A Pilgrimage To Padua

Giotto's frescoes in the Capella degli Scrovegni are the highlight of any trip, but the Basilica of St Anthony attracts more religious pilgrims.


A Pilgrimage To Padua

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on April 17, 2007

Whatever you like, you can find it in Padova. There are a number of reasons for people to visit this city in the Veneto.

For the religious, the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua is the top draw as it houses the tomb and relics of the saint. Compared to the gilded decorations of the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, this is a working religious institution, and is the more authentic for it.

Art historians will be more interested in two other churches. The Capella degli Scrovegni in the grounds of the museum is sealed within an airlock to protect the luminous and groundbreaking frescoes of Giotto. Gaining access requires forethought andplanning as you have to book ahead for a visit at a specifically chosen time. Free at any time though are the frescoes in the duomo's Baptistery. Though not as accomplished as the earlier Giotto masterpieces, de Menabuoi's works are well worth a look.

Bizarrely, the Capella degli Scrovegni is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site, though for those who are determined to tick off as many as possible there is a site to the south of the basilica: the Orto Botanico, the world's first botanical gardens. Try to time a visit for the warmer months of the year though!

For those keen to explore the modern Italy I would recommend a trip to the markets in the Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta. Good local produce can be bought here in a quality and quantity to make any gourmand grin.

Padova makes its mark in literature, too. For the highbrow, Padua is the location of Shakespeare's 'The Taming Of The Shrew'. For the less highbrow, there is the musical version of that play, Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me, Kate'. All together now: "I've come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily then happily in Padua..."${QuickSuggestions} Padova can easily be visited on a daytrip from Venice or Vicenza (30 mins away by train), or from Verona (one hour by train), and can be slotted into any tour of the Veneto. It is best to plan any visit in advance, so you can prebook your place at the Capella degli Scrovegni. To me, this is the most incredible site in the city, and is as well worth a viewing as Venice if you are in the area! With your slot prebooked, you can organise your day around that. The attached Musei Civici Eremitani is not an overly enthralling visit, though there is a good multimedia show on the Capella downstairs. In the Pinacoteca, the only work that really caught my eye was a solitary Tiepolo depicting St. Patrick converting Ireland as a dragon flew away in the background.

The town center is a confusing jumble of streets and I got lost both on the way to the Baptistery, and again on the way back. At its heart are the market squares flanking the Palazzo della Ragione, and the Palazzo del Bo, the centre of the ancient university.

The University's UNESCO-listed Orto Botanico is located to the southeast, down the Via del Santo. To reach it, you pass the Basilica, so these two sites can be viewed as a piece.

The biggest tip though, if you are going to be doing any amount of sightseeing, is to pick up a Padovacard. These can be bought at the desk of the Museum, or booked online. If you are booking a ticket for the Capella degli Scrovegni, it is literally only another Euro to get a Padovacard thrown in, surely the best value deal in town! So for one measly Euro more that got me free entry to the Museum, the Palazzo della Ragione, the Orto Botanico, and the Baptistery. It also allows free access to other sites such as Petrarch's house, and discounts to other villas in the region.${BestWay} The railway connects Venice, Padova, Vicenza and Verona. Trains are frequent, fast, and cheap. A ticket from the automatic machine at Venice station to Padova cost a whopping €2.70. These machines are in English and wonderfully convenient. The train station in Padova is north of the centre, and it is a bit of an uninspiring trek past the shopfronts of Corso del Popolo and Corso Garibaldi to hit the old town. Even so, it cannot be more than about 1.2km from the station to the Orto Botanico in the south, and once you hit the Piazza Eremitani, the surroundings become a lot better looking. Indeed, I'm not really sure how you could drive in the town centre, particularly early morning or late afternoon when the market holders are setting up and going home respectively. There are plenty of students and schoolkids spilling out into the streets, too.

Capella degli Scrovegni

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on April 17, 2007

The phrase 'breathtaking' is over-used, but it is the only one that fits the Capella degli Scrovegni. The Scrovegni family were notorious for their usury—one was so bad he was denied a Christian burial and featured as a denizen of Hell in Dante's Inferno. To spare him that allotted fate his son commissioned a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1303. Showing great taste, the painter Giotto was hired to do the decoration.

Giotto's art shows a vast progression from the Byzantine style iconic figures that can be seen elsewhere, such as St Mark's Basilica, Venice). Rather than flat static two-dimensional figures, Giotto's characters were much more naturalistic, with clear actions, shading, and expressions. The Capella degli Scrovegni is regarded as his greatest work, and is thus protected by Italian law.

That protection means visiting is complicated. Subsidence and moisture from the chapel's swampy location, damage from the Second World War, and the humidity caused by the breath of thousands of visitors have seriously imperilled the survival of Giotto's frescoes. As a result, the authorities have put into place a futuristic system of airlocks. Tickets have to be reserved in advance for specific half-hour slots. At the appointed time, no more than 25 people are allowed to enter the modern atrium, where you are held for 15 minutes as the humidity is brought down to match that of the chapel itself, and any pollutants are scrubbed from the air. You then have 15 minutes to admire the chapel before you are booted out and the next party is admitted.

