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Saint Anthony's Basilica
and Prato della Valle at Padua


Market in the Piazza del Erbe, Padua


Bicycle in Padua by Nicholas Baumgartner


Saint Anthony's Basilica, Padua

Welcome to Padua (Padova)
From Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 210,821 (2004)
Official website:
Padua
Wikipedia: Padua
Map: MapQuest

Venice has more or less given itself over to tourism, but Padua (or Padova as it is known to Italians) is the largest, most vibrant, and busy economic center in the Veneto Region.  It sits just 47 kilometers to the southwest of Venice, sitting in a highly productive agricultural plain, the Pianura Padovana, on the banks of the River Bacchiglione.

To get to the centro historico - the historical center - visitors to Padua have to work their way through the city's residential and industrial suburbs (corn and saw mills, agricultural machine and automobile works, distilleries and breweries, chemical factories, candle-works, ink manufacturers, metal foundries, etc). But, it is an effort made worthwhile by the immense architectural, artistic and cultural wealth contained in the "old city".

In its earliest days, as long ago as the 4th century, the area around the city was settled by Bronze Age tribes people known as the Veneti.  By 200 BC the area was under the domination of the Romans, who, in about 45 BC declared it a "municipium" - a flourishing city whose people enjoyed the privileges of Roman citizenship.

During the long decline of the Roman Empire, the city, allied closely to Rome, suffered horribly at the hands of invading barbarians, including Huns and Goths.  The city was taken back by the Byzantine general, Narses, in 568 AD as part of Byzantine Emperor Justinian's efforts to drive out the invaders and reclaim Italy.

The Byzantines quickly lost the city to the Longobards, but in 601 AD, the people rebelled against their rule, resulting in a long, deadly siege that culminated in the utter decimation of antique Padua at the hands of the Longobard king, Agilulf.  As a result m not much remains of the pre-Roman or Roman period - just the ruins of a few Roman bridges and the  amphitheater.  When the Franks invaded northern Italy in the late 8th century AD, and became the new rulers of the area, Padua was unable to resist.  The city underwent another devastating siege and sacking at the hands of the Magyars in 899 AD from which recovery was slow and painful.

The later medieval history of the City is not dissimilar to that of the entire Veneto.  It was absorbed into the Venetian Republic and enjoyed a long period of peace until the area was taken by the Austrian Empire.  It was  ruled by Austria (except for a brief period during the Napoleonic conquest), until 1866, when the Austrians were driven out and the Veneto Region was added to the modern country of Italy.

So, what will the modern traveler find in Padua today?  Well, the city has a distinct and energizing buzz because it is populated by thousands of students who attend its ancient University (see side bar) and other schools.  There are also a number of good restaurants, trattorias and cafes which add verve to Padua and where one can enjoy time-out from touring the "cultural" attractions of the city.

The old city, whose shape is defined by its medieval walls and fortifications has a number of large and capacious piazzas, but they are separated by a tangle of narrow medieval streets, many of which have buildings with street level arcades.  There are massive government buildings, but also imposing private residences sitting cheek by jowl with more modest homes.  Within the city is an architectural and artistic treasure house.

A good starting point for an exploration of Padua is the immense elliptical piazza and public garden, the Prato della Valle, one of the biggest such areas in Europe.  The large garden at its center is surrounded by a moat, whose interior circumference is lined with 78 statues of Padua's most famous early citizens.  The area is still much-used for concerts - and loud political demonstrations, both of which are regular events in Padua.

Nearby is the abbey and Basilica di Santa Giustina founded in the 5th century on the martyred saint's tomb.  The basilica houses a number of tombs and saintly sarcophagi and an important painting portraying Santa Giustina's martyrdom by Paolo Veronese.

The basilica dedicated to Saint Anthony, who is known simply as Il Santo to Paduans, is perhaps the most famous of all the churches in the city.  It was begun in 1230 and completed many decades later.  The largely Romanesque exterior features seven cupolas, two of which are pyramidal.  The interior contains gorgeous 15th century marble carvings by artists such as Falconetto and Sansovino and bronze relief work at the altar by Donatello.

On the piazza in front of the basilica is a bronze statue, also by Donatello, of the famous medieval mercenary general, Erasmo da Narni, also known as Gattamelata.  Modelled on the statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, the statue, done in 1453, is the first full sized cast bronze equestrian state for hundreds of years.

A "must see" religious building in Padua is the Scrovegni Chapel, sitting next to the ruins of the Roman amphitheater, which, because its interior walls are almost completely decorated with paintings by Giotto is one of Padua's most visited buidlings.

The nearby Augustinian Church of Eremitani (13th century) is notable because its adjacent monastery was used as a local Nazi headquarters during WW2 and was bombed by the allies as a result.  The restored building now houses the municipal art gallery, the "pinocoteca".

Close to the Duomo are several other important buildings including the 13 century St. George's Oratory and the School of Saint Anthony, which features frescoes by Titian.

