Cremona is an Italian town of 72.680 inhabitants, the capital of the homonymous province in Lombardy, located in the center of the Po Valley, not far from the banks of the Po River.
The Stradivari collection at the Violin Museum testifies to the cultural heritage of the city.
To say that the city is famous in the world for Torrazzo, one of the tallest bell towers in the world and symbol of the city and Torrone, which was born here 500 years ago and which then became famous all over the world, is an understatement, since Cremona offers tourists countless places that deserve to be visited. Let’s begin this tour to discover Cremona and its wonders!
Torrazzo is in all respects one of the monuments that best symbolizes the city of Cremona: it is in fact the tallest medieval bell tower in Europe (about 112.22 metres), whose structure exemplifies the extreme accuracy of the ancient techniques of construction and is considered a perfect combination of extremely different architectural styles, both Romanic and gothic.
However, Torrazzo is not a unique monument only from an architectural point of view: its astronomical clock is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of ancient mechanics, two meters larger than London’s famous Big Ben.
Moreover, thanks to the recent opening of the new Vertical Museum, some issues related to the study of the clock are deepened. For example, in the Hall of Measurement of Time the history of human perception of time is illustrated through the reconstruction of ancient measuring instruments, various types of clocks and interesting multimedia contents.
The Astronomy Room is dedicated to the study of celestial bodies. Inside, thanks to the particular construction characteristics of the Torrazzo, there is a fantastic installation of the Pendulum of Foucault.
A piece of the Cross of Jesus and other relics are kept in the golden sphere on top of the Torrazzo.
The Violin Museum and the violin makers’ shops
The violin museum is a musical museum located in Cremona. The museum is best known for its collection of bowed instruments which also includes violins, violas, cellos and double basses by renowned luthiers, including Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù.
In 1893, Giovanni Battista Cerani donated various musical instruments and models owned by great Cremona violin makers to the municipality of Cremona, including Antonio Stradivari. The Stradivarian Museum was thus established, which was later enriched by the invaluable collection of Ignazio Alessandro Cozio, count of Salabue, who had acquired what remained of the Stradivari laboratory, thus becoming one of the first Italian experts in the history of violin making.
The huge collection of wooden models, documents and craft equipment for the creation of Cozio’s bowed instruments was purchased in 1920 by the luthier Giuseppe Fiorini of Bologna in order to create an Italian school of violin making; however, failing in his purpose, after ten years he decided to give the entire collection to the civic museum of Cremona.
The museum has a luthier’s workshop inside to find out how to build a stringed instrument and listen to reproductions of great concerts. It is worth spending a few euros more to sit in the Auditorium designed by sound engineer Yasuhisa Toyota. A 460-seat wooden room, with the stage in the center and the audience around, where each object has been designed to achieve extraordinary sound quality.
The culture of “knowledge and luthier know-how of the Cremonese tradition” was inscribed on December 5, 2012 in the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO.
Church of San Sigismondo
Absolute treasure chest, the church of San Sigismondo allows visitors to make a real journey in the era of Leonardo’s great genius between architecture, sculptures and frescoes.
The church, built in 1662 in the place where 20 years earlier Bianca Visconti and Francesco Sforza got married giving birth to the Sforza dynasty, with a single nave of the Albertian type with side chapels, was frescoed from 1535 and represents one of the most significant decorative complexes of 16th century Mannerism in northern Italy, stylistically harmonious and unitary despite the intervention of several painters (Camillo Boccaccino, Giulio Campi, Bernardino Campi, Bernardino Gatti, Antonio Campi and others).
The single nave is entirely covered with frescoes: Christ in glory follows with the four evangelists in the apse and on the walls Christ and the adulteress and the Resurrection of Lazarus on the walls. When Boccaccino died the decorations were entrusted to Bernardino Campi who made some of the best works of the church such as Pentecost with the apostles arranged in a circle around the vortex of the Holy Spirit.
The decorations of the 12 chapels, the altarpieces, the wrought iron and brass gates, the wooden choir, the choir and the organ are a must see. The Dominican cloistered nuns live in the monastery adjacent to the church and during the evening mass they enter the church to pray and sing songs.
Cathedral of Maria Assunta
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is the main Catholic place of worship in the city of Cremona, in Lombardy, the bishopric of the homonymous diocese.
The cathedral is a vast Romanesque temple continuously adapted with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. Inside it preserves remarkable masterpieces of sculpture and painting, including the avello of SS. Mario and Martha and their sons Audiface and Abacus, originating from Persia and martyred in Rome, called “Ark of the Persian martyrs”.
The Cathedral was built in the 12th century, a period of great prestige for the city, linked to a series of military successes and conditions of economic well-being. The place chosen for the construction was the highest point of the medieval city, not far from the center of the original Roman castrum, sheltered from the floods of the Po which at the time flowed much closer to the historic center than today. In this place, previously, two churches stood, dedicated to Santo Stefano and Santa Maria, which were demolished to start the construction of the main temple.
