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Parma’s palate

Parma has the look of prosperity.

Parma has the look of prosperity.

Parma is more or less halfway between Florence and Milano, and the drive via the A1 autostrada is a little over two hours, but the road through the mountains from Pistoia to Sasso Marchoni affords an opportunity for a more leisurely drive and scenic stop-offs.

 

The gas station just beyond Pistoia has the look of the last one for a few hours, and the mountains are no place to run out of fuel.

 

A grocery dedicate to Parma's favorites.

A grocery dedicate to Parma’s favorites.

 

Incredibly (anywhere but Italy),  the little mom-and-pop establishment has an espresso machine inside and the cashier brews up a world-class cappuccino while the attendant fills ‘er up.

 

The back road experience is well worth the hour or so that it adds to the trip.

 

Parma's signature ham and cheese in a local grocery.

Parma’s signature ham and cheese in a local grocery.

 

The road winds through the mountains past picturesque villages, and lake-and-valley views are beautiful.

 

About halfway into the mountains, the highway crosses from Tuscany back into Emilia-Romagna, a reminder that Parma, like Bologna – is another Italian town with a great culinary tradition.

 

Parma sits within Italy’s Po River Valley breadbasket and is an major agricultural center, but its two claims to culinary fame are Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and prosciutto dry-cured ham

 

Disability is no obstacle for this cyclist in Parma, Italy.

Disability is no obstacle for this cyclist in Parma, Italy.

 

The production techniques for both nurture these products with all of the care of fine wine-making.

 

This hard, pale yellow cheese less often eaten by itself than it is grated and used as a condiment for pastas, salads, and pizza.

 

In the U.S., the name “parmesan” is used for any cheese inspired by Parmigiano-Reggiano.

 

Prosciutto hams curing in Parma, Italy.

Prosciutto hams curing in Parma, Italy.

 

Within the European Union, the term is origin-controlled and may only be used to refer to authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano.

 

Prosciutto is an uncooked, dry-cured ham – a prosciutto crudo – that’s usually served thinly sliced.

 

Each ham is cleaned and salted, then is gradually pressed over a period of weeks until the meat is thoroughly dry.

 

Bridge over the Torrente Parma, Italy.

Bridge over the Torrente Parma, Italy.

 

 

It is then washed to remove the salt and hung in a dark, well-ventilated environment.

 

When the ham is completely dry, it is hung to air to further cure for up to eighteen months.

 

Cold climates yield the best results, and in the days before refrigeration, prosciutto was customarily cured in winter.

 

Food specialties like these have made Parma into one of Italy’s most prosperous cities, and its well-kept streets look the part.

 

Palazzo del Governatore, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Parma, Italy.

Palazzo del Governatore, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Parma, Italy.

 

There is easily a day’s worth of sites to see here for anyone passing through at a more leisurely pace.

 

The Teatro Farnese is a four-hundred year old theater that has been restored following damage by Allied bombing during World War II.

 

The University of Parma maintains a botanical garden here, and the birthplace of favorite son Arturo Toscanini is now a museum commemorating his life and achievements.

 

The main cathedral and its signature hexagonal-shaped bapistry are also worth a visit, but in truth Italy has so many cathedrals, baptistries, basilicas, and convents that the visitor soon learns to reserve time only for the most unique or historically significant.

Astronomical clock, Palazzo del Governatore, Parma, Italy.

Astronomical clock, Palazzo del Governatore, Parma, Italy.

 

There are also several hot spring spas within half an hour’s drive.

 

This Parma stopover, though, is limited to a long lunch hour, and after a walk through the city streets of the city center, the place which suggests itself is an outdoor cafe on the Piazza Giuseppi Garibaldi in front of the Palazzo del Governatore.

 

Its astronomical clock is claimed to be the world’ largest, and dates from the late 1500’s.

 

Lunch on the piazza, Parma, Italy.

Lunch on the piazza, Parma, Italy.

 

As in Bergamo and Ferrara, a mid-day stopover in Parma has proven to be yet another pleasantly impromptu surprise.

 

Now it’s on to Milano and the last two days of 10 Days In Italy.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

View of the Pitti Palace overlooking the city of Florence, Italy.

View of the Pitti Palace overlooking the city of Florence, Italy.

Today, Florence’s Pitti Palace houses some of the city’s most important museums, but it was for most of its life a private residence.

 

It lies about a kilometer south of the Duomo across the Ponte Vecchio, adjacent to the vast Boboli Gardens, which are also part of the estate.

 

 

 

Tourists sun themselves in front of the Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy

Tourists sun themselves in front of the Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy

 

 

The palace takes its name from the family for whom it was originally built by architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who also designed and built Florence’s famous Duomo.

 

A century later, the property was acquired by the Medici family, and became its primary residence.

 

Pitti Palace with formal garden and skyline view, FLorence, Italy.

Pitti Palace with formal garden and skyline view, Florence, Italy.

 

The Medicis remodeled and dramatically expanded the structure, and it rivals many palaces of European royalty in its size and grandeur.  The family lived in the palace for nearly 200 years.

 

Pitt Palace with formal garden, Florence, Italy.

Pitt Palace with formal garden, Florence, Italy.

 

 

Today, its first floor is occupied by the Palatine Gallery, a collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings by artists including Raphael, Titian, and Rubens.

 

It also houses the Royal Apartments.

 

 

 

Close-up of the view of Florence from the Pitti Palace,

Close-up of the view of Florence from the Pitti Palace,

 

The Silver Museum, located on its ground floor and mezzanine, contains a staggering collection of Medici household treasures.

