Elegant Padova -- known in English as Padua -- is home to an ancient university, a Basilica that is an important centre for pilgrims and a chapel containing one of the world’s greatest art treasures. Use this website to help you plan a visit to this fascinating northern Italian city and find your way to the other beautiful towns and villages in the Veneto that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Andrea Moroni – architect

Talented designer contributed to the beauty of Padua

Padua's Basilica di Santa Giustina is one of Andrea Moroni's best known works
Padua's Basilica di Santa Giustina is one of
Andrea Moroni's best known works
Architect Andrea Moroni, who designed many stunning buildings in Padua and the Veneto region, died on 28 April 1560, 536 years ago today, in Padua.  

Moroni was the architect of some acclaimed Renaissance buildings but has tended to be overlooked by architectural historians because his career coincided with that of Andrea Palladio.

Moroni, who spent most of his working life in Padua, made a name for himself with the Benedictine Order and obtained commissions for two Benedictine churches in Padua, Santa Maria di Praglia and the more famous Santa Giustina.

His contract with Santa Giustina was renewed every ten years until his death and he settled down to live in Padua.

He was commissioned by the Venetian Government to build the Palazzo del Podestà, which is now known as Palazzo Moroni in Via VIII Febbraio, and is currently the seat of Padua city council. It is considered one of the most significant Renaissance buildings in the entire Veneto region.

Moroni was also involved in the construction of the Orto Botanico, Padua’s famous botanical gardens, where medicinal plants were grown, and he designed some of the university buildings.

The Orto Botanico, the world's first botanical gardens, was designed by Moroni
The Orto Botanico, the world's first botanical
gardens, was designed by Moroni
It is known that he supervised the construction of Palazzo del Bo, the main university building in the city, but there is some controversy over who designed the palace’s beautiful internal courtyard. Famous names such as Sansovino and Palladio have been suggested, rather than Moroni, contributing to his talent tending to be overlooked over the centuries.

The Loggia of Palazzo Capitaniato and the 16th century Palazzetto are also attributed to him.

Born into a family of stonecutters, Moroni was the cousin and contemporary of Giovan Battista Moroni, the brilliant painter. They were both born in Albino, a comune to the north east of Bergamo in Lombardy. The architect has works attributed to him in Brescia, another city in Lombardy about 50 kilometres to the south east of Bergamo. He is known to have been in the city between 1527 and 1532, where he built a choir for the monastery of Santa Giulia.

He probably also designed the building in which the nuns could attend mass in the monastery of Santa Giulia and worked on the church of San Faustino before moving to live and work in Padua.







Monday, April 8, 2024

Giuseppe Tartini – composer and violinist

Talented musician was maestro di cappella at Basilica of Sant’Antonio

Giuseppe Tartini spent much of his career living in Padua
Giuseppe Tartini spent much of
his career living in Padua
The Baroque violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini, who spent most of his career living in Padua, composed more than 100 violin concertos and many beautiful sonatas, including the Trillo del Diavolo (Devil’s Trill), which he once said had been inspired by a dream.

Tartini became principal violinist and maestro di cappella at Padua’s Basilica of Sant’Antonio in 1721 and later founded a school of violin playing and composition in the city. His greatest pupil was Gaetano Pugnani who went on to teach the violinist, Giovanni Battista Viotti.

Tartini was born in Pirano, which was in the Republic of Venice, on 8 April 1692. His birthplace was in Venetian territory in the 17th century, but it is now named Piran and is part of Slovenia.

He went to Padua to study divinity and law but also took violin lessons and became an expert at fencing. Before he reached the age of 20, he had secretly married a protégée of the archbishop of Padua, but this led to him being arrested on charges of abduction, so he disguised himself as a monk and fled the city, taking refuge in a monastery in Assisi, where he continued to study the violin and played in the orchestra there.

Later, he was allowed to return to his wife by the archbishop of Padua, who had heard that Tartini’s violin playing was attracting favourable attention. The musician then spent most of his life in Padua, apart from a brief period when he was invited to Prague to play at the coronation of the Emperor and direct the city’s orchestra.

The Basilica of Sant'Antonio, where Tartini was principal violinist and music director
The Basilica of Sant'Antonio, where Tartini
was principal violinist and music director
Also a music theorist, Tartini formulated the principles of musical ornamentation and harmony. He wrote a treatise on music, Trattato di musica, in 1754, as well as a dissertation on the principles of music harmony, and a treatise on ornamentation in music. He also composed music for trios and quartets and a few religious works.

His violin playing was said to be remarkable because of its combination of technical and poetic qualities, and his bowing technique became a model for later violinists. His skill was widely recognised and he was invited to go on a concert tour of Italy in 1740.

Tartini also studied acoustics and contributed to the science with his discovery of the Tartini tone, which was a third note, heard when two notes are played steadily and with intensity.

