Padua is an Italian municipality of 212.730 inhabitants, chief town of the homonymous province in Veneto. It is the third municipality in the region by population after Venice and Verona (fourteenth nationwide) and the most densely populated.
The city was one of the cultural capitals of the fourteenth century: the pictorial evidence of the fourteenth century – among all, Giotto’s cycle at the Cappella degli Scrovegni – make it a crucial node in the development of Western art. In Padua, between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, an imposing cultural trend developed in Florence and then embraced also Padua, which would turn into the Paduan Renaissance, and will influence the artistic structure of the entire northern Italy of the fifteenth century. Since 1222 it has been home to a prestigious university which ranks among the oldest in the world. Let’s start our journey through the enchanting sites of Padua!
Cappella degli Scrovegni
It is one of the most precious jewels of Padua as it houses a famous cycle of frescoes by Giotto. The chapel stands among the ruins of the ancient arena of Padua, probably built between 60 and 70 AD.
In the 14th century it was purchased by the Scrovegni, a rich Paduan family of bankers and moneylenders, who built their palace here in the 1300s.
Between March 25th, 1303 and March 25th, 1305, the chapel dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation was raised, at the behest of Enrico Scrovegni in suffrage of the soul of his father Reginaldo, placed by Dante (Divine Comedy) in Hell because he was an usurer. The chapel has a very simple architecture: an elegant gothic trifora in the facade, tall and narrow windows on the south wall, inside a single room ending at the bottom with a presbytery where the sarcophagus of Enrico Scrovegni is located.
We don’t know the architect of the building: for some it should be the same Florentine painter Giotto.
Basilica di Sant’Antonio
The Basilica di Sant’Antonio, known by the name “Il Santo”, is the most important religious center in the city, and a destination for thousands of pilgrims who invade the city every year, and in particular on June 13th, the feast of the Saint for the famous procession.
The Basilica, which was started in 1232 to house the tomb of the Franciscan friar Antonio, who died in Padua in 1231, stands in the place where as early as 1110 there was a church dedicated to Mary then incorporated into the Basilica as the Chapel of the Madonna Mora.
In 1229, the convent of the friars was built next to the church, probably founded by Sant’Antonio himself.
The external facade is beautiful and imposing, where a mix of styles (Romanesque, Gothic, Byzantine and Moorish) merge and create perfect harmony. The interior, with a Latin cross and three naves that join in a semicircle behind the grandstand, where nine radial chapels open, is a concentrate of masterpieces.
Above all, the funeral monuments of doctors, warriors, prelates and men of letters attract the visitors’ attention.
This is a great work of art and devotion that welcomes visitors from all over the world.
Palazzo Bo, headquarters of the University of Padua, is located in the historic center of the city. It is popularly called Bo because it was built by incorporating an old hotel that had precisely the ox as a sign (hospitium bovis) being located next to some butchers.
Inside, we find the Aula Magna, which from the 16th to the 18th century hosted the “School of the great lawyers” and where Galileo Galilei also taught. Today it is used for the most important ceremonies.
Then we find the Sala dei Quaranta, which takes its name from the number of portraits placed on the walls, which represent some illustrious students of the University: here there is also what according to tradition is the Chair of Galileo Galilei.
Then we arrive at the Anatomical Theatre, built in 1594, and the oldest Anatomical Theatre in the world. The Theatre, commissioned by Girolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente in 1594, is an extraordinary walnut theatre that allowed students to attend autopsies on bodies from above.
Prato della Valle
Prato della Valle, one of the symbols of Padua, is a large elliptical square which, in addition to be the largest Paduan square, is one of the largest in Europe (88620 sq m), second only to the Red Square in Moscow.
Prato della Valle stands in a place that has always been the center of Padua’s life: here there was a large Roman theatre and a circus for horse racing. Here two of the city’s four patrons were martyred, Santa Giustina and San Daniele. In the Middle Ages fairs, rides and public holidays were held.
Inside, there is a green island, which takes the name of Memmia Island (from the mayor who commissioned the works) and is surrounded by a channel decorated with statues depicting famous characters from the past.