 

The Gallery of Modern Art occupies the top floor, and  houses a collection of Tuscan 19th and 20th century paintings.

 

The Palazzina of the Meridiana is home to the Costume Gallery, a showcase of the fashion spanning 300 years.  It is the only museum of fashion history in Italy and one of the most important in the world.

 

The Grand Boulevard entrance to the Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

The Grand Boulevard entrance to the Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

The Pitti Palace overlooks the city of Florence, and the vistas of the city are spectacular.

 

Behind the Pitti Palace are the Boboli Gardens, which are among the first and most familiar of the 16th-century formal Italian gardens.

 

Ramses Ii obelisk, Boboli Gardens. Florence, Italy.

Ramses Ii obelisk, Boboli Gardens. Florence, Italy.

 

The Medicis also initiated work on the adjacent Boboli Gardens at about the same time that they expanded the palace.  The garden’s open design was unconventional for its time.

 

Pegasus, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Pegasus, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

It is an outdoor museum of garden sculpture that includes Roman antiquities as well as 16th and 17th century works.

 

Grotto with statue of Paris and Helen of Troy, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Grotto with statue of Paris and Helen of Troy, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

 

It contains expansive promenades, sculpture galleries, fountains, and intimate grottos decorated by statuary and frescoes.

 

Here there’s a space to suit almost any mood, and the sense of tranquility transcends even the hordes of tourists who seem insignificant in its expanse.

 

Triton Fountain, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Triton Fountain, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

 

During the Medici residence, no one other than members of the immediate family were allowed access to the gardens, and no entertainment or parties were ever staged there.

 

The garden lacks a natural water source, and its elaborate irrigation system is fed by a conduit from the nearby Arno River.

 

Perseus On Horseback, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Perseus On Horseback, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

 

On the Garden’s upper slopes, the Palazzina del Cavaliere pavilion houses the Porcelain Museum.

 

The gardens have been enlarged and restructured several times, and currently occupy 111 acres (45,000 square meters).

 

Clear water fountain, Boboli Gardens, FLorence, Italy.

Clear water fountain, Boboli Gardens, FLorence, Italy.

 

Catherine de Medici was born here, and when she became queen of France commissioned work on Paris’s Luxembourg Garden, which is inspired by the design of the Boboli Gardens.

 

The Palace and Gardens are a fitting end to a tour of Florence.  Tomorrow it’s on to Parma.

 

Dwarf Bacchus statue, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

Dwarf Bacchus statue, Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy.

See my related post on Luxembourg Garden

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

 

Fabulous Florence

Arno river bridges, Ponte Vecchio in foreground, Florence, Italy.

Arno river bridges, Ponte Vecchio in foreground, Florence, Italy.

The much-photographed Ponte Vecchio is only one of the bridges which tie the halves of Florence together across the River Arno.

 

It looks less like a bridge than like a village hovering above the water.

 

Most of it is lined with shops, among which some seem to cling precariously to the bridge.

 

 

 

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

 

 

And it is packed with tourists.

 

In fact, the real challenge in Florence is finding any spot in which there is not an ever-present reminder that visitors often outnumber locals, or that the twentieth century is ever pressed against this bubble of history.

 

 

Musician plays for tips on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

Musician plays for tips on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

 

 

This city’s modest size belies its role as, arguably, the cradle of modern civilization.

 

The list of notables who were either born or worked for much of their lives here is a list of Renaissance Who’s Whos.

 

Carousel in piazza, Florence. Italy,

Carousel in piazza, Florence. Italy,

 

Writers Dante, Boccacio, and Machiavelli.

Artists Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Donatello.

Navigator and mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci.

Architect Brunelleschi, who designed and built Florence’s signature Duomo.

Ice cream cones in Florence street window

Ice cream cones in Florence street window

 

Tourists take a break to sun themselves, Florence, Italy

Tourists take a break to sun themselves, Florence, Italy

 

 

And, of course, the Medici dynasty, whose power extended to Papal Rome and the court of Paris.  The family’s legacy survives as the private art collection now open to public viewing in the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace.

 

In Florence, works of art are not just reserved for museums and galleries.  Classically inspired sculptures fill its piazzas and crown its fountains, turning the mundane into public works of art.

 

Michelangelo's Davids abound in Florence, Italy

Michelangelo’s Davids abound in Florence, Italy

The Duomo of Florence’s signature Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore rises up out of the surrounding neighborhood as if it had been thrust up from the depths of the earth.   It is the first structure of its kind ever raised without supporting framework.

 

Its scale is so staggering that it is visible only in piecework glimpses from the surrounding streets, and in their dim light it often appears in monochrome.

 

Homework sits in a sculpting workshop, FLorence, Italy.

Homework sits in a sculpting workshop, FLorence, Italy.

Duomo and baptistry mark the signature skyline of Florence, Italy.

Duomo and baptistry mark the signature skyline of Florence, Italy.

 

It’s hard to appreciate the effect that this place must have had on the ordinary citizens who went about their daily business in its shadows.

 

 

 

 

To approach the cathedral is to fall deeper and deeper into an image that continually reveals new details unseen in full frame.

 

The scope of the elaborate, hand-chiseled details is mind-boggling.

 

 

 

Duomo and facade, Florence, Italy.

Duomo and facade, Florence, Italy.

 

It’s no surprise that it took more than 140 years of labor before first services were held, or that the final touches were not added to the facade until 500 years after construction was begun.

 

Duomo facade, Florence, Italy.

Duomo facade, Florence, Italy.

