BOLOGNA is a city of arcades, which sweep through the historical centre for over 38km. There you will find them in nearly every street. Their origins can be in part attributed to the city’s strong growth in the late Middle Ages and to the willingness to make the most of the architectural space in order to increase the size of houses, they expanded to the upper floors, developing commercial and artisan activity on the ground floor. A clear signal of the creative enterprise that has accompanied Bologna through the centuries. Bologna is also the city of underground canals, of an extremely old university, and of numerous pubs where you can taste typical cuisine and their own wines. Many religious buildings characterise the city with Basilicas, Churches, Oratories and Sanctuaries, some date from the XII century. But Bologna is also known for its noble towers hailing from the Middle Ages: it is estimated that there were more than 90-100 in this period. Nowadays there are about 17 remaining towers, among which are the Torre Azzoguidi, the Torre Prendiparte and the most famous, the Torre degli Asinelli. The Torre degli Asinelli is the tallest in Italy, standing at 97.20 metres, and has come to be a symbol of the city. Lastly there is the Torre della Garisenda, originally standing at 60 metres it is now 48. These last two were both built at the request of the noble Ghibellines of the 13th century. The city is also dotted with many palaces and villas that date mainly from the period between the XVI and he XVIII century. The most significant amongst these is the Archiginnasio di Bologna Palace. But it can be difficult to see the art through the crowds of people. Bologna boasts, in fact, a good 43 museums and galleries where are exhibited prestigious works. In particular there is the Pinoteca Nazionale di Bologna (the National Gallery of Bologna), counted among the most modern and important National Galleries admired and appreciated by foreigners, that displays works by artists of the calibre of Giotto, Raffaello and Tiziano. There is also the newly established Museo Internazionale (International Museum) and the Biblioteca della Musica di Bologna (the Bologna Library of Music) which, together with the Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini, contains a notable combination of music collections (books, instruments, tableaus); the Palazzo delle Esposizioni (Palace of Exhibitions) at Palazzo Fava and the Museo della Storia di Bologna (the Bologna History Museum) at the Palazzo Pepoli.
The merit of the beauty of FERRARA lies with the Estes, the great dynasty that governed for 300 years. The historical centre is one of the best-preserved examples of the Medieval city, characterised by a vast number of monuments, palaces, churches and historical streets. Castello Estense stands erect in the very centre of the city: a brick building with a square layout, equipped with four defensive towers with turrets, and surrounded by a moat full to the brim with water, making it one of the last castle in Europe encompassed by a moat. The castle combines the typical Medieval structure with the pomp and splendour of the Renaissance.
Not to be missed are the Cathedral (XII century) with an interior reminiscent of St Peter’s, and of course the most magnificent Este palaces, beginning with the Diamond Palace, dating back to 1400, most of the most beautiful buildings in Europe. Its name derives from its external appearance with its 12,000 marble blocks crafted into the shape of diamonds. Today it plays host to the National Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art, a venue for major exhibitions. Then there is the Schifanoia Palace, a so-called ‘Este delight’ where the court banished their boredom with parties and dancing. Last but not least is the Palazzina Marfisa d’Este, another example of the ostentation the Este family were accustomed to in the 1500s.
A less beaten track is that of the medieval streets. From the famous Via della Volte, romantic and silent streets branch off, all arches and cobblestones, among which are Via Crocebianca, Via Centoversuri, Via Sacca and Via Colomba. This last one leads to a small square unbeknownst by most, Piazza San Nicolò, where you can find a church deconsecrated by a bizarre and enormous apse of Biagio Rossetti. Different, but still of great interest, is the Mulino del Po (the Po Mill), a faithful reproduction commemorating the mills that resided on the Po over a hundred years ago. Today the site of the Museo del Pane (Bread Museum), the mill is a work of considerable value that comes from the monumental historical research done in order to acquire information on the old floating mills, with particular reference to their size, manufacturing techniques, systems and machines.