The main facade, flanked by the Torrazzo, looks onto Piazza del Comune (ancient Platea Maior of the medieval city), exactly in front of the Town Hall. Clad in white Carrara and red Verona marble by Campionesi masters, it is characterized by a large central rose window, the work of Giacomo Porrata of Como (13th century).
In the three internal naves, three masterpieces of art and goldsmith’s art are distributed: in the northern transept there is the 3-meter high altar cross made with silver and gold taken from the Milanese after the battle of 1213 in Castelleone. The cross is made up of over a thousand pieces, 160 large and small statues and countless 50 busts of saints. Under the presbytery, there is a crypt with three naves in which the marvellous Ark of Saints Marcellinus and Peter (1506) is preserved. The pulpit is decorated with the remains of the Ark of the Persian martyrs which was supposed to guard the remains of Saints Mario and Martha and their sons Audiface and Abacus martyred in Rome.
The Ark was a Renaissance Carrara marble masterpiece whose remains today are scattered throughout museums around the world, including the Louvre.
Piazza del Comune
Like any city, Cremona also has its main focus in the Piazza del Comune, a place where tradition, history, art and architecture come together to create an area of incomparable beauty.
In Piazza del Comune, in fact, you can admire some of the most important monuments of the whole Cremona area. This place, as you can well understand with the description of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, served both the function of a religious and civil center, exactly as it happens today, demonstrating the fact that culture, religion and political power have always had traveled the same road.
Torrazzo undoubtedly dominates the scene of the Piazza del Comune without detracting from the elegance of the Bertazzola portico with the marble facade of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, or the beauty of the Baptistery or thirteenth-century buildings that bear the name of Loggia dei Militi and Palazzo Comunale.
The historical origins of the Loggia dei Militi are closely related to the Società dei Militi, which saw the participation of important figures from the city of Cremona and the whole countryside. It was built in the Piazza del Comune in 1292 and is a valid example of municipal architecture. It presents itself with a portico under which the emblem of the city is hidden, which derives from one of the ancient medieval gates.
The Town Hall was founded in 1206 with the typical architectural form of the Lombard broletto and subsequently enlarged in 1245.
The medieval structure of the palace did not undergo changes until the end of the fifteenth century. Starting from 1496 and then in the course of the following century, the facade was modified by replacing the thirteenth-century three-light windows with rectangular windows.
The internal space, which provided for a single large room for the meetings of the people of the Municipality, was divided into new smaller rooms including the chapel, today Sala dei Violini (which is treated separately), the Sala del Consiglio dei Decurioni, today Sala della Consulta and an access gallery, today Salone dei Quadri, seat of the City Council.
“Ala Ponzone” Civic Museum
“Ala Ponzone” Civic Museum is housed in the 16th century Palazzo Affaitati and hosts around 2,000 works including paintings, sculptures and musical instruments.
Established over the centuries starting in the sixteenth century, mainly with the collections of the Ponzone family, linked for public use with the will of the marquis Giuseppe Sigismondo Ala Ponzone in 1842, and expanded with the works from some suppressed Cremonese churches, the collection of paintings and sculptures today add up to more than two thousand pieces, only partially exhibited in the rooms of the Museum, among which the “San Francesco in meditation” by Caravaggio and “L’ortolano” by Giuseppe Arcimboldi stand out.
A recent intervention led to the opening of the Sala del Platina which contains the precious inlaid wardrobe, a masterpiece of Renaissance wooden art, made for the Cathedral of Cremona between 1477 and 1480 by the Mantuan artist Giovanni Maria da Piadena, known as Platina.
The Civic Museum also houses Le Stanze per la Musica, the collection of historical instruments by Carlo Alberto Carutti, one of the most important collections of string instruments for the quality, rarity and state of conservation of the instruments that make it up.
The historic shops in Cremona
The historic center of Cremona is a maze of narrow streets and neat pedestrian paths where you can walk pleasantly admiring the windows of the new and sparkling shops and those that have remained as they are the year of their foundation, indulging only a few concessions to modernity and maintaining the charm and atmosphere of the past century.
First of all, Sperlari. The story of one of the best-known brands in Italy began from this small shop full of torroni, chocolate, jams and mustards. If you want to try another artisan nougat, the right address is Vergari, famous all over the world for the typical cremone nougat.
A few steps away there are also the Lanfranchi Pastry, founded in the late nineteenth century: here you can taste the Pan di Cremona, of which it holds the patent.
The Pasticceria Duomo, however, looks directly onto the square. Ebbli Pastry, born in 1886, is furnished with Liberty furniture by the famous cabinetmaker Guastalli. Find his sweet specialties in via Cavallotti 5.
Being in Cremona, city of the violin, means that there are also plenty of violinmaking shops where you can find out how to build a violin or other stringed instruments and strings.