 

It’s about a ten minute walk through narrow city streets to the piazza from which the facade of the smaller Santa Croce Basilica is fully revealed.

 

 

Duomo facade, Florence, Italy.

Duomo facade, Florence, Italy.

 

Medieval buildings around the piazza add to its sense of timelessness.

 

Medieval facade across from Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy.

Medieval facade across from Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy.

 

The Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world, and the Franciscans’ appears prominently on the facade of the temple.  Santa Croce is the burial place of notables including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini.

 

Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy.

Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy.

 

 

It’s an interesting bit of historical trivia that the basilica’s 19th-century neo-Gothic facade was designed by Jewish architect Niccolo Matas, who worked a Star of David into the composition.

 

As a non-Catholic, he was denied permission to be buried among his peers within the church’s walls, and was instead buried under the porch.

Gold leaf workshop, museum at Santa Croce Basilica, Florience, Italy.

Gold leaf workshop, museum at Santa Croce Basilica, Florience, Italy.

 

 

 

The Basilica museum has preserved the workshop of monks who worked gold leaf for application to sculpture and to create beautifully illuminated manuscripts

 

Tomorrow is reserved for a visit to the nearby Boboli Gardens.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

 

Appetite for Bologna

Narrow streets of the old city, Bologna, Italy

Narrow streets of the old city, Bologna, Italy

A self-driven tour allows for lots of flexibility and spontaneity, but it has occasional drawbacks.

 

 

One is finding a place to park in the narrow streets of historic city centers.  Another is finding your way about them.

 

 

 

 

 

Portico and promenade, Bologna, Italy.

Portico and promenade, Bologna, Italy.

 

The hotel was easy to find on a map, but challenging to find from behind the wheel of a car.

 

With each turn, the ancient, one-way streets became narrower and narrower.

 

Just when it seemed that they could no longer accommodate a car, a major intersection appeared and the hotel was soon in sight.

 

With much of the afternoon still remaining, there was easily enough daylight remaining for a walk around the city center.

 

 

 

 

University of Bologna, Italy.

University of Bologna, Italy.

 

Bologna is ancient, even by Italian standards.

 

More than 3,000 years old, it pre-dates not only the Romans, but also the Etruscans.

 

The University of Bologna, founded in 1088, is among Europe oldest universities, and is Italy’s first.

 

 

 

Sidewalk caffè in Bologna, Italy.

Sidewalk caffè in Bologna, Italy.

 

The old city is expansive and well-preserved, and eminently walkable.

 

There are narrow lanes and porticoed promenades, and the Italian palette is played across the city in ochre and mustard and olive.

 

There’s a sophistication about this place.

 

Posters for art exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical performances appear everywhere, and there’s a sense that the locals are very urbane, if unpretentiously so.

 

Neighborhood grocery, Bologna, Italy

Neighborhood grocery, Bologna, Italy

 

Bologna seems the perfect stage for La Dolce Vita

 

But Bologna is a feast not just for the eyes.

 

In a nation which takes its food perhaps more seriously than any other, this city is recognized by many as Italy’s gastronomic capital.

 

 

Neighborhood grocery, Bologna, Italy.

Neighborhood grocery, Bologna, Italy.

 

 

 

The reason becomes soon apparent.

 

Arrayed on grocery stands are fruits and vegetables so flawless and colorful that they look like wax.

 

 

 

 

Pasta artisans at work, Bologna, Italy.

Pasta artisans at work, Bologna, Italy.

 

Foods that account for a single shelf in chain supermarkets are available here in so many varieties that shops are often dedicated to only one.

 

There are those which make and sell only pasta, and those that sell only aged balsamic vinegars made from a staggering array of varietal wines.

 

Pasta comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors in Bologna, Italy.

Pasta comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors in Bologna, Italy.

 

Aging hams and cheeses hang in storefront windows and from shop ceilings.

 

Shoppers are so routinely offered a taste by friendly merchants that it’s easy to spoil a dinner appetite.  Pacing is the key.

 

The afternoon walk wanders along the Via della Grada past Ristorante Posta.

 

 

Even though Bologna sits in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, the menu here is billed as Cucina Tipica Toscana, and is irresistible.

Inside a neighborhood grocery, Cologna, Italy.

Inside a neighborhood grocery, Cologna, Italy.

 

Ristorante Posta so highly regarded that reservations must be made well in advance.

 

It takes a combination of  wheedling, begging and flattery to produce a table early in the evening on the condition that it will be vacated by the time guests with reservations begin arriving.

 

The trade-off proves well worth it, and this spur-of-the-moment meal turns out to be another delightful Plan B.

 

As the restaurant begins to fill, this is an evening destined to end on the streets of the old city with a gelato and an espresso.

 

 

Mountain lake, road from Bologna to Florence, Italy.

Mountain lake, road from Bologna to Florence, Italy.

 

 

Bologna begs for a longer visit, but the ten day itinerary calls for check-in at Florence on the next night.

 

The drive there promises to be as memorable as the destination.

 

Although Bologna’s altitude is less than 300 feet above sea level, it sits at the edge of Italy’s Apennine Mountains, and the road to Florence passes through them.

 

The climb begins almost immediately, and less than twenty minutes outside the city, the drive begins winding past mountain lakes and through hillside villages that look almost Alpine.

 

 

Apennine village, road from Bologna to Florence, Italy.

Apennine village, road from Bologna to Florence, Italy.

 

Peaks in this part of the mountains reach up to 2,500 feet.

 

Tomorrow’s drive from Bologna to Florence is a bit over 100 kilometers – around 60 miles – which allows for plenty of stops along the way to admire the scenery or grab a bite and drink in one of the villages.

