, Mercato delle Erbe, is a few blocks west of this district at Via Ugo Bassi 25 (www.mercatodelleerbe.it); it’s open Monday to Wednesday 7am to 1:15pm and 5:30 to 7:30pm, Thursday and Saturday 7am to 1:15pm, and Friday 7am to 1:15pm and 4:30 to 7:30pm.
A favorite Bologna post-prandial attraction is Gelatauro, Via San Vitale 98 (www.gelatauro.com; 051-230049; Mon 9am–8pm, Tues–Thurs 8:30am–11pm, Fri–Sat 8:30am–midnight, Sun 9:30am–11pm), run by three brothers and known for its organic gelato, including one divine concoction made from Sicilian oranges.
Maybe it’s not too surprising that Bologna also has many famous chocolatiers. Majani, Via de’ Carbonesi 5 ( 051-234302), claims to be Italy’s oldest sweets shop, having made and sold confections since 1796. Roccati, Via Clavature 17A (www.roccaticioccolato.com; 051-261-964) is run by a husband-and-wife team that makes the gianduja (hazelnut and cognac-filled chocolate) their ancestors once concocted for the princes of Savoy.
Caminetto d’Oro BOLOGNESE/ITALIAN Despite the sleekly contemporary appearance of the formal dining room and a more casual bistro to one side, the Carrati family has been feeding Bologna for 80 years, from premises that were once a bakery. They still use a decades-old oven to bake their own delicious breads, which are all made, along with their pasta, using wheat flour from a mill near Modena. Their tagliatelle al ragu is renowned—a favorite of many performers and theatergoers from the nearby Arena del Sole. This is also the best place in town for a steak, since their T-bones come from local Romagnola cattle and are seared on soapstone.
Via de’Falegnami 4. www.caminettodoro.it. 051-263494. Main courses 8€–18€. Mon–Sat 12:30–2:30pm and 7:30–10:30pm. Bus: C.
Casa Monica BOLOGNESE Tucked away in what looks like a converted garage in an alley-like street at the far western edge of the historic center is this pleasant, low-key dining room, an oasis of calm and refinement. Deep rose hues and subtly warm lamp light give the contemporary surroundings a welcoming, even romantic, glow, and the cuisine might be a sought-after break from heavier Bolognese fare. Many of the choices are vegetarian, including creamy risottos and an airy flan di zucca (squash), many of the main courses are fish, and even the homemade desserts are deceptively light. This transporting spot is only a 15-minute walk or a short cab or bus ride away from Piazza Maggiore.
Via San Rocco 16. www.casamonica.it. 051-522522. Main courses 10€–18€. Daily 7:30–11pm. Bus: 13 or 96.
Drogheria della Rosa BOLOGNESE/ITALIAN An old apothecary that looks much as it always has, except that now wine bottles are mixed in among the old-fashioned jars on the wooden shelves. Just as the premises once dispensed medicines, chef/owner Emanuele Addone dishes out warm hospitality and down-to-earth Bolognese cooking, with an emphasis on market-fresh ingredients. There’s no menu, but a waiter, often Emanuele himself, will guide you through the daily offerings and suggest wines to match. A meal usually begins with a plate of prosciutto and a glass of prosecco. Tortellini are stuffed with zucchini blossoms or eggplant puree; filet mignon is roasted to perfection and drizzled with balsamic vinegar from Modena, guinea fowl is done beautifully with a honey sauce. Desserts, including a mascarpone with chocolate shavings, are sumptuous, but leave just a bit of room—some of the best gelato in Bologna is dispensed around the corner at La Sorbetteria Castiglione, at Via Castiglione 44.
Via Cartoleria 10. www.drogheriadellarosa.it. 051-222529. Main courses 9€–18€. Mon–Sat 12:30–3pm and 8–10:30pm. Closed Aug 10–27 and 1st week of Jan. Bus: C, 11, or 13.
Il Rovescio BOLOGNESE/VEGETARIAN The name of this rustic-
looking little room just off bar- and osteria-lined Via Pratello translates roughly as “upside down” or “backwards,” and the concept applies to some unusual takes on traditional Bolognese cuisine. All the food is locally sourced, and the menu changes frequently to reflect what’s fresh in season and, a real rarity in Bologna, often includes many vegetarian choices—grilled radicchio on a bed of polenta, or crepes filled with caramelized squash. Some of the meat presentations, such as little ginger-laced meatballs on a bed of pureed peas, can be surprising, too. Rovescio keeps very late hours, making it a good choice for night-owl diners; plus, they run a handy little pizza shop next door.
Via Pietralata 28. 051-523545. Main courses 10€–18€. Daily 7pm–3am. Bus: C, 11, or 13.
Montegrappa da Nello BOLOGNESE This Bologna institution is a real find, and it flows across several cozily paneled subterranean rooms just off Piazza Maggiore. Crisply uniformed waiters who seem to have been here since the place began serving in 1948 will lead you through the specialties, which include the house signature dish, tortellini Montegrappa, served in a cream-and-meat sauce, though the kitchen also prepares daily specials with some surprising variations of Bolognese standards, such as spinach tortellini with chicken filling. Funghi porcini and truffles appear in many of the classics, including a fragrant veal scallopine in truffle sauce. Meals should begin with a selection of buttery prosciutto and end with a selection of cheeses, all washed down with one of the fine wines from local vineyards. Even in good weather, forgo dining on the small terrace in the dreary lane out front and enjoy the ambience downstairs; to ensure a table down there, reserve for dinner.
Via Montegrappa 2. www.ristorantedanello.com. 051-236331. Main courses 10€–17€. Daily noon–3pm and 7–11:30pm. Closed 1 week in Jan or Feb and all of Aug. Bus: A, 11, 20, 27, or 28.
Trattoria Anna Maria BOLOGNESE Photographs of Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, and legions of other film and music celebrities line the walls of these high-ceilinged, welcoming rooms, but everyone in Bologna knows that the real star is Anna Maria, who has been making what many consider to be the best pasta in town for 30 years. Tortellini in brodo, parcels of pasta filled with minced pork and floating in chicken broth, and tagliatelle with a hearty Bolognese sauce are her signature dishes, but the meat and vegetable lasagnas are memorable, too. Anna Maria will probably find her way to your table at some point during your meal to make sure you’ve eaten every bite, but that won’t be an issue.
Via Bella Arti 17/A. www.trattoriannamaria.com. 051-266894. Main courses 9.50€–18€. Tues–Sat noon–3pm and 7–11pm. Bus: 11, 13, 20, 29B, 30, 38, or 39.
Trattoria dal Biassanot EMILIAN The wood beams, lace tablecloths, warm service, and other grace notes of this welcoming bistro (the name roughly means “night owl”) do justice to the expertly prepared Bolognese classics that emerge from the kitchen. Light-as-a-feather tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce has a reputation as being some of the best in a city that’s famous for the dish, but all of the handmade pastas and succulent sauces are excellent; even the bread is house made and delicious. You’re best off putting yourself in the hands of the kitchen and opting for the very reasonably priced tasting menu, wine included. After a meal walk down Via Piella to see one of Bologna’s lesser-known but more intriguing sights, the Finestra, a shuttered window that surprisingly opens to a view over a canal, one of many that once flowed through the city.
Via Piella 16a. www.dalbiassanot.it. 051-230644. Main courses 8€–15€; fixed-price menu 25€. Tues–Sat noon–3pm and 7–11pm, Sun noon–3pm. Closed Aug. Bus: 19, 27, or 94.
A huge statue of a virile Neptune presides over the center of Bologna, facing the sweeping expanse of Piazza Maggiore and surrounded by crenellated 12th- and 13th-century palazzi and the enormous basilica di San Petronio. Just to the east the medieval Due Torri (Two Towers) lean tipsily towards each other, and beneath them the five main streets of the city spin out toward the ancient city gates. You can walk to just about any of the city’s sights from the piazza. Before you set out, take a look at one of the more intriguing presences, the Palazzo di Rei Enzo, on the northeast side. Enzo (1218–1272) was king of Sardinia and the illegitimate son of German Emperor Frederick II. While Enzo was studying at the University of Bologna, the papal-supporting Guelphs defeated the Ghibellines, who supported the Holy Roman Empire. Enzo, aligned with the Ghibellines, was imprisoned in this grim looking palace until his death 23 years later. He didn’t exactly languish in a dungeon—he was known for his lavish feasts, more than 150 romantic conquests, and a foiled escape attempt when his blonde hair, protruding from a basket, was a dead giveaway.