Duomo of Padua
The Duomo stands on the site of previous sacred buildings, whose eldest, an early Christian cathedral, probably stood on the current churchyard. The new cathedral consecrated in 1075 by the Bishop Ulderico was damaged a few years later in the 1117 earthquake. The construction of the present cathedral was completed between the 16th and 18th centuries.
The winner of the competition that had been banned was Michelangelo, but the execution of the works was entrusted to the Istrian architect Andrea da Valle and the architect Agostino Righetti who made substantial changes to the original project.
The Duomo was completed only in 1754 by the Venetian architect Girolamo Frigimelica, although the grandiose facade, with three portals and two rose windows, designed by him, was never finished and was subsequently seriously damaged, together with the large dome, in the bombings of 1917 and 1918.
The Baptistery of Padua
The Baptistery of Padua, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is a cult building that has origins in the 12th century and was initially built from other existing buildings until it was consecrated by Guido, the Patriarch of Grado in 1281.
Located right next to it at the Cathedral of Padua, it was subsequently restored and adapted in the 70s of the 14th century to the mausoleum of Prince Francesco il Vecchio da Carrara and his wife Fina Buzzaccarini.
The Baptistery is worth a visit especially for the artistic value of the frescoes by Giusto de ’Menabuoi, as well as for the relevance linked to the history of the Lordship of the Carraresi.
Piazza delle Erbe
Piazza delle Erbe is one of the most important aggregation centers in Padua. In ancient times, Piazza delle Erbe (also called ‘Della Biada’ and then ‘Del Vino’) was an important square of commercial and merchant exchanges, of less valuable materials.
The square, trapezoidal in shape, occupies two of the most important buildings in the city: the Palazzo del Podestà, seat of the Municipality of Padua, and the Palazzo della Ragione, which is located between Piazza delle Erbe and the nearby Piazza della Frutta, where the vegetable market in the city is located: the stalls of the ‘scariolanti’, which occupy a large part of the surface every morning around the fountain in the square (located here in 1930), are a real institution in Padua !
It is the oldest university scientific garden in the world to have maintained its original location: founded in 1545, it has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1997 and in 2014 it doubled its surface thanks to the Garden of Biodiversity.
Built on land once owned by the Benedictine monks of Santa Giustina where medicinal plants were grown, it was established by resolution of the Senate of the Venetian Republic, welcoming the proposal of Francesco Bonafede, reader of the Simples, who deliberated on the establishment in Padua of a Horto Medicinale where to cultivate, observe, study and experiment the medicinal plants which then constituted the great majority of the “simple” ones, or of those medicines that came directly from nature.
For this reason, the first botanical gardens were called Giardini dei Semplici (Hortus Simplicium).
The Eremitani Church
The Eremitani church is located in the north-eastern area of the historic center of Padua, near the ancient Roman amphitheatre and the famous Scrovegni Chapel decorated by Giotto.
Dedicated to two apostles, San Filippo and San Giacomo minor, it is however known as the church of the Eremitani because it was built and governed by this apostolic fraternity. The hermits, that is, hermits of Saint Augustine (today simply Augustinians – order of Saint Augustine) are a mendicant order born in the mid-thirteenth century.
The first partial union of congregations that followed the Rule of Saint Augustine dates back to 1244, and the latter joined the most famous Franciscans and Dominicans, who arose a few decades earlier.
The Padua complex has always been at the center of city life, both for its rich library and for the many famous religious who taught at the University.
Piazza dei Signori
Piazza dei Signori or Piazza della Signoria is one of the numerous squares that characterize the historic center of the city of Padua. The square was born in the 14th century with the demolition of an ancient neighbourhood that extended in front of the churchyard of the church of San Clemente, the result of those urban rearrangements promoted by Ubertino Da Carrara.
Until 1785, in the square there was a monumental well, adorned with marble columns and cannon balls. It was flattened in 1785 and closed by a seal – still visible – for reasons of decorum. The real was then used to refine the well of Piazza delle Erbe, the rest was all sold with the profit of 50 ducats.
The square today hosts part of the city market in the morning, but it was once reserved for walking and discussion.