Ferrara – Bologna – Modena – Reggio Emilia – Cremona
A voyage of art, culture and history from the Emilia Romagna to Lombardy. Emilia Romagna is washed by the Adriatic Sea and surrounded by mountain and hill ranges, rich in ancient remains and made even more precious by the excellent tourist organisation of its great attractions: the sea, the spas, art, the Apennines and , of course, food and wines.
Ferrara, the ancient capital of the Este family’s Duchy. It is endowed with so many splendid buildings: Palazzo dei Diamanti (1492), now an art gallery containing the works of Ferrara’s major artists (Cosmè Tura, de’ Roberti, F. Cossa), and a valuable collection of Venetian and Emilian art; Castello Estense, a marvel of mediaeval military architecture which was converted into the ducal residence during the Renaissance; Casa Romei, on of the city’s finest residential buildings built in the 15th c.); the Renaissance Church of S. Francesco; the delightful Palazzina di Marfisa d’Este; Palazzo Schifanoia, with the celebrated Renaissance frescoes depicting the months of the year which give us a fascinating insight to the court of Duke Borso d’Este. In the Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro is a fine Archaeological Museum. After a leisurely walk around the narrow streets of the old city, we come to the great square dominated by the Romanesque-Gothic cathedral (12th-14th c., which was begun by Wiligelmo and the sculptor Nicolò), and the museum and art gallery with works by Cosmè Tura, Jacopo della Quercia, etc. Before proceeding to Bologna it would be a great pity not to drive the 49 kilometers to the incomparable Pomposa Abbey.
Etruscan, Roman, a free Commune, and today a center of cultural life, famed for its cuisine. Our visit will begin in Piazza Maggiore, before the unfinished façade of S. Petronio. Jacopo della Quercia’s sculptures which adorn the main door are one of the masterpieces of Italian sculpture. By the church is the mediaeval Palazzo dei Notai, the Palazzo Comunale (City Hall) with the tower, and facing this is Palazzo del Podestà, behind which is the so-called ‘Palace of King Enzo’ (13th c.), named after the son of Emperor Frederick II of Swabia who died in prison there. Between the Palazzo di Re Enzo and the Palazzo del Podestà is a beautiful fountain of Neptune, with Giambologna’s statues (1566). Along Via Rizzoli we come to the two Towers: the Asinelli tower, 98 meters high, and the Garisenda tower, 48 meters high. Further on down Via Zamboni, flanked by superb buildings, stands the Church of S.Giacomo Maggiore (l3th-l4th c.), the University (Europe’s oldest), and the ‘Pinacoteca’ (picture gallery) which contains a collection of the major works belonging to the 16th c. Bolognese and Emilian schools, as well as works by Giotto, Tintoretto, and Raphael. We should not forget the 14th c. Church of S. Maria dei Servi, with Cimabue’s Madonna, or the fascinating group of mediaeval churches making up the S. Stefano complex, the 14th c. Palazzo della Mercanzia, Palazzo Bevilacqua (a Renaissance masterpiece), the Gothic and Renaissance Church of S. Domenico, the burial place of Saint Dominic whose tomb (‘Area’) is the work of masters covering 3 centuries, from Pisano to Michelangelo. Then there is the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio with a splendid courtyard (the former university building), the Municipal Archaeological Museum (Museo Civico Archeologico) with a major collection of prehistoric, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and mediaeval exhibits. There are so many other things that deserve a visit, such as the Church of S. Francesco, the ‘Metropolitana’ Church, the palaces lining Via Galliera, etc. But we would just like to urge you to make a short excursion to the top of a hill overlooking the city from the Shrine of the Madonna di S. Luca.
A few kilometers to the north is Modena. Its magnificent Cathedral (Duomo) is one of Italy’s most perfect examples of Romanesque architecture by Lanfranco and Wiligelmo. The cathedral bell-tower, called La Ghirlandina, is the symbol of the city (88 m). Other noteworthy buildings are the Museo Lapidario, the Ducal Palace – the former residence of the Dukes of Modena – the Palazzo del Museo with the municipal museum, the Este Gallery (Emilian and Venetian art collection), and the Este Library (Italian and foreign illuminated manuscripts, including the priceless Bible of Borso d’Este).