Basilica di San Domenico CHURCH Spanish-born St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order and patron saint of astronomers, lived only 3 years in Bologna, but he rests forever here in a shrine designed by the 13th century’s greatest sculptor, Nicola Pisano. Raised in wealth, Dominic aligned himself with the poor as a young student. To feed the starving he sold his belongings, including his manuscripts, saying, “Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?” In Bologna he encouraged his many followers “to have charity, to guard their humility, and to make their treasure out of poverty.” The saint, who died in 1221 on a bed of sackcloth, lies beneath elaborate carvings of his colorful life, in which he traveled from one end of Europe to the other, by Arnolfo di Cambio. In the 15th century Nicolo di Bari added a canopy, carved with images of saints and evangelists, and was so proud of his work that he changed his name to Nicolo di Arca. A young Michelangelo, arriving in Bologna in 1495 when his patrons, the Medici, were expelled from Florence, added translucent renderings of two other Bologna saints, Petronius and Proculus (who, though clothed, appears to be the prototype for his “David”). Bologna-born Guido Reni topped off the shrine in 1615 with a ceiling fresco depicting Dominic entering heaven amid legions of pious saints and swirling putti.
Detail from the tomb of San Domenico.
Staying Dry in Bologna
Almost 40km (25 miles) of porticos cover the sidewalks of Bologna. They seem purpose-built to provide the Bolognese with a venue to stroll and strut during the evening passeggiata, no matter how inclement the weather. Most are high enough to accommodate a man on horseback, as mandated by a 14th-century city ordinance. It’s said they were originally built to duplicate the porticos of the ancient Greek academies, giving students a place to walk and discourse, while pragmatists claim they allowed residents to extend the upper stories of their homes over the sidewalks, helping ease a medieval housing crunch. Showiest of all is the 3.5km (2 mi.) stretch of porticos, supported by 666 arches, that climb a green hillside to the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca (www.sanlucabo.org). It’s said that Luke the Evangelist did the painting of Mary inside, and the views of the city and surrounding countryside are riveting.
Piazza San Domenico 13. 051-6400411. Free admission. Mon–Sat 9am–noon and 3:30–6pm; Sun 3:30–5pm. Bus: A, 16, 30, 38, 39, or 59.
Basilica di San Petronio CHURCH The massive church honoring Bologna’s patron, the 5th-century bishop Petronio, was begun in 1390, designed to be larger than St. Peter’s in Rome. Papal powers cut off funding to protect their status and the basilica remains unfinished—the formidable brick walls were never sheathed in marble as intended and transepts are severely truncated (look down either side of the church to see where extensions end abruptly in the surrounding streets). Among the few flourishes are a magnificent central doorway surrounded by Old Testament figures rendered in marble by Jacopo della Quercia of Siena. The artist was in his fifties and well regarded when he came to Bologna in 1425 to undertake the commission; he finished just before his death in 1438, leaving a legacy that influenced many of the great artists of the Renaissance. Among them was Michelangelo, who claimed that della Quercia’s rendering of the Creation of Adam here was the inspiration for his Genesis in the Sistine Chapel. In the Cappella Bolognini, the fourth on the left as you enter, Giovanni da Modena painted a fresco cycle between 1408 and 1420 that depicts scenes from the life of Petronio, along with scenes of Hell from Dante’s Inferno—with a startling depiction of Satan eating and excreting doomed souls and Mohammed being devoured by devils in Hell (Al-Qaida operatives and other terrorists have twice in recent years tried to blow up the church in retaliation for the alleged defamation). The rather stark interior is enlivened ever so slightly at noon when a shadow indicating the day of the year makes an appearance on a meridian line in the left aisle; designed by Bologna’s famous 17th-century astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, the longest sundial in the world stretches for 70 meters (231 feet).
Piazza Maggiore. www.basilicadisanpetronio.it. 051-225442. Free admission; 2€ for Cappella Bolognini. Daily 7:45am–1pm and 3–6pm. Bus: A, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, or 25.
Basilica di Santo Stefano CHURCH Bologna’s most storied religious site is actually seven churches, a stone maze of medieval apses, romantic porticos and courtyards awash in legend. Petronius, the fifth century bishop of Bologna, allegedly founded the church on the remains of a Roman temple to the earth goddess Isis. He was originally laid to rest in the Church of the Sepulcher, and pregnant Bolognese women would at one time circle his tomb 33 times, once for every year of Christ’s life, stopping at every turn to crawl through a low door to say a prayer before the saint’s remains (his body has been since been reunited with his head in the basilica di San Petronio). The mothers-to-be moved on to the Church of the Trinity to pray before a fresco depicting a very pregnant Madonna stroking her belly. The Church of Vitale and Agricola is devoted to two other popular Bolognese saints and the city’s first Christian martyrs, the fourth-century nobleman Agricola and his devoted slave; a cross near the tomb is said to be the one Agricola was holding when he was crucified, though it dates from much later—just as a marble basin in the Cortile di Pilato (Courtyard of Pilate) alleged to be the one in which Pontius Pilate washed his hands after condemning Christ to death actually dates to the 8th century; a statue atop a nearby column pays homage to the rooster who crowed three times when Peter denied knowing Jesus. It’s said that Dante used to sit in the lovely, two-tier Romanesque cloister and reflect during his exile in Bologna and found inspiration for the hellish scenes of the “Divine Comedy” in the ghastly depictions on the capitals atop the pillars, carved with luridly grotesque imagery of swiveling heads and men being crushed beneath boulders.
Via Santo Stefano 24. www.abbaziasantostefano.it. 051-223256. Free admission. Daily 9am–noon and 3:30–6:30pm. Bus: 11, 13, 90, or 96.
Le due Torri MONUMENT/MEMORIAL It’s been estimated that in the 12th and 13th centuries as many as 100 stone towers rose above the rooftops of Bologna, reaching heights of 100m (330 ft.). They were probably built as places of refuge and for offensive purposes, and they implied no small amount of wealth, since it took as long as 10 years and enormous expense to put the successively thinner layers of stone and masonry in place. Some 20 towers remain, and the most famous are these two slender medieval skyscrapers that lean tipsily but poetically just east of Piazza Maggiore. The Garisenda rises 49m (162 ft.) and leans about 3m (11 ft.) from perpendicular; the Asinelli stands 102m (334 ft.) tall and inclines almost 2.5m (71⁄2 ft.). Garisenda is off limits, but a climb up Asinelli’s 500 steps reveals Bologna’s finest aerial panorama, a sea of red-tile roofs and the green hills beyond.
Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. Admission 3€. Daily 9am–6pm (to 5pm in winter). Last entry 20 min. before closing. Bus: 11, 13, 14, 19, 25, or 27.
Museo Civico Medievale MUSEUM Treasures of medieval Bologna collected in the salons of the Palazzo Ghisilardi include priceless rare codici miniati (illuminated manuscripts) and gold vessels, but the most riveting pieces are a courtesan’s shoes and other commonplace artifacts of everyday life. Ordinary funeral slabs provide such telltale glimpses as a relief of a supine university professor with his hands resting on a book, as if he has fallen asleep while reading, while statues show off the haircuts and clunky headgear of the times. With a little imagination it’s easy to think these are the men and women accompanying you on your wanderings through the loggias and squares of what is one of Italy’s most intact medieval cities.
Palazzo Ghisilardi, Via Manzoni 4. 051-2193930. Admission 4€ adults, 2€ students and children 15–17, free for children 14 and under. Tues–Fri 10am–3pm; Sat–Sun and holidays 10am–6:30pm. Bus: A, 11, 20, 27, or 28.
Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (MAMbo) MUSEUM A former bread factory is the city’s showcase for the avant-garde, with an emphasis on post–World War II art. Aside from the occasional blockbuster temporary exhibition, the standout is the collection of 85 works by Giorgio Morandi. The Bolognese native once said, “What interests me most is expressing what’s in nature, in the visible world, that is,” somewhat of an understatement given his deceptively straightforward still lives that can seem almost abstract in their minimalism. Some of his most pleasant works are landscapes of Grizzana, a village where he spent many lazy summers working and drawing. His studio has been reconstructed here, and you can also visit his apartment at Via Fondazza 36 ( 051-649-6653; by appointment; free admission), converted to stark galleries where his personal effects and the vases, utensils, and other objects he painted are on view. Renato Guttuso’s “I Funerali di Togliatti” (1972), awash in red flags, depicts the funeral of the leader of the communist party, surrounded by images of other left-wing luminaries. Another MAMbo installation, Museo per la Memoria di Uscita by artist Christian Boltanski, commemorates the crash of a Bologna–Palermo flight off the eponymous Sicilian island on June 27, 1980, with wreckage of the DC-9 and audiovisual materials. It’s in a nearby warehouse at Via di Saliceto 3/22 (free admission; Fri–Sun 10am–6pm).
Via Don Minzoni 14. 051-6496611. Admission 6€ adults, 4€ students and children 6–17, free for children 5 and under. Tues, Wed, and Fri noon–6pm; Thurs noon–10pm; Sat–Sun noon–8pm. Bus: A, 11, 20, 27, or 28.
Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio HISTORIC SITE It’s no accident that one of the grander buildings of Bologna University, completed in 1563, is adjacent to the basilica of San Petronio. Pope Pius IV commissioned a central hall to house the various university faculties on this site to prevent the basilica from expanding and surpassing St. Peter’s in Rome in size. Corridors and staircases decorated with the family crests of students lead to the Teatro Anatomico, a handsome lecture hall paneled in spruce where tiers of stiff wooden benches surround a marble slab. The Spellati, two skinless bodies carved in wood, support a canopy above the lecturer’s chair, Apollo gazes down from the ceiling, and statues of Hippocrates and other august physicians line walls. A curious statue of a physician holding a nose pays homage to Gaspare Tagliacozzi, a pioneer of rhinoplasty, or the nose job, much in demand in an era when noses were routinely cut off for punishment or revenge. The most looming presence, though, was a church inquisitor, concealed behind a secret panel to keep an eye on the proceedings and make sure procedures did not waiver from church protocol for cadavers, stipulating that all organs remain in situ and intact, ready for Judgment Day. Surrounding rooms, closed to the public, house some of the university’s most priceless manuscripts.
Piazza Galvani. www.archiginnasio.it. 051-276811. Free admission. Mon–Fri 9am–6:45pm; Sat 9am–1:45pm. Bus: A or 29B.
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna MUSEUM Beginning in the late 18th century, the former St. Ignatius monastery began to house altar pieces and other works gathered from religious institutions throughout Bologna. The collection grew considerably after 1815 when many works the French had sent off to the Louvre were returned to Bologna after the fall of the Napoleonic empire. Among the great works from Bolognese churches is Raphael’s “St. Cecilia in Estasi” (Gallery 15), in which the saint, patron of music, is portrayed holding a lute with other instruments strewn at her feet and seems to be in rapture as she listens to a heavenly choir. The museum’s emphasis is on works by Emilian and Bolognese artists. Guido Reni (1575–1642), who was born and is buried in Bologna, dominates Gallery 24 with his “Massacre of the Innocents,” a terrifying visualization of scripture in which two muscular, knife-wielding soldiers set upon a group of screaming women and children. An especially amiable presence is that of Bologna’s own Carracci family in Gallery 23. The three artists—brothers Agostino and Annibale and their cousin Lodovico—opened a famous academy in Bologna in the 1580s, professing their belief in breaking away from mannerism to imbue painting with emotion and passion. Lodovico persevered with a career in art despite being mocked for his slow manner; though he became proficient, he is better known as a teacher than as an artist, as seen in the work of his nephews. Agostino’s masterpiece is “The Communion of St. Jerome,” but the work for which he became best known in some circles was “I Modi” (the Way), a highly erotic series of engravings. His brother Annibale was the greater and more passionate painter, as becomes clear in his darkly moving “Mocking of Christ.”
A Frenchman named Giambologna (the Italians altered his name) designed the Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune Fountain) in 1566 and gave the naked sea many rippling muscles and surrounded him with erotic cherubs and sirens spouting water from their breasts. The papal legate who occupied the Palazzo d’Accursio opposite deemed the spectacle indecent, but Giambologna got his revenge: If you approach the statue from its rear right side, you’ll notice that the left arm is positioned in such a way to suggest an indecently large . . . well, walk around the statue and see for yourself.
Via delle Belle Arti 56. www.pinacotecabologna.beniculturali.it. 051-4209411. Admission 4€ adults, 2€ ages 18–25, free for children 17 and under. Tues–Sun 9am–7pm. Closed holidays. Bus: 20, 28, 36, 37, 89, 93, 94, or 99 (to Porta San Donato).
San Giacomo Maggiore (Church of St. James) CHURCH Members of Bologna’s most powerful 15th-century family are laid to rest in the Cappella Bentivoglio (behind the altar to the left; you must insert .50€ to light the chapel). Their likenesses appear in frescoes by Lorenzo Costa, who came to Bologna in the 1480s from Ferrara before moving on to Mantua (see p. 387), where he achieved his greatest fame. “Madonna Enthroned” is an especially telling window into the lives of the family, who were continually plotting and plotted against and were finally expelled from Bologna under papal edict. Giovanni II Bentiviglio, who was eventually excommunicated and imprisoned in Rome, kneels with his wife next to the Madonna, as his children look on, the lot of them giving thanks for the discovery of a conspiracy to overthrow them. “Triumph of Death” shows a ghastly procession in which death, represented by a scythe-wielding skeleton, is seated on a chariot drawn by oxen. Anton Galeazzo Bentivoglio, who fell out of favor with the papacy and was beheaded in 1435, lies in a tomb designed by Jacopo della Quercia, who labored so long over the doors to the Basilica of San Petronio (p. 276). For an eerie thrill, follow the left-side chapels about half way down until you come to the one housing a terrifyingly realistic-looking effigy of the corpse of Christ, encased in glass and complete with lash marks, oozing wounds, and plenty of blood.
Piazza Rossini, Via Zamboni. 051-225970. Free admission. Daily 7am–noon and 3:30–6:30pm. Bus: C.
Entertainment & Nightlife
Bologna’s large student population keeps late hours in bars, clubs, and osterias, many clustered near the university on Via Zamboni and Via delle Belle Arti. Bolognese of all stripes, even those who plan to turn in early, stop at bars all over town for an aperitivo, when a glass of wine or a cocktail comes with snacks, usually served “all you can eat” buffet style.
CAFES, BARS & CLUBS
Camera a Sud Three shabby-chic rooms in the Jewish ghetto are part coffee house, part wine bar and late-night hangout, and popular any time of the day. Via Valdonica 5. www.cameraasud.net. 051-0951448. Mon–Sat noon–1am, Sun 5pm–1am.
Cantina Bentivoglio You’ll hear some of the best jazz in Bologna in the cellars of a 16th-century palazzo near the university; unless you need to accompany your jazz with hard booze, select from one of the more than 500 labels that fill the wine racks. Via Mascarella 4B. www.cantinabentivoglio.it. 051-265416. Daily 8pm–2am. Lunch Mon–Fri 12:15–2:45pm.
Cassero Bologna’s most popular gay bar and club stretches over several floors of one Bologna’s medieval gates, with a roof garden and open-air dance floor on top. Via Don Minzoni 18. www.cassero.it. 051-6494416. Daily 8:30pm–late.
Le Stanze Four chic rooms fill the nooks and crannies of a 17th-century chapel; come for lunch or coffee, and on weekend evenings begin with cocktails (accompanied by a terrific buffet) and hang around for the DJ sets. Via del Borgo di San Pietro www.lestanzecafe.com. 051-228767. Mon–Sat 11am–1am.
Nu Lounge Bar Hip young professionals check each other out (and themselves in the huge mirrors) while enjoying martinis under the porticos in the Quadrilatero. Via dei Musei 6. www.nu-lounge.com. 051-222532. Daily noon–2:30am.
Osteria de Poeti Bologna’s oldest osteria, feeding students since around 1600, not only dishes up cheap pastas and hearty secondi but live jazz and folk music as well, set against a mellow background of brick arches. Via Poeti 1. www.osteriadepoeti.com. 051-236166. Tues–Fri 12:30–2:30pm and 7:30pm–2:30am, Sat–Sun 7:30pm–2:30am.
A Liitle-Known Treasure
Nicolo dell’Arca, famous for his carvings on Bologna’s tomb of St. Dominic, crafted another lesser-known but delightful work in the Church of Santa Maria della Vita, just off Piazza Maggiore at Via Clavature 8. His “Lamentation” is a set of life-size terracotta figures taking Christ from the cross; the expressions on the faces of the lamenters are etched in grief, and the grouping is one of the most humane and moving religious images you’ll encounter—even though they’re clumsily shored up with wood to prevent damage in an earthquake. The church is open daily (Mon–Sat 10am–noon and 3–7pm and Sun 3–7pm, but hours may vary), and admission is free.
A BREAK FROM THE ART CIRCUIT
Modena, 40km (25 miles) NW of Bologna, is in the center of what’s known as La Terra dei Motori, the “Land of Motors.” A car enthusiast who’s been patiently traipsing through museums and churches might be delighted to learn that all of Italy’s famed sports car manufacturers are located here—and open to the public. It’s possible to make the pilgrimage by public transport, but not easily, and you certainly couldn’t do the whole circuit in a day. Besides, a car buff will probably want to rent a car anyway, right? As an alternative, Motorstars (motorstars.org; 059-921667) provides a full day of touring, with transport from Bologna and lunch, for 220€.
Museo Ferrari, Via Dino Ferrari 43 (www.ferrari.com; 0536-943204), in Maranello (a suburb some 18km/11 miles from central Modena), pays homage to the magnificent cars that Enzo Ferrari began turning out in 1929; vintage and current models are on display. Admission is 13€ and it’s open daily May to September from 9:30am to 7pm (until 6pm Oct–Apr). Tours run daily at 12:30 and 1:30pm, but you need to buy tickets in advance on the website.
