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.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Feast of Saint Giustina

Today Padova celebrates the feast day of Santa Giustina, evoking the memory of a young woman executed on this day in 304 during the Roman Empire's last major purge of Christians.

Giustina, in a painting here by Bartolomeo  Montagna, hailed from a noble family
Giustina, in a painting here by Bartolomeo
Montagna, hailed from a noble family
Giustina was born into a noble family in Padova but little is known about her apart from her faith. A pretty girl who would have had many suitors, she took a vow of chastity and devoted her life instead to God, and to teaching the values of Christianity.

She was a victim of the purge of Christians undertaken by the Emperor Diocletian, the last major attempt to stamp out what was regarded by the Romans as a subversive cult.

He was carrying out an edict that rescinded all legal rights for Christians and compelled Christians to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment or execution.

What became known as the Diocletian Persecution concentrated first on purging the Roman military of Christians and then broadened to the population in general.

When Diocletian's officers confronted Giustina in Padova, they ordered her to go to the Roman temple to Minerva to worship the Roman goddess, offer her virginity as sacrifice and renounce Christianity.

Because she refused to do so and denounced the Roman gods, Giustina was condemned to death.  The execution is said to have taken place at Pontecorvo, where she was stabbed through the heart with a sword.

The vast Basilica di Santa Giustina overlooks Prato della Valle, one of Padova's main squares
The vast Basilica di Santa Giustina overlooks Prato della
Valle, one of Padova's main squares
Within a few years, following the Edict of Milan in 313, Christianity had been made legal within the Roman Empire for the first time.

It came too late for Giustina, whose body was buried in a cemetery near what was then the Zairo Roman theatre and now lies beneath the altar table in the magnificent Basilica di Santa Giustina, with its eight domes, which was built the 16th century on the site of the cemetery.

The ninth largest Christian church in the world, the basilica houses the remains of many revered saints, including those of St Luke the Evangelist, who is credited with writing the Gospel According to St Luke.

Giustina is a patron saint of many other Italian municipalities in addition to Padova and a co-patron saint of Venice, where she became extremely popular for a number of years following the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

This was a naval battle between a coalition of Catholic maritime states brought together by Pope Pius V and the Turkish fleet which took place on her feast day - October 7 - and which was decisive in halting the expansion of the Ottoman Empire on the European side of the Mediterranean.

The Basilica di Santa Giustina is situated at the south-east corner of the elliptical piazza known as Prato della Valle.  Among many things worth seeing is a magnificent altarpiece painted by Paolo Veronese in 1575, depicting the moment of her death.

Next door to the basilica there is a Benedictine monastery with frescoed cloisters and a famous library that can be visited by arrangement. Admission to the basilica is free. It is open from 7.30am until noon and from 3pm until 6.30pm (7.30pm on Sundays).

Prato della Valle, built on the site of a former Roman  theatre,  is notable for its 78 statues of eminent citizens of Padova
Prato della Valle, built on the site of a former Roman  theatre,
 is notable for its 78 statues of eminent citizens of Padova
The Prato della Valle is built on the site of the Zairo theatre on land which fell into disuse and became flooded following the fall of the Roman Empire.  The land was drained in the 18th century and a canal crossed by four bridges was created around an island planted with trees and lawns, which was later lined by statues of 78 eminent citizens of Padova.

The nearby Ristorante Zairo contains statues and wall decorations that recall the chariot races and other activities that would have taken place in the theatre. Diners can also see a 17th century fresco that came to light when renovations uncovered part of the structure of a former church.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Death of artist Andrea Mantegna

The painter Andrea Mantegna, who made a major contribution to Padova’s rich art collection, died on this day in 1506.

Mantegna was one of a large group of painters entrusted with decorating the Ovetari Chapel in the Church of the Eremitani in Padova.

Part of Mantegna's cycle depicting the Martyrdom
 of San Giacomo. Now partially restored, it
can again be seen in the Ovetari Chapel.
Much of his work was damaged when the Allied forces bombed Padova in 1944, but his paintings of The Assumption and the Martrydom of Saint Christopher survived and others have been painstakingly restored.

Other early work by Mantegna can be seen in the Basilica of Sant’Antonio and in the Church of Santa Giustina in Padova.

