What to do in Ferrara, pearl of the Italian Renaissance?

What to do in Ferrara, pearl of the Italian Renaissance?

In Emilia-Romagna, in the heart of the Po plain, Ferrara is one of the jewels of northern Italy. Although it experienced its golden age during the Renaissance, it has never ceased to inspire artists ever since. Less than 30 minutes by train from Bologna, this is a getaway not to be missed.

Unknown to tourists, Ferrara is listed on UNESCO for its Renaissance heritage. This brick city nestled behind 9 kilometers of ramparts cultivates an unparalleled sweetness of life. One moves there especially on foot or by bicycle, traversing with happiness the lanes of the medieval center or the arteries drawn with the cord of Addizione Erculea. In winter, the mist gives the city a mysterious atmosphere, while in spring or autumn, it shines with incomparable brilliance. Also, many artists have fallen under its spell: from Ariosto to Stendhal via the filmmaker Vittorio de Sica, all have sung its beauties.

Ferrara, stronghold of the House of Este

The Princess of the House of Este, by Pisanello. Princess-house-Este_by-Pisanello-Wikipedia-Commons_016

It is to the river Po, which flows at the gates of the city, that Ferrara owes its wealth. From the 14the century, the Este’s house transforms the city to make it a symbol of his munificence. Thanks to the Marquis Niccolò III and Leonello then to the Dukes Borso, Ercole I or Alfonso II, Ferrara became the equal of the Milan of the Sforzas, of the Mantua of the Gonzagas and even of the Florence of the Medicis. A rivalry that is also expressed in artistic patronage: after the welcome of Piero della Francesca or Mantegna, a real Ferrarese school is born, made up of artists like Cosmè Tura, Ercole de’ Roberti or Lorenzo Costa. Humanists and scientists were also courted by princes and the university: like so many others, Copernic was tempted. But by annexing Ferrara in 1598, the Papal States will sound the end of the golden age.

In the heart of Ferrara, from the cathedral to the castle

The Castello Estense. Leonid ANDRONOV

Built in 1305, the cathedral has been undergoing major works since the 2012 earthquake. Only part of its stunning facade carved with bas-reliefs remains visible. Behind the door guarded by protective lions, the Baroque interior is revealed, almost incongruous. On the vault of the choir, we can still see a vibrant Last judgement of the Bastianino, which is said to be inspired by that of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Just opposite, the Palazzo Comunale offers beautiful architectural elements such as this Renaissance exterior staircase, side Piazza del Municipio.

Commanded by Niccolò III, the Castello Estense was built from 1385. The noble floor gives access to the terrace of Eleonora of Aragon, whose space is punctuated by orange trees; in the background is the Tower of Lions, in which you can climb to enjoy a stunning panorama of the city. Several rooms are worth a visit, such as the studiolo and its frescoes of Bacchanalia or the games room, whose vaults are painted with figures practicing various sporting or recreational activities. In the kitchens, floats the memory of Cristoforo da Messisbugo, chef who bequeathed to Ferrara his sweet and savory recipes, typical of the Renaissance. At the foot of the castle, the Birraria Giori awaits you for a cold beer or a piadina garnished with local products, to be enjoyed on the terrace or behind century-old windows.

The medieval town and its palaces

Panoramic view of Ferrara. Adobe Stock

With its narrow streets, corbelled brick houses and Gothic palaces, the medieval town has hardly changed since the time when Ferrara was still a free municipality. We enter the old jewish ghetto via Via Mazzini. After 1492, nearly 2,000 Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain were allowed to settle in Ferrara, joined by Ashkenazim from Germany. Composed of merchants, doctors or money changers, the community plays an important role in the city’s economy. From the XVIIe s., doors close the ghetto at night. MEIS (Museo Nazionale dell’Ebraismo Italiano e della Shoah) tells this story and that of the Jews of Italy. The most curious can push the door of theGhetto Osteria which prepares some dishes of the local Hebrew tradition.

To the south, take the Via delle Volta, a picturesque street punctuated by covered passages which rushes between venerable houses. Very long, this route once ran along an arm of the Po. Not far, the Casa Romei delivers a fascinating account of the city’s artistic history. This house from the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance (1443) belonged to Signore Romei, a close friend of the house of Este. The main courtyard sees medieval and Renaissance elements coexist: luminous arcades, Gothic capitals, corbelled wall, frescoes… Upstairs, the rooms decorated with coffered ceilings or grotesques welcome a Virgin of Donatello as well as medieval frescoes of destroyed churches. Don’t miss the studiolo with his paintings on wood representing the three continents “known” at the time: Africa, Asia and Europe. Finally, we fell in love with the Salle des Sybilles, with its prophetesses painted on the walls.

