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.

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.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Chiesa di San Nicolò

Romanesque church still has many original features

One of the oldest churches in Padua, the pretty Chiesa di San Nicolò, is tucked away in a square at the end of Via San Nicolò, a turning off Via Dante Alighieri.

An outstanding example of Romanesque architecture, Chiesa di San Nicolò was first mentioned in a document in 1088 when Bishop Milone donated it to the Convent of Saint Peter for the use of the monks.

Chiesa di San Nicolò is about 1000 years old
The church was dedicated to Saint Nicolas of Myra and later acquired some of the saint’s relics.

By the 12th century, San Nicolò was a parish church attended by many of the noble families in the city.

In the 14th century, the church was extended to the side to add the chapel of the aristocratic Forzate family. By 1546 Chiesa di San Nicolò  had 11 altars, many owned by the powerful families who worshipped there, and between 1660 and 1680 some baroque features were added.

The bell tower was rebuilt in the 19th century in Gothic style, but restoration work carried out in the 20th century meticulously preserved many of the church’s original features.

Among the art treasures inside Chiesa di San Nicolò  is an altarpiece by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo depicting the Sacred Family with Saints Francesca Romana and Eurosia. There are still traces of 14th and 15th century frescoes and there is a 15th century depiction of San Liberale by Jacopo da Montagnana, also known as Jacopo Parisato, an artist from Montagnana who was active in Padua during the 15th century.



Monday, August 10, 2020

Francesco Zabarella

Cardinal from Padua helped end the western schism

Cardinal Francesco Zabarella, an expert on canon law whose writings on the subject were to remain the standard authority for centuries, was born on this day in 1360 in Padua.

Zabarella studied jurisprudence in Bologna and in Florence, graduating in 1385. He taught canon law in Florence until 1390 and in Padua until 1410. He took minor orders and in 1398 was made an archipriest of the Cathedral of Padua.

Zabarella also carried out diplomatic missions on behalf of Padua. In 1404 he was one of two ambassadors sent to visit King Charles VI of France to ask for his assistance against Venice, which was preparing to annex Padua. But when Padua became part of the Venetian Republic in 1406, Zabarella became a loyal supporter of Venice. In 1409 he took part in the Council of Pisa as councillor of the Venetian legate.

The antipope John XXIII appointed him Bishop of Florence and cardinal deacon of Santi Cosma and Damiano in Rome in 1411. There were two antipopes at the time as a result of the western schism, which had begun in 1378 when the French cardinals, claiming that the election of Pope Urban VI was invalid, had elected antipope Clement VII as a rival to the Roman pope. This had eventually led to two competing lines of antipopes, the Avignon line and the Pisan line, which had elected antipope Alexander V, John XXIII’s predecessor.

Although Zabarella never received major orders he was an active promoter of ecclesiastical reform. When the Council of Rome failed to end the schism, Zabarella was sent as one of John XXIII’s legates to Emperor Sigismund at Como to reach an understanding over the time and place for holding a new council.
Cardinal Zabarella's tomb in the Duomo

He helped to bring about the opening of the Council of Constance in 1414 in Germany.
In the interest of church unity he persuaded John XXIII to resign in 1415 but also opposed the Avignon antipope, Benedict XIII.

Eventually the Roman pope, Gregory XII, resigned and the Council of Constance formally deposed the Avignon line and the Pisan line.

Suffering poor health, Zabarella went to take the waters at a spa near Constance to try to recover. His last days were spent in pressing for the Council of Constance to elect a new pope as soon as possible. He died in Constance in September 1417 and was later buried in Padua Cathedral. 

By November, Pope Martin V, who had been born in the papal states near Rome, had been elected by the Council of Constance, effectively ending the western schism.

Zabarella’s most important works were: De schismate sui temporis, which dealt with ways and means of ending the schism, written between 1403 and 1408; Lectura super Clementinis, written in 1402; Commentaria in quinque libros Decretalium, written between 1396 and 1404.
Padua's Duomo and Battistero

Francesco Zabarella was laid to rest in the Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, referred to in Padua as the Duomo. The present Duomo is the third structure to have been built on the site. The first was erected in 313 and destroyed by an earthquake in the 12th century. The church was then rebuilt in Romanesque style and visitors to the Baptistery next door can see how the Duomo would have looked in the 14th century, Zabarella’s era, as it appears in the frescoes executed at that time by Giusto dè Menaboui.