Maserati, founded in Bologna in 1914, is now based in Modena, and 20 vintage models are parked permanently at the Museo Panini (www.paninimotormuseum.it), in the Modena suburb of Cittanova (on the SS9). Highlights include a rare Maserati Tipo 6CM from the 1930s and a Maserati A6G/54 from the 1950s. You must make an appointment to visit: The museum is open March to October (closed Aug), Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 12:30pm and from 3:30 to 6:30pm, and Saturday from 9:30am to 12:30pm. Admission is free.
A visit to the Museo Lamborghini (www.visit-lamborghini.com; 051-9597008), Via Modena 12, in the company’s hometown of Sant’ Agata Bolognese, halfway between Bologna and Modena, can include a tour of the actual factory for 40€ (students 30€). Otherwise, to see the cars and other displays, admission is 13€ (students 10€). The museum is usually open Monday to Friday 10am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 5pm, but call ahead to confirm.
52km (32 miles) N of Bologna, 100km (62 miles) SW of Venice
It’s not that quiet, elegant Ferrara hasn’t had some big moments. The powerful Este family held control of the city on the Po River for almost four centuries. Painters, composers, and poets came to town under their patronage and made Ferrara one of Europe’s great capitals of culture. Lucrezia Borgia, notorious femme fatale of the Renaissance, arrived by ceremonial barge in 1502 to marry Prince Alfonso Este. They and the other Estes built pleasure pavilions and gardens and expanded their holdings into the Addizione, a model city of the Renaissance crisscrossed with straight, palace-lined avenues. By the end of the 16th century the Estes were gone, and Ferrara has looked pretty much the same ever since. That, of course, is its appeal. The Estes’ castle and palaces, the city’s medieval quarters and encircling walls, and proud old convents and churches are the backdrop for everyday life in what is these days an attractive provincial city that also happens to be a Renaissance time capsule.
GETTING THERE Ferrara is on the main train line between Bologna and Venice, with service to and from both cities twice an hour (30–45 min. from Bologna; 1–11⁄2 hrs. from Venice). Ravenna is an hour away, with hourly departures all day. From the train station it’s an easy 20-minute walk to the Duomo, but you can also take the frequent no. 2 bus to Piazza Travaglio (1.50€; pay on board with correct change). For more information, call 0532-599-411 (www.atc.bo.it). You may also rent a bike at the station and get around the way most locals do (see box).
If you have a car and are coming from Bologna, take A13 north. From Venice, take A4 southwest to Padua and continue on A13 south to Ferrara.
VISITOR INFORMATION The helpful tourist office is inside the Castello Estense, Piazza del Castello (www.ferraraterraeacqua.it; 0532-299303). It’s open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm, Sunday 9:30am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm.
Where to Stay
Hotel Annunziata The setting, across from Castello Estense, is medieval, and Casanova spent the night here when the place was a simple inn. Once inside the doors, though, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported from old Ferrara into a Milanese showroom for contemporary style. The minimalist white color scheme strays into grays and beige here and there, even the occasional burst of red or orange, but for the most part this place is all about sleek lines, soothing neutrals, and minimalist calm, and it’s all extremely comfortable and relaxing. In the large and bright guest rooms, the best with castle views, high-tech lighting and snowy linens contrast beautifully with wood floors and the occasional timbered ceiling, and bathrooms are sleekly luxurious. Six similarly stylish apartments with kitchenettes are located in a nearby 14th-century annex.
Piazza Repubblica 5. www.annunziata.it. 0532-201111. 27 units. 89€–109€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Bus: 1, 7, 9, 11, or 21. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; babysitting; bikes (free); room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Ripagrande Ripagrande’s home in a 15th-century palazzo retains enough arches and beams, striking medieval furnishings, and rich carpets and tapestries to suggest that it might still be the home of a count, which it was for many centuries. A breakfast room and lounge full of polished antiques and oil paintings wraps around a lovely courtyard, and upstairs the gracious, traditionally furnished guest rooms are suitably grand, though a wee bit threadbare in places—perhaps as befits faded royalty. Many sprawl over two and three levels, so if you don’t like the idea of climbing up and down stairs to reach the bathroom in the middle of the night, ask for one of the enormous one-floor rooms.
Via Ripagrande 21. www.ripagrandehotel.it. 0532-765250. 40 units. 59€–70€ double. Rates include breakfast. Bus: 1, 7, 9, 11, or 21. Amenities: Babysitting; bikes (free); room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Locanda Borgonuovo This lovely old house, converted from a 17th-
century convent and just down a cobblestone street from the castello, could set the gold standard for B&Bs everywhere. The four rooms are furnished with family pieces, including some serious antiques, and share a flowery courtyard and cozy library/sitting room; one especially large double has an extra bed and a kitchenette. An excellent breakfast is served in the family living room, and the gracious hosts lend bikes and dispense advice about the best ways to enjoy their beloved Ferrara.
Via Cairoli 21. www.borgonuovo.com. 0532-211100. 70€ double. Rates include breakfast. Bus: 4C or 7. Amenities: Bikes (free); Wi-Fi (free).
Where to Eat
You’ll get a good intro to Ferrara’s gastronomic pleasures on a stroll down Via Cortevecchia, a narrow brick lane near the cathedral where traditional salumerias such as Marchetti at no. 35 ( 0532-204800) sell the city’s famous salama da suga, handmade sausages. The food stalls of the Mercato Comunale, at the corner of Via Santo Stefano and Via del Mercato, are also good grazing grounds. Look out for coppia Ferrarese, sourdough bread stretched into intertwining rolls that look like two sets of legs (hence the name, “the couple”). In restaurants the pasta to try is cappellacci di zucca, round pasta stuffed with squash and served al burro e salvia (with butter and sage sauce) or al ragu (with meat sauce).
Enoteca Al Brindisi FERRARESE It would be easy for this timbered, atmospheric little place that lays claim to being the oldest wine bar in the world, dating from 1435, to rest on its laurels. Titian was a regular, Copernicus is said to have lived upstairs while studying for his degree in 1503, and it looks like some of the dusty bottles stacked above the cramped tables have been around ever since. Locals (some of whom look like they’ve been around awhile, too) still pack the place, and waiters take earnest pride in recommending wines from throughout Italy, most available by the glass, accompanied by a short menu of cappellacci di zucca (squash ravioli) and a few other local specialties.
Via Adelardi 11. www.albrindisi.net. 0532-471225. Main courses 7€–10€. Daily 11am–1am. Bus: 11 from the train station.
Osteria del Ghetto FERRARESE/SEAFOOD A staircase reached through a simple storefront on the narrow cobblestone lanes of Ferrara’s centuries-old Jewish ghetto leads to two homey upstairs rooms, enlivened with colorful murals. A small section of pasta and meat dishes are available, but clearly the kitchen’s passion is for fish and seafood—a fresh catch is usually on the menu, and a large selection of fried calamari and shrimp, rich fish soup, spaghetti alle vongole, seafood salads, and other selections will tempt you away from the region’s meat-heavy staples.
Via Vittoria 26/28. www.osteriadelghetto.it. 0532–764–936. Main courses 8€–16€. Tues–Sun 12:30–2:30pm and 7:30–10:30pm. Bus: 2 from the train station.
Trattoria Da Noemi FERRARESE The surroundings date to 1400, with a pleasant old-world decor that befits the provenance and gracious service to match, and the menu leans to old Ferrarese classics—some residents say no one does them better. This is the place to become acquainted with cappellacci di zucca, the city’s signature dish, little pockets of light egg pasta stuffed with the pulp of roasted butternut squash with hints of nutmeg and parmigiano. Much of the meat-heavy secondi features local beef grilled over a wood. The house semifreddo, a delicious half-frozen custard with pistachio and walnuts or mint, is the perfect finish.
Via Ragno 31. www.trattoriadanoemi.it. 0532-769–070. Main courses 8€–24€. Wed–Mon 12:15–2:30pm and 7–11pm. Bus: 11 or 2 from the train station.
The Castello Estense is pretty much the center of town. The Duomo and twisting lanes of the medieval town are just to the southeast. Corso Ercole I d’Este, flanked by beautiful palazzi, leads north into the Renaissance city and past Palazzo dei Diamanti to the city walls.
