In 1995, the entire town of Ferrara was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an exceptional example of a Rennaisance town on the Po Delta www.ferrarainfo.com. Ferrara is located around a ford over Italy’s longest river, the Po. It is one of the region’s former fortified walled towns.
“Ferrara, which grew up around a ford over the River Po, became an intellectual and artistic centre that attracted the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here, Piero della Francesca, Jacopo Bellini and Andrea Mantegna decorated the palaces of the House of Este. The humanist concept of the ‘ideal city’ came to life here in the neighbourhoods built from 1492 onwards by Biagio Rossetti according to the new principles of perspective. The completion of this project marked the birth of modern town planning and influenced its subsequent development.”
Ferrara is in Emilia Romagna, about 31 miles northeast of Bologna. It has many places from the 14th and 15th centuries from the House of Este.
The D’Este family took control of the town in the 13th century under Nicolo II and held power until 1598 when the family was forced to move to Modena. The city became an intellectual and artistic center that attracted the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries under the reign of the Este court. The city of the Renaissance and its Po Delta became an inscribed UNESCO site in 1995.
Ferrara is the birthplace of Girolamo Savonarola, the Domenican Friar who ruled Florence from 1494 until his execution in 1498. He was the infamous perpetrator of the “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Ferrara is also famous for hot air balloons–are these events somehow related?? Ferrara is also the birthplace of Cosme Tura (1430-1495). He was the court painter and sculptor for his patrons Borso d’Este and his successor Ercole. Two of his masterpieces are housed in the National Art Gallery of Palazzo dei Diamanti. They depict scenes from the life of St. Maurelio.
The Este Castle was commissioned by Nicolo II and built by Bartolino da Novara in 1385 to defend the d’Este family against popular revolts and is an outstanding example of Italian military architecture. The superb House of Este’s ducal residences were decorated by immortal masters like Piero della Francesca, Jacopo Bellini and Andrea Mantegna. The towers and moats of the medival Castello Estense were founded in 1385.
The Romanesque-Gothic Ferrara Cathedral was built around 1135 and was decorated with marble patterns in the late 13th century. It has impressive reliefs over the tympanum of the “Last Judgement” on the façade. The new cathedral museum is housed inside the church of San Romano and contains sacred relics, paintings and sculptures. Visit the church of San Georgio, the city’s patron saint. Built in the 10th century, it was the city’s cathedral until the 12th century. The Church of Sant’Antonio in Polesine has beautiful frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries.
The d’Este summer retreat, Palazzo Schifanoia was commissioned by Alberto V d’Este in 1385. It is decorated with beautiful murals by Ferrara’s best 15th century painter, Cosimo Tura. The “Hall of Months” is frescoed by Francesco del Cossa, Ercole de Roberti and Cosme Tura. It is the home of the Civic Museum of Ancient Art which displays bronze , ceramics and frescoes.
In the Piazza Ariostea, on the last Sunday of May you can attend the dramatic Palio de San Giorgio, a bareback horse- riding extravaganza between the 8 town districts that was made official in 1279 to win the precious drape of St. George, the patron saint of Ferrara www.paliodiferrara.it.
If you miss the big event, have a “Vino con Vista” and order a glass of Albana di Romagna, Sangiovese di Romagna, Trebbiano di Romagna or Lambrusco di Sorbara at a local cafe. Visit the Osteria Al Brindisi, the world’s oldest wine bar on via Adelardi. While you sip your wine, think about how Nicolo Este III had his wife and her lover brutally murdered. This may prevent you from running off with some Italian hottie!
The cuisine recalls the courts of d’Este and is famous for salama sauce and cappelletti stuffed with turkey or pumpkin. I love the cappellacci di zucca stuffed with butternut squash and Parmigiano Reggiano flavored with nutmeg and covered with a delightful buttery sage sauce. Dine at La Providenza or Il Don Giovanni, both restaurants are located on Ercole d’Este. Get your Buon Ricordo collector plate at Trattoria e Locanda La Chiocciola in Quartiere di Portomaggiore @ Via Runco, 94/F (www.locandalachiocciola.it). The collector plate depicts the signature “Snail Timbale” served with mashed potatoes, shallots and herbs served in this charming bed and breakfast.
The Palazzo dei Diamanti has many special exhibits. When I was there, I saw works by French 18th century still-life master Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin on loan from major international museums. To learn more about Italy read www.vino-con-vista.com Travel Guides.