Sunday, 22 September 2019

Padua: Cittadella

Our first view of Cittadella

We are on our way to Verona airport for the flight home, but we have spotted the opportunity to stop off on the way at the wonderful walled town of Cittadella, about 30 km north of Padua and midway between Castelfranco del Veneto and Vicenza.

We drive north and soon reach the centre of Cittadella, appropriately at the Porta Padova (Padua Gate). We were enormously impressed by the wonderful walls of Montagnana, but in many ways the walls of Cittadella are more impressive - they are certainly higher.

Cittadella was founded in 1220 as a fortified castle, designed to act as outpost of Padua in the Veneto, with the intention of protecting its borders from assault by Treviso and Vicenza. Nowadays. Cittadella is a town of 20,000 inhabitants - most outside the walls.

We decided to start by walking round the outside of the walls, to get a proper sense of them, They are basically oval, 1461m in circumference with four gates more or less on the cardinal points. This first section, anti-clockwise from the Porta Padova features a rather incongruous modern section.

We soon arrive at the Porta Treviso, with a substantial barbican.

The next section of walls is equally imposing and my photo features the moat which is fed by spring water and encircles the walls. It was once twice as deep and twice as wide as it is now and as well as being part of the defences it was a useful source of fish.

At the third gate, Porta Bassano we spotted some people on the top of the walls and quickly discovered that this is the main point of entry

We climbed up to the Tourist Office and bought our tickets for the Parapet Walkway, which was only opened in 2013 after 20 years of extensive renovation work. It is just wonderful! This is our first view of the area inside the walls. The main feature is the Duomo, built between 1774 and 1826. You can also see one of the two main roads which connect opposite pairs of gates.

Looking out from the parapets we had a good view of this beautifully frescoed house, which we had noticed as we were on Porta Bassano.

The main focus however is the imposing line of walls seen from the inside.

It was also impressive to see how the walkway passes through a whole series of towers.

This was the final quadrant, between the Vicenza and Padova gates. We were interested to notice the hills in the background.

We carried on around the full circuit (you can bail out at Porta Padova) and returned to ground level after a truly wonderful walk around the walls. We walked towards Porta Padova and at the central crossroads admired the inside view of Porta Treviso. There wasn't much to be said about the Duomo.

We headed onwards towards the Porta Padova, along a very quiet street ...

... enlivened at the end by this jolly statue.

Conditions: a bit grey.

Rating: 5 stars.

Note: According to the very helpful leaflet about the walls, other nearby walled towns include Bassano del Grappa, Marostica, Asolo and Castelfranco Veneto. We have been to Castelfranco, and indeed stayed there, but the others might form the basis of another trip!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Padua: The Euganian Hills

Villa dei Vescovi

The Veneto is generally very flat, but the area to the southwest of Padua, the Euganian Hills, offers a bit more variety. Today's outing took us to three interesting places within this area. And on the way we paused at Battaglia Terme (one of the innumerable places claiming hot springs) to photograph two things we had noted on our trip to Montagnana a couple of days ago. The first was Castello Catajo ...

... and the second was the Ponte dei scaini, a Venetian-style bridge in the centre of the small town.

Our first main destination was Arqua Petrarca, once just plain Arqua, famous for being the final home of the great 14th century poet and humanist, Petrarch. Apart from being famous for his his own sonnets, Petrarch's rediscovery of Cicero's letters is apparently often credited with initiating the Italian Renaissance. The pretty town climbs up a hill and is divided between the lower and upper sections. The first sights are the church and the Villa Contarini.

Reaching the upper area, the small pretty church has a lovely loggia attached to it.

Just beyond is Petrarch's house ...

 ... with lovely frescoes, added later, showing episodes in the great man's life. Here is a picture of him.

And here are a couple of the Euganian Hills seen from his window: Monte Castello to the left, Monte Cero to the right.

We went on the the Barbarigo Garden at Valsanzibio. This is the first thing you see from the road: the absolutely astonishing Doorway of Diana, which is right by the roadside.

Behind this lie two pools. Walking along the side of them brings you to large, the rather down-at-heel, house ...

... with formal gardens leading away from it.

Our third port of call was the Villa dei Vescovi, a quite beautiful early 16th century country house. This is the front gate ...

 ... and behind it the main facade of the house itself. Inside, as you would expect, there are frescoes, this time by the Flemish artist Lambert Sustris ...

... and these extend into the loggias on both sides with lovely views of the Euganian Hills.

Conditions: sunny and warm.

Rating: five stars

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Padua: South East quarter

 Basilica of Sant'Antonio

The South East quarter of Padua is dominated by the massive Basilica of Sant'Antonio, but there are several other interesting sights. As we walked towards the Basilica from the city centre we crossed a road that had once been a canal and passed this beautiful palazzo in Piazza Antinore.