After almost 50 years in Padua, Tartini died in the city in 1770, at the age of 77.




Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Erasmo of Narni

Statue of condottiero still watches over Padua

The statue captures Erasmo's fighting spirit
The statue captures
Erasmo's fighting spirit
One of the most famous condottieri of the Renaissance, Erasmo da Narni, who had a distinguished career as a military leader, died on this day in 1443 in Padua. Known as Gattamelata, which meant the honey-eyed cat, Erasmo has been immortalised by Donatello’s bronze equestrian statue of him in Piazza del Santo. 

Erasmo had ruled over Padua from 1437, having risen to the rank of General Commander of the Armies of the Republic of Venice. He continued to serve the Venetians in a military capacity until being taken ill in 1440. 

Donatello’s bronze equestrian statue of Gattamelata is to the left of the Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padua as you approach the church from the direction of Via del Santo. The statue was completed in 1453 and is believed to be the earliest Renaissance equestrian statue that still survives. It became a precedent for many later sculptures honouring military heroes. 

The soldier and his horse are both portrayed in life size by Donatello, instead of being larger than life as with previous, classical equestrian statues. Donatello had been commissioned by the family to create a monument in memory of the great Commander of the Armies of the Venetian Republic and the statue is mounted on a pedestal that resembles a sepulchre. Gattamelata appears in the style of a Roman emperor astride his horse. His head is uncovered and the expression on his face shows his wonderful fighting spirit. 

Born in Narni in Umbria, Erasmo went from a humble household into a military life, serving in turn the rulers of the Papal States, Rome, Florence, and Venice. With his friend, Brandolino Brandolini, he worked for the Assisi lord, Cecchino Broglia, and later, serving under another condottiero, Braccio da Montone, lord of Perugia, he played his part in the conquests of Todi, Terni, Narni, Rieti, and Spoleto and helped win the battle of Viterbo against Muzio Attendolo Sforza in 1419. 

Donatello's statue standing guard over the magnificent Basilica di Sant'Antonio
Donatello's statue standing guard over the
magnificent Basilica di Sant'Antonio 
During the War of L’Aquila, Braccio’s army was defeated and the condottiero himself was killed, so Erasmo led the remaining troops into the service of Florence. Later, Pope Martin V hired Erasmo to recapture the lands he had lost in the battles against Braccio da Montone. Erasmo was also hired by the Republic of Venice to fight against Filippo Mario Visconti of Milan. 

In the conflict, he came up against another condottiero, Niccolò Piccinino, who defeated him in a battle in 1434 in which Erasmo was wounded. After defending Brescia and Verona against the Visconti army successfully, Erasmo was granted the title of General Commander of the Armies of the Republic of Venice. He was made ruler of Padua in 1437. 

The following year, the Venetians lost Legnago, Soave and Verona, which led to criticism of Erasmo, but with the help of Francesco Sforza, he was able to re-enter Verona in 1439. In 1440, while mustering a flotilla on Lake Garda, Erasmo suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. He never fully recovered from this illness and was unable to lead any further military campaigns. 

Erasmo died in 1443 and was buried in the Basilica of Sant’Antonio in Padua. Donatello’s statue of Gattamelata was later placed outside the front entrance of the church as a tribute to him. Erasmo’s daughter, Polissena Romagnola, married Tiberto Brandolini, the son of his old friend and military comrade, Brandolino, and they had two sons, Sigismondo and Leonello. Sigismondo, Erasmo’s grandson, was later considered good enough to marry into an important family in Piacenza. 

Narni, where Erasmo was born, is a hill town in the region of Umbria that is close to the exact geographical centre of Italy and there is a stone in the town marking the precise spot. Erasmo’s birthplace is in Via Gattamelata, which has since been named after him, and there is now a plaque on the outside of the house. You can reach the birthplace from Via Garibaldi, or from the end of Vicolo degli Orti.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Church of Santa Sofia in Padua

Romanesque architectural gem had ancient origins

The church of Santa Sofia is the oldest in  Padua, dating back to the early 12th century
The church of Santa Sofia is the oldest in 
Padua, dating back to the early 12th century
The oldest church in Padua is the simple but beautiful Santa Sofia in Via Altinate, a building which is thought to date back to the 11th century.

Santa Sofia is well worth visiting to see an altarpiece painted by Andrea Mantegna when he was just 17, and the font, brought in from another church, in which the two sons of Galileo were baptised.

Built on the site of a Roman temple, Santa Sofia managed to survive 14th century modifications to make it comply with Council of Trent reforms, and the disruption caused by the invasion of Italy by Napoleon’s troops.

The church was carefully restored in the 1950s and today it still retains many of its ancient architectural features and frescoes.

