Saturday, 28 September 2013


The castle of the Dukes of Este

We made the short train journey from Bologna to Ferrara and walked into the centre, not along the main Viale Cavour, but along what would become the Corso Rossetti. The first thing we noticed, just opposite the station, was that Ferrara seems to have a pretty complete circuit of walls: below is a small sample. I learn from Wikipedia that there are over six miles of mainly 15th and 16th century walls and that Ferrara is second only to Lucca for the quality of its renaissance walls. We walked the walls of Lucca earlier this year, and clearly a further trip to Ferrara is called for!

Our first destination was the 16th century Palazzo dei Diamanti, faced with diamond-shaped stones. It now houses an art gallery where we had come to see an exhibition of the works of the 17th century Spanish painter Zurbaràn. It was an excellent and informative show and included some works of very high quality.

The palace opposite was also impressive, but I can't discover anything about it.

We walked down the cobbled street to reach the Castello Estense, surrounded by its moat. This massive brick structure, which is right in the centre of the city, dates from 1385 and was restored in 1554. It was the home of the powerful Dukes of Este.

When we came before, in 1995, it was in use as the offices of the City Council, but they have now departed and it is possible to wander round the whole place. The ground floor reveals its medieval origins with bare brick walls and dungeons, but on the first floor there is a long series of large bare rooms with frescoed ceilings. An ingenious series of large angled mirrors allows you to see the frescoes without twisting your neck.

Having completed our tour we headed along the side of the castle towards the cathedral, passing this wonderfully vivid statue (of 1875) of Girolamo Savonarola, the Dominican who preached the bonfire of the vanities in renaissance Florence.

The central area is wonderfully quiet, being car-free. There are instead lots of people on bicycles. Before long we stood in front of the beautiful romanesque facade of the cathedral. It was begun in 1139 and was almost complete by the end of the 13th century.

The outside of the nave has a most unusual feature: an arcade of shops over a portico. These apparently date from 1473. The splendid, but unfinished, campanile was built over a long period from 1412 to 1596.

Opposite the cathedral is the Palazzo Communale, a 13th century building altered in the late 15th century.

We enjoyed a pleasant late lunch in a nearby cafe and a great bottle of Traminer Aromatico (the Italian name for Gewurtztraminer). At this point, although there was still lots to see, we decided to return to Bologna as I was still suffering the effects of a dodgy prawn eaten yesterday.

On the way back to the station along viale Cavour, we admired this statue of Garibaldi. The palaque says, To Giuseppe Garibaldi - the Ferrarese people - 4th July 1907".

Further along the road, at number 184 we noticed this art nouveau gem. It was a lovely treat to end the walk with.

A helpful notice explains that it dates from 1902 and was the work of Ciro Contini.

Conditions: cloudy but warm.

Distance; at most 4 miles.

Rating: four and half stars

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