MODENA Even UNESCO has been conquered by the grace of Modena to the point that it has proclaimed its three masterpieces, the Piazza Grande, the Duomo and the Ghirlandina a World Heritage Site. Modena is a spectacular city of art and therefore culture. But it is also a capital of gastronomy, with its stars being traditional balsamic vinegar, lambrusco and typical cold cuts.
“How did I do it? I think I was directly inspired by God”. So answered the architect Lanfranco when he was asked how he managed to design his masterpiece of the Duomo of Modena, so the legend goes, and who knows whether or not he really thought that. What is absolutely certain however, is the splendour of this magnificent building, held in esteem as one of the pinnacles of Romanesque European architecture. Grandiose. Completely clad in white marble. A series of endless plastic columns, capitals, bas-reliefs, figures of prophets, fantasy creatures and plays on light and shadows. The façade was decorated by another genius of the age, the sculptor Wiligelmo. Since 1099, when the first stone was laid, the Modena Duomo has continued to amaze visitors and tourists alike.
But Modena is a special city of art because it manages to welcome a tourist warmly into an atmosphere that is a far cry from metropolitan stress. Hence why an overwhelming sense of beauty is felt when crossing the Piazza Grande, with its ancient cobblestone paving. How many destinies there were that were decided right there over the course of the centuries. In the piazza there is still the ‘Ringadora’ stone, an enormous mass of rock that, in a more communal time, served as a stage for speakers who took it in turns to harangue the crowd. Today the Piazza Grande is full to bursting on January 31st, the day of San Geminiano, the patron of the city. On Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Graz, the day of Sandrone, the Modenese mask pronounces its “sproloquio” (a ‘rambling speech’) to its fellow citizens from the balcony of the municipal building. For those who ask – there is always someone who asks – why the tower of Modena (87 metres), the symbol of the city, is called Ghirlandina, the explanation is simple: it is because of the marble bannister, which is beautiful and graceful like a garland of flowers, that twirl and coil their way around the steeple.
If Modena were a colour? Obviously it would be red. Like the Ferraris that, combined with the Maseratis attract millions of car enthusiasts from around the world. Including Japan.
RAVENNA is a very old and magnificent city, its history and its monumental heritage is a testament to its splendour: a city of art and culture, a city of mosaics, an old city that 1600 years ago was three times the capital, of the Western Roman Empire, of Teodorico king of the Goths and of the Byzantine Empire in Europe.
Such beauty to admire to some degree provokes a need for knowledge. “The combination of the early Christian and Byzantine religious monuments in Ravenna is of extraordinary importance because of the supreme artistry of the mosaic. This is further proof of the relationship and the contact between the arts and religion in an important period of the history of European culture”. This was the motivation behind early Christian monuments being enrolled onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in December, 1996. Indeed it has eight monuments that have been declared World Heritage sites: the Mausoleum of Gallo Placidia, a small brick building containing extraordinary mosaics; the Baptistry of Neon, resplendent with inlaid marble, stucco and multi-coloured mosaics. From the most important period of Gothic reign there is the Arian Baptistry, an octagonal shape, with its dome decorated with a mosaic representing the Baptism of Christ. Still under the reign of Teodorico, for the practice of Aryan worship was built the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, which was then consecrated to Catholic worship. The Mausoleum of Teodorico is an example of unique and unrepeatable architecture, built with huge blocks of Istrian stone and developed into two floors. The Capella Arcivescovile (Archbishop’s Chapel), whose mosaic brings up the issue of the struggle against Aryan heresy, is the only orthodox monument built during the reign of Teodorico. The Basilica of San Vitale is also considered to be one of the early Christian creations of art in Italy, a form of transition from classical architecture and Byzantine. Located 5km from Ravenna, outside the walls of the ancient port centre, is found the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe, patron of the city. It is a building dating from 549AD with a cylindrical campanile and erected so it overlooks the plain. All of these mounments are located within the historical cantre, except the Mausoleum of Teodorico and the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe, which is located in the ancient Roman-Byzantine port.