 

There will still be plenty of daylight left by arrival in Florence.

 

 

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

 

Unexpected Ferrara

Gate through the old city wall, Ferrara, Italy

Gate through the old city wall, Ferrara, Italy

Travel is full of surprises, and the seasoned traveler is always open to a ‘Plan B’.

 

Even after the workout of wandering the streets of Padua all morning, the satisfying breakfast at the hotel in Venice still makes the case for a late lunch.

 

So it’s back to the autostrada and on toward Bologna in search of a lunchtime ‘Plan B’.

 

 

Fortunately, the city of Ferrara sits just off the autostrada between Padua and Bologna, and the impulse for an unscheduled stop proves irresistible.  Sometimes the best Plan B is the one that presents itself to you.

 

Facade of the Cathedral of Ferrara, Italy.

Facade of the Cathedral of Ferrara, Italy.

 

Another of Italy’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites, Ferrara is about half the size of Padua, and the feel of this place is decidedly more intimate and timeless.

 

This is not a town of ornate marble and Baroque as much as one of brick and Romanesque.

 

 

 

Moat around the Castello Estense, Ferrara, Italy

Moat around the Castello Estense, Ferrara, Italy

It’s still surrounded by more than 6 miles/9 kilometers of ancient walls which are among the best preserved in Italy.

 

Maybe that’s because Ferrara’s medieval and Renaissance history are considerably less turbulent than those of many neighboring towns.

 

Tower of the Castello Estense,  Ferrara, Italy

Tower of the Castello Estense, Ferrara, Italy

 

In fact, one of the most violent episodes in Ferrara’s history occurred in 1944, when  a synthetic rubber plant located here became the target of Allied bombing.

 

The city’s silhouette is dominated by its signature Castello Estense, a once-fortified castle.  It’s still surrounded by its original moat, which makes it a sort of urban island.

Gothic arch at the entry to one of the old city's streets, Ferrara, Italy

Gothic arch at the entry to one of the old city’s streets, Ferrara, Italy

 

The best way to see Ferrara is to park at the edge of town and walk or cycle in.

 

Not surprisingly, Ferrara is known as the ‘City Of Bicycles’…  no small achievement in a country where bicycles often outnumber motor vehicles on historic streets.

 

Hotels here are even known to furnish bicycles to their guests, and bikes can also be rented in many points within  the city.

 

Whether you walk or cycle Ferrara, it’s a place where you’ll not have to vie with motor traffic.

Bicycles really do outnumber cars in the old city, Ferrara, Italy

Bicycles really do outnumber cars in the old city, Ferrara, Italy

 

Ferrara’s Corpus Domini Monastery is the tomb not only of local notables, but also of Renaissance-era princess and femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia, whose third and last husband was the Duke of Ferrara.

 

The Ferrara Synagogue and Jewish Museum is located in the former Jewish Quarter, which was maintained as a ghetto for over 300 years, until the unification of Italy in 1859.

 

No Italian piazza is complete without its clock tower.  Ferrara, Italy.

No Italian piazza is complete without its clock tower. Ferrara, Italy.

Few Italian towns this size have so many palaces, but their more modest scale only adds to the city’s intimate ambiance.

 

Visitors with more time to spend here will want to see the Palazzo dei Diamanti, which is now home to the National Picture Gallery, and the Casa Romei.  The Palazzo Schifanoia is now home to an impressive collection of Renaissance artifacts.

 

Jewish synagogue and museum, Ferra, Italy.

Jewish synagogue and museum, Ferra, Italy.

 

Those with even more time and a cycling inclination will find the surrounding countryside laced with excellent bicycle routes over unchallenging terrain.

 

Ferrara is on the main rail line from Bologna to Padua and Venice.  It’s also connected by rail to Ravenna, the last Italian capital of the Roman Empire.  The trip one-way takes little more than an hour.

Afternoon sun casts a warm glow on brick walls, Ferrara, Italy.

Afternoon sun casts a warm glow on brick walls, Ferrara, Italy.

 

The point of this impromptu visit, though, is finding place to have lunch.   A perfect setting  presents itself as an outdoor table beneath the canopy of a trattoria facing the piazza.

 

There’s nothing quite as quintessentially Italian as people-watching while you savor a freshly pressed panini… or sip a cappuccino, Campari, or Cinzano.

 

 

Piazza in Ferrara, Italy.  A perfect place for lunch.

Piazza in Ferrara, Italy. A perfect place for lunch.

The piazza cafe is an experience that can be had in just about any town in Italy, but in Ferrara it’s particularly tranquil and unhurried.

Far less trafficked by tourists then larger or more well-known destinations, it’s arguably the most laid-back stop of these 10 Days In Italy.  It’s only half an hour’s drive further to Bologna, where a room in the old city and a ‘foodie’ heaven await.

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

Padua walkabout

Street scene, Padua, Italy

Street scene, Padua, Italy

Padua (in Italian “Padova“) is less than half an hour’s drive from Venice, and even the time spent on a farewell breakfast at the hotel on Lido and a ferry ride back to the mainland to retrieve the car still allows for a mid-morning arrival.

 

In fact, the distance between each night’s stay for this trip rarely exceeds 100 miles, and the short travel legs make for plenty of time to wander off the beaten path.

 

Belltower, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Belltower, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

 

Like stops earlier in this trip at Bergamo and Verona , Padua is a destination omitted from shorter Italian itineraries, despite the fact that autostradas place it within easy reach of Venice or Florence.