It is believed that the Romanesque stone and brick façade of Santa Sofia was built on ground that was then considered holy between about 1106 and 1127, but the church’s semi-circular apse may have been built earlier. A document has been discovered, dated 1127, that was written to urge completion of the building work in process.

Some of the artefacts found on the site date from between the second and the fourth centuries. And, Santa Sofia’s crypt has been judged, using scientific methods, to have been built within about 50 years of the crypt of St Mark’s Church in Venice. This existed before the 11th century church was built around it to house the remains of St Mark.

The church was carefully restored in the 1950s to preserve the orginal features
The church was carefully restored in the
1950s to preserve the orginal features
Andrea Mantegna’s altarpiece in Santa Sofia, depicting the Madonna and Child in conversation with saints, was painted in about 1450. It was the artist’s first independent work and when he signed it, he gave his age as 17.

Santa Sofia has at times housed Augustinian and Benedictine nuns, but the nuns were expelled from the building during the Napoleonic occupation of the city.

Not to be missed near the entrance to the church of Santa Sofia, is a basin for holy water, which was brought from the Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria in Padua. It is believed this basin was used as a font for the baptism of the sons of Galileo.


Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Why Padua University graduate Vittorino da Feltre gave free education to poor children

Vittorino da Feltre both studied and taught at Padua University
Vittorino da Feltre both studied
and taught at Padua University
Vittorino da Feltre, a scholar who was considered to have been the greatest humanist educator of the Renaissance, owed his success partly to the education he had received at the University of Padua.

Da Feltre, who was originally named Vittore dei Ramboldini when he was born in Feltre in the republic of Venice in 1378, went to study and then taught at the University of Padua. He later chose to settle in Padua and he became a successful teacher, welcoming pupils into his own home and varying his fee according to the financial situation of the pupil’s family.

He himself had come from a good family that had become impoverished and his own early education had been a struggle. This contributed to making him a strong and decisive character and made him leave his home in Feltre when he was 18 to go to Padua.

He supported himself financially while studying grammar and Latin at the university under Gasparino da Barzizza, the greatest Latin scholar of the age, by teaching grammar to children.

After receiving his degree of doctor of arts in Latin composition and logic, he began the study of mathematics. By 1415, Da Feltre was teaching both grammar and mathematics in Padua. He took students to live in his house and closely supervised their activities.

He was promoted to Chair of Rhetoric in Padua in 1422 and became one of the most popular teachers at the university.

Palazzo Bo, part of the University of Padua, where Da Feltre taught
Palazzo Bo, part of the University of
Padua, where Da Feltre taught
In 1423, he was asked to become tutor to the children of the powerful Gonzaga family, who ruled over Mantua. He agreed to do this providing he could set up his own school away from the Gonzaga court and its political influence.

He also enrolled other children to be taught at the school along with the Gonzaga children, both noble and poor children, who were selected because of their ability. The poor children did not have to pay for their education and were taught on an equal footing with the children from wealthy families. He also educated girls and did not consider the female pupils to be inferior to the male pupils.

Latin and Greek language and literature were at the centre of the curriculum of the school. The children were also taught arithmetic, geometry and music and did games and physical exercise, following the Greek ideal of development of the body as well as of the mind. The school was close to a lake and surrounded by beautiful countryside, which also contributed to the wellbeing of the pupils.

Federico da Montefeltro was among Da Feltre's pupils
Federico da Montefeltro was
among Da Feltre's pupils
Da Feltre saw education as a pathway to living a Christian life and made his pupils feel loved and cared for in terms of their health and characters. He adapted his teaching methods to their individual abilities and needs and never used corporal punishment. Among his students were Federico da Montefeltro, who became Duke of Urbino, and Gregorio Correr, who became Patriarch of Venice.

One of the first modern educators to develop during the Renaissance, da Feltre’s teaching methods were therefore innovative and many other schools in Europe were to adopt his educational model.

During his career, Da Feltre not only educated future Italian rulers and professional men but also taught Latin and Greek scholars who came to him from the east. This paved the way for the translation of the Greek manuscripts that were to inspire the Renaissance in Europe.

After Da Feltre’s death at the age of 68 in Mantua, Iacopo da San Cassiano, a humanist and mathematician who had been one of his pupils, took over the running of the school and inherited his library. Da Feltre was laid to rest in the Chiesa di Santo Spirito in Mantua. 


Sunday, January 1, 2023

Capodanno in Padua

The Palazzo della Ragione in Padua, which is known locally as "il Salone"
The Palazzo della Ragione in Padua, which is
known locally as "il Salone"
New Year’s Day is called Capodanno in Italy, which literally means ‘head of the year.’ After a late start following the New Year’s Eve festivities, many families will enjoy another traditional feast together, either at home or in a restaurant.

