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Copyright Enrico Massetti 2014
Published by Enrico Massetti
All Rights Reserved
Although it certainly has a thriving tourism industry, Ferrara is not on the typical foreign tourist's itinerary, which makes it perfect for those tourists who want to get off the beaten path of Venice-Florence-Rome and soak in some authentic northern Italian culture.
It's characterized by twisting medieval cobblestoned streets, a Duomo (cathedral) with a looming Gothic facade, and--best of all--a castle straight out of storybooks, complete with towers, moat, and drawbridges (that you can cross during the day).
Thanks to the d'Este family of astute art patrons, Ferrara contains many beautiful objects de Arte, but the genuine masterpiece is the city itself. Half medieval, half Renaissance, the dual cityscape was the vision of oligarch Ercole d'Este, who hired architect Biagio Rossetti to meld the newer section to the old seamlessly. This careful planning earned Ferrara the title of Italy's first "modern city." Today, its captivating, anachronistic ambiance is best explored on foot or by bicycle.
Ferrara: one of the most beautiful of Italian cities, was formerly the capital of the Estensi and has been resuscitated in modern times from the degrading decadence into which it fell with its inclusion into the Papal States.
Palazzo dei Diamanti
We enter through Porta Po and going down Corso Porta Po come to Corso Ercole I d’Este, a crossroad of glorious buildings: the Palazzo Prosperi-Sacrati, Palazzo di Biago and, above all, the fantastic Palazzo dei Diamanti, the architectural masterpiece of Biagio Rossetti (1492).
It was built for Sigismondo d’Este and today houses the splendid Picture Gallery which is of fundamental importance for an understanding of the Ferrarese school of painting (Cosme Tura, Ercole Roberti, Cossa, etc.), but also has works of Carpaccio and other Venetian artists.
Turning down the broad Corso Ercole I, amidst beautiful palaces and gardens, we come to the immense square Este Castle (1385), a marvel of medieval military architecture, completed over the following centuries and transformed into a luxuriously palatial residence, whose furnishings have unfortunately been dispersed: all that remains, to testify to its former splendor, are several beautiful frescoed rooms.
The interior of Este Castle has many ornate halls and rooms in the noble living quarters on the first floor.
Leaving the Castle, we go up Corso della Giovecca, turn off to the right to visit the beautiful Renaissance Church of San Francesco (15th century), and then just a little further on, the 15th century Casa Romei; (frescoes inside), one of the most beautiful houses of Ferrara.
We return to Corso Giovecca to see the delightful Palazzina di Marfisa d’Este (1559), and across the road, the ancient St. Anne’s Hospital where Tasso was a patient.
Palazzo di Schifanoia
At the end of the Corso, we turn and walk along beside the walls, with their background of greenery, then down Via Scandiana, until we come to Palazzo di Schifanoia (1391-1465). It's famous for the Frescoes of the Months, one of the marvels of Italian Renaissance painting, and which still today testify to the luxurious and light-hearted court life of Duke Durso d'Este. In the adjoining Museum, among Renaissance bronzes and Greek and Etruscan vases, the sketch for Moses by Michelangelo stands out in importance.
Coming out of the Schifanoia Palace, we find immediately to our left the church of Santa Maria in Vatic, built by Biagio Rossetti and enhanced by essential paintings and a beautiful sanctuary. Turning down Borgo Vatic, we come to the Palazzo di Ludovico II Morn, Rossetti's masterpiece, which houses the Archaeological Museum, one of the richest in Italy for its Etruscan and Greek antiquities.
Continuing through the quaint streets of the old city, we reach the vast Piazza del Mercato at the side of the Romanesque Cathedral (1135). The architectural masterpiece of Wiligelmo, who designed it, and of the sculptor Nicole, with its elegant three-pointed facade and its interior, adorned with marbles and paintings: in the choir, there is an essential fresco of the Last Judgment by Bastianino, a follower of Michelangelo.
In the adjoining Cathedral Museum, there are paintings by Tura, a Madonna by Jacopo della Quercia, tapestries and magnificent miniatures. We should then visit the Palazzo Comunale, with its attractive Renaissance courtyard.
The cathedral of Ferrara dates from the 12th century and bears witness to all the historical periods of the city. The façade is divided into three sections; it was begun in Romanesque style, still visible in the lower part.
Notable are the St. George and the scenes from the New Testament above the central door, they are the work of the sculptor Nicholaus (1135).
The upper part was built some decades later in a Gothic style and besides the numerous small arches and the splayed mullioned windows presents an extraordinary Last Judgment by an unknown sculptor over the central loggia.
Two galleries and small columns of various shapes decorate the side facing Piazza Trento e Trieste. At ground level there is the Loggia of the Merchants, shops have occupied it since Medieval times.
Halfway along the south side, there is what remains of the Porta dei Mesi; it was demolished in the 18th-century. Some of its sculptures are conserved in the Cathedral Museum.
The imposing Renaissance campanile, in pink and white marble, is an unfinished work attributed to Leon Battista Alberti.
The brickwork apse, whose sober design is lightly embellished by terracotta arches and marble capitals, is the work of Ferrara’s top architect and town planner, Biagio Rossetti.