PARMA Lightly refined and as extremely precious as if it were a small European capital, Parma presents itself as a treasure chest rich with history, culture and quality of life.
Inhabited by the Etruscans, it was a Roman colony from 183BC and soon became the location of a powerful Episcopal fort. In the meantime, the Comune continued to grow around the Duomo and the Baptistery, still, however, without any specific family asserting themselves over the others. Between the 13th and 14th centuries it fell under different foreign governances, among which was the Sforza family, who subsequently, amid contention between the Papacy and the French, took the Dukedom at the behest of Paolo III Farnese. Before the Unification of Italy, there was a transition to the Bourbon family with a parenthesis of Maria Luisa of Habsburg’s reign. Primarily, the Farnese family had rendered Parma comparable to the most beautiful European and Italian art capitals. Today Parma is a well-preserved and accessible city thanks to the numerous pedestrian islands, rich in artistic masterpieces and numerous theatres, such as the Royal Temple of Opera; where in fact were born and visited great maestros such as Toscanini, Verdi and Paganini. In particular the historical centre contains world-class masterpieces: close to the Duomo piazza is the Camera di San Paolo, the Palazzo della Pilotta with the Galleria Nazionale and the Farnese Theatre, as well as the Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista and the Basilica Santa Maria della Steccata. On the outskirts stands the famous Charterhouse of Parma, which dates from 1225, not to be confused with the Charterhouse of Paradigna, a few miles form the city, which inspired Stendhal in his famous novel “The Charterhouse of Parma”, built between 1314 and 1324 which is still today one of the leading examples in Cistercian culture. In Parma you can also enjoy a highly valued gastronomic tradition, an original and unique mix and one tat has managed to combine the Emilian cuisine with French tradition.
MILAN capital city of the Lombard-Venetian kingdom, was founded by the Gauls at the start of the 4th century and subsequently became Mediolanum, a Celtic name which seems to mean ‘halfway place’, under the Roman dominium after the 3rd century.
Few traces remain of the Roman era but among them are the Columns of San Lorenzo. With the administrative subdivision of the Roman Empire, Milan became the capital of its Western part (292AD), and was a centre of great importance for Christianity, as attested to by the many Milanese churches of early Christian origin such as Sant’Ambrogio, Sant’Eustorgio and San Lorenzo. As a result of the Barbarian invasion, Milan was ransacked in 539 and lost its role as the most important city of the Region. Nevertheless, around the year 1000 Milan became the most populated city in Italy and it was known for its production of wool, silk, metal and weapons. Between the 11th and 13th centuries Milan became a free municipality, before being subjugated by Federico Barbarossa who wanted to restore the empire. Later, in the14th century, the power of Visconti won the domain before it then moved to the Sforzas. It then became the capital of the Dukedom of Milan, consolidating its historical importance. At the end of the 15th century the king of France, Luigi XII, conquered the dukedom and for half of the century the French were replaced by the Spanish, who ruled Milan until the start of the 18th century. Then arrived the Austrians, who ruled the city until the ‘Five Days of Milan’ in 1848. In 1859 Milan became a part of the house of Savoy dominion, and in 1861 the Kingdom of Italy. In 1919 it was precisely Milan that founded the Fascist movement, to which architectural testimonies can be found in the Stazione Centrale, the Palazzo di Giustizia and in the Triennale. Gravely damaged by bombings in WWII, the economic and commercial development of Milan started in 1946, bringing it to be a cornerstone of financial and economic activity in Italy.
Although the Milan wall doesn’t exist anymore, the historical centre corresponds to the old Roman city. It is here where you find the Duomo, the Teatro di Scala, the Palazzo Reale and numerous private residences that have been transformed into museums. As well as the historical and artistic attractions the centre is also famous for the Quadrilateral of fashion, where you can find luxury shops of established designers and the headquarters of the world’s most famous fashion houses. To the North of the historical centre you can walk through the two biggest parks in the city, and visit important museums that fill you in on the various stages of the history of arte: from the Medieval (Castello Sforzescho) passing through the Renaissance (Brera), up until the modern day (Villa Reale). To the South of the historical centre is where there is the highest concentration of the most beautiful churches in Milan: Sant’Ambrogio with its fine paintings and decorations, the Renaissance form of Santa Maria della Passione and Santa Maria at Celso. Continuing even further South we come to the canals, today a district of excellent nightlife.