• Reggio Emilia
Another 25 kilometers further is Reggio Emilia, which has preserved its mediaeval layout, with handsome Renaissance and Baroque buildings. Let us visit the cathedral, the 17th c. Church of the Madonna della Ghiara, the Municipal Theatre (1857), and the Parmeggiani Gallery. Parma, Soragna, Fontanellato and its fortress, and Busseto lie to the north. Leaving Parma via Colorno and Casalmaggiore, we come to Sabbioneta – ‘the little Athens on the Po’ – the dream-come-true of the great humanist prince and soldier of the Renaissance, Duke Vespasiano Gonzaga. Let us gaze on these, such as the Galleria degli Antichi in Palazzo del Giardino, the octagonal Church of the Incoronata, the Ducal Palace, and Scamozzi’s Olympic Theatre built in 1590.
Returning to Casalmaggiore, we will take the road built by Napoleon, Via Giuseppina (Josephine’s Way), and after a pleasant 30 kilometers run, we reach Cremona (Lombardy Region), the home of great lute makers and famous for its ‘torrone’ nougat which was invented for the marriage of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti (1441) and served in the shape of the famous Cremona campanile called ‘il Torrazzo’, which gave this type of nougat its name. The Middle Ages and the Renaissance have left their marks on the town. The central square is one of the finest in Italy, dominated by the 13th c. ‘Torrazzo’ tower, with the 16th c. portico, the Cathedral, which is one of the finest examples of Lombard Romanesque and a veritable treasure-house of works of art, the Baptistery, the elegant Loggia dei Militi (1292), and the Gothic City Hall. There are many churches and civil buildings of great distinction: the Romanesque Church of S. Michele, the Gothic S. Agostino and the Renaissance S. Pietro al Po; the Palazzi Fodri, Raimondi, di Cittanova and Affaitati which houses the municipal Museum.
We will now return to Milan across the green Lombard plains, run through with canals, lined by rows upon rows of tall slender poplars, visiting Crema (the cathedral, the town hall, the municipal museum, Bramante’s Shrine of S. Maria della Croce), Soresina, Grumello, Sant’Angelo Lodigiano (with the Visconti’s Castle), and Lodi where we can look at the cathedral, the Church of the Incoronata, and wander around the enchanting old city.
• Emilia Romagna
To understand this region’s cuisine, it is necessary to list some of the native products like parmesan cheese (parmigiano-reggiano), egg pasta, Parma ham (prosciutto di Parma) and balsamic vinegar. Bologna is regarded as the gastronomic capital of Italy, and Emilia is the only true home of pasta in the North: often lovingly hand-made, the dough is formed into lasagne, tortellini, ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach, pumpkin or pork, and other fresh pastas served with ragù (meat sauce), cream sauces or simply with butter and parmesan. Modena and Parma specialize in boiled meats (bollito misto) , such as flank of beef, trotters, tongue and spicy sausage; another Modenese dish is zampone – stuffed pig’s trotter. Romagna’s cuisine is more Southern in orientation. While ingredients such as butter, cheese, mushrooms, chestnuts and meat feature in Emilia, Romagna tends more toward onions, garlic and olive oil; the region is second only to Sicily for the amount of fish caught in its waters. Typical wines: Lambrusco, Albana and Sangiovese
Dominated through the centuries by the Spanish, French, Austrians and Piedmontese and offering large open spaces for the most diverse agricultural production, Lombardy has a very varied cuisine with no real common denominator, nor could it be otherwise in a region where dialects and the names of the very same dishes change every thirty kilometres. Nevertheless, some common elements can be singled out, such as rice, polenta, pasta, meat, fish, and cheeses. Typical wines: Franciacorta, Bonarda, Botticino and Oltrepò Pavese.