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.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Jacopo Bassano's Padua masterpiece

The Basilica di Santa Giustina holds one of painter's greatest works

Jacopo Bassano, who died on 14 February 1592, painted altarpieces for many churches in Padua, Treviso, and Belluno.

Bassano's painting of Santa Giustina was executed in about 1560
Bassano's painting of Santa Giustina
was executed in about 1560
Visitors to the Basilica di Santa Giustina, the large church in the southeastern corner of Prato della Valle in Padua, can see Bassano's Santa Giustina enthroned with the saints Sebastian, Antonio Abate and Rocco, which was painted by him in around 1560 with the help of his son, Francesco.

It is considered one of his best works and also one of the most original examples of the Venetian Mannerist culture. 

Bassano was born in about 1510 in Bassano del Grappa, a town about 50km (31 miles) north of Padua, and is said to have been christened Jacopo dal Ponte, although his statue in the town names him as Giacomo da Ponte. His father, Francesco il Vecchio, was already a successful painter in the town and had established a workshop that produced mostly religious works.

Jacopo became an apprentice in his father’s workshop while still a young boy. He made his way to Venice when he was about 20, where he studied under Bonifazio de Pitati, who was also known as Bonifazio Veronese.

While in Venice, he met famous artists, such as Titian and il Pordenone, and his work from this period shows Titian’s influence and demonstrates his lifelong appreciation of the great artist’s work. Jacopo Bassano’s earliest paintings also show his love of the brilliant colours used by Titian.

Bassano’s Supper at Emmaus (1538), originally commissioned for a church, uses rich luminous colours that distinguish the figures from their background. Unusually, he places Christ towards the back of the scene, allowing the figures around him to play a more significant part. He dresses them in 16th century clothes rather than in robes in the classical Roman tradition. He includes food on the table and there are a dog and a cat in the picture, showing he has drawn on contemporary life for his inspiration rather than just sticking to the stylistic conventions of his age.

The Basilica di Santa Giustina is a former abbey adjoining the wide Prato della Valle piazza
The Basilica di Santa Giustina is a former abbey
adjoining the wide Prato della Valle piazza
After his father’s death in 1539, Jacopo Bassano returned to Bassano del Grappa and took over the running of the family workshop. He married a local woman, Elisabetta Merzari, in 1546.

His painting of The Last Supper in 1542 shows the influence on his work of Mannerism and indicates that he had seen the paintings of Durer and Raphael because his figures seem alive, with muscles and sinews, in the style of the two great artists.

After about 1550 he started experimenting with light and he was one of the first painters to paint a ‘nocturne’, a scene taking place at night time, which was to make his paintings even more highly valued.  He also tended to place his subjects in a natural landscape with carefully painted trees and flowers.

His four sons, Leandro Bassano, Francesco Bassano the Younger, Giovanni Battista da Ponte and Girolamo da Ponte, all worked in his workshop and followed him closely in style and subject matter.

The Basilica of Santa Giustina, which is the ninth largest Christian church in the world, is at the corner of Prato della Valle where it is joined by Via Avazzano and Via Ferrari. 

A portrait of Jacopo Bassano by his son, Girolamo da Ponte
A portrait of Jacopo Bassano by his
son, Girolamo da Ponte
The church contains the remains of Santa Giustina, a devout young woman who was martyred in 304, and is also home to the tomb containing the body of St Luke the Evangelist, who was credited with writing the Gospel according to St Luke. Next door to the basilica there is a Benedictine monastery with frescoed cloisters and a famous library that can be visited by arrangement.

After Jacopo’s death in 1592, his sons produced numerous works in his style, making it difficult for art historians to establish which pictures were created by Jacopo Bassano himself and which were the work of his sons.

His work is considered unique because it incorporated diverse artistic influences. He is believed to have learnt from Durer, Parmigianino, Tintoretto and Raphael, even though he lived permanently in Bassano del Grappa, mainly by seeing their prints, of which he became an avid collector.