The Palazzo della Regione (Palace of Reason) was begun in 1172 AD, but not finished until 1219 AD.  The roof along the full 815 meter length of the building, was originally designed with three sections over three interior halls, but after a fire in 1420, Venetian architects rebuilt the roof as one long keel-shaped structure creating what is probably the longest, largest room (called the Salone) in Europe that does not have supporting columns.  Shortly after the rebuilding, its interior walls were frescoed by Stefano da Ferrara and Nicolo' Miretto.  Padua's most important daily markets take place on the piazzas (Piazza Erbe and Piazza Frutta) along the front of the Palazzo.  These two piazzas are part of the even larger Piazza dei Signori.

Another of Falconetto's works is the Loggio Cornaro, the first fully Renaissance building in Padua.  The loggia - or apartment - was an addition to a Palazzo built for Alvise Cornaro in earlier times.  Falconetto  is also responsible for the massive, but beautiful door, completed in 1572, on the Palazzo del Capitanio, which served as the residence for Venetian governors.  Overlooking the Piazza dei Signori, built from 1493 to 1526) is another loggia, or apartment, the Gran Guardia.

Padua's Duomo, or cathedral, dates to the 11th century, but was remodeled in 1552 AD on a design of Michelangelo.  The adjacent Baptistry, which contains frescoes by Menabuoi, was consecrated in 1281 AD.

Other notable churches in Padua include the slightly tilting (soil subsidence!) Chiesa Santa Sofia, started in the 10th century it is probably the city's oldest.  It has a basilica plan, and a facade that is part Romanesque, part Gothic.  There are also Byzantine elements.  The apse was added in the 12th century.

Enough said about architecture and art!

As we said, there is much to see in Padua...more than can be seen in one day.  So, stay longer if you can and dig in.  Stay at one of the good hotels in the city, or perhaps find an Agriturismo - country home - in the surrounding area and make day trips into Padua.  Amble through the medieval streets and strike a pose in one of the city's great piazzas.  And be sure to enjoy the local cuisine - whose ingredients include the farm products of the local plain, and fish taken from local rivers and the Adriatic which is close at hand.

By Vian Andrews, September 1, 2006

Region of Veneto

4525′N 1152′E

Distances

Vicenza - 38 km;
Venice - 47 km;
Verona -  89 km;
Treviso - 65 km;
Ferrara -  76 km;
Bologna - 117 km:
Brescia -148 km;
Modena - 156 km;
Parma -  212 km;
Florence - 220 km;
Milan -  246 km

Directory

 
 

Coat of Arms, Padua
 

Paduans claim that the city was founded by a mythological Trojan named Antenor.  A sarcophagus said to contain relics of his time in Padua was unearthed in 1274 AD.  Paduans also claim their city is the oldest in northern Italy.

 

During its earliest times, Padua was protected by the River Bacchiglione which was diverted to form a moat.  The moat was still in use during Roman times.  The first walls, of which little remains today, were built during the 12th century along the river and some of its canals.  Of the original 19 gates, only two survive: the Porta Altinate and Porta Molina.  Some additions to the walls were made later in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The Venetian Republic added 20 or so bulwarks which are in good stead today. Several of the gates in these extended walls are extant: the Portello Gate; S. Giovanni Gate; Savonarola Gate.

 

Shakespeare set most of the scenes for the play The Taming of the Shrew in Padua.

 

The classical historian known as Livy was born at Abano, a nearby town.

 

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Padua is home to a company of world famous organ-makers, The Fratelli Ruffatti (Famiglia Artigiana Fratelli Ruffatti) whose highly prized organs have been installed in churches and theaters around the world.

 

Near Padua are a number of villas that architectural buffs might want to visit.  They include the Villa Contarini, at Piazzola sul Brenta, built in 1546 by Palladio. Other villas include: Villa Molin di Mandria (by Scamozzi, 1597); Villa Loredan, at Sant'Urbano; Villa Cittadella-Vigodarzere (19th century), at Saonara; Villa Selvatico da Porto (15th-18th century), at Vigonza and Villa Pacchierotti-Trieste (17th century), at Limena.

 

The University of Padua was founded in 1222 AD and in the following centuries attracted some of the greatest scholars and scientists of the ages including the poet Torquato  Tasso, the astronomer Galileo, and the anatomist Vesalius.  The University boasts the oldest anatomy theatre (1594) and the oldest botanical garden (1545) in the world.  The university also attracted master artists such as  Giotto, Fra Filippo Lippi and Donatello. Another great artist,  Mantegna, was born in Padua.

The University is still housed in a group of buildings including the Bo Palace, which were built between 1542 and 1601 around a medieval inn called the Bo - or "Ox".  The complex includes the Old Courtyard (mid 16th century), the Room of the Forty containing Galileo's professor's chair, the Aula Magna (bedecked with hundreds of coats of arms), and the famous Anatomy Theatre.