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, 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.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Padua’s Roman Arena

See what remains of the city of Patavium

Some remains of the Roman amphiteatre are still visible in the Giardino dell'Arena
Some remains of the Roman amphiteatre are
still visible in the Giardino dell'Arena
Padua is believed to be one of the oldest cities in northern Italy. It was founded in about 1183 BC by the Trojan prince, Antenor.

The Roman writer, Livy, records an attempted invasion of the city by the Spartans in 302 BC. Later attempts at invasions were made unsuccessfully by the Etruscans and Gauls. The city formed an alliance with Rome against their common enemies and it became a Roman municipium in about 49BC. By the end of the first century BC, Padua was the wealthiest city in Italy, apart from Rome.

The Roman name for Padua was Patavium. There isn’t much of Roman Patavium left now, but to get some idea of what it would have looked like, it is worth stopping off to see the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, or Arena as it was known, which is in Padua’s Giardino dell’Arena, a beautiful public park.

If you leave the railway station, or bus station, and walk towards the city centre along the Corso del Popolo and Corso Garibaldi, you will pass the Giardino dell’Arena on the left-hand side where you will see the remains of one of the original elliptical walls of the Arena. It was probably built during the time of the Emperor Claudius, between about 60 and 70 AD.

The Scrovegni family built a chapel in gardens, decorated by Giotto
The Scrovegni family built a chapel in
gardens, decorated by Giotto
An archaeological project to uncover the remains of the Arena began in 1881 and the area was cleared of weeds and a wall was demolished to provide a better view of what was still standing.

The main entrance would have been near the present-day Piazza Eremitani and on the opposite side would have been the porta libitensis, the door of the dead, through which the bodies of the dead gladiators would have been taken.

Within the elliptical wall, which originally had 80 arches, would have been a circle supported by a barrel vault on which the steps of the auditorium were arranged. Its style and dimensions are believed to have been similar to those of the Roman Arena in Verona.

In the 14th century the site was acquired by the Scrovegni family who had a chapel built on it in their name. They commissioned the artist, Giotto, to decorate it with his wonderful frescoes depicting events in the life of the Virgin May and Christ. Today these frescoes are considered to be some of the greatest works of art in the world.

The Arena is open for visitors to look round it every day from 7.00 am, but the site closes earlier in the winter than in the summer.


Friday, November 5, 2021

The colourful life of Padua archaeologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni

The Great Belzoni’s powerful physique helped him remove Egyptian treasures

Giovanni Battista Belzoni during his time as an archaeologist in Egypt
Giovanni Battista Belzoni during his
time as an archaeologist in Egypt
Among the many notable Italians to hail from Padua is the explorer and pioneer archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, who was born in the city on 5 November, 1778, when it was part of the Republic of Venice.

Belzoni became famous for his height and strength and his discovery and removal to England of the seven-ton bust of Ramesses II.

Born into a poor family, at the age of 16 he went to find work in Rome and studied hydraulics. He was planning to take monastic vows but in 1798 French troops occupied the city and he moved to the Batavian Republic, now the Netherlands, where he earned his living as a barber.

He moved to England in 1803, allegedly to escape going to prison. He was six feet seven inches tall and had a powerful physique. For a while he earned his living as a circus strong man under the name The Great Belzoni.

He also exhibited his models of hydraulic engines and went to Cairo in 1815 to offer hydraulic engines for use in irrigation to Muhammad Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt.

But two years later he embarked on another new career, excavating Egyptian tombs and temples for their treasures. It was said he damaged other less valuable objects in the process, which was later frowned upon.

It took 17 days for 130 men to tow the bust of  Ramesses II to a boat bound for England
It took 17 days for 130 men to tow the bust of
 Ramesses II to a boat bound for England
At Thebes he obtained the colossal sculpture of the head of Ramesses II for the British Museum. It took him 17 days and he had to use 130 men to help him tow it the river where it was loaded on to a boat bound for England. In the nearby Valley of the Tombs of Kings, he discovered the tomb of Seti I and removed the aragonite sarcophagus for the Sir John Soane Museum in London. This became known as Belzoni’s Tomb.

While he was in the process of removing an obelisk from the Nile island of Philae, it was taken from him at gunpoint by men working for the French.

He explored an island in the Nile, known as Elephantine, and the temple of Edfu. He also cleared the entrance to the great temple of Ramasses II at Abu Simbel. He was the first to penetrate the pyramid of  Khafre at Giza and he identified the ruins of the city of Berenice on the Red Sea.

Belzoni returned to England in 1819 and published an account of his adventure – Narratives of the Operations and Recent Discoveries Within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia. It was a two-volume work published in 1820.

The explorer and archaeologist died in 1823 at the age of 45 in Gwato, now called Ughoton, in Nigeria on his way to Timbuktu. In 1825 Belzoni’s widow exhibited his drawings and models of the Royal tombs of Thebes in London and Paris.

There is a road named after Belzoni - the Via Giambattista Belzoni - to the east of Padua's city centre.



Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Padua’s Ghetto

Fascinating area preserves Jewish heritage in the city

A narrow, cobbled street in the Ghetto area of Padua
A narrow, cobbled street in
the Ghetto area of Padua
A small district known as the Ghetto, situated within Padua’s historic centre, still has many shops where craftsmen follow the traditional occupations of Jewish residents in the city.

Jews are recorded as living in Padua as far back as the 13th century. The city was one of the great centres of medieval Judaism, with a celebrated rabbinical academy where students from all over Europe came to study.

Students were also attracted to Padua by its very old medical school, which was the only one to accept Jews.

In 1548 the Venetian authorities decided to require all Jews to reside in an area near Piazza delle Erbe that was called the Ghetto. However, Jewish students were still allowed to graduate from Padua’s prestigious university.

From 1609 all four streets leading to the Ghetto were closed at a certain hour of the evening and guarded gates isolated the district during the night.

The Ghetto was officially abolished in 1797 after Napoleon’s proclamation of the equality of all citizens.

By the 19th century there were three synagogues in the district, reflecting the number of Jewish people then living in Padua.

Piazza delle Erbe, close to the area of Padua where Jewish residents were required to live
Piazza delle Erbe, close to the area of Padua
where Jewish residents were required to live
The number of Jewish residents was greatly reduced in the 20th century and today there is only one synagogue still open for worship, at number 9 Via San Martino e Solferino, where the offices of the Jewish community are also located.  

This synagogue was originally built in 1548 but has been restructured several times. One of the four original gates to the Ghetto, crowned with the lion of Saint Mark, stands nearby.

Full equality for Jewish citizens was achieved in 1866 when Padua was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.

The former Ghetto has kept much of its original appearance, with the tall narrow houses in Via Arco evoking how the Ghetto must have looked in the past.

The Jewish Heritage Museum at  26 Via delle Piazze, just off Piazza delle Erbe, has precious objects on display that were taken from the two former synagogues no longer in existence, some of them dating back to the 15th century.