I like the towns of the Padan Plain (Pianura Padana): they are simpatico, seem European (many bicycles as means of transport) and full of surprises. Situated between Verona and Venice the town of Padua (ital. Padova) is mostly known to art connoisseurs. However, everybody else might discover interesting places and the occasional wonder. These are my favourite places in Padua.
Padua – Town of fresco paintings
The Scrovegni-Chapel hosts a masterly fresco-cycle by Giotto. To not just stand in front of these paintings awestruck or even to surrender before their mysteries I try to decipher their messages – starting with the easy. Following my questions shows my I am onto a story. When Giotto was commissioned with painting the Padua frescoes he was at the height of his creative power and created his masterpieces (painted from 1303 to 1305). Visitors enter the chapel through a positing system protecting the paintings from humidity and rapid changes of air. While we are waiting our turn we watch a movie to prepare us for the visit. In the chapel each group has 15 minutes to look at the frescoes. Our guide’s explanations serve as a short-cut to deciphering the meaning of the depicted and help me a great deal reading them. (Tip: to make the most of your visit in the chapel, go with a guide!) Giotto depicted the holy family during day-to-day activities, thus giving them a lively, human and non artificial appearance. One of my favourites: Maria takes the baby up. Due to this liveliness the viewer keeps in mind the depicted scenes not the technique of the paintings. The artist skilfully guides the viewer through his imagery. When entering the chapel they see Annunciation, when leaving it they view the purgatory. One line of scenes shows the story of Maria and Joseph from apocryphal gospels. The life of Jesus is narrated in two other lines of scenes. When reading the pictures shown above each other in parallel interesting connections surface, the individual scene gains in depth and open for multiple interpretations.
How does such a masterpiece come about? The Scrovegni-Family were merchants and probably lent money, too. How to make sure that you will end up in heaven? Clear your sins including usury. They decided to invest a large part of their wealth into the creation of a unique work of art, their chapel. Seems a convincing strategy, even today 😉
Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua – Rhetoric and wonders
Mighty and cupola-rich the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua rises above the square. It reminds a mosque rather than a Christian church. It was supposed to be the new Jerusalem, hence the oriental elements. One turret resembles a minaret. It is hard to believe that the 2012 earthquake with its epicentre in Emilia Romagna was able to damage this massive building. Scaffoldings are evidence of the damages and its repair.
Saint Anthony of Padua was a Franciscan monk and the Saint to be canonized most quickly (only eleven months after his passing). Today he is considered one of the Doctors of the Church. Just as Saint Francis of Assisi himself Saint Anthony must have been an personality gifted with extraordinary rhetorical talent and fantasy. He found the right words to bring the stories and teachings of the bible close to ordinary folk who loved and adored him for that. Today Padua is the second most popular place of pilgrimage for Catholics in Europe (after Lourdes). Saint Anthony’s coffin is not only surrounded by high, white marble reliefs but boards with hundreds of coloured photographs as well attesting to all the wishes and hopes brought before the saint by people today.
The clear singing of a female voice bursts into my thoughts. There is Church service right now, but its sound reaches my ears only from afar. I bend my head far back and try to absorb as much as I can of the dark-blue star-seeded ceiling. The new Translohr-Trams of Padua are coloured with the same blue inside.
Another place of worship of Saint Anthony in his Basilica in Padua are precious relics. I like their symbolism even though I cannot believe the legend fully. A small staircase including a queue guide me to the high reliquary in which at first I spot only gold and nothing else. Tongue, lower jar and vocal chords are supposed to have been found completely intact during the translations of the bones of Saint Anthony – all the body parts used to speak and preach (if I desist from his hands taking notes and turn pages).
Why delve into these old stories? I like to find the people and stories behind these old legends. We look for our role models, preferred ways of life and inspirations in many different ways. What about a pilgrimage to Padua? Travels opens the mind to new thoughts!
University and student quarter
Galilei taught mathematics, the oldest botanical garden in the world – these are just two characteristics of the university town Padua. The University of Padua has been found 1222, making it the second oldest university in Italy (after Bologna). Once the rulers of Padua gave the students a house just opposite the Basilica to hold their lectures there – a generous gesture of support for the sciences and a sign of good governance. University education and research and thus progress at that time were most likely accompanied by personal courage and taboo infringements, like in medicine.
We stroll across the student quarter. The high portion of students and book stores are just one mark of a lively student town. Would I have studied Italian (instead of Russian) during my own studies I might have spent a semester in Padua (instead of St. Petersburg). Affordable, time-honoured and just enough distraction to dedicate time and patience to one’s studies, I think I would have liked it here.
Medieval town centre with market squares
The medieval market squares in Padua Piazza dei Frutti and Piazza delle Erbe hold markets for 800 years now (until today, except Sundays). The market squares are the best places to observe life in the town and to just drift. Try a tour in early mornings or evenings, too.
Prato della Valle – A place to breathe deeply
Those in search of breadth go to Prato della Valle. You will share this huge square with many statues, but other walkers will trail away. Prato della Valle used to host a Roman theatre, later exhibitions and fairs until it has been reconstructed into the green oasis it is today. An elliptic garden with refreshing ditches peppered with statues – a place made to breathe freely – lovely!
Tip for visiting Padua
All of Padua with one card Padovacard
Disclosure: Thank you, Gian of Italia Blogtour for organizing my participation in #EduPadua #VisitPadova Blogtour. Thank you, Town and Province of Padua for the invitation to visit and learn. It was fun! All reports from the tour (German) can be found here.