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The Duomo in Parma

Piazza Garibaldi at night, Parma

Verdi monument, Parma

Parmesan cheese wheels

Welcome to Parma
From Jesse's Journeys in  Italy

Population: 175,789 (2004)
Official website:

Originally settled by Celtic tribes people, Parma became an Etruscan  town, named for their round battle shield.  By 183 BC, along with Modena, Parma had become another  Roman colony.  It was destroyed in 44 BC, but re-built by Caesar Augustus later.

The medieval and modern history of Parma follows the general course of other cities in Italy's northern plains.  During the long decline of the Roman Empire, it was invaded by barbarian forces from the north - first the Huns under Attila and then the Goths under Totila who destroyed the city.  Parma next fell under the short rule of the Byzantine Empire who had come to Italy seeking to restore the hegemony of the Roman Empire.  During this time it was made part of the Exarchate of Ravenna.  In 570 AD, Byzantine rule gave way to the Longobards invasion and a long period of Longobard domination ensued.

Parma found itself as a main staging point along the main road from Italy to northern Europe, the via Francigena, which exposed it to an array of prodigious cultural influences but also landed it in the middle of all the violence that occurred over the centuries.  From the 9th century onward, Parma's history becomes very complicated as the surrounding region - the Romagna - came under  Frankish, Austrian, Napoleonic and Savoyan rule, and as struggles between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire waxed and waned.

Ultimately, Parma was absorbed with the rest of the Romagna into the modern state of Italy in 1860.  It was always a volatile and hyper political city - and has remained so to the present: animated, sometimes violent political demonstrations and  hot labor strikes are were and are not - even toay - uncommon.

Notwithstanding Parma's frequent destruction at the hands of invaders, and under the bombs of the Allies during WW2, much has survived.   Indeed, although Parma is a large, industrial and business center, its ancient heart contains a treasure trove of architectural, artistic and cultural works.

Traces of Roman times, including ruins of their theater, amphitheater, thermal spa and basilica and  portions of the ancient Roman road, the Via Emilia, are still evident in the city today.  Indeed many of the main thoroughfares, the stretch from Via Gramsci to Via D'Azeglio and the stretch from Via Mazzini to Via Repubblica of the city are built on the old thoroughfare.  All other streets in the centro historico - the historical center - in the grid originally laid-out by the Romans are either perpendicular or parallel to the road.  The main piazza, Piazza Garibaldi, is built on the site of the ancient Roman forum.

The most significant buildings, which house incredible frescoes, paintings, relief work and statuary, include the Romanesque Cathedral - or Duomo - and Baptistry, a complex started in 1196.  The Duomo has works by Correggio and Antelami.  The church of Saint John the Evangelist was built during the high Renaissance between 1498 and 1510 AD.  A Baroque facade was added later.  The interior dome was frescoed by Correggio who, along with another local artist, Araldi, also frescoed the Monastery of Saint Paul.

The Palazzo della Pilotta is probably the most important and impressive secular buidling.  Built in 1583 in the Renaissance style, it currently houses the Academy of Fine Arts, whose collection includes works from the so-called School of Parma.  The Palazzo is also home to the the Palatine Library, the National Gallery, the Archaeological Museum, the Bodoni Museum and the Farnese Theatre. The later was built entirely in wood over the years 1618 and 1619.

Music aficionados will find much to see and do in Parma.  Parma's opera house, the Teatro Regio, featuring a neo-Classical facade and a porch with a double row of windows was  built between 1821 and 1829.  The very famous modern Italian architect, Renzo Piano, designed another theatre, an Auditorium dedicated to Niccolo Pagannini. The birth home of conductor Arturo Toscanini, now a museum, is close by.

Museum lovers should be sure to see the Museo Lombardi with its superior  prestigious collection of art and historical artifacts and lovers of gardens and man-made landscapes should pay a visit to the Ducal Park, opened in 1561, at the Farnese Palace.  Here you will find a place to relax and take a deep breath amidst a well-tended green space that evokes a long bygone era.

We can not end an article about Parma without advising travelers to take the time out to eat at least one good Parmensi meal - and many more if possible - during their time in the city.

Two of its foods are famous the world over: Parmesan cheese and Parma ham, including the spectacular prosciutto.  Naturally, these products find themselves into a variety of the dishes served up by restaurants in Parma and the surrounding area.

Remember, Parma is in the middle of an immensely fertile area, and so there are a host of other local agricultural products - vegetable, grain, meat and dairy - that find their way into the local cuisine.  And, of course, a  good meal goes is enjoyed all the more with a glass - or two! - of local wine, say the Rossi di Colli di Parma, which is made from Barbera and Bonarda grapes or the the Malvasia or Sauvignon whites.   Perfetto!

By Vian Andrews, September 2, 2006


44°48′N 10°20′E


Modena - 66 km;
Modena - 66 km;
Bologna - 105 km;
Milan - 131 km;
Ferrara - 147 km;
Florence - 188 km;
Padua - 213 km;
Venice - 248 km;




Parma Coat of Arms


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