A little further east, the Palazzo Schifanoia is one of Ferrara’s must-sees. Ceremonial palace of Borso d’Este, its visit is worth especially for the Hall of Months, a 24m long windowless room covered in frescoes. It works like a calendar (from right to left from the input), listing the months of the year. Within each fresco, we can distinguish 3 registers: at the bottom, daily life at the beginning of the Renaissance; in the center, the signs of the zodiac; above, pagan deities. Wonderful ! It took a solid team of artists to complete this colossal work. The Hall of Coats of Arms reveals a fragment of the palace’s former exterior facade, which is extremely colorful.

Further south, the Palazzo Costabili is renowned for its incredible Treasure Room, whose ceiling painted by Garofalo is inspired by that of the bedroom of the Spouses, in Mantua. The palace also hosts the exciting National Archaeological Museum which brings together thousands of statuettes, Greek craters or Celtic jewelry from Spina, an Etruscan port in the Po delta rediscovered in 1922.

The Renaissance city and its gardens

San Cristoforo alla Certosa church. Adobe Stock

You have to go beyond the castle and viale Cavour to enter the northern part of the city, Addizione Erculea imagined by the architect Biaggio Rosetti in 1492. It would be one of the first examples of a modern “planned” city: a real revolution! The palaces line up superbly along Corso Ercole I, which culminates in the Quadrivium of the Angels.

The most emblematic building of this complex? THE Palazzo dei Diamanti, with its sublime marble façade carved into “diamond points”. In addition to temporary exhibitions of international stature, it also hosts the Pinacoteca Nazionale which houses more than 200 works produced between the XIIIe and XVIIIe centuries. The ideal place to discover Ferrarese Renaissance painters such as Cosmè Tura, Ercole de’ Roberti, Lorenzo Costa, Garofalo or Bastianino.

Not far away, the oval of the Piazza Arostea still hosts the Palio races, which take place every year at the end of May. All that remains is to escape to the north and the battlements, interspersed with bastions and watchtowers, which can be explored easily on foot or even by bicycle. Between fortifications, parks and gardens, this invigorating walk offers a welcome natural break. It is this area of ​​the city, very green, which inspired Vittoria de Sica for its Garden of the Finzi-Continiadapted from a novel by Giorgio Bassani.

Address Book

Or sleep ?

Rated 4-stars, the Maxxim Hotel & Loft nestles in a palazzo of the XVe century located not far from the cathedral. Its comfortable rooms and contained prices make it an excellent option. Breakfast is taken in the beautiful interior courtyard.

Maxxim Hotel & Loft, via Ripagrande, 21, 44121 Ferrara. Tel: +39 053 217 707 00.

Where to eat ?

Driven by movement slow foodthere Trattoria da Noemi is an institution. Its chef concocts succulent cappellacci with squash and an authentic pasticcio di maccheroni, pie filled with béchamel pasta. For dessert, taste the explosive zuppa english, a typical dessert from Emilia-Romagna. Count approx. €30.

Via Ragno, 31, 44121 Ferrara. Tel: +39 053 276 90 70.

Behind the Ghetto, the restaurant Il Sorpasso serves a succulent revisited regional cuisine, which combines great classics – such as the salama da sugo, a kind of sausage served hot with mashed potatoes – and more original proposals. Special mention for Modica’s addictive chocolate ricotta cream. Count approx. €30.

Il Sorpasso, via Saraceno, 118, 44121 Ferrara. Tel: +39 053 279 02 89.

Where to toast?

For a glass of wine, head to theOsteria Al Brindisi which has existed since 1435. Far from resting on its laurels, this address shines with its dynamism: jazzy soundtrack, attractive natural wine list, melting cold cuts.

Al Brindisi, Via Adelardi, 11, 44100 Ferrara. Tel: +39 053 247 37 44.

Fancy a good negroni? Laudano and Misture said to be the best cocktail bar in town. Hidden in a picturesque alley in the medieval center, it offers a lively counter, a small intimate room and a few high tables outside.

Laudano and Misture, via Ragno, 35, 44121 Ferrara. Tel: +39 338 868 18 01.

Where can you find delicious local products?

Ferrara Store offers succulent fresh pasta (cappellacci, cappelletti)organic rice from the delta, local charcuterie (salami zia Ferrarese)cheese, wine, etc.

Ferrara Store, piazza della Repubblica, 23-25, 44121 Ferrara. Tel: +39 053 224 27 59.





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