Monday, May 19, 2008


I am obsessed with this city. Pretty much every other street in Ferrara has some historically significant structure or elaborate church. This morning, I went to Palazzo Schifanoia, which literally means “escape from boredom.” It was one of the many Este family banqueting houses. On the upper level is Cosimo Tura’s Salone dei Mesi (“Salone of the Months”), a hall with painted pagan representations of allegorical pageants with gods, humans, and animals. There are also personifications of the zodiac constellations for each month.

Later, I stumbled upon a church in the southern part of the city, Santa Maria in Vado. It was a smaller but very tall church with beautiful frescoes on the ceilings. To the right of the church was a shrine, with an upper level that had a glass window in front of an ancient vault, and was surrounded by lit candles. I had no idea at the time, but this church was famous for a miracle that occurred in 1171 at the celebration of Easter Mass – when the priest broke the bread, blood spurted out from it onto the vault ceiling. I went back yesterday, and sure enough, I could point out small red dots covering the vault.

I continued walking through the town, and came across the Monastero di S. Antonio in Polesine. This monastery had a beautiful garden outside (even in the rain) and was run by very sweet nuns. The ceilings and walls of the church were painted by Giotto – who would’ve thought!

Afterwards, on my way back to the center of town, I ducked into a tiny restaurant and had the most delicious spinach tortellini I have ever tasted. I think my diet of gelato and pasta has to change soon.

Ferrara is pretty small – it takes literally ten minutes to walk across half of town. I went to mass at the Duomo, which was pretty amazing – every square inch of the cathedral has some ornate decoration in gold or marble, and it is entirely lit by candles.

I’m still jet-lagged and didn’t get up till like noon yesterday – the reception guy at the hostel laughed at me when I left for the day. I went to Chiesa di S. Cristoforo alla Certosa, which is a giant church surrounded by cemeteries and giant tombs. It sounds scary, but it was actually kind of beautiful and very peaceful.

After stopping for a cappuccino, I headed back to the southern part of the city to visit Palazzina Marfisa d’Este, another Este family palace which was built for one of the daughters. This one was smaller but still richly furnished with oak tables and chairs and painted ceilings, and a beautiful garden outside.

The thing I like most about Ferrara is its strong tie to its past. This weekend, the city was celebrating Il Palio di Ferrara – I’m not exactly sure what that was, but there were parades each night from the street by my hostel to the palace, full of children and adults all dressed in medieval clothing, marching and dancing to trumpets. I have a little guide book that explains what the festival is, but its all in Italian – I’ll try to figure it out soon. But anyways, it reminded me of last semester when I went to Seville with my parents – the people of the Ferrara are so proud of their city, and any visitor gets a taste of the unique Italian culture and traditions that are present. I truly enjoy being here, not just exploring the castles and palaces and reading about their rich Renaissance history, but also putting away my map and getting lost in the quaint Italian streets and smiling as locals stop and talk to me while I just smile, completely clueless as to what they are saying.

I’m on my way to Pienza today. Of course, I have to take like three different trains and somehow find a bus from Siena to Pienza; hopefully everything will go well. Farewell Ferrara!

"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life." - Anna Akhmatove

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