DAY-TRIP: PADOVA

I keep telling anyone who’ll listen that Italy has so many amazing and beautiful treasures to see that there is no actual need to travel out of the country.

Just two hours from Trieste, in the Veneto region, is the city of Padova (Padua). A little smaller than Trieste, the city is just as enchanting; it is delightful to explore and easy to enjoy with its porticoed streets, piazzas and canals. You might have heard its name in high school english or drama class as it is the setting for most of the action in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

Padova is located in la pianura veneta, the venetian valley, and the Bacchiglione river, which originates in the Alps, runs through it. The city is a mere 40km (25 miles) west of Venice.

There are so many things that make Padova a must-see destination and if you’re going to make it a day-trip, then I suggest arriving early so that you can get to visit all the top sites!

Arriving with the morning train, I suggest heading straight to the centro to stop in at Caffe’ Pedrocchi, a mainstay in Paduan life since 1831. Once a historic meeting place for students, artists and writers, activists and patriots and distinguished guests like Stendhal, George Sand, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Eleonora Duse, and many others, it continues to be the social hub of the city. The large red velvet salon is lovely and a throw-back to its hey-day and you can enjoy meals throught the entire day and evening (unlike when it first opened, it now closes at night – between 1831 and 1916 the place offered 24 hour service!). If you come for breakfast, know that you can enjoy all the same fare at the bar adjacent to the salon for a fraction of the price. They have incredibly delicious and indulgent pastries and robust espressos and frothy capuccinos to get you carburated for the rest of your day! Be sure to try their signature coffee “the Pedrocchi”, an espresso served in a large cup with an emulsion of cream and mint topped off with a sprinkling of cocoa.

Padova is also home to the second oldest University in Italy (and the 5th oldest surviving university in the world). The University of Padua was founded in 1222 by a group of dissident professors from the Univeristy of Bologna (the oldest university in Italy) seeking greater intellectual freedom. Among the more illustrious names associated with the university are: Copernicus (yes, that one) and Galileo Galilei who was a lecturer between 1592 and 1610 and there are so many more…

Today the University isn’t just spread throughout the city, it also has satellite schools throughout the region, however just a few steps from Pedrocchi is the original seat of the university; the Palazzo Bo. The main entrance is stunning with its decorations of crests and coats of arms on the walls, as well as abundant frescoes. It’s also famous for having the first ever anatomical theater (1595) which drew artists and scientists to view the first dissections open to the public. It is the oldest permanent anatomical theatre in Europe. At the university you can also find there the statue of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, a Venetian noblewoman and mathematician and the first woman in the world ever to be awarded a PhD (1678). Guided tours are available.

Then it’s onto the Palazzo della Ragione, known informally as the salotto or living room of the city. Built from 1172-1219 it served as the Town Hall and a place of gathering for merchants, lawmakers and townsfolk. Adjacent buildings includ the palazzo of Justice and the Elders Council and Tower (from which a bell would ring to notify citizens of important gatherings). 

Originally partitioned into three large halls, a fire in 1420 resulted in the rebuilding of the space into one massive hall. The upper floor is reputed to have the largest roof unsupported by columns in Europe; the hall is nearly rectangular, 81.5m (267.3 ft) long, 27m (88.5 ft) wide, and 24m (78.7 ft) high.  The building stands on arches, and the upper story is surrounded by an open loggia with an ornately decorated ceiling.  The inside is truly magnificent; the walls covered floor to ceiling with frescoes depicting agricultural life, the zodiac, the planets, the months and seasons painted (from 1425 to 1440) by Nicolò Miretto and Stefano da Ferrara,. Also inside is an ENORMOUS wooden sculpture of a horse which was built for a parade held in 1466 and donated in 1837 by a local family.

The lower floor is now a food market specializing in meats, fish and cheeses. The piazza  in front of the palazzo is the famous Piazza della Frutta, the fruit market and behind the palazzo is the Piazza delle Erbe, the erstwhile vegetable, herb and wine market. Today the Piazza della Frutta is filled with overflowing stands of produce, while the Piazza delle Erbe caters more to households goods, clothing and sundries.