MANTUA is a city at the mercy of cyclists and pedestrians, a vocation that is accented with the numerous cycle routes that mark its outer perimeter. A very old city whose origins were founded under the Etruscans, Mantua reached its splendour in the municipal era and especially during the long reign of the Gonzaga dominion (1328 – 1707). Some important works date back to the municipal period and the short period of the Bonacolsi dominion, such as Palazzo Bonacolsi, the Palazzo del Podestà, the Palazzo della Ragione and the churches of San Lorenzo (the “Rotonda”) and Gradaro. A symbol of the Gonzaga reign is the Palazzo Ducale. One of the most extensive and elaborate palaces in Italy, it encompasses approximately 500 rooms and lounges with many squares, courtyards and gardens.
The city is bursting with a richness of architecture, including the Castello, the Domus Nova (by Luca Fancelli) the palatial basilica of Santa Barabara (by G. B. Bertani) and with pictorial masterpieces, such as Andrea Mantegna’s ‘Bridal Chamber’, the ‘Rooms of Pisanello’, the ‘House of Troy’ by Giulio Romano, as well as prestigious tapestries made from Raffaello’s drawings.
The other great symbol of the Mantuan Gonzagas is the Palazzo Te, whose architecture and decorations were done by Giulio Romano between 1525 and 1535. Other highly valued works of architecture are the Casa del Mantegna with its characteristic circular courtyard, and the Palazzo di San Sebastian, recently restored and the location of the city Museum. The city is also characterised by the sacred constructions of the churches of Sant’Andrea and of San Sebastian, built in the second half of the 15th century by Leon Battista Alberti, as well as the Duomo (whose inner decoration is the work of Giulio Romano). Other works dating from the rule of Empress Maria Teresa – such as the Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop’s Palace), the Palazzo d’Arco and especially the Teatro Academico del Bibiena (Academic Theatre of Bibienas) – are a testament to the 18th century artistic fervour of the city.
CREMONA Located on the left bank of the Po, Cremona became, for a brief time, one of the cultural and economic centres of the Po Valley, as is attested to by literary sources and numerous archaeological finds. It formed a free commune in the 11th century and exercised a net position of hegemony in northern Italy for over two centuries, becoming a favoured channel of intense commercial interest. The most explicit expression of this new reality is given by the monumental complex of Piazza del Comune, a significant example of Medieval planning.
Looking onto the Piazza del Comune, the Cathedral, the interior of which documents the extraordinary artistic Cremonese living there between the 16th and 18th centuries. The triumphs of the fresco frieze of the central nave and the counter, depicting the cycle of the life of the Virgin and Christ, by Boccaccio Boccaccino, Gian Francesco Bembo, Altobello Melone, Romanino and Pordenone brought the Cremonese art of the 16th century to the height of its fullness.
The Palazzo Comunale, an example of Lombard Broletto, dates from the 9th century and is the headquarters of civil administration.
The Renaissance ultimately enriched the city with palaces of the nobility and churches rich in art and sculptures.
The church of San Sigismondo qualifies as one of the most valuable examples of Lombard Mannerism due to its architectural balance and the richness of the quality of its frescoes.
Typical of Cremona is its musical tradition, that has been going on for centuries, with composition, performance and the construction of stringed instruments. Around 1530, Andrea Amati created the violin, interpreter of the new musical sensibility of the 16th century and from his school he rained Niccolò Amati, Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù. The tradition lives on through institutions such as the International School of Violin making, the Violin Museum, the Ponchielli Theatre, the Stauffer Foundation and numerous workshops throughout the city.