Once inside, your eyes are caught by the luminous frescoes. Even after all this time, the blue of the starry heavens overhead is deep and rich. Three bands of scenes wrapping around the chapel tell the story, comic-strip-like, of Joachim and Anne, the life of their daughter Mary, the Nativity of Jesus, the Miracles of Jesus, the Passion, and the return from the dead. Unlike in the Baptistery, Jesus doesn't seem to mind Judas's kiss so much here, but St. Peter is present and still lopping off someone's ear.

The end wall shows the truly brilliant Last Judgement. The kneeling Scrovegni present Mary with the chapel. To one side, Lucifer and his hairy blue demons torture the damned. At the base, the seven virtues face seven vices, the best being the suicidal Despair facing Hope, the battle between Stupidity and Prudence, and a snake-tongued Envy arranged against Charity.

You need to plan in advance to visit the chapel, but it is well worth it. At least two days in advance visit www.capelladegliscrovegni.it to reserve a place at the time of your choice. A ticket is €12, but for €15 you can get a ticket plus a Padova Card (normally €14 by itself) that allows further discounts around town. Even if one is only here for a day, I would recommend the latter option. Take your reservation to the ticket office in the Museo to pick up your actual ticket.
Capella degli Scrovegni
Musei Civici Eremitani Piazza Eremitani
Padova, Italy

Il Santo

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on April 21, 2007

The Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua is more commonly just known as 'Il Santo'. It is a large red-brick building with numerous bulbous domes, set to the southeast of the core of Padua.

Originally from Portugal, Anthony reached Italy after an ill-fated attempt to preach to the Moors of Morocco. He soon became known for his oratorical skills and, legend has it that when he once found no people to whom he could spread the good word, he instead preached to the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. He was a true superstar of the church in the thirteenth century, and within eighteen months of his death, he had been canonized, and the people of Padova had started to construct this basilica to house his tomb.

Unlike the tourist-ified Basilica of St. Mark in nearby Venice, this is a real devotional church. More prevalent than the jacket-wearing guides are the friars who wander about, hearing confession and offering benediction. The devout flock here, believing that the saint's intercession can work miracles, as their votive photographs of wounded limbs and car crashes testify. The pilgrims circle the tomb in the Chapel of St. Anthony, along the left-hand wall, placing a hand on the stone at the back and praying. Helpfully, preprinted slips of paper in the language of your choice allow you to request his aid. Instead, I admired the carvings along the back wall telling the stories of St Anthony reattaching a boy's severed foot, reviving a baby that had been boiled in a cauldron, and so forth. Above each carving there is a cityscape, just to the left of the centre panel you can recognise the domed Basilica itself.

Further back is the chapel of relics. If you ever want to understand the new Europe, you just need to note that the sign is now handily translated into Polish. Amongst the relics, you can view the robe of St Anthony, the tunic of St Anthony, the cilice of St Anthony, even the chin, tongue, and vocal cords of St Anthony! There is also meant to be an actual thorn from the actual crown worn by Jesus when he was crucified, though I couldn't find it.

As an active place of worship, access to the basilica, and even its associated chapels, is all free, though only a miser would begrudge a charitable donation.

Returning outside into the suddenly blinding daylight, you will find yourself in the Piazza del Santo, a smoothly-flagged square ringed with stalls selling items to meet all your devotional needs: rosaries, candles, hagiographies, and portraits of the saint. Looming above all is Donatello's giant equestrian monument to the 15th-century mercenary leader Erasmo da Narni. He was better known as 'Gattamelata', literally, 'The Honeyed Cat'. To my eye, the mounted figure looked rather insignificant compared to the muscular nobility of his steed. Its curving flanks serve to counterpoint the angles of the basilica's facade magnificently.
Il Santo
Piazza del Santo
Padova, Italy

The Baptistery

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on April 17, 2007

Much more worthy of a look that the actual Duomo itself is the Cathedral's Baptistery - dedicated to John the Baptist, it is still used for baptisms today.

The frescoes that decorate every possible inch of the interior were the work of Giusto de' Menabuoi-some 75 years after Giotto had left his mark of the Capella degli Scrovegni-and show how his humanism had become the new orthodoxy in that brief time.

The frescoes here are a paler reflection of the vivid hues used by Giotto. Nevertheless, they are wonderful to look at. Highlights include the Arrest in the Garden, where a black-haloed Judas betrays Christ with a kiss. No wonder Jesus looks so pissed-off. A burly St. Peter takes a knife to someone's ear below. Behind the ancient wooden altar there are scenes from Revelation, with two different interpretations of the Beast - a seven-headed dragon, and a leopard with seven long necks wearing thirteen bishops' croziers.

Don't forget to look up either. The ceiling has five ranks of saints in such perspective as to make the dome look stepped.