Castello Estense CASTLE With its moat, hefty brick walls, drawbridges, heavy gates, and four sturdy towers, the domain of the Este family still suggests power and might, just as it was intended to do. Niccolò II d’Este ordered the castle built in 1385 as a place of refuge when his subjects became restless after a series of tax increases and quite literally tore one of his officials to pieces; a long, elevated gallery links the castle to the family’s onetime residence, now the Palazzo Municipale, next door. Duke Niccolò d’Este III forever made the castle a place of infamy when, in 1425, he used a contrivance of mirrors to catch his 20-year-old wife, Parisina d’Este, in flagrante delicto with his illegitimate son, Ugolino, and had the pair taken to the dungeons and beheaded; Robert Browning tells the story in his poem “My Last Duchess.” (Ironically, Niccolò himself boasted of sleeping with 800 women and a popular rhyme of the time was “left and right of the river Po, everywhere there are children by Niccolò.”) Young Lucrezia Borgia, with her reputation for adultery, incest, and a poisoning or two, took up residence in 1502 as the wife of Duke Alfonso d’Este, who kept his half-brother, Giulio, in the dungeons for 53 years for plotting to overthrow him; the elderly man allegedly created quite a stir when he finally emerged onto the streets of Ferrara in the clothing he had brought with him into his cell half a century before. For all their perfidy, the Estes also hosted one of the finest courts in Europe and cultivated the Renaissance arts and humanities. The family’s refined tastes come to the fore in the frescoed Salone dell’Aurora (the Salon of Dawn) and Salone dei Giochi (the Salon of Games); the innovative, ramp-like, spiral staircase that ascends from the courtyard and allowed the dukes to ride their horses right up to their quarters; and an orangerie that continues to flourish on terraces high above the city.
Ferrara by Bike
Ferrara is known in Italy as a città della bicicletta, because just about everyone in town, regardless of age, gets around on two wheels. The flat streets and squares lend themselves to easy pedaling, and the city’s medieval walls are topped with trees, lawns, and a wide path that’s ideal for cycling. Views of the city and surrounding farmlands are terrific, and if you want to go farther afield, well-marked bike paths lead into the Po Delta (the tourist office has a bike-path map). Many hotels offer guests free use of bikes, or you can rent them from the lot outside the train station (2.50€ an hour, 10€ a day).
Largo Castello. www.castelloestense.it. 0532-299233. Admission 8€ adults, 6.50€ children ages 11–18, free for ages 10 and under. June–Feb Tues–Sun 9:30am–5:30pm; Mar–May daily 9:30am–5:30pm. Bus: 1, 7, 9, 11, or 21 from the train station.
Lucrezia Borgia, A Women Misjudged?
With their lust for power and penchant for murder, the Borgias are still one of history’s most notoriously dysfunctional families, 500 years after their Renaissance heydays. Lucrezia was born into the clan in 1480, the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, soon to be Pope Alexander VI. By the time she was 20, she had a child, allegedly fathered by her brother Cesare, and had been married twice—one husband had fled for his life when the Pope decided he wanted him out of the way so Lucrezia could make a more politically advantageous alliance, another had been strangled when he lay recovering from knife wounds (both attacks arranged by Cesare). With this less-
than-sterling reputation, Lucrezia got a chilly reception when she arrived in Ferrara in 1500 as the new bride of Duke Alfonso d’Este. She soon proved herself to be cultured, a brilliant conversationalist, and an ardent patron of the arts. She is said to have carried on a passionate affair with the poet Pietro Bembo, but she was also known as pious and a loving wife and attentive mother. She died just short of her 39th birthday after giving birth to her fifth child.
Cattedrale San Giorgio Martire CATHEDRAL The faithful did not even have to step beyond the magnificent 12th-century porch to understand that salvation was a pretty dicey affair. In exquisite carvings above the entryway, the dead creep out of their tombs as an angel weighs sins and good deeds on a scale; as if to prove that the odds are against salvation, a devil mischievously tugs on the evil side so it skews toward sin. The saved, gloriously crowned and robed, proceed toward Heaven, where they are welcomed into the lap of Abraham; the naked damned slouch down to Hell to be tormented by sneering Devils. In the vast interior, redone in dark baroque style after an 18th-century fire, a fresco by Guercino (“the squinter”) portrays the martyrdom of St. Lawrence. When Roman authorities demanded that Lawrence, an early church deacon, turn over ecclesiastic treasures, he brought them the poor, saying “Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you.” As punishment Lawrence was tied to a spit and burned over a roaring fire. After the good-natured saint roasted for a time, he allegedly said, “I’m well done, turn me over,” and the wisecrack has earned him a place as patron of chefs and cooks. The cathedral museum, housed in the former San Romano church and monastery opposite the church, is well stocked with works by Ferrara’s leading 15th-century painter of the Este court, Cosmé Tura. Most arresting among them is “St. George and the Princess,” an especially intense portrayal of Ferrara’s patron saint savagely trying to do away with a dragon to save a damsel in distress. The tale was a popular part of religious tradition as well as a romantic legend of chivalry, so it may well have satisfied both the Este’s spiritual and courtly aspirations.
Piazza della Cattedrale. 0532-207449. Free admission. Mon–Sat 7:30am–noon and 3–6:30pm; Sun 7:30am–12:30pm and 3:30–7:30pm. Museum: Admission 6€ adults, 3€ for students, children 17 and under free; 7€ joint admission with Palazzo Schifanoia. Tues–Sun 9am–1pm and 3–6pm. Bus: 11 from the train station.
Palazzo dei Diamanti MUSEUM The facade of the Este’s most remarkable residence comprises 8,500 spiky, diamond-shaped, white marble blocks, creating an architectural spectacle that shimmers in the light and seems to be constantly in movement. The palazzo stands at the intersection of two monumental avenues that were the main thoroughfares of the Addizione that Ercole d’Este laid out in the late 15th century, doubling the size of Ferrara and making the city into a Renaissance showplace. The Pinacoteca Nazionale occupies the ground floor of the palazzo and provides a handy overview of the School of Ferrara, especially the trio of old masters who flourished under the Estes—Cosmé Tura, Francesco del Cossa, and Ercole Roberti. Pride of place belongs to Tura’s “Martyrdom of St. Maurelius,” in which the subject, an early bishop of Ferrara, calmly kneels as his executioner swings a sword above his neck and some decidedly cheerful-looking putti look on from a cloud.
Corso Ercole d’Este 21. www.palazzodiamanti.it. 0532-205844 or 0532-244949. Admission to Pinacoteca 4€ adults, 2€ EU citizens 18–25, free for children 17 and under. Free audioguides. Tues–Sun 9am–2pm (to 7pm Thurs). Bus: 3C, or 4C from the train station.
Palazzo Schifanoia HISTORIC HOME The Estes retreated for leisure to several pleasure palaces around Ferrara, including this one enlarged by Duke Borso d’Este between 1450 and 1471. Schifanoia translates roughly as “chasing away tedium,” and the concept comes to the fore in the Salone dei Mesi (Salon of the Months), where a mesmerizing cycle of frescoes represents the 12 months—or did, as only a few remain intact, each divided into three horizontal bands: The lower bands show scenes from the daily life of courtiers and people, with Duke Borso frequently making an appearance astride a horse; the middle bands illustrate signs of the zodiac; and the upper sections depict gods and goddesses associated with the sign. In this collaboration of the masters of the Ferrarese school of painting—Francesco del Cossa, Ercole dei Roberti, and Cosimo Tura—characters of those distant times seem to come alive and step out of the scenes (one figure actually does, and perches on the edge of the frame as if he’s about to jump into the room). Men ride horses and run footraces, harvesters pick grapes, women do needlework and play lutes. The artists even dug some skeletons out of the Este closet: In a mythical scene depicting Mars and Venus caught in a net as they make love, their clothing is laid beside the bed in such a way to suggest a decapitated man and woman—a sly reference to the fate of the adulterous Ugolino and Parisina d’Este (see above).
Via Scandiana 23. 0532-244949. Admission 6€ adults, 3€ for students, free for 17 and under; 7€ joint admission with Museo della Cattedrale. Tues–Sun 9am–6pm. Closed Mon and major holidays. Bus: 1, 7, 9, or 21 from the train station.
74km (46 miles) E of Bologna, 145km (90 miles) S of Venice, 130km (81 miles) NE of Florence
It’s hard to believe that little, off-the-beaten track Ravenna was once the center of the Western world for a brief spell, capital of the Western Roman Empire from A.D. 402 to A.D. 476. Those rulers and the fathers of the early Christian church, and then the Goths and Byzantines who followed them, carpeted Ravenna’s churches and monuments in glittering mosaics to create an artistic legacy that rivals the splendors of Venice and Istanbul. Seeing the mosaics that the great poet Dante, who’s buried here, called “the sweet color of Oriental sapphires” is what will bring you across the marshy landscapes of Emilia-Romagna’s coastal plain to this once glamorous and powerful city, and it’s worth the trip.
GETTING THERE With hourly trains that take only 1 hour 20 minutes from Bologna, Ravenna can easily be visited on a day trip. There’s also frequent service from Ferrara (1 hr., 15 min.), which has connections to Venice. The train station is a 10-minute walk from the center at Piazza Fernini ( 892021).
If you have a car and are coming from Bologna, head east along A14. From Ferrara, take the S16.
GETTING AROUND Ravenna operates a useful bicycle rental scheme; get keys from the tourist office that provide unlimited access to bikes all over the city. Rates are 9.50€ per day for adults and 8.50€ for students (free for children 10 and under).
To visit the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe from central Ravenna, take bus no. 4—buy tickets (1.20€) in advance from any bar or tabacchi.