 

On this morning, the itinerary is very off-the-cuff, and Padua is a place which lends itself well to such spontaneity.

 

Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

This city is perhaps most well-known as the final home of Saint Anthony of Padua, buried in his namesake basilica.

 

A Portuguese-born Catholic priest and Franciscan friar first renowned as an eloquent preacher, and later as the patron saint of finding lost people or property, he was a saintly superstar canonized within a few years of his untimely death around the age of 40.

 

Courtyard, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Courtyard, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

 

As elsewhere in Medieval Europe, relics of the saints held a pre-eminent spot in Catholic practices, and among the grisly relics on display here are his skeletal remains and what is purported to be the great orator’s tongue!

 

This city is also home to the University of Padua, one of Europe’s earliest.  Older than any Italian university except the  one at Bologna, it once numbered Galileo among its lecturers.

Going to market, Padua, Italy

Going to market, Padua, Italy

Padua claims to be the oldest city in northern Italy, settled almost 1200 years B.C.E. by a Trojan prince who led his people there from Turkey’s Black Sea coast.  A sarcophagus reputed to hold the prince’s remains was unearthed there two-and-a-half millennia later.  By the time of Christ’s birth, Padua had become a Roman town with a population of nearly 40,000.  (Today it’s over 200,000.)

 

Like many cities in this part of Italy, Padua suffered barbarian invasions as the Roman Empire collapsed, and through the Middles Ages was dominated by – and frequently traded among – he region’s city-states and puppet kingdoms.  It nonetheless has a tradition of constitutional government dating back more than a millennium.

 

Wooden sculpture, Padua, Italy

Wooden sculpture, Padua, Italy

During the wave of revolutions that in 1848 swept Europe and Latin America,  Padua’s students and citizens staged an unsuccessful revolt against the Austrians that turned the University and the city’s famed Caffè Pedrocchi into battlegrounds.

 

The Italian Army made its headquarters here during World War I.

 

 

At the war’s low-water mark, the city was within range of Austrian artillery and was bombed several times, but it was also in Padua that the Austrians surrendered to the Italians when the armistice came.

 

Street musician, Padua, Italy

Street musician, Padua, Italy

During the Fascist era, Padua was the venue for one of Benito Mussolini’s largest rallies, where a crowd of more than 300,000 attended his speech.  During World War II, the city was bombed by Allied planes.

 

Notwithstanding its contentious history, Padua remains a picturesque town.

 

Bridge over the Bacchiglione River, Padua, Italy

Bridge over the Bacchiglione River, Padua, Italy

 

It sits on a bend of the Bacchiglione River, which once fed a moat surrounding the city walls, and make of it a city of bridges, among which several date back to the time of the Romans.

 

 

The old city is criss-crossed by a labyrinth of streets which open into large piazze that make it a great place to just wander about.

 

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

One of the most memorable sites is the city’s famed Caffè Pedrocchi .  The original part of this cafe dates from 1772, although it was expanded more than once in the century following.

 

Caffè Pedrocchi  follows in the tradition of European coffee houses where students, artists, and activists met to exchange ideas and plot revolution.

 

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

 

The owner’s heir willed the café to the City of Padua in 1891, charging the city fathers with “the solemn obligation to preserve the building as it exists today in perpetuity for public use “.

 

Today’s travel plan is to spend the afternoon and evening in Bologna, but just before the departure from Padua, a stroke of good luck carries this city walk past an open market in a piazza.

 

 

Piazza market, Padua, Italy

Piazza market, Padua, Italy

 

The fresh produce under the canopies is eye-popping, for the Italians take little as seriously as eating well, but this is  also a great spot to people-watch.

 

It’s been a morning delightfully spent, but it’s time to return to  the autostrada and the promise of Bologna well before nightfall.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

Venice’s Piazza San Marco

Piazetta, Venice, Italy

Piazetta, Venice, Italy

Anchored by its iconic Basilica and campanile, the Piazza San Marco – St. Mark’s Square – is  as an essential part of Venice’s identity as its canals.

 

Its main entrance is the Piazetta corridor adjacent to the Doge’s Palace that connects it to the Grand Canal.

 

 

Basilica San Marcos and campanile, Piazza San Marcos, Venie, Italy

Basilica San Marcos and campanile, Piazza San Marcos, Venie, Italy

 

 

 

The Basilica San Marco reflects the conviction held by Christians in the Middle Ages that physical remains of a holy site or person had healing powers, and that  possession bestowed honor and privileges upon their owners.

 

 

 

 

Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

 

Tradition holds that St. Mark Christianized Venice in the first century before his martyrdom in Alexandria, Egypt, from which a body believed to be his was stolen by two Venetian merchants in 828.

The city quickly adopted St. Mark as its patron, and built the first church of San Marco as its sanctuary.  It also adopted the saint’s winged-lion symbol as its own.

 

Facade detail, Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

Facade detail, Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

 

 

 

When Constantinople was sacked during the 4th Crusade, plunder shipped back to Venice included the two pillars which still stand where the Piazzetta meets the canal, along with marbles and mosaics installed on the Basilica’s west facade.

 

 

 

Four Horses of St, Mark's

Four Horses of St, Mark’s

 

The booty also included the bronze Triumphal Quadriga - the “Four Horses of Saint Mark”.  Originally part of a larger Roman monument, they stand on the Basilica’s loggia above the porch.

 

It’s an interesting bit of trivia that the heads were detached in order to transport these bronzes, and collars were added to hide the cuts during reassembly.