Bassano del Grappa, where Jacopo Bassano was born and died, and from which he got his professional name, lies at the foot of Monte Grappa in the province of Vicenza and is an easy day trip to make from Padua. The town is famous for inventing grappa, a spirit made from the grape skins and stalks left over from wine production, which is popular with Italians as an after dinner drink to aid digestion. A famous sight in the town is the Ponte degli Alpini, a bridge designed by Andrea Palladio.


Friday, January 22, 2021

Visit Este

The small town that inspired the poet Shelley

The historic town of Este in the province of Padua, with its varied and interesting architecture, is an excellent choice for a day trip from Padua as it takes under an hour by train and about 40 minutes by car.

You can walk into the centre of the town from the station in a few minutes, arriving in Piazza Maggiore, Este’s main square, in time for a drink before lunch.

The remains of the castle surrounded by gardens
Este is a wonderful example of ‘small town Italy’, with reasonably priced restaurants and bars, and plenty of things to see. It is unspoilt and relaxing to be there as it doesn’t get overcrowded with tourists.

To understand its 3000 year history, during which it has been ruled by Romans, Barbarians, important families during the medieval period, the Venetians, the French and the Austrians, you could not do much better than visit Este’s highly regarded Museo Nazionale Atestino. Right in the centre of the town, the museum is housed in Palazzo Mocenigo, a 16th century palace that incorporates part of the walls of the castle into its façade. There are said to be 65,000 items of historical significance in the museum’s collection.

Este’s castle was built in the 11th century by the Este family, who eventually moved on to Ferrara, where they built another, perhaps more famous, castle.

Este’s original castle was destroyed in the 14th century and then rebuilt by Ubertino da Carrara, Lord of Padova. He used it as a defensive outpost against the ruling families of Verona and Milan.

After Este and Padua were taken over by the Venetians, the castle was partially demolished and a wall and towers are all that remain today of the 14th century structure. Inside the walls, there is a beautiful garden, which is open to the public and is a lovely place to sit and rest, particularly when the rose garden is in full bloom.

Piazza Maggiore is in the centre of town
Este’s most important church, the Duomo of Santa Tecla, was erected in the 17th century on the site of an earlier church. It is well worth a visit, if only to see the large painting by Giambattista Tiepolo depicting Santa Tecla praying for the deliverance of Este from the plague.

While in Este you can also see the Villa Kunkler, which was rented by the English poet, Lord Byron, in the early years of the nineteenth century. He allowed his fellow poet and friend, Percy Shelley, to live there with his family between 1817 and 1818. Shelley was so inspired by the natural beauty of his surroundings he wrote some of his best poetry there, including Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills. Inspired by Este he wrote:

‘Of old forests echoing round

And the light and smell divine

Of all flowers that breathe and shine:

We may live so happy there,

That the Spirits of the Air

Envying us, may even entice

To our healing paradise

The polluting multitude:

But their rage would be subdu’d

By that clime divine and calm,

And the winds whose wings rain balm

On the uplifted soul, and leaves

Under which the bright sea heaves;’


Friday, January 1, 2021

Capodanno in Italy

Toasting the New Year the Italian way

New Year’s Day is called Capodanno in Italy, which literally means ‘head of the year’.

It is a public holiday and schools, Government offices, post offices and banks are closed.

After a late start following the New Year’s Eve festivities, many families will enjoy another traditional feast together. This year is obviously different, with the option of booking a restaurant for a big family meal off the agenda because of Covid-19 restrictions.

It is still possible to attend church services - another tradition before the festive meal - but anyone leaving their home under the current lockdown measures has to fill in a certificate before venturing out with police entitled to check their purpose is legitimate.  As well as going to places of worship, Italians can leave their homes only for essential shopping or to seek healthcare.

Italy is in what has been determined as 'red zone' restrictions, much like those imposed in March last year after the first outbreak of the virus. The measures will be eased for one day on 4 January, allowing non-essential shops to reopen, but are due to be re-imposed on 5 January ahead of another traditional celebration, the Feast of Epiphany.