Entry is €2.50, or free with a Padova Card.
Santa Maria del Fiore & Baptistery (Il Duomo)
Piazza Del Duomo
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 055294514

Orto Botanico

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on April 17, 2007

Padova holds the world's first botanical gardens: the Orto Botanico. Founded in 1545 and attached to the university, the garden was a place for the cultivation of medicinal plants. The aim was to codify precisely the properties of the different flora, and hence to prevent misprescription in the days before modern medicine. Its circular centre was surrounded by a high wall just a few years later to try to cut down on the number of thefts of the plants, which could be sold for high prices on the black market. The garden is still associated with the university, though today's botanists are a bit more up-to-date. It provides a pleasant locale for a stroll, particularly for fans of plant-life.

Surrounded by its circular wall, the central plots are neat and geometric, with plants divided up according to their preferred habitat. One of the west's first gingko trees dominates the garden. When I visited, it showered yellow fan-shaped leaves from overhead. Also still standing is a giant palm that has pretty much outgrown its house. No less a personage than Goethe commented favourably on it way back in 1786.

Behind the palm house there are a couple of humid greenhouses stuffed with ferns and cacti. There is also a rather nice rockery simulating the flora of sphagnum bogs.

The garden is nice, and I dare say that, in spring or summer, it would be spectacular. At the end of November, however, I found it unsurprisingly withered and brown. There is a vistor's centre that puts the garden's history in context, and stresses its uniqueness as the first such place set over to the controlled scientific study of plants. It is due to this that UNESCO have deemed it a World Heritage Site. And I think that it is UNESCO enthusiasts and armchair gardeners who will get the most out of a visit. I have only given the site two stars, but I'm sure it would be worthy of at least another in spring or summer.

Entry is €4, or free with a Padova Card. From April to October, it is open every day of the week from 9am-1pm and 3-6pm. From November until March it is closed on Sundays, and is only open on other days in the morning. To find it, continue south past the Basilica of St. Anthony. It is signposted off to your left.

The website is at http://www.ortobotanico.unipd.it/eng/index.htm
Orto Botanico
Via dell' Orto Botanico 15
Padova, Italy, 35123
+39 (049) 8272119

Piazza delle Erbe & Piazza della Frutta

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on April 17, 2007

The two separate squares of Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta hold Padova's daily market. They are a great slice of local life. While there are a few stalls with non-food goods on display—childrens' clothes, and university books for example—the majority of the wears look deliciously edible. The Piazza della Frutta, as you might expect, has stalls groaning under the weight of fresh fruit and veg: pumpkins, oranges, mushrooms, too many to name really. Getting your daily 5-a-Day is certainly not an issue here.

Separating the two markets is the Palazzo della Ragione (q.v.). Its balconies provide a great view down over the hubbub. At the time of its construction in the 1210s, the second floor housed the largest room ever constructed atop another story. Now, the collonades beneath are dark and cool in the heat of the day, and provide space for more stalls: butchers, delicatessans, cheesemonger. It is all good quality local produce; it would make Jamie Oliver drool. The various smells can be a bit overwhelming as they comingle. Sensitive vegetarians might want to avoid the great hanging haunches of meat at the butchers'.

For those on the go, the market also makes a great spot for lunch. I bought some cheese, some sun-dried tomatoes, and a selection of fruit (€10 in total) to go with a small baguette for a makeshift picnic. Prices are displayed, but really you need a fairly good grasp of Italian numbers to work out how much the stallholders are asking you for after weighing. This is not the place for haggling. To do so would, I think, cause offence.
Piazza Delle Erbe Antiques
Verona
Verona, Italy

Palazzo della Ragione

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on April 17, 2007

Also known as the Salone, entry to the Palazzo della Ragione is free with a Padova Card (€8 without). Assuming you can find the stairs up the outside of the building, the first floor is well worth a look.

When built in the 1210s the 81m x 27m hall was the largest room built above another storey in the world. It is a vast hall with a couple of objects of interest - a giant wooden 15th-century horse, a Foucault's pendulum, and a black stone just inside the door. This is known as the 'Stone Of Insults' (Pietra del Vituperio). As the seat of medieval Padova's law-courts the salon was often visited by those burdened with debt due to the fractious conditions of the region. An English visitor claimed that a bankrupt could dissolve some of his debts by sitting on the Pietra "with his naked buttocks three times in some public assembly". How civilised.

The main attraction though are the frescoes that cover the walls. Sadly the earlier Giotto frescoes were destroyed by fire, but the fifteenth-century works still displayed today grab your attention. Essentially, the 333 panels are part of an astrological calendar. Each of the twelve sections has allegorical depictions of the astrological sign, the type of work done in that month, the planet and animal and type of person associated with that month etc.

The Palazzo is hemmed in by the markets of the Piazzi delle Erbe and della Frutta, both of which are well worth a browse.
Palazzo della Ragione
Between Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza delle Frutta
Padova, Italy

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