VISITOR INFORMATION The tourist office is at Via Salara 8 (www.turismo.ravenna.it; 0544-35404). It’s open Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 7pm, and Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Stop in here for a good map, bicycle rental, and combination tickets to the city’s attractions. The office also books accommodations.
Where to Stay
Ravenna’s hotels do a slow business off-season (anytime outside of summer); rates come down accordingly and are usually open to some negotiation.
Casa Masoli Accommodations in Ravenna don’t get any more atmospheric than they do in this beautiful 18th-century palazzo near the city center. Two splendid suites at the front of the house are especially grand and cavernous—one retains the original brick vaulting, another frescoes and a marble tub—but high ceilings, tall windows, and wood-veneered bathrooms lend all the rooms an aura of grandeur; those in the back face a surprisingly verdant garden. Scattered antiques, comfy lounge chairs and couches, and framed lithographs provide a homey familial ambience, as does the generous breakfast buffet with lots of homemade fare served in a frescoed salon.
Via Girolamo Rossi 22. www.casamasoli.it. 0544-217682. 7 units. 70€–90€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Amenties: Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Centrale Byron From 1819 to 1821 Lord Byron shared a nearby palace with his lover, Contessa Teresa Guiccioli, and her husband, and Ravenna has been basking in the celebrity ever since. One of several establishments named for the romantic figure is a lot less poetic than its name suggests but is wonderfully located a stone’s throw from most of the sights, a few steps from Piazza del Popolo, and an easy stroll from the train station. Constant updating has given the rooms a subtly contemporary patina more geared toward comfort than character, with some welcome touches than include soundproofing and excellent lighting.
Via IV Novembre 14. www.hotelsravenna.it. 0544-212225. 54 units. 70€–110€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 15€. Amenities: Bar; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Diana Tucked away slightly off the beaten path at the edge of the city center, these large, bright, and simply furnished rooms (many with extremely large windowed bathrooms) are a good base for exploring and especially handy for motorists, with several easy-to-reach garages nearby. Downstairs, an English-speaking staff dispenses recommendations with genuine enthusiasm, and a generous buffet breakfast is served on a large, glass-enclosed patio.
Via Girolamo Rossi 47. www.hoteldiana.ra.it. 0544-39164. 33 units. 70€–92€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Amenities: Bikes (free); Wi-Fi (free).
Where to Eat
Ravenna’s Mercato Coperto (near the center of town on Piazza Andrea Costa), once an attraction in itself, is closed for renovation and is slated to reopen in early 2016. In the meantime, Gastronomia Marchesini, an elegant food store at Via Mazzini 2 ( 0544-212309), is a good place to load up on regional hams and cheeses; it also operates a reasonably priced self-service restaurant upstairs, and a full service restaurant above that.
Ravenna’s Piazza del Popolo.
Ca’ de Ven ROMAGNOLA A 16th-century guesthouse and former spice warehouse with frescoed ceilings and lots of paneling and exposed timbers is an atmospheric stop for lunch or a light dinner. Heavier fare is offered, but the emphasis here is on piadina, the local flatbread, and that’s the way to go. It’s served with a dozen or so fillings or, better, by itself warm from the oven with a selection of cured meats and squaquerone, a delicate soft cheese, and huge selection of wine by the glass. At lunch and in early evening you’ll rub elbows at communal tables with what seems like half the population of Ravenna, so enjoy the familiar atmosphere and ignore the sometimes-brusque service.
Via Corrado Ricci 24. www.cadeven.it. 0544-30163. Piadine about 4€, main courses 11€–15€. Tues–Sun 11am–11pm.
Cinema Alexander ITALIAN/SEAFOOD Vintage film posters play up the location in a former movie house, complete with balcony seating, and help provide a sophisticated setting for refined dishes that emerge from the kitchen. Ravenna’s proximity to the sea comes to the fore in beautifully sauced fresh fish, and in some nice combinations like fusilli with tuna and pork or calamari couscous; meat dishes lean toward perfectly roasted game birds and some unusual local preparations, such as veal cheeks with potato and lemon puree. Service is friendly and attentive, and soft jazz and mellow renditions of movie themes often float through the space
Via Bassa del Pignataro 8. www.ristorantealexander.it. 0544-212967. Main courses 15€–28€. Tues–Sun 12:30–2:30pm and 7:30–11:30pm (closed Sun in summer).
La Bella Venezia ROMAGNOLA The name suggests a certain airy elegance, and the cream-colored walls and light, starched tablecloths in this small room off the Piazza della Popolo deliver on the promise, but the menu is for the most part typically and deliciously Romagnolese. The kitchen is much respected for its cappelletti alla romagnola (cap-shaped pasta stuffed with ricotta, roasted pork loin, chicken breast, and nutmeg, and served with meat sauce) and other homemade pastas, including simple ravioli with butter and sage and risotto with fresh seasonal vegetables. Other specialties are cotoletta alla Bisanzio (a fried veal cutlet topped with cherry tomatoes and arugula) and a rich fish soup, but everything on the small menu is prepared with finesse and served with old-world flair that keeps a local clientele coming back.
Via IV Novembre 16. www.bellavenezia.com. 0544-212746. Main courses 10€–15€. Mon–Sat 12:15–2:15pm and 7:30–10:15pm.
The elegant, Venetian-looking Piazza del Popolo was laid out in the late 15th century, when Venice ruled the city. From here you can easily walk to all of the sights, with the exception of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, for which you’ll want to take a bus or drive.
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe CHURCH What is now a landlocked suburb surrounded by pine groves about 6km (33⁄4 miles) south of the city was at one time the port of the capital of the Western empire. This huge 6th-century church—dedicated to St. Apollinare, the first bishop and patron of Ravenna, and filled with glittering mosaics—befits the city’s onetime importance. Apollinare allegedly landed in Ravenna sometime in the 2nd century and converted the locals. In a dazzling array of brilliantly hued mosaics, he is shown in prayer, surrounded by lambs (his flock) against a gentle background of rocks, birds, and plants, including the pines that still grow outside the church (and where Lord Byron used to ride with his Ravennese mistress, Teresa Guiccioli). Above Apollinaire is a depiction of the Transfiguration, when Christ became radiant and began shining with bright rays of light; he is represented as a golden cross on a starry blue background and Peter, James, and John, the three disciples who were present at the event, are shown as lambs. Some especially touching mosaics on the right of the church shows three Old Testament figures who made sacrifices to God: Abel, Melchizedek, and Abraham.
Via Romea Sud 224, Classe. www.soprintendenzaravenna.beniculturali.it. 0544-473569. Admission 5€ adults, 2.50€ ages 18–25, free for children 17 and under. Daily 8:30am–7:30pm. Bus: 4 from rail station or Piazza Caduti (1.20€).
Ravenna Combo Tickets
Ravenna’s system of museum cards can seem more Byzantine than the mosaics themselves. Church-run sites are covered by one card which covers admission to the basilicas of San Vitale and Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Neonian Baptistry, the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, and the Museo Arcivescovile—these are top sites, and the card costs a reasonable 9.50€ and can be used for 7 days. In fact, there’s no question about getting this card, because you need it to get into any of the sites (you can buy the card at any of them). For state-sponsored sites, you can pay 8€ to see the Museo Nazionale and the Mausoleo di Teodorico (worthy but not top of your list if you have only a day in Ravenna) or 10€ if you want to include the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe—which you do, but buy a single ticket for that for 5€.
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo CHURCH The church that Emperor Theodoric built in the first part of the 6th century for followers of Arianism, a Christian sect, is awash in motion. On the left side of the nave, reserved for women, 22 female saints and martyrs approach Mary and the Christ child as they receive gifts from the three magi, who sport natty leopard-skin leggings. On the right side, 26 male martyrs led by St. Martin approach a bearded Christ. Above these processions are 26 charmingly rendered scenes from the life of Christ, including one of Christ standing on shore and calling to Peter and Andrew in small boat, asking them to be his disciples. Mosaics near the door provide a picture postcard view of the old city, including Theodoric’s palace and other monuments and the port city of Classe. Look for the detached hand and forearm wrapped around a column of Theodoric’s palace—it was once part of a portrait of Theodoric’s court that was removed when the church became a Catholic basilica.
Via di Roma (between Via Carducci and Via Alberoni). www.ravennamosaici.it. 0544-541688. Admission 9.50€ adults, 8.50€ students, free for children 10 and under. Apr–Sept daily 9am–7pm; Mar and Oct daily 9:30am–5:30pm; Nov–Feb daily 10am–5pm.
Basilica di San Vitale CHURCH The emperor Justinian (who never visited Ravenna and ruled instead from Constantinople) completed this octagonal church—richly ornamented with intensely green, blue, and gold mosaics—in 540 as a symbol of his power. Endowed with a halo to indicate his role as head of church and state, Justinian stands next to a clean-shaven Christ, perched atop the world, flanked by saints and angels. Looking on are Justinian’s two most important adjuncts, his empress, Theodora, and a bald Maximian, bishop of Ravenna. Theodora’s presence suggests her immense power and rapacious rise to power. Born into the circus, she became known for her beauty and was a famous actress and courtesan when she caught Justinian’s eye. She became such a force in running the empire that in 532, not long before the completion of the church, she ordered that 30,000 insurgents be gathered up, brought to the Hippodrome in Constantinople, and slaughtered.
