Dwight Peck's personal website

A visit to Ferrara, late May 2013

No use asking to see the UNESCO World Heritage properties -- the entire city is a World Heritage property.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Ferrara (1)

We've been down the train from Lausanne, through Brig and over the Simplon to Milan, change to Bologna, and another change to Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy, 17 May 2013.

Kristin's reliable sense of elegance-cum-frugality has landed us in the Ripagrande Hotel, formerly the Palazzo Beccari-Freguglia, on what was the medieval riverside thoroughfare of the Via Ripagrande. The Beccari family palace dates from the 16th century, most recently renovated in 1980. It's fabulous.

Here's the rainy view from our terrasse. Ferrara began as a ford over the River Po (which later evolved into a southern branch of the Po) and was first mentioned under Lombard rule in the 8th century. In 1146 the last of the ruling Adelardi family died without issue, and the city came by marriage to Obizzo I of Este -- after a century of squabbling with the other leading clans in town, the Este family were recognized as perpetual lords of the city and moved here permanently.

A fairly elegant and spacious room with a terrasse, and with . . .

. . . a mezzanine bedroom above (which we don't really need, except that the ethernet jack is up there, and we've brought an extra-long cable to drop over the railing).

As pleasant and commodious as you could wish

The central staircase

The front hall of the Ripagrande

The restaurant in the Ripagrande courtyard (closed when we were there)

Late afternoon on our first day in Ferrara = scoping out the restaurants. In the end, this one, the Osteria degli Angeli, in the medievalest of the medieval streets, the Via delle Volte, is the one to which we dashed every evening throughout our visit except for the one night it was closed.

And this one (not Kristin, farther down the street), the Trattoria de Noemi, is where we fetched up on the other night, and were very happy there as well. The local cuisine ("Cucina Tipica Ferrarese", ☺) is so good that perhaps you can't go very far wrong anywhere in town.

So, the dinner issues are settled and we can commence our visit. This is Via San Romano, allegedly leading towards the famous cathedral.

Street scene

Ferrara old town is compact and walkable, and there's beautiful historical stuff everywhere, which you can stroll along to without worrying about all the cars -- because, basically, there aren't any cars to speak of (non-residents park outside the city wall and hike about as we are or hire a bicycle.)

Part cathedral, part medieval mall -- shops staring at us along the sides of St George's cathedral.

The cathedral was begun in 1135 and has an encouraging Romanesque look, and the fabulous Renaissance belltower dates from the late 15th century.

The City Hall (Palazzo Municipale) is housed in what was once the early residence of the Este family when they hit town, first built in 1245 but renovated in the 18th century.

The cathedral and campanile in a lowering late afternoon, overlooking the Piazza Trento-Trieste (presumably a memorial of the Italian-Austrian front in World War I), the site of city markets from earliest times and now, too.

Imaginative columns

The main façade of the Duomo, with centuries of evolving architectural styles scrawled all across it.

Down the main street (Corso Martiri della Libertà, commemorating some fascist murders of the citizens in 1943) lurks the centrepiece of Ferrara's Best Stuff, the Castello Estense, or Este Castle.

Back to the duomo, the "blessings loggia" with the madonna, from the early 15th century

-- Perhaps this will be a warning to you. (A sobering 13th century view of your options.)

The Este Castle. The Estes themselves, originally a Roman family, were established in the town of Este near Padua by the 10th century. Welf IV, the eldest son of Alberto Azzo II Este, the Margrave of Milan, by marriage and inheritance, fetched up as Duke of Bavaria in 1070 and became the founder of the house of Welf (or Guelph), descendants of which ruled most of western Europe at one time or another, including Hanoverian Great Britain from 1714 to the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.

Meanwhile, Alberto Azzo's third son, Fulco d'Este, Margrave of Milan, started the junior line of the family before he died in the early 12th century -- his descendant Azzo, already podestà of Mantova and Verona, inherited Ferrara from the local alpha-clan in 1146, and the family became hereditary lords of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio in the later 13th century.

A look through the gatehouses. The portcullis is down -- we'll need to come back later.

Early evening, time for our appointment at the Osteria degli Angeli

Great food, friendly welcoming staff, reasonable prices

The musical motif extends to background music of classic '60s and '70s rock, perhaps not to everyone's taste.

The next morning, 18 May, we're checking the news on the Wifi in the Ripagrande hotel (the Wifi doesn't reach to the top floors but there's an ethernet connection in every room).

Out on the street, a busy day planned (and partially accomplished by the end of it). Like many Italian inner cities these days, this is largely a city of bicycles.

Booksellers' street markets are everywhere.

We're back to the cathedral square

A car show is setting up in the piazza

The Palazzo Municipale and Castello Estense

And the Lord said: "To every cathedral square, a McDonald's".

The charming row of medieval shopfronts is known as the Haberdashers' Loggia.

That's the cathedral museum in the Chiesa di San Romano. We'll be back.

The Haberdashers' Loggia from the other direction

And the Palazzo Municipale

Nth in our series of "Kristin's Hand in the Lion's Mouth", but without the actual hand in the mouth this time. The Horse Arch into the Piazza Municipale within the City Hall is across the street in the City Hall.

Through the Horse Arch

We're back to the Castello Estense, early in the day.

The portcullis is open this time.

But nothing else was open -- out we go again. 'Come back after lunch.' Our "early start" is not always as early as other people's early start.

So it's up the Corso Ercole I d'Este, the main thoroughfare of the huge early-16th century extension of the city to the north commissioned by . . . Duke Ercole I, the brilliant late 15th century lord of Ferrara who really put the city on the Renaissance cultural map.

Into the 15th century Palazzo dei Diamanti, the Diamond Palace, which now houses the Pinacoteca Nazionale or National Painting Gallery as well as special exhibitions. The palace is open, but . . .

. . . the Painting Gallery is not ('come back after lunch; in fact, come back tomorrow').
But the Antonioni exhibition is not only open but lots of fun.

A welcome joke. As you pass along the back interior of the Palazzo, here's an empty tennis court, and the speakers are knocking out the lonely pock-pock-pock of a tennis ball volleying back and forth. Remember the final scene of Antonioni's Blow Up?

Kristin quizzical in front of the Diamond Palace, showing the diamonds (8,500 of them) on the front of it, as we poke around in the neighborhood till the Este Castle re-opens.

The nearby Parco Massari

The botanical enthusiast

And, by now, the castle should be open at last. Here we go.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 22 June 2013.

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