Rai Uno traditionally broadcasts a New Year’s day concert live. This year it came from Teatro La Fenice, the famous opera house in Venice.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Festa di San Silvestro - the Feast of Saint Sylvester

Celebrate with a meal of pork and lentils for a prosperous New Year

A fireworks display in Prato della Valle is  traditionally a big part of Padua's New Year
A fireworks display in Prato della Valle is 
traditionally a big part of Padua's New Year
New Year’s Eve in Italy is known as the Festa di San Silvestro in memory of Pope Sylvester I who died on 31 December in 335 Rome.

It is not a public holiday in Italy but it is usually a festive time everywhere, with firework displays, concerts and parties. This year, however, the celebrations have had to be drastically curtailed because of Covid 19 restrictions.

A curfew is in place across the whole of Italy from 10pm until 7am, so the gatherings that normally take place in the piazze - the public squares - cannot go ahead.

The bars and restaurants in Padua are normally busy with residents and visitors enjoying drinks and meals before seeing in the New Year in the city's large oval piazza, Prato della Valle, when the church bells ring out at midnight.

TV station Rai Uno’s traditional New Year’s Eve variety concert is usually an outdoor affair, with a different town or city each year chosen as the venue, with the audience packed together in front of a stage erected in the main square to watch some of Italy’s favourite performers in an entertainment extravaganza spanning more than three hours, culminating in a New Year countdown at midnight.

Rai Uno's New Year's Eve party, L'anno che  verrà, is scaled back this year
Rai Uno's New Year's Eve party, L'anno che 
verrà, is scaled back this year
The show, entitled L’anno che verrà - The Coming Year - will go ahead as usual, but this time the artists will be confined to a TV studio and Italians will have to be content with watching at home.

The restrictions ought not to hamper a tradition still followed in some parts of Italy, particularly in the south, of throwing your old things out of the window at midnight to symbolise your readiness to accept the New Year.

Likewise, families can still enjoy a Capodanno - New Year - feast, even if the numbers round the family table are fewer.

Popular menu items at New Year include cotechino (Italian sausage), zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter) and lenticchie (lentils).

Cotechino e lenticchie is often part of the  New Year's Eve menu in Italy
Cotechino e lenticchie is often part of the 
New Year's Eve menu in Italy
Pork is said to represent the fullness or richness of life, while lentils are supposed to symbolise wealth or money. Many Italians believe the coming year could bring prosperity if these foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve. However, in Sorrento fish is likely to feature on most restaurant menus.

The President of the Republic delivers an end of year message from the Quirinale in Rome, which is shown on most Italian television channels during the evening. 

Sylvester I was pope from 314 until his death in 335, an important time in the history of the Catholic Church.

Some of Rome’s great churches, the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and the old St Peter’s Basilica, were founded during his pontificate.


Monday, December 14, 2020

Orto Botanico in Padua

Botanical Garden inspired the German writer Goethe

The world’s first botanical garden created for educational purposes was opened in Padua in 1545.

Orto Botanico, which has now been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, was devoted to the growth of medicinal plants that could provide natural remedies for treating illnesses.

Orto Botanico in Padua was designed
 in accordance with Renaiisance ideals

The garden was designed for Padua University by Bergamo architect Andrea Moroni, who based it on a detailed architectonic plan in accordance with Renaissance ideals. It is laid out in the form of a circle enclosing a square, which was divided into four quadrants, in which the plants were grown.

The oldest and most important plants were grown in the hub of the garden, known as the hortus spahaericus.

These include a palm (Chamaerops humilis) planted in 1585, which became known as Goethe’s palm, because the German writer made a careful study of it in 1786 and drew from it his intuitions about evolution. He later published his ideas in an essay about the metamorphosis of plants.

The garden also has greenhouses, which were added at the beginning of the 19th century, and a library, where old scientific documents are preserved.

Padua’s Orto Botanico is still used for research into rare plants and threatened species, with a view to reintroducing them to their natural environment.

The garden is in Via Orto Botanico close to Prato della Valle, one of the city’s main squares, where there is a tram stop. It is open to the public every day, but has closed temporarily due to the Covid 19 pandemic.



