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, 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.