The present building dates back to the 16th century and was finally consecrated in 1754, with its façade left unfinished.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Paolo De Poli

 Painter devoted his life to ancient art of enamelling

One of Italy’s most admired 20th century artists, Paolo De Poli, who became fascinated with the technique of enamelling, was born on this day in 1905 in Padua.

At first De Poli experimented with enamelling small, decorative objects but after he mastered his craft he moved on to creating large panels for the interiors of ships, hotels and public buildings.
Paolo De Poli

De Poli trained in drawing and embossing on metal at the art school Pietro Selvatico of Padua and then studied oil painting in Verona. He embarked on a career as a portrait and landscape painter.

In 1926 he participated in the XVth Biennale di Venezia with the oil painting, Still Life.

While travelling in the 1930s, he visited art museums and archaeological sites and became interested in the traditional art of working with vitreous enamel.From 1933 onwards, he devoted himself to creating enamel works on metal, experimenting with refined objects of many shapes in brilliant colours. He continued to improve his technique, reaching the highest level of skill.

In the 1940s, he collaborated with Milanese architect Gio Ponti in the production of furniture and decorative panels. This led to him producing animal statuettes in sculptural forms and he also produced beautiful vases, bowls, trays, plates, cups, plaques and door handles in enamel on copper.

He also accepted commissions for panels to decorate the homes of collectors in Italy and abroad.

Gio Ponti wrote about him: ‘If we can speak of an Italian art of enamel, it is thanks to De Poli, to the road he opened up and followed faithfully, to the example of his orthodox technique, to his sureness of touch, to the esteem and admiration he has won. And we should be grateful to him for this also.’
The main building of Padua University has works by De Poli

De Poli also dedicated himself to executing altarpieces and cycles of panels on the theme of the Stations of the Cross. These are preserved in churches in Padua, Abano Terme, Treviso and Bergamo.

His creations have been displayed at many international exhibitions and art fairs as expressions of Italian style. Many of his works in enamel on copper are now in the permanent collections of the important museums of decorative art and design.

De Poli was actively involved in the defence of the Italian cultural heritage and the promotion of arts and crafts during his career.

From 1960 to 1973 he served as a member of the board of directors of the Milan Triennale.
In 1970 De Poli was awarded the title of Cavaliere del Lavoro. He died in Padua in 1996, aged 91.

His personal archive of designs, prototypes, photographs and correspondence has been entrusted to the Archivio Progetti of IUAV University of Venice.

Visitors to Padua can see examples of his work in buildings in the city. Two of De Poli’s panels, depicting Podestà Rusca and Vescovo Giordano, are in Palazzo Bò, the main building of Padua University in Via 8 Febbraio. To find Palazzo Bò, leave Piazza Cavour, passing Caffe Pedrocchi on your right and walk down Via 8 Febbraio. The university building is on the left hand side of the street at its corner with Via San Francesco. De Poli’s statuette, Toro (Bull), completed in 1966, is in Padua’s Musei Civici, a complex of museums and historic sites centred round the former convent of the Eremitani in Piazza Eremitani.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Petrarch – Renaissance poet

Death of writer who inspired the modern Italian language

The poet Petrarch was born Francesco  Petrarca on July 19, 1374
The poet Petrarch was born Francesco
Petrarca on July 19, 1374
Renaissance scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca died on this day in 1374 at Arquà near Padua.

Petrarca, known in English as Petrarch, is considered to be an important figure in the history of Italian literature.

He is often credited with initiating the 14th century Renaissance, after his rediscovery of Cicero’s letters, and also with being the founder of Humanism.

In the 16th century, the Italian poet, Pietro Bembo, created the model for the modern Italian language based on Petrarch’s works.

Petrarch was born in Arezzo in Tuscany in 1304. His father was a friend of the poet Dante Alighieri, but he insisted Petrarch studied law.