 

Promenade, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Promenade, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

In the late Renaissance, the original campanile was replaced to house a new astronomical clock, and the Piazza was enlarged to its present size.

 

Today, the only pre-Renaissance buildings and monuments still standing are the Basilica San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale – the Doge’s Palace – and the two great columns in the Piazzetta adjacent to it.

 

Caffè Florian (founded 1720), Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Caffè Florian (founded 1720), Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

When the Venetian Republic ended with Napoleon’s conquest 1797, stonemasons were ordered to destroy images of the winged lion, which Revolutionary France saw as a symbol of aristocratic rule.

 

Wedding party, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Wedding party, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

The Four Horses were sent to Paris along with the winged lion perched on one of the columns in the Piazzetta.

 

The headless statues were later replaced by copies, and both the winged lion and Four Horses were returned in 1815 following Napoleon’s abdication.

 

 

Doge's Palace and Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Doge’s Palace and Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

 

The Palazzo Ducale – the Doge’s Palace – faces the canal adjoining the Basilica and the Piazzetta.  It was not just the Doge’s residence, but the center of government.

 

It was here that foreign delegations were received and from here that communications with ambassadors and regional governors were managed.

 

 

 

Basilco San Marco from the Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Basilco San Marco from the Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

It was here that the meetings of the Great Council and the Senate were held, and from here that justice was administered.

 

It was from here that recruitment of crews for Venice’s war galleys and the outfitting of its fleet were coordinated.

 

Senators' courtyard, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Senators’ courtyard, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

While the Doge served for life, the Republic maintained a strong system of checks and balances.

 

It is a testament to this ingenious system that the Council was compelled to remove only two of the 120 Doges who served continuously from 717 to 1797.

 

Campile from Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Campile from Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

The Great Council was made up of all male members of patrician families over the age of 25.  Smaller councils carved from it had responsibilities including assuring punishment of the guilty, redress for the innocent, and enforcement of regulations concerning the practice of law.

 

The Venetian Senate dates back to the 13th century.

 

Window in the Doge's palace, Venice, Italy

Window in the Doge’s palace, Venice, Italy

 

State Censors were charged with preventing electoral fraud and protecting public institutions.

 

State Advocates safeguarded the rule of law and verified marriages and births to preserve the legitimacy of the patrician ruling class.

 

Whistleblower mailbox, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Whistleblower mailbox, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy: “For secret denunciations against those who conceal favors and services or conspire to conceal revenue.”

 

The Doge’s private apartments are well-appointed if not large.

 

The walls of the Palazzo’s rooms are covered in gilded wood, frescoes, and paintings by Renaissance masters.

 

Bridge of Sighs, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Bridge of Sighs, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

 

 

The Ponte dei Sospiri – the Bridge of Sighs – links magistrates’ chambers in the Palazzo Ducale to the New Prisons, from which Casanova is reputed to have escaped.

 

The bridge’s name refers to the last look at freedom it afforded to those on the way to prison.

 

Local legend holds that lovers kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge as the campanile’s bells toll will be granted eternal love and bliss.

 

Tomorrow it’s back to the Italian mainland, and on to Padua by autostrada.

 

 

Channeling Venice

Grand Canal, Venice

Grand Canal, Venice

There’s little that words can do to embellish the iconic images of Venice’s canals which have enchanted visitors for centuries.

 

Paintings of these waterways by English Romanticist J.M. Turner, French Impressionist Claude Monet, and American John Singer Sargent are widely published and well known.

 

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, their unique charm helped to make Venice a must-see on “Grand Tours” by both European nobility and global celebrities.

 

San Giorgio Maggiore Church, Venice

San Giorgio Maggiore Church, Venice

 

 

Venice’s appeal is so powerful that its name has been borrowed – or its urban waterways mimicked – in American cities from Venice, California to Coral Gables, Florida.

 

Every year, almost half a million visitors wander the waterways and piazzas of Las Vegas’s Venetian Hotel.

 

 

San Giorgio Maggiore Church, Venice

San Giorgio Maggiore Church, Venice from the Doge’s Palazzo

But it’s easy to lose in Venice’s seductive images the role of its canals on the development of the city’s culture, or their influence on making Venice a maritime powerhouse and quite arguably the navel of the civilized world for half a millennium.

 

Rialto Bridge, Venice

Rialto Bridge, Venice

 

The roots of Venice’s future greatness, though, would have been hard to discern in its inauspicious beginnings.

 

As the Roman Empire faltered under successive waves of barbarian invasions, fishermen who lived on the islands of the  lagoon were joined by refugees from nearby Roman cities and farms, seeking refuge in the inaccessibility of its marshes.

Bride and groom on gondola, Venice

Bride and groom on gondola, Venice

 

The city’s founding is traditionally pegged to the dedication of the Church of San Giacomo in 421.

 

When the Lombards conquered most of Italy more than a century later, insulated Venice and the adjacent coast were all that remained of Byzantine Italy.

 

Classic wooden boats, Venice

Classic wooden boats, Venice

 

Despite a 726 AD rebellion in which the city’s inhabitants took the side of Pope Gregory II in the schism between the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches, Venice maintained good close relations with Constantinople through most of its history.

 

 

 

Classic wooden boat, Venice

Classic wooden boat, Venice

A fortuitous consequence of the rebellion, though, was that Venetians elected their own leader – the doge – for the first time, paving the way to a Venetian Republic that would last for more than ten centuries.

 

When the Lombards conquered the last of the Italian mainland in 751, Venice remained tethered to the Byzantine Empire only by sea routes.

 

The city’s isolation bred autonomy, and over the next 300 years Venice developed into a self-governed city state.