Seeing all these tempting treats will probably make you hungry and not far away is a little hole-in-the-wall eatery aptly called All’Ombra della Piazza (in the piazza’s shadow). Located just off of Piazza delle Erbe, it is a cichetteria; a place that offers finger foods or “cichetti” in the form of little paper cones filled with delicately fried calamari & shrimp, small pizzas, calzones, fried but incredibly delicate polpette made of chicken, beef or pork and an array of vegetable polpette as well. However, their mainstay are their tartine. You think you may know them as bruschette, but these are not toasted and their toppings are very unique and creative: Italian bread with gorgonzola, fiddlehead pesto and fig jam, grilled radiccio and baccala’ puree, pumpkin puree and gorgonzola, whitefish puree and olives, sauteed cabbage and anchovies, gorgonzola and nuts, tomato and burrata, sauteed cabbage with cotechino and horseradish cream…. the list goes on….(swooning)! And recommended to accompany your little feast is a small glass of wine (not a full sized glass but 100ml.) an ombra (shadow) of wine… of course these can quickly become several small glasses if you’re not careful….

Why do they call it “ombra”? There are several theories, but the most likely is that in the hot summer days, gentlemen would seek refuge from the heat in the shadow of the clock tower or some large building to enjoy some fresh wine “all’ombra” (in the shade).

After this lovely lunch it’s time to burn some calories and so it’s off to Prato della Valle, (the lawn of the valley) the largest piazza in Italy and one of the largest in Europe at 90,000 square meters (968,752 sf). Prior to 1636, this area was largely a swampy area just south of the old city walls. In 1636, a group of local notables financed the construction of a temporary but lavish arena as a venue for mock battles on horseback. For years it was known as the “lawn without grass” and eventually became an eyesore due to neglect, but in recent years the square has enjoyed a renaissance and has re-emerged as favorite spot for locals and tourists alike and a point of pride for the city.

The piazza has an island at the center that is surrounded by a small canal bordered by two rings of statues representing the bastions of Italian politics, science, religion & society.  The piazza is surrounded by important palazzi, now designated as museums or public offices and from here it’s just a few steps to the  Basilica di Sant’Antonio – dedicated to the patron saint of the city who was known for his determined and compelling sermons (he’s also the saint to whom one prays in the hope of finding lost items).

The Basilica is a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the world and the saint’s chin and tongue are displayed in a gold reliquary at the Basilica.

According to Atlas Obscura: “St. Anthony died from edema in 1231, and when he was exhumed in 1263 he had totally decomposed, except for, curiously, his tongue.

The tongue was reportedly just as wet and incorrupt as it had been in his life, when he was celebrated for his oratory skills. He spent most of his life roaming Italy and France, giving sermons that captivated all of his audiences with a gripping power. He was canonized not too long after his death, but it was 30 years later when he was dug up to be reburied in a new basilica that his miraculous tongue was discovered.”

From the Basilica back to the Capella degli Scrovegni, is a bit of a hike so it is best to hop on the tram or call a radiotaxi. The Scrovegni Chapel is located in Piazza Eremitani, half way between the train station and the centro.  Saving the best for last, keep in mind that for whatever time you book your tour (advance booking is required), you need to be there 45 minutes beforehand. The Chapel is open 9am to 7pm and a few times throughout the year there are evening visits from 7pm to 10pm called Giotto under the Stars. Of course, you can start your visit to Padova with a stop here – whatever you do, do not miss the Chapel, even if it’s the only thing you see. The visit itself lasts 30 minutes.

Commissioned by the affluent Paduan banker (our tour guide hinted “loan shark looking for absolution”) Enrico Scrovegni in the early 1300s, the frescoes by Giotto depict the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ in a style that is a departure from religious artwork of his time. His figures look 3-dimensional and life-like unlike the previouly predominant 2-dimensional style and in these frescoes, Giotto also introduces the use of perspective.  The chapel is considered one of the most important masterpieces of Western art, akin to The Last Supper. Reservations can be made on the Scrovegni Chapel website or through sites like Vivaticket.

Like with most cities around Italy, you would do well to check times and availability for tours, church visits etc. Lots of the local tourism boards have websites offering discount cards for many of the public museums. There are even “hop on hop off” shuttles but they circulate on their own schedule which might not coincide with yours, so you need to figure out if they make sense — usually in these smaller cities you can get around pretty easily on foot or using public transportation.

Padova merits more than one day if you have the time to spare. There are plenty of other noteworthy museums that have important exhibitions throughout the year, there is wonderful shopping and a great food scene that merits your full attention. So make the time, a day or two, and enjoy this little gem.

 

Map of Padova with sightseeing tips

PadovaCard link

RadioTaxi Padova +39/049-651-333

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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