Monday, November 30, 2020

Ippolito Nievo - writer and patriot from Padua

Risorgimento novel now seen as an overlooked classic

The writer Ippolito Nievo, a passionate supporter of the move to unify Italy in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1831 in Padua.

Nievo, whose posthumously published Confessions of an Italian is now considered the most important novel about the Risorgimento in Italian literature, drew inspiration from his participation in Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Spedizione dei Mille - the Expedition of the Thousand.

Ippolito Nievo fought for a united Italy
Nievo was born into comfortable circumstances.  His father was a prominent lawyer and magistrate in Padua and his mother the daughter of a Friulian countess.  Their home in Padua was the Palazzo Mocenigo Querini, a 16th century house overlooking Via Sant’Eufemia, close to the city centre.

They also had use of his mother’s ancestral home, a castle in Colloredo di Montalbano, a hamlet just outside the city of Udine in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and of the Palazzo Nievo in Mantua.

From 1832 to 1837, when Nievo was a small child, they lived in a house adjoining the Palazzo della Giustizia in Soave, about 60km (37 miles) from Padua, where his father was posted as a judge. 

By the late 1840s, Nievo was becoming increasingly fascinated by the writings of Carlo Cattaneo and Giuseppe Mazzini, two of the central philosophical drivers of the Risorgimento.

He is thought to have taken part in a failed uprising in Mantua in 1848, a year marked by a series of insurrections inspired by Italian nationalists seeking to overthrow the Austian grip on the north of the country. 

He had been inspired by conversations with his maternal grandfather, Carlo Marin, who had been a prominent official of the Venetian Republic when it fell to the Austrians in 1797.

Nievo refused to follow his father into the law as he felt it would imply submission to the Austrian government and instead pursued a career in journalism.

In the 1850s he retreated to Colloredo di Montalbano, where he wrote a number of novels set in the Friulian countryside, as well as volumes of short stories and poetry.

Most important novel
about the Risorgimento
He began writing his major work, Confessions of an Italian, at some point in the mid-1850s. The central character is an 83-year-old man, Carlo Altoviti - thought to be based at least loosely on Carlo Marin - who has decided to write down the history of his long life, from an unhappy childhood to romantic entanglements during the siege of Genoa, and fighting in the cause of revolution in Naples.

Carlo’s twin passions are the dream of a unified, free Italy and his undying love for Pisana, the woman with whom he is obsessed. With characters ranging from drunken smugglers to saintly nuns and scheming priests, as well as real figures such as Napoleon and Lord Byron, it is an epic novel that tells the remarkable and inseparable stories of one man's life and the history of Italy's unification.

Nievo’s political activity intensified in the late 1850s, when he joined Garibaldi’s Cacciatori delle Alpi, a brigade of volunteers fighting to liberate Lombardy, and then participated in the Expedition of the Thousand, given the number 690 in the list of 1,000 patriots.

Nievo embarked from Genoa on 5 May, 1860 setting sail for Sicily. After distinguishing himself in the battle of Calatafimi and in Palermo, he was promoted to colonel and took on administrative assignments, at the same time keeping diaries that served as a chronicle of events.

It was in this role that he was tasked with bringing back from Sicily all the administrative documents and receipts from the expedition’s expenses. He boarded the steamship Ercole along with other members of the military administration to travel from Palermo to Naples, but during the night between March 4 and 5, 1861, the steamship ran into difficulties off the coast of Sorrento, almost within view of the Bay of Naples, and sank.  There were no survivors.

Nievo’s life is commemorated in a number of locations, including Colloredo di Montalbano and Fossalta di Portogruaro, in the Veneto, where the Castello di Fratta, the scene of Carlo Altoviti’s unhappy childhood, was thought to be located.

Colloredo di Monte Albano - known locally as Colloredo di Montalbano - is a small village in Friuli-Venezia Giulia situated about 14km (9 miles) northwest of Udine.  In the 11th century, it was a fief of the Viscounts of Mels, who had received it from the Counts of Tyrol. In 1420, together with all of Friuli, the hamlet was acquired by the Republic of Venice.  The hamlet was severely damaged by the Friuli earthquake in 1976, yet the family castle remains intact.