The poet was far more interested in writing and reading Latin literature and considered the time he studied law as wasted years.

Petrarch’s first major work, Africa, about the Roman general, Scipio Africanus, turned him into a celebrity. In 1341 he became the first poet laureate since ancient times and his sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe.

The town of Arquà Petrarca, near Padua, where the poet Petrarch was born, and which took his name
The town of Arquà Petrarca, near Padua, where the poet
Petrarch was born, and which took his name
Petrarch travelled widely throughout Italy and Europe during his life and once climbed Mount Ventoux near Vaucluse in France just for pleasure, writing about the experience afterwards.

Towards the end of his life he moved with his daughter, Francesca, and her family, to live in the small town of Arquà in the Euganean Hills to the south west of Padua. He died there on 19 July 1374, the day before his 70th birthday.

Arquà, in the province of Padua, where Petrarch spent his last few years, is considered to be one of the most beautiful, small towns in Italy and it has won awards for tourism and hospitality. In 1870 the town became known as Arquà Petrarca and the house where the poet lived is now a museum dedicated to him.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Teatro Verdi Padua

Famous singers have graced stage of elegant theatre 

Padua has a beautiful 18th century theatre named after the composer Giuseppe Verdi, which is in Piazza Terrani off Corso Milano in the centre of the city, close to Piazza dei Signori.

Teatro Verdi presents operas, musicals, plays, ballets and concerts organised by the Teatro Stabile del Veneto.

Teatro Verdi is in Corso Milano in the centre of Padua

The theatre was originally named Teatro Nuovo after it was built in 1751. The architect, Giovanni Gloria, had been commissioned to design the theatre by a group of important citizens of Padua, who wanted something similar to the Teatro degli Obizzi, which had been built in the city in 1652 and was used to put on operas during the first half of the 18th century.

Among the celebrated singers who appeared at Teatro Nuovo were castrati singers Gaetano Guadagni and Gaspare Pacchierotti, soprano Giuditta Pasta and contralto Giuseppina Grassini

In 1846 the theatre was restored inside by Giuseppe Japelli and in 1884, when the theatre was dedicated to Giuseppe Verdi, the interior was changed again by architect Achille Sfondrini with Giacomo Casa decorating the ceiling.

During World War I the ceiling was badly damaged by bombing and had to be redone by Giuliano Tommasi.

In 1920, when Teatro Verdi was able to reopen, the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, attended the opening ceremony.

During World War II the number of productions had to be limited and after the war the theatre became the property of the local authority.

For more information about future productions, visit www.teatrostabileveneto.it/the-teatro-verdi/

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Porta Altinate Padua

13th century gate is a popular way to enter the city 

One of Padua’s only two remaining medieval gates, Porta Altinate, provides a way into the centre of the city for thousands of people each day.
The 13th century Porta Altinate

Padua’s tram stops on Riviera dei Ponti Romani and when passengers get off they can quickly walk through Porta Altinate to reach the two main squares, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta.

Porta Altinate was one of the gates in the walls built around Padua in the 13th century to protect the city from hostile attacks.

The walls were constructed on the orders of the comune of Padua and there are still a few remnants of them left in parts of the city.

In 1256, Porta Altinate was stormed and destroyed by troops fighting to overthrow the notorious tyrant Ezzelino III da Romano. It was the day the hated ruler finally lost his power over the city. 

The gate was rebuilt in 1286 and the event is recorded in an inscription by the historian, Conte Carlo Leoni, on a memorial stone under the archway.

Porta Altinate’s lookout tower has since been reduced in height and the gate now stands between modern buildings.

Looking at it from Piazza Garibaldi, the gate would once have been reflected in the waters of a canal behind it, but this was filled in to create the section of road called Riviera dei Ponti Romani, which was named in honour of the Roman bridges which now lie below the surface of the road.
Monument to Alvise Pisani

Inside the archway is a monument in baroque style to Alvise Pisani, who was captain of Padua from 1686 to 1687 and then became Doge of the Republic of Venice. The monument was the work of artists studying in Padua at the time.

But the intricately carved stonework is probably missed by many of the pedestrians and cyclists who are in a hurry to pass through the gate each day on their way into Padua.