Padua „the erudite“, gem of beauty and wisdom

Orto botanico a Padova

Located between two rivers, Brenta and Bacchiglione, Padua is the cradle of internationally renowned monuments and works of art. Bridges and waterways are a delight and are well integrated into the frame of the old town. The arcades of the University (Palazzo del Bo’), the loggia of the Region Administration building, the Synagogue in the old ghetto, the conviviality of the historic Caffè Pedrocchi and Piazza dei Signori, the colors of the many markets, of the gardens,  the splendor of the Renaissance art, are just a few of the many things to see.

Although it lived in the shadow of neighboring Venice, in the course of history Padua has been able to benefit from its central geographical location becoming first major town of the Roman Italy, then flourishing medieval citadel, also thanks to the enlightened rule of the Da Carrara family. Near the immense Prato della Valle, one of the largest squares in Europe, stands out the Botanical Garden of the University of Padua: an area of 22,000 square meters, over 6,000 cultivated plants, and a great record. It’s the oldest extant university Botanical Garden. Since 1997, it is a UNESCO site, being the first of all botanical gardens in the world and because it represents the cradle of science and scientific exchanges, and the understanding of the relationship between nature and culture. Besides, it has largely contributed to the development of many modern scientific disciplines, particularly botany, medicine, chemistry, ecology, and pharmacy. It was founded in 1545 to cultivate indigenous and exotic medicinal plants for educational and scientific purposes. To this day it serves as a model for institutions around the world (more than eight hundred) practising exchange of seeds, plants and scientific material, and it has a dense network of international relations for its research activities. Among the plants that were introduced in Italy thanks to the Botanical Garden are potatoes, sunflower, jasmine, Ginkgo Biloba, magnolia and acacia. Saint Peter’s Palm tree is the oldest plant of the Garden, more than four hundred years old (1585). It is better known as Goethe’s Palm tree for having inspired the German philosopher in the writing of “Metamorphosis of Plants” during his visit in Padua in 1786.


As to other records, one of the most visited places in the city is the Basilica del Santo, or more commonly “the Saint”, which houses the relics of St. Anthony, who died in Padua in 1231. Built a year after the death of the Franciscan friar from Lisbon, the Basilica, a Latin cross with three naves and wide transept, it is a combination of styles. Lombard-Romanesque brick facade, Byzantine domes, steeples evoking the Islamic art because of their minaret shape, Gothic arches, and the Baroque Treasury Chapel. Inside, the frescoes by Altichiero and the bronze statues by Donatello shining beside the magnificent golden tomb of the saint, deserve special attention. In the square, facing the Basilica and the Franciscan Monastery, is Gattamelata. Though often “overshadowed” by the imposing Saint, this is another well-known sculpture by Donatello of the early Renaissance depicting the famous Venetian general of the fifteenth century. Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, painted between 1303 and 1305, are definitely Padua’s highlight and an Italian masterpiece of Gothic-Renaissance art because of  the artistry and the striking painting.

The Chapel is located in the Arena Garden and it was named after the owner, merchant Enrico Scrovegni, who, to atone for the sins of his usurer father, Reginaldo, commissioned the interior decoration to the Tuscan master and the sculptures to Giovanni Pisano. Under a blue canopy of stars quilt along the walls, Giotto tells the stories of Mary and Christ in a balance of shapes, lines, light and poetry that become human drama in everyday life of the time and culminate in the Last Judgement on the entry portal. To ensure the safety of the frescoes, for over a century the chapel has been often restored and today is constantly monitored, given the huge flow of visitors. Access, in fact, is possible by reservation only. Villa dei Vescovi in ​​Luvigliano of Torreglia is also worth visiting. A few kilometers from Padua, this work of the sixteenth century with frescoes by the Flemish Lamberto Sustris represents a perfect harmony between architecture and landscape.

Padua is also nice to visit through its waterways. Once here they used typical Venetian boats as gondolas, barges, „sandoli“ and „mascarete“ to move around. Today you may still relive this experience to learn about its artistic beauty, the stately homes and castles of the Middle Ages, through a more romantic route. Navigation in the heart of the city starts with boarding at Porte Contarine, that were inspired by the model of Leonardo da Vinci. You will skirt along the ancient Venetian Renaissance walls, from monumental Castelnuovo Bastion with its water door, to Portello. The latter was the old river port of Padua, docking point for all boats that connected the city to the lagoon of Venice. Porta Portello stands out with its monumental portal of Istrian stone and its beautiful fifteenth century staircase, that was painted on canvas by Canaletto. On the way you will pass the