 Soon afterwards we turned right at the castle-like Plazzo Zabarella, now an art gallery.

The Via del Santo brought us to the large square in which is located the Basilica of Sant Antonio. Saint Anthony of Padua, a celebrated 13th century preacher, was actually born in Lisbon, but lived and worked in Padua. His tomb is now a pilgrimage site.

The church is quite unusual having a series of domes above the nave, with others above each of the transepts and the choir. in addition there are two slim towers. The domes were heightened in 1424.
This is the facade.

 The inside is completely overwhelming with sculpture and frescoes on every surface. Perhaps helpfully, photography is banned inside the church. Consistent with the massive scale there are no less than four cloisters, the oldest one being the most pleasing.

It also has this hilarious image of a monk.

In the plaza in front of the Basilica is an equestrian statue,in fact the first monumental equestrian statute since Roman times. It was the work of the great sculptor, Donatello.

Now we walked along via Cesarotti a short way to a site which seems unknown and overlooked: the beautiful Cornaro Loggia and Odeon. We and one other visitor were treated to a detailed tour with an enthusiastic guide. Two structures sit at right angles, the golden Loggia and the white Odeon.

They were built for Alvise Cornaro, a wealthy man who was an early enthusiast for the Renaissance. The architect was Giovanni Maria Falconetto. The Loggia was built in the 1520s intended as a place for plays to entertain Cornaro's circle of the wealthy and sophisticated enthusiasts for the Renaissance. It was the first truly Renaissance building built in the Veneto.

 When you enter the exquisite Loggia you find a frescoed ceiling.

The rather plain Odeon was intended for musical performances, and rather wonderfully, some classical music was being recorded while we were looking at the Loggia. Happily for us, the recording finished in time for us to go in and see inside. It too was naturally heavily frescoed with themes from Roman antiquity.

As we walked away we were very struck by the contrast between the religious solemnity of the Basilica and the paganism of the Loggia and Odeon.

Our final destination was the huge Prato della Valle This huge square is the largest in Italy and one of the largest in Europe. It was once a big swamp, then a ground for jousting tournaments when, in the late 1700s, Andrea Memmo, whose palace still overlooks the square, conceived of a large plaza and park, and work began on the public space you see today. At its center is a green park surrounded by a canal; along its banks stand 78 statues, including one of Memmo. 

On one side is the beautiful Loggia Amulea.

Conditions: grey at first, but sunny later.

Rating: four stars (but 5 for the Cornaro Loggia and Odeon).

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Padua: Montagnana

The walls of Montagnana

Montagnana, about 70 km from Padua, is a small town with one of the best preserved examples of medieval town walls in Europe. The walls, which are rectangular and are uninterrupted apart from four gates, extend for 2 km.

We parked opposite the southern section and the photo at the head of this post presents the memorable first sight of the walls. The elegant Porta XX Settembre stands in front of us.

A quick look inside the gate reveals that internally the walls are quite battered and lack a walkway between the numerous towers. This was a bit disappointing - it's always great to walk around on top of city walls.

We headed anti-clockwise to reach the eastern gate, the Porta Padova, with a defensive bastion and a large tower.

To the right, the walls and towers stretch away to the next corner.

Opposite is a real bonus, a country villa designed by the great architect Palladio, Villa Pisani. It is a classic example of his style, but looks sadly neglected. Here is the facade which is now on the road ...

... and here is the rear elevation, which looks like it was designed as the front. It is in a very poor state.

We follow the line of the walls and come upon a fascinating information panel. We learn from it that a museum in Rotterdam holds a drawing by Giorgione (one of my favourite artists) which depicts figures with a walled town behind them. It was thought that this was Castelfranco-del-Veneto, but is now regarded as being Montagnana. It is a beautiful drawing, even when copied from an information panel.

We turn left to see the third side of the walls. The slightly larger tower marks the third gate, the Porta Vicenza.

We can't really walk along the road as there is no path so we decide to walk along the grassy path right under the walls. We soon notice that there are many lovely flowers ... and several species of butterflies. What a lovely bonus!

The walls on the final side are the least impressive since the towers which were once there are now just stubs. The final gate - the Porta Legnago - is very impressive and we were delighted to see that it is the process of being renovated.

It is now clear that the south side, which we saw first, has undergone significant renovation.

We now explore the inside of the town. The best bit is the large main square ...

... which is dominated by the cathedral, the Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta.

Inside there is a single high and wide nave with short transepts.

Astonishingly, just inside the door are two frescoes (of Judith and David) which were discovered in the 1930s and are now confidently accepted as the work of ..... Giorgione.

Cloudy at first, but sunny later.

Rating: five stars.