Northern Italy 079 Venice canals gondolas

 

Venice’s protected geography made it virtually invulnerable to attack, and the city became a flourishing trade link between Western Europe and all points east.  At its peak, the Venetian fleet numbered more than 3,000 ships and nearly 40,000 sailors.

 

Tributary canal and boats, Venice

Tributary canal and boats, Venice

 

By 1200 AD, the Venetian Republic had seized land on the eastern shores of the Adriatic.  Its possessions on the Italian mainland eventually extended east beyond Lake Garda to Bergamo.

 

They served as a buffer against belligerent neighbors, guaranteed Venetian control of Alpine trade routes, and ensured the supply of wheat upon which the city depended.

 

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

 

 

When the Fourth Crusade went rogue and instead sacked Constantinople in 1204, much of the plunder was brought back to Venice.

 

Partitioning of the fallen empire gave  the Venetians control of Cyprus, Crete, and most of the Aegean.

 

 

 

By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe and a major power-broker in the Near East, but its decline began in the 15th century with a series of precipitous events.

 

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

Unable to prevent the Ottomans from occupying Greece or to defend Constantinople against siege, Venice suffered retribution at the hands of the victorious Turkish sultan, whose thirty year war against the Venetians cost them most of their possessions in the eastern Mediterranean.

 

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

 

When Columbus discovered the New World and Portugal found a sea route to India, Venice’s land monopoly was destroyed, and its oared galleys were unsuited to travel on the great oceans.

 

The Venetian fleet last appeared on the world stage in 1571, when it was instrumental in defeating the Turkish navy at the Battle of Lepanto, permanently blocking Ottoman expansion westward.

 

Today, the only legacy of this magnificent maritime tradition is the gondoliers and classic wooden boats that ply its storied canals.

 

Next, it’s on to Venice’s famous Piazza San Marco.

 

Venice’s backstreets

Villa and canal bridge, Venice, Italy

Villa and canal bridge, Venice, Italy

Acres of cars are stacked within parking garages and lines of pedestrian passengers are streaming onto the ferry as the departure time to Venice approaches.

 

The drive from Verona to Venice that began right after breakfast took less than two hours, which promises arrival in time for lunch at a Venetian trattoria.

 

Cul-de-sac, Venice, Italy

Cul-de-sac, Venice, Italy

 

 

The Alps are still clearly visible for the first part of the drive, but the highway soon becomes a beeline across a coastal plain.

 

It’s easy to see why Venetian forefathers fled this indefensible terrain and moved wholesale onto the islands of the lagoon.

 

 

Palazzo entryway, Venice, Italy

Palazzo entryway, Venice, Italy

 

 

It’s doubtful, though, that they could have imagined how their swampy islands would one day become one of the world’s first post-Roman republics, or that it would become the pre-eminent economic and maritime power of its era and a bastion of the Italian Renaissance.

 

Causeways connect Venice to the Italian mainland by rail and motor vehicle, but no cars, trucks, or busses are permitted beyond their city terminals.

 

 

Postered wall, Venice, Italy.

Postered wall, Venice, Italy.

 

 

Getting around in Venice is strictly by water taxi or on foot.

 

The ferry terminal not only connects Venice with the Italian mainland, but also to ports all up and down the Adriatic coast, and on to Greece.

 

 

Pedestrian crossroads,Venice,Italy

Pedestrian crossroads,Venice,Italy

 

The very mention of Venice recalls the iconic images of its canals and its Piazza San Marco, but since two days afford ample time to see them – and other postcard sights – I first wander instead off the beaten path.

 

Many of Venice’s most intimate and captivating spaces can be found along the pedestrian lanes that lace its islands.

 

Café, Venice, Italy

Café, Venice, Italy

 

Walkways broken only by the largest canals follow pedestrian bridges over the smaller canals, but their loosely organized grid sometimes twists to follow the route of the waterways.

 

 

 

Neighborhood piazza, Venice, Italy

Neighborhood piazza, Venice, Italy

Here, away from the friendly chaos of the canals, are quiet residential streets punctuated by family-owned shops and pocket piazzas.

 

The scent of the sea and swarms of tourists are never far away, but within Venice’s labyrinth of narrow, stone lanes and alleys there is sense of serenity and timelessness.

 

Wandering untethered to a parked car with no footsteps to retrace is a deliciously liberating experience.  On these small islands, it’s impossible to get lost for long.

 

Sidewalk  cafe, Venice, Italy

Sidewalk cafe, Venice, Italy

 

 

The lack of motorized vehicles necessarily slows the pace in Venice and allows the city to unfold before visitors in richly elegant slow motion.

 

There’s time to fully absorb the colors and aromas.

 

 

Restaurant, Venice, Italy.

Restaurant, Venice, Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s time to linger for a longer look or to laze over a leisurely lunch or espresso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza  dough sculptures, pizzeria, Venice, Italy

Pizza dough sculptures, pizzeria, Venice, Italy

 

There’s a chance to grasp, if only fleetingly, a sense of how people defined community before they were isolated from each other by freeways and shopping malls and suburbs.

 

City lane, Venice, Italy

City lane, Venice, Italy

 

At the end of this walkabout, I can think of no better place to emerge from the quiet alleyways than into the storied atmosphere of Harry’s Bar.

 

Harry’s is the home both of carpaccio and the Bellini, and is also famous for its very dry (10:1) martini.

 

The famous Harry's Bar, Venice, Italy.

The famous Harry’s Bar, Venice, Italy.