Via San Vitale 17. www.ravennamosaici.it. 0544-215193. Admission 9.50€ adults, 8.50€ students, free for children 10 and under. Apr–Sept daily 9am–7pm; Mar and Oct daily 9am–5:30pm; Nov–Feb daily 9:30am–5pm.
Battistero Neoniano (Neonian Baptistery) CHURCH Ravenna’s oldest monument was erected by Bishop Ursus around 400, alongside his long-ago destroyed basilica on the site of an ancient Roman bath—the eight sides of the octagonal structure represent the 7 days of the week as set out in Genesis plus the day of the Resurrection, when Christ gave us eternal life. Bishop Neon embellished the structure at the end of the 5th century, adding the intensely colored blue, green, and gold mosaics that carpet the dome and show John the Baptist baptizing Christ in the River Jordan, surrounded by a procession of the 12 Apostles carrying crowns as a sign of celestial glory. Many of the marble panels in the walls were taken from the Roman bathhouse—that structure, like the sunken baptistery, was at street level, which has risen more than 3m (10 ft.) over the intervening centuries.
Piazza del Duomo. www.ravennamosaici.it. 0544-215201. Admission 9.50€ adults, 8.50€ students, free for children 10 and under. Apr–Sept daily 9am–7pm; Mar and Oct daily 9:30am–5:30pm; Nov–Feb daily 10am–5pm. Closed Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Mausoleo di Galla Placidia MONUMENT/MEMORIAL One of the most powerful women of the Byzantine world was the daughter and granddaughter of Roman emperors and sister of one ruler of the Western Roman Empire and widow of another. Captured by the Visigoths during the sack of Rome in 410, she married King Athaulf, moved with his barbarian hordes to Barcelona, was traded back to the Romans for grain when Athaulf was murdered, and then married co-emperor Constantius, with whom she had a son, Valentinian III. When Constantius died and Valentinian became emperor at the age of six, Galla acted as regent and in that capacity ruled the Western world for 12 years. Though she’s most likely buried in Rome, her mausoleum here is crowned with a dome decorated with mosaics, vivid with hues of peacock blue, moss green, Roman gold, eggplant, and burnt orange and especially moving for their simplicity and spirituality. Doves drink from fountains, as the faithful are nourished by God; a purple-robed Christ is surrounded by lambs, as the Heavenly king is surrounded by the faithful; and 570 tiny gold stars, suggesting life eternal, twinkle in the cupola. Soft light filtered by alabaster imparts the surroundings with an other-worldly luminosity.
Via Fiandrini Benedetto. www.ravennamosaici.it. 0544-541688. Admission 9.50€ adults, 8.50€ students (Mar to mid-June 2€ discount), free for children 10 and under. Apr–Sept daily 9am–7pm; Mar and Oct daily 9am–5:30pm; Nov–Feb daily 9:30am–5pm.
Tomba di Dante (Dante’s Tomb) MONUMENT/MEMORIAL The author of the “Divine Comedy” died of marsh fever in Ravenna on September 14, 1321. He had settled in the city in 1318, having traveled restlessly throughout Italy after he was exiled from his native Florence in 1302, when he fell out of political favor. The simple tomb, erected in 1780, is inscribed with a harsh reprimand to the Florentines, who are still clamoring for the body’s return: “Here in this corner lies Dante, exiled from his native land, born to Florence, an unloving mother.”
Via Dante Alighieri. 0544-33662. Free admission. Daily 10am–6:30pm (Oct–Mar closes 4pm).
457km (283 miles) NW of Rome, 97km (60 miles) NW of Bologna, 121km (75 miles) SE of Milan
A visit to this little city on the Roman Via Emilia, about an hour north of Bologna, delivers a slice of the good life. Residents of one of Italy’s most prosperous cities are surrounded by art-filled palaces and churches bestowed upon them by the Renaissance Farnese family and later Marie-Louise, wife of Napoleon. They enjoy the music of their own Giuseppe Verdi in a grand opera house, and when it comes to food—suffice it to say that this elegant little city gave us our favorites hams and cheeses. Enjoying the beautiful monuments, maybe listening to some music, stepping in and out of tempting food shops, and sitting down to some memorably delicious meals fill a very satisfying day or two.
GETTING THERE Parma is served by the Milan-Bologna rail line, with hourly trains arriving from Milan (trip time: 45 min. on frequent fast trains, 11⁄2 hr. on the less-frequent but less-expensive slower trains). From Bologna, trains depart for Parma every 30 minutes or so (around 1 hr.); one-way fares starts at 6.80€. There are two or three direct trains a day from Florence (2 hr.); most journeys will require a change in Bologna. For information and schedules, call 892021.
If you have a car and are starting out in Bologna, head northwest along A1. Don’t drive into the old town without first contacting your hotel—without a special pass you’ll be fined 90€. You can park on the street, outside the restricted area, where you see blue lines (not blue and white lines), or aim for the official parking lots: Goito, Toschi, Duc, Dus, and Via Abbeveratoia (around 1€–1.70€ per hour).
VISITOR INFORMATION The tourist office at Via Melloni 1A (www.turismo.comune.parma.it; 0521-218889) is open Monday 9am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm, Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 7pm, and Sunday 9am to 1pm.
Where to Stay
Hotel Button The Cortesa family has been welcoming guests to this city-center, 17th-century palazzo for more than 40 years, providing lots of advice and dispensing excellent coffee from the small lobby bar. The premises have long ago been stripped of any of their historic provenance, and the current reincarnation, with faded floral wallpaper and dark furnishings, seems like a relic from the middle of the 20th century. You might be charmed by the extra-large rooms and old-fashioned ambience (as we are) or find the place to be a bit stuffy and out of date, but you can’t quibble with the excellent location in the heart of old Parma just off Piazza Garibaldi.
Borgo delle Salina 7. www.hotelbutton.it. 0521-208039. 40 units. 100€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Amenities: Babysitting; bar; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Torino A couple of handsome and homey lounges off the lobby and a sprightly, patio-like breakfast room do justice to one of Parma’s best lodging locations, in the old center just down the street from Piazza del Duomo. Guest rooms are a bit more banal, though the muted tones and neutral furnishings are soothing, and the small spaces are streamlined with lots of handy built-ins for stashing gear; some of the singles closely resemble ships’ cabins. Parking in a small garage handily tucked beneath the hotel is available for a small fee.
Borgo Angelo Massa. www.hotel-torino.it. 0521-281046. 39 units. From 92€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. In-house garage parking (fee). Amenities: Bar; Wi-Fi (free).
Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati Not to sound too clichéd, but you’ll be living like royalty here in this magnificent palazzo on a corner of the Piazza Del Duomo, sharing quarters with the Marquis Dalla Rosa Prati and his family, who still occupy part of the premises. They have converted one wing of the palace to seven sprawling, handsomely furnished suites, all with kitchenettes, and another section to 10 large apartments. In the suites, huge wooden bedsteads, massive armoires, and other polished antiques augment the largely 18th-cenutry surroundings; the real scene stealers are the pink baptistery next door, practically abutting some of the tall windows, and the stone expanses of the piazza. Apartments are done tastefully but more functionally, have one or two bedrooms, and provide travelers with generous space to spread out. Suites are accessible by elevator, while reaching the apartments requires a climb up a grand but long staircase.
Strada al Duomo 7. www.palazzodallarosaprati.com. 0521-386429. 17 units. From 150€ double. Amenities: Bar; cafe; Wi-Fi (free).
Where to Eat
Topping the tasting list in Parma is parmigiano cheese, made from the milk of cows raised just outside town and aged for at least 12 months. A meal often begins and ends with a small wedge, and it’s grated over pastas and fresh vegetables, used as a filling in crepes, and in other ways makes its way into almost every course. Then there’s ham. Parma gourmands do not settle for any old prosciutto. The cut of choice is culatello, from the right hind leg—if you observe a pig sitting down, you’ll see this part carries less weight, and hence becomes less sinewy. Culatello is the antipasto of choice. You can purchase ham and cheese all over town; an especially attractive and aromatic shop is Salumeria Garibaldi, Via Garibaldi 42 (www.specialitadiparma.it; 0521-235606; Mon–Sat 8am–8pm). You might also want to visit the cheese production operations at Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano (www.parmigianoreggiano.com; 0521-2927000), at Via Gramsci 26; call or email to make an appointment.
