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 fa├žade 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!