Mantegna was born at Isola di Cartura near Padova in about 1431, a village just outside Piazzola sul Brenta, which has now been renamed Isola Mantegna. 

He was apprenticed by the age of 11 to the painter Francesco Squarcione in Padua, who had a fascination for ancient art and encouraged him to study fragments of Roman sculptures.

After eventually parting company with Squarcione, the artist came under the influence of Jacopo Bellini, the father of Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, and in 1453 he married Jacopo’s daughter, Nicolosia.

By 1459 he had moved on to Verona, where he painted a grand altarpiece for the Church of San Zeno.

The following year he was appointed court artist by the Marquis Ludovico III Gonzaga of Mantua. His frescoes for the Bridal Chamber (Camera degli Sposi) at the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua were to influence many artists who followed him because of his innovative use of perspective.

They are considered among his best works and depict the life of Ludovico Gonzaga and his family.The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture. 

He introduced spatial illusion with his painting of the ceiling, which although flat appears concave. This technique was followed by other artists for centuries.

Mantegna was also to become famous for his religious paintings, such as St Sebastian, which is now in the Louvre in Paris, and The Agony in the Garden, which is now in the National Gallery in London. 

The artist painted nine pictures of the Triumphs of Caesar, drawing on his classical knowledge, which are also considered by experts to be among his finest works. These were sold in 1628 to King Charles I of England and are now in Hampton Court Palace.

After his death at about the age of 75, Mantegna’s sons set up a monument to him in the Church of Sant’Andrea in Mantua.

The 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea is in Piazza Mantegna. The artist’s tomb is in the first chapel on the left, where there is a painting of the Holy Family and John the Baptist by Mantegna.

The church was originally built to accommodate the large number of pilgrims who came to Mantua to see a precious relic, an ampoule containing what were believed to be drops of Christ’s blood mixed with earth. This was claimed to have been collected at the site of his crucifixion by a Roman soldier.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Padova's link with St Lawrence of Brindisi

St Lawrence of Brindisi studied at the University of Padova
St Lawrence of Brindisi studied at
the University of Padova
St Lawrence of Brindisi, who was born Giulio Cesare Russo on this day in 1559 in Brindisi, has strong connections with Padova, having studied at the city's ancient University.

Lawrence was born into a family of Venetian merchants and was sent to Venice to be educated.  He joined the Capuchin order in Verona when he was 16, taking the name Brother Lawrence.

He became a Roman Catholic priest and received tuition in theology, philosophy and foreign languages from the University of Padova. He progressed to be able to speak many European and Semitic languages fluently.

Pope Clement VIII gave Lawrence the task of converting Jews living in Rome to Catholicism because of his excellent command of Hebrew. Lawrence also established Capuchin monasteries in Germany and Austria and brought many Protestants back to Catholicism.

He was made St Lawrence in 1881, remembered for his bravery while serving as the imperial chaplain to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II.

The statue of St Lawrence at the Convent of Capuchin Friars in Rovigo
The statue of St Lawrence at the Convent of
Capuchin Friars in Rovigo
He led an army against the Ottoman Turks threatening to conquer Hungary armed only with a crucifix and many people attributed the subsequent victory to his leadership.

Lawrence was beatified in 1783 by Pope Pius VI and canonised in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII. He was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

The annual feast day of St Lawrence took place yesterday, on 21 July.

There is a statue of St Lawrence bearing a crucifix at the Convento Frati Cappuccini at Rovigo, some 50km south of Padova.

The University of Padova was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna.

The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of the city, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Via VIII Febbraio Padova

An uprising against the Austrian occupying forces, when students and ordinary citizens fought side by side, took place in Padova on 8 February in 1848.
A street in the centre of the city is now named Via VIII Febbraio to commemorate the revolt against the Austrian soldiers, when both the University of Padova and Caffè Pedrocchi briefly became battlegrounds.
Shots were fired inside Caffè Pedrocchi