Both visitors to Padua and residents may attend church services before sitting down to a festive meal and toasting the new year again with a glass of good prosecco.

Piazza delle Erbe, Piazza della Frutta e Piazza dei Signori in the centre of the city are places where locals and visitors gather to enjoy un aperitivo or meal together, or to visit the market ‘under il Salone’, with its excellent food shops selling Padovan specialities.

Buon Anno e Tanti Auguri per 2023 da Best of Padua!




Thursday, March 17, 2022

The statue of the playwright known as Ruzzante

Sculpture stands outside Teatro Verdi

The statue of Angelo Beolco stands opposite the Teatro Verdi
The statue of Angelo Beolco stands
opposite the Teatro Verdi
(photo by DracoRoboter via Wikimedia Commons)
Visitors to Padua’s Teatro Verdi off Padua’s Corso Milano will notice on a plinth opposite the entrance in Piazzetta Terrani a statue of a man dressed in a simple tunic, cape and hat.

It commemorates one of the most powerful Italian dramatists of the 16th century, Angelo Beolco - also known as Ruzzante or Ruzante - who was born in Padua and died in the city on 17 March 1542.

Beolco was famous for his rustic comedies, which were written mostly in the Paduan dialect of the Venetian language.

Many of his plays featured a peasant called Ruzzante and they painted a vivid picture of life in the Paduan countryside during the 16th century.

Beolco was born in Padua in 1496 and was the illegitimate son of a doctor. His mother was possibly a maid in the household where he was brought up by his father. He received a good education and after his father’s death became manager of the family estate. In 1529, he also became manager of a farm owned by a nobleman, Alvise Cornaro, who had retired to live in the Paduan countryside. Cornaro later became Beolco’s friend and protector.

Beolco met and associated with Paduan intellectuals of the time, such as the poet Pietro Bembo and the scholar and dramatist Sperone Speroni, which led to him developing an interest in the theatre.

His first attempts at acting and writing plays may have been delivering impromptu sketches at wedding parties.

Angelo Beolco was born in Padua in 1496 and spent much of his life there
Angelo Beolco was born in Padua in
1496 and spent much of his life there
It is established that in 1520 he was already known as Ruzzante and that he played a role in a play put on at a palace in Venice. It was after this that he put together his own theatrical troupe. His first plays were staged in Ferrara between 1529 and 1532 and then later in Padua at the residence of his friend, Cornaro.

In Beolco’s first printed play, La pastoral, which was categorised as a rural comedy, Arcadian shepherds tell of their frustrated love affairs, while, in contrast,  the peasants Ruzzante and Zilio deliver rustic verses in dialect, spiced with vulgarities and obscenities, beginning with Ruzzante’s first line in the play.

Much of the play’s comical effect comes from the contrast between the two languages, which provides the opportunity for misunderstandings and plays on words.

In his later plays and monologues, Beolco shifts more to the Venetian language, while maintaining his social satire.

Beolco’s plays were sometimes considered unfit for educated audiences because of the lascivious themes and vulgar language and this occasionally led to performances being cancelled.

In one of his best-known pieces, Il parlamento de Ruzante, the character tells of his return from the Venetian war front only to find that he has lost his wife, land and honour. The speech begins with Ruzzante’s favourite expletive.

Linguistic studies have concluded that Ruzzante’s speech was not an accurate record of Paduan dialect of the day, but to some extent, a theatrical dialect created by Beolco.

The Teatro Verdi, built in the 18th century, is named after the composer Giuseppe Verdi
The Teatro Verdi, built in the 18th century, is
named after the composer Giuseppe Verdi
Dario Fo - Italy’s celebrated 20th century playwright - put Ruzzante on the same level as the French playwright, Molière, claiming that Beolco is the true father of the Venetian comic theatre (Commedia dell’Arte) and said that he was the most significant influence on his own work.

Beolco (Ruzzante) wrote at least 11 plays and monologues, but died in Padua when he was in his late forties, while preparing to stage a play by his friend, Speroni, for the Accademia degli Infiammati. Despite his theatrical success, Beolco was very poor for most of his life. Speroni once remarked that, while Beolco had an unsurpassed understanding of comedy, he was unable to perceive his own tragedy.

The statue outside the Teatro Verdi is the work of the 20th century sculptor Amleto Sartori - also from Padua - who was most famous for creating the theatrical masks used when Commedia dell’Arte enjoyed a brief revival in the mid-20th century.

To find the Teatro Verdi and see the Ruzzante statue, taking the Piazza dei Signori in the centre as the starting point, walk north along Via Dante Alighieri from the Torre dell’Orologio and turn left into Corso Milano. Piazza Terrani and the theatre are about 150 yards (137m) along on the left.

The beautiful 18th century theatre now presents operas, musicals, plays, ballets and concerts organised by the Teatro Stabile del Veneto.