 

Harry’s is at least as well known, though, for the unending stream of celebrities who have paraded through its doors since it opened in 1931.

 

Its guest book bears the signatures of Toscanini, Marconi, Somerset Maughan, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hutton, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Georges Braque and Peggy Guggenheim.

 

Harry’s was also a favorite of Ernest Hemingway’s and other fans have included Alfred Hitchcock, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Aristotle Onassis, and Woody Allen.

 

Still ahead to see in Venice:  The fabled canals and the Piazza San Marcos – St. Mark’s Square.  Then it’s on to Padua.

Milan to Verona by autostrada

E-64 autostrada, eastbound from Milano, Italy

E-64 autostrada, eastbound from Milano, Italy

My one earlier visit to Italy was on a cruise that left only cravings for more of what was still unseen in the heartland of Northern Italy.

 

The plan for this trip is to drive the countryside within a triangle loosely anchored by Milan, Venice, and Florence, that includes Verona, Padua, Venice, and Parma.

 

Milan has been left for the end of the itinerary, which turns out to be fortuitous.

 

Alps seen from near Bergamo, Italy

Alps obscured by clouds near Bergamo, Italy

 

 

Verona, the first night’s destination, should be a leisurely drive of under three hours, but that plan is derailed the moment the plane touches down.

 

A light rain soaking the runway becomes a deluge in the time it takes to clear Immigration and Customs and point the rental car east on the autostrada.

 

 

 

Street in the Citta' Alta, Bergamo, Italy

Street in the Citta’ Alta, Bergamo, Italy

Rain and fog have throttled visibility down to a few car lengths, but heavy traffic includes plenty of trucks.

In the no-speed-limit left lane, fast-approaching headlights loom in the rear view until they blow past, undeterred by the weather.

It takes nearly two hours to cover the first 60 miles.  By midday, though, there’s a break in the weather and the Italian Alps, ever-present on the right side of the autostrada, begin to appear out of the fog and clouds.

 

Entrance to the Citta' Alta, Bergamo, Italy

Entrance to the Citta’ Alta, Bergamo, Italy

 

With a room guaranteed for the evening in Verona, an unscheduled stop for lunch has become suddenly appealing, and an exit labeled “Bergamo” is well-placed.

 

 

It turns out that there are actually two Bergamos.  The old city, the Citta’ Alta, sits high on a bluff at the edge of the Alps, and the new city is spread out on the plain below.

 

View from above the Citta' Alta, Bergamo, Italy

View from above the Citta’ Alta, Bergamo, Italy

Even by European standards, this place is old, for the Celts were here before the Romans.

 

The daunting climb to the Citta’ Alta was not deterrent enough for Attila the Hun, who destroyed it the 5th century.

 

The city, though, rebounded to become the seat of a Lombard duchy, and after its conquest by Charlemagne, a county seat.

 

Bergamo-style polenta and sweets

Bergamo-style polenta and sweets

 

In the early Middle Ages it was an independent commune, but later became part of the Venetian Republic until both were conquered by Napoleon.

 

After Napoleon’s exile, it became part of the Austrian Empire until it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1859 .

 

 

 

Bergamo 008

Footpath in the Citta Alta, Bergamo, Italy

 

 

 

This city has lent its name to a regional folk dance style known as bergamask. Shakespeare refers to it in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream as a “Bergomask dance”.

 

The music is characterized by dissonances and irregular intervals that later inspired Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque”.

 

 

 

Trattoria, Bergamo, Italy

Trattoria, Bergamo, Italy

 

The Città Alta is surrounded by 17th-century defensive walls.

 

It is connected to the lower city by a cable car.  With parking spaces very limited in the upper city, the funicular is the recommended approach.

 

 

 

 

More Alps seen from near Bergamo, Italy

Alps in cleared skies as seen near Bergamo, Italy

 

 

 

Lunch at a trattoria in the Citta’ Alta ends with cleared skies.

 

A hotel room awaits in Verona, but with weather delays and the stop in Bergamo, it’s dusk by arrival.

 

 

 

 

Night life on the streets of Verona, Italy

Night life on the streets of Verona, Italy

 

Verona’s strategic location between Milan and Venice, astride the route through the Alps to Innsbruck, has made it much contested for centuris.

 

Incredibly, though, it is one of a handful of Italian cities that did not suffer major destruction during World War II.

 

 

Castelvechio bridge,  Verona, Italy

Castelvecchio bridge, Verona, Italy

 

 

The city’s history is foggy before it became a Roman  town around 300 BC, but the value and importance of its many historical buildings have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 

 

 

Night life on the streets of Verona, Italy

Night life on the streets of Verona, Italy

 

 

 

At the time of its the completion in 1356, Verona’s Ponte Scaligero boasted the world’s largest bridge arch.

 

 

 

Piazza Bra (Arena at left), Verona, Italy

Piazza Bra (Arena at left), Verona, Italy

 

 

 

A Roman amphitheater, The Arena, still survives in the Piazza Bra, and only the theaters in Rome and Capua seat more than it 25,000.

 

 

 

Piazza Bra (Arena at right), Verona, Italy

Piazza Bra (Arena at right), Verona, Italy

 

 

While little of the original perimeter wall remains, the interior is virtually intact, and it is still used today for theatre and summer opera, fairs, and other public events.

 

 

 

Castelvechio bridge,  Verona, Italy

Castelvechio bridge, Verona, Italy

 

As in Bergamo, there are enough sights to keep visitors occupied for a couple of days, but Venice calls, and with the weather now clear, tomorrow’s arrival should be well before lunch.

 

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