The Padova rebellion was one of a series of revolutions in Italy during 1848, which had started with the Sicilian uprising in January.
The Austrians were seen as arrogant and aggressive by ordinary citizens and the ideas of Mazzini and Cavour about a united Italy were becoming popular with progressive thinkers.
Students and professors had been meeting in rooms at the University and in Caffè Pedrocchi to discuss their discontent.
The uprising began with the storming of a prison and prisoners being set free. Then many ordinary citizens came to fight alongside the students against the armed Austrians, who clubbed the Padovans with their guns as well as firing at them.
You can still see a hole in the wall of the White Room inside Caffè Pedrocchi made by a bullet fired by an Austro-Hungarian soldier at the students.
Padovan students and citizens and some Austrian soldiers were killed and wounded in the fighting. Many people were arrested by the soldiers and in a crackdown later, some students and professors were expelled from the university.
The revolt was short lived and there was no other rebellion against the Austrians in Padova. But the 8 February uprising was thought to have encouraged Charles Albert of Savoy, King of Sardinia-Piedmont, to later declare war on Austria.
A courtyard inside the university

In 1866 Italy finally expelled the Austrians from the Veneto and Padova became annexed to the Kingdom of Italy .
Caffè Pedrocchi has been a meeting place for business people, students, intellectuals and writers for nearly 200 years. Founded by coffee maker Antonio Pedrocchi in 1831, the café was designed in neoclassical style and each side is edged with Corinthian columns.
It quickly became a centre for the Risorgimento movement and was popular with students and artists because of its location close to Palazzo del Bò, the main university building. It became known as ‘the café without doors’, as it was open day and night for people to sit and read, play cards or debate.
Caffè Pedrocchi is now a Padova institution and a 'must see' sight for visitors. You can enjoy coffee, drinks and snacks all day in the elegant surroundings.
The University of Padova was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Forgotten composer Giacomo Facco was born near Padova

Giacomo Facco, a baroque composer, was born near Padova
The composer Giacomo Facco
was born near Padova
Baroque composer Giacomo Facco, whose work has been forgotten about for centuries, was born today in 1676 in Marsango, just north of Padova.

He was highly regarded during his own lifetime, but his compositions were forgotten until 1962, when they were rediscovered by a musicologist, Uberto Zanolli.

Facco is believed to have worked as a violinist and a conductor early in his career and is known to have been given a job in 1705 by the Viceroy of Sicily as a choirmaster, teacher and violinist in Palermo .

In 1708 he moved with the Viceroy to Messina where he composed The Fight between Mercy and Incredulity. In 1710 he presented a work dedicated to King Philip V of Spain , The Augury of Victories, in Messina Cathedral.

By 1720 it is known Facco was working in the Spanish court because his pay is mentioned in a report dating from that year. He is later named as clavichord master to the Spanish princes.
At the height of his success he was commissioned to compose an opera to celebrate the marriage of one of the princes in 1721.

But he then seems to have fallen out of favour and was just employed as a violinist in the orchestra of the Royal Chapel until his death in Madrid in 1753.

The composer had earlier written 12 violin concertos under the title Pensieri Adriarmonici. Bright and buoyant, they are reminiscent of the music composed by his contemporary, Vivaldi.

These concertos were discovered in a library in Mexico City by Uberto Zanolli in 1962 along with Facco’s birth certificate, showing he was born near Padova.  Since his remarkable discovery, Zanolli has put together a biography of Facco and a list of his known works.
The walled city of Castelfranco Veneto, close to where Giacomo Facco was born
The walled city of Castelfranco Veneto

Some of Facco’s solo cantatas, written using his own poetry, were presented at a concert in Mexico City in 1962, conducted by Zanolli.

But it is thought other music Facco wrote in Spain may have been destroyed in a fire in Madrid in 1734.

Facco was born and spent his early years in the hamlet of Marsango in the commune of Campo San Martino about 15 kilometres north of Padua in the beautiful countryside of the Veneto . Marsango lies between the cities of Treviso and Vicenza , with the walled city of Castelfranco Veneto just to the north.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Remembering the genius of Renaissance artist Giotto

The brilliant 14th century painter Giotto di Bondone, who gave Padova its greatest work of art, died on 8 January in 1337 in Florence.

Giotto's depiction of the Last Judgment on the
frescoed walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova

Although much of his work is no longer in existence, the artist who was known simply as Giotto is remembered after nearly 700 years as one of the greatest painters of the early Renaissance period.

It is believed Giotto was born in about 1267 in Florence but it is not known how he learned to paint with such a sense of space, naturalism and drama. His work represented a crucial turning point in the history of art because he painted lifelike, solid figures and put in fascinating background details.

