Padua City Break
Padua is a lovely little town in the north of Italy. The medieval city centre is car-free has lots of piazzas, terraces and markets.
Sightseeing in Padua
The city is similar to York in size, not too big, not too small, friendly and cosy. Besides cosy, it is also a city full of sights and history. So what not to miss when visiting this city? Below is a list of 10 things to do, see and eat.
Palazzo della Ragione
The medieval town hall (1219) is 81.5 meters long, 27 meters wide and 24 meters high. The gigantic roof is not supported by any columns. This is unique within Europe. Besides the particular top; the view overlooking the square and the murals also pay attention to:
- The stone of shame (photo) was a stone stool for people with unpaid debts. In public, they had to take place on the stool in their underwear. Three times they had to sit on the stone uttering the words “cedobonis”, I give my worldly goods. They were then thrown outside the city gates and forbidden to return. If the debtor still decided to come back, he had to undergo the same procedure, but this time the citizens also poured three buckets of water over his head.
- The Trojan Horse (1466) is a gigantic wooden horse that used to belong to the private collection of the Capodilista family. It was used during a carnival parade. In the belly of the horse sat the entire family staff that jumped out with treats for the citizens of Padua at the supreme moment.
- The frescoes in the building represent astrological signs. These were used by the courts of law to administer justice. As each individual is born under a constellation with different characteristics, it is logical (or so they thought then) to assess each person on his innate qualities. I.e. the law was not the same for everyone but depended on the day of birth.
- On the ground floor of the domed hall are 800 years old market stalls, these used to be money changers, now they are mostly deli shops.
Santa Maria Cathedral
St. Mary’s Church is the city’s cathedral (not St. Antonio Basilica, as many mistakenly believe). It is a church from the 18th century with a unique addition from 1996. The modern altar with the four patron saints of Padua is the work of Giuliano Vagni. The statues are made of Carrara marble and fit remarkably well with the nearly 300-year-old interior.
The artwork’s light fittings and the altar were designed around the same time and built by a Dutchman (name unknown to me). It gave rise to several complaints from parishioners who tried to read their missal. The lights were made in a way that they would illuminate the altar in the best possible way. Unfortunately for the churchgoers, this meant that they had to sit in the dark. The artist did not allow the light to be altered. But when in Rome … . The cleaning lady would by accident adjust the position of the lamps whilst cleaning, resulting in more light for reading and, yes, a little less for the patron saints.
Prato del Valle in Padua
With 90 000 m2, Prato del Valle is one of the largest squares in Europe; it was created at the end of the 18th century. According to my source, only the Red Square in Moscow and St. Peter’s Square in Rome are larger.
Today, the inhabitants use the square as the city’s green heart for strolling, skating, and outdoor concerts.
Padua’s Botanical garden
This is the oldest (1545) botanical garden in Europe, which still sits in its original location. The gardens in Padua are affiliated with the city university. It all started with medicinal plants so that the students could learn how to identify and use them. This part of the garden still exists in its original form. The historic part of the garden was added in 1997 to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The old part is physically and visually separated from the newest addition, an ultra-modern building that has recently opened its doors. Today, the garden houses 3500 (international) plant species within its gates. The park plays a crucial role in biodiversity conservation, with more than 2,000 different species in the seed bank. In addition, the Orto Botanico has a website and app (Google Play).
The gardens are open from 9:00 am to 5 pm. The park is closed on most Mondays, except for public holidays in April and May. A ticket costs ten euros, pensioners, residents and children get a discount.
Visit the famous café Pedrocchi
Pedrocchi is something special in Padua. The café, named after the founder Francesco Pedrocchi, was opened in the 18th century in the town centre. Famous guests such as writer Lord Byron came here for their morning coffee. Francesco’s heir, Antonio Pedrocchi, bequeathed the company to one of his employees who then donated the café in his will to the city, with the condition that access is free and will always remain so.
The coffee is, of course, superb (we are, after all, in Italy) and the delicate cakes delicious. You will find the café on the Via VIII Febbraio, 15.
Padua food Markets
The markets in Padua are a class in themselves.
Food is an essential part of the culture, which is nowhere more evident than here. Each square (and there are many squares in Padua) seems to have a market. Each specialises in clothes, plants or other ware, but most sell food. The choice is overwhelming.
The Mafia has a special place within the Italian food chain. The organisation “Libera. Associazioni, nomi e numeri contro le mafie” farms land that has been confiscated from the crooks by the state. The soil is now used to produce organic products.
The products are available on the market. So if you always wanted to help fight crime, now you contribute by buying and eating citrus jelly (photo).
Cathedral of Santa Giustina
On the Prato del Valle square, one finds the imposing Santa Giustina basilica. Although the church is enormous, it is still overlooked by most tourists. The crypt dates from the year 520 and is home to the relics of St. Justina (Dutch). Moreover, the evangelist St. Lucas is buried here, well, at least his torso. Unfortunately, the head is in Prague (long story).
In one of the chapels, Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia is buried. She was the first woman in the world (1678) who earned a university degree in philosophy. Padua is, after all, the birthplace of humanities; the university was founded in 1222. Galileo Galilei taught here between 1590 and 1610.
Jacobo Dondi built this clock in the centre in 1344. This is a sight you should not miss; actually, it is almost impossible to oversee because of its sheer size and location. Unfortunately, the original clock was destroyed by a fire during the siege of Padua by the Milanese. The current clock is a replica built in the early 15th century, still a respectable age in my books. The clock continues working on its almost 600 years old mechanism.
The building stands in Piazza dei Signori, between the two palaces: dei Camerlenghi and the Palazzo del Capitanio. Admission is free. The clock tower can be visited, but only a few hours a week: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. Each group can have up to ten people. The entrance is at the back of the building.
Italian ice cream is the best
Last but not least: eat ice cream. Because no visit to Italy is complete without a refreshing moment for yourself. The best ice cream you buy at Gelateria La Romana on Corso Milano 83.
Tip: choose the chocolate …
- The centre is mostly car-free. During the day, it is almost impossible to park. It is best to come by car to park just outside the city walls. It’s not far to walk, and plenty of public transport is available for those who prefer not to walk.
- The central train station is a twenty-minute walk to the centre or ten minutes by tram.
- In the Jewish ghetto, you will find Hotel Toscanelli at Via Arco 2. A nice small, centrally located hotel.
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