Nievo’s legacy is preserved in his novel, in which the central character and narrator shares Nievo’s passions. Nievo completed the work in 1858 but it was not until 1867, six years after his death, that it was published.

When Nievo’s supporters first found a publisher the book was titled Confessioni di un ottuagenario (Confessions of an octogenarian), because Nievo’s intended title was still deemed politically sensitive. It was changed later to reflect the author’s wishes.

Nievo died for the cause he believed in passionately, at the age of just 29.


Sunday, November 29, 2020

Andrea Palladio

The most admired architect of all time was born in Padua

Palladio became one of the most influential architects in history
Palladio became one of the most
influential architects in history
The world’s most famous and influential architect, Andrea Palladio, was baptised on 30 November in 1508 at the Oratorio di San Michele in Padua.

It is not known whether he was born on the 30th, or on the previous day.

Palladio’s style was to become so popular that architects all over the world designed villas and public buildings copying his interpretation of classical Roman architecture.

For example, the White House in Washington, the home of the President of the United States, built between 1792 and 1800, has many echoes of Palladian style.

Palladio was born Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, either just before, or on the day, of his baptism. He was the son of a miller in Padua.

He found work as a stone cutter in the workshop of a sculptor initially. but moved to Vicenza when he was 16, where he joined a guild of stonemasons and bricklayers. 

It was while working as a stonemason for the poet and scholar Gian Giorgio Trissino that his career began to gather pace. Trissino not only gave him the name Palladio, after the Greek goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athene, but encouraged and helped him to study classical architecture in Rome.

Palladio became fascinated with the work of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, architect and engineer of the 1st century BC. It was while in Rome that he came across the Pantheon, with its huge hemispheric dome inspired by Vitruvius, which was to influence many of his designs.

The Villa Cornaro in Piombino Dese
The Villa Cornaro in Piombino Dese 
Trissino also introduced Palladio to a number of wealthy and influential families, including the Barbaro brothers, through whom he ultimately became chief architect of the Republic of Venice, having already occupied the equivalent position in Vicenza.

Palladio received his first commissions in the 1530s and thereafter was in constant demand, his style inspiring other architects outside Italy, at first in Europe and later around the world.  One factor in the spread of his fame was his publication in 1570 of his treatise, I Quattro Libri dell'Archittetura (The Four Books of Architecture), which set out rules others could follow.

Examples of Palladio's work can be found all over the region where he lived and in Venice, where he was commissioned to build, among other architectural masterpieces, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the focal point of the view across the lagoon from St Mark's Square through the Piazzetta.

He built a substantial number of villas for wealthy clients across the Veneto region, some of them lining the Brenta Canal that links the lagoon of Venice with Padua. Others such as the Villa Capra, otherwise known as La Rotonda, famous for its symmetrically square design with four six-columned porticoes, can be found in open countryside near Vicenza.

La Rotonda, near Vicenza, is one of  Palladio's most famous buildings
La Rotonda, near Vicenza, is one of 
Palladio's most famous buildings
Vicenza itself features many of Palladio's designs, including the fabulous Teatro Olimpico, in which perspective was used to create the optical illusion of city streets receding from the stage.  He was working on the theatre at the time of his death, after which the project was finished by his son, Silla, one of his five children, and Palladio's assistant, Vincenzo Scamozzi.

Palladio designed two beautiful villas in the province of Padua, Villa Cornaro in Piombino Dese and Villa Pisani in Montagnana.

One of his finest works is considered to be Villa Foscari, otherwise known as La Malcontenta, located next to the Brenta canal at Mira, which is between Padua and Venice.

Palladio died in 1580, aged 71. The cause of his death is not clear but some accounts say he collapsed while inspecting the construction of the Tempietto Barbaro, a church in Maser, near Treviso.

He was initially buried in a family vault in the church of Santa Corona in Vicenza, the city in which he spent most of his life, but was later re-interred at the civic cemetery, where a chapel was built in his honour.