He is believed to be the first artist to make a decisive break with the Byzantine style of painting and draw figures accurately from life.

Giotto’s revolutionary style was followed by many other painters later in the 14th century and it is said that he was actually paid a salary by the commune of Florence because of his excellence.

His most stunning surviving work is undoubtedly the interior of the Scrovegni chapel in Padova. His cycle of frescoes is still considered to be one of the greatest works of art in the world.

Dedicated to Santa Maria della Carita (Saint Mary of the Charity), the chapel was decorated by Giotto between 1303 and 1305. The work was commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, who was hoping to atone for the sins of usury committed by himself and his dead father.

The frescoes narrate events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ and cover the side walls of the chapel. On the wall opposite the altar is Giotto’s magnificent Universal Judgment, which tells the story of human salvation and includes the figure of Enrico degli Scrovegni offering up a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary in a desperate bid to save his father from hell.

Under a bright blue sky, the realistic figures with their powerful facial expressions and colourful clothes tell the bible stories in a way they had never been told before.
In later life, Giotto was made ‘first court painter’, with a yearly pension by King Robert of Anjou in Naples. He lived in Naples till 1333 but none of his work there has survived.

On his return to Florence he was asked to design the new Campanile for the Cathedral in 1334 and his last known work was the decoration of a chapel in the Bargello.
It is thought Giotto was about 70 years of age when he died on 8 January 1337.

The Scrovegni Chapel in Parco della Arena
Some sources say he was buried in Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s Duomo, while others believe he was buried in the earlier church on the site, Santa Reparata.
In the 1970s bones were discovered beneath the paving of Santa Reparata and forensic examination confirmed they were those of a painter.

The bones were reburied with honour near the grave of Brunelleschi in the church, but it is still by no means certain they are actually the remains of Giotto.

It is a miracle Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel have survived for nearly 700 years. The chapel was acquired by the city of Padova in 1880 and specialised restoration operations have been carried out to preserve them subsequently.

The building, the quality of air and the best way to conserve the frescoes have all been carefully studied.

The chapel can be accessed from Giardini dell’Arena off Piazza Eremitani. There is a separate building where visitors can watch a video to prepare them for seeing the frescoes.

Visits are carefully organised so people can enter the chapel and look at the frescoes without jeopardising their condition.

Tickets should be booked in advance and collected an hour before the visit. For details visit www.cappelladegliscrovegni.it.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Villa Giusti Padova

Armistice talks were held at Padova villa

A villa just outside Padova was the location for the signing of the armistice between Italy and Austria-Hungary that ended the first world war on the Italian front in 1918.
After the Allied troops were victorious in the battle of Vittorio Veneto, the Austria-Hungary commanding officers had asked for a ceasefire and for peace talks.
Caffe Pedrocchi in the centre of Padova houses a
Risorgimento and contemporary history museum

They were invited to Villa Giusti at Mandria just outside Padova, which was owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, a former mayor of Padova and an Italian senator.
During the war, the villa had been the temporary residence of King Victor Emanuel III when he was away from the front.
The armistice signed on 3 November ended the fighting and was seen by many Italians as the final phase of the Risorgimento, a movement started in 1815 to unify Italy. The bells of a nearby church rang out when news came from the villa that the armistice had been agreed.
Villa Giusti in Via Armistizio, Mandria, is just outside Padova. Guided visits can be made to the villa by arrangement. The furniture in the room where negotiations were conducted remains just as it was on that day. Visitors can even see the round table on which the armistice was signed. Tel: +39 049 867 0492.
Two separate towns in the Veneto region, Ceneda and Serravalle, were merged and renamed Vittorio in 1866 in honour of King Vittorio Emanuele II. After the last, decisive battle in the First World War had taken place nearby, the city was renamed Vittorio Veneto. Franco Zeffirelli shot some of the scenes for his film version of Romeo and Juliet against the backdrop of 15th century buildings in Seravalle.
Inside the Caffe Pedrocchi in the centre of Padova there is a museum with exhibits demonstrating Italy's struggle for independence through the Risorgimento and the two world wars. Il Museo del Risorgimento is open daily. For more details visit  www.caffepedrocchi.it