Enoteca Antica Osteria Fontana PARMIGIANA Cheap nibbles and a huge selection of wine by the glass draw a local crowd to this plain room with a long bar and battered wooden communal tables. Grilled panini (sandwiches) are on offer, but the real treats are the morsels of parmigiano with a dribble of balsamic vinegar from nearby Modena, slices of buttery prosciutto, and crostini, pieces of bread topped with everything from pesto to chicken livers.
Via Farini 24. 0521-286037. Sandwiches and snacks from 4€. Tues–Sat noon–2:30pm and 8–10:30pm.
Cheese and sausage for sale at Salumeria Garibaldi, Parma.
Gallo d’Oro PARMIGIANA Parma’s formidable food scene becomes decidedly more relaxed at this almost bohemian, bric-a-brac filled trattoria just off Piazza Garibaldi. A young crowd seems to appreciate the old local traditions: Lambrusco, a slightly sparkling red, is the wine of choice, and cavallo (horse) and coniglio (rabbit) are served a few different ways. Those who want to sample the local cuisine a bit less adventurously can work their way through tortelli ripieni (pasta stuffed with cheese and vegetables), ravioli alla zucca (pumpkin), and a long list of other delicious local pastas, all homemade.
Borgo della Salina 3. www.gallodororistorante.it. 0521-208846. Main courses 8.50€–11€. Mon–Sat noon–3pm and 7–midnight; Sun noon–3pm.
La Greppia PARMIGIANA/ITALIAN Looking toward the window at one end of the simple dining room, across a sea of crisp linen, you’ll see into the kitchen and notice that the staff is entirely female. In the donnas’ hands you’ll be treated to exquisite dishes, some of which you’ve probably never encountered before—pears poached in red wine with a dense cream sauce is the house-
specialty antipasto, the pastas are all homemade and often filled with the freshest local vegetables, and the secondi menu is heavy with slow-cooked goat, trippa alla parmigiana (tripe) and other regional favorites. The homemade tortas, delicately filled with marmalade and a miraculous mélange of other ingredients, are irresistible. Service does the cuisine justice.
Via Garibaldi 39. 0521-233686. Main courses 18€–28€. Wed–Sun noon–2:30pm and 7:30–10:30pm.
It’s easy to explore Parma on foot, as most of the sights surround Piazza Duomo and Palazzo della Pilotta and are within easy walking distance of the train station.
Battistero (Baptistery) and Duomo CATHEDRAL The moment you walk into the piazza del Duomo, you’re in for a wallop of delightful visual storytelling. To one side rises the elegant baptistery, primarily the work of Italy’s great Romanesque master Benedetto Antelami and begun in 1196. It’s octagonal shape, four open loggias, and tiers of 16 slender columns all play off the number eight, the sign of the Resurrection; the alternating bands of white and pink marble represent purity and the blood of Christ; carvings above the entrance are scripture in stone in which one particularly engaging sequence depicts King Herod pulling his beard in rage, Salome dancing, and St. John losing his head next to the baptistery itself. Inside, 13th-century frescoes depict the zodiac, the months and seasons, and the life of Christ with an overwhelming explosion of color, complex medieval iconography, and some remarkably tender scenes, including one in which the Virgin Mary shields children huddled below her with her robe.
Two stone lions guard the entrance to the adjacent Duomo, one crushing a serpent, the devil, the other a lamb, symbol of sacrifice, under their paws, and inside are two of Parma’s greatest treasures. Correggio, the master of light and color, spent 8 years painting the octagonal cupola. He finished in 1530, took his payment in a sack full of small change, and went home and died of fever at the age of 40. He presents the “Assumption of the Virgin” as a sea of free-floating angels, swirling limbs, and billowing clouds. A leggy Christ tumbles in a free fall out of the celestial light to meet his ascending mother, whose arms are outstretched toward her son. A contemporary compared the effect to a “hash of frogs’ legs” and Charles Dickens commented that this was a scene that “no operative surgeon gone mad could imagine in his wildest delirium.” Church authorities supposedly approached Titian to redo the dome in more conventional fashion, and the artist told them that the work is so masterful they should have filled the structure with gold and presented it to Correggio. In the transept to the right is a somber bas-relief of “The Deposition from the Cross,” by Antelami, creator of the baptistery next door. Christ, his face bathed in sadness, stretches his elongated arms over two groups, Mary and pious converts to one side, the unenlightened on the other—including a group of Roman soldiers playing cards.
Piazza del Duomo 1. www.cattedrale.parma.it. 0521-235886. Free admission. Daily 7:30am–12:30pm and 3–7pm. Battistero: Admission 6€ adults, 7€ with Museo Diocesano; 4€ students, 5€ with Museo Diocesano. Daily 9am–12:30pm and 3–6:45pm.
Camera di San Paolo CONVENT San Paolo was one of many well-endowed convents where women of means who for one reason or another could not marry spent their lives in relative comfort. When, around 1519, the cultured abbess Giovanna di Piacenza wanted to fresco her private dining room, she had the means to hire Correggio, who presented her with vivid mythological scenes, cherubs, astrological references, and an image of Diana, goddess of the hunt. The subject matter may well have been a conversation piece for the intellectuals who frequently gathered at the abbess’s table, though the meaning of the delightful representations remains a mystery. What is known is that church authorities later sealed off the chamber, considering the absence of religious subjects and the presence of so many bare-bottomed putti to be profane.
HITTING THE HIGH NOTES
Duchess Marie-Louise, who beneficently ruled Parma from 1814 to 1847, built the Teatro Reggio, Via Garibaldi 16, near Piazza della Pace (www.teatroregioparma.
org; 0521-039399). Opened in 1829, it is still considered one of the world’s finest and it hosts an opera season that rivals Milan’s. Most appreciated are the works of Giuseppe Verdi, composer of “Il Trovatore” and “Aïda” and other perennially popular classics. Verdi was born outside Parma in 1813 in the little village of Roncole and later settled with his mistress, the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, in the Villa Verdi di Sant’Agata, in nearby Busseto; the villa shows off their personal effects, pianos, portraits, and the bed upon which the maestro died in Milan in 1901 ( 0523-830210; Tues–Sun 9:30–11:45am and 2:30–6:15pm/2–4:30pm Nov–Mar). Arturo Toscanini, the greatest orchestral conductor of the first half of the 20th century, was born in Parma in 1867. The rooms of his birthplace, Museo Casa Natale Arturo Toscanini, Via Rodolfo Tanzi 13, are filled with his scores, photos, and other personal effects (www.museotoscanini.it;
0521-285499; admission 2€; Wed–Sat 9am–1pm and 2–6pm; Sun 2–6pm).
Via Melloni 3 (off Strada Garibaldi). 0521-533221. Admission 2€ adults, 1€ ages 18–25, children 17 and under free. Tues–Sun 8:30am–noon and 2–6pm.
Palazzo della Pilotta: Galleria Nazionale MUSEUM Like many Italian cities, Parma became a great center of the Renaissance under the stewardship of one family, the Farneses, whose members included popes, cardinals, and the dukes of Parma. They began their fortresslike Palazzo della Pilotta in the 1580s and remained there until the last heiress, Elisabetta, married King Philip of Spain and decamped for Madrid in 1714. The Hapsburg princess Marie-
Louise (1791–1847), second wife of Napoleon and great niece of France’s Marie-Antoinette, was awarded the duchy a century later, and she made it her business to gather art treasures from the city in the palace the Farnese’s had left empty; she also collected works from villas and churches throughout Italy, confiscated when her husband marched down the peninsula. Badly damaged by Allied bombs in World War II, the restored palace now houses the Galleria Nazionale. It’s not too surprising that the collection with connections to the Vienna-born duchess includes such northern artists as Hans Holbein, Brueghel, and Van Dyck, though Parma artists steal the show. Corregio’s “Madonna della Scodella” (with a bowl) portrays Joseph as an elderly, caring man and the Madonna as a young woman looking adoringly at her infant son; “St. Jerome with the Madonna and Child” also represents age, youth, and love—a gentle ode to tenderness. Napoleon supposedly wanted to cart these delightful canvases off to the Louvre, but Marie-Louise insisted they remain in Parma. Despite its name, Parmigianino’s alluring “Turkish Slave” is clearly the portrait of a well-kept young woman, dressed in gold threaded finery, and everything about her—turban, cheeks, eyes, breasts—is beautifully rounded. “La Scapigliata” (aka the “Female Head”) is one of the most celebrated works by the Italian master of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci; allegedly the artist presented it to a young man from Parma who modeled his hands for the “Last Supper.” The palace’s other treasure is the Teatro Farnese, a wooden theater the Farneses had built along the lines of Palladio’s theater at Vicenza to impress the Medicis. It’s been used only nine times, including an inaugural event in 1639 when the section in front of the stage was flooded for mock naval battles.
Piazzale della Pilotta 15. www.gallerianazionaleparma.it. 0521-233309. Admission 6€ adults, 3€ ages 18–25, free for children 17 and under; includes Teatro Farnese. Galleria Nazionale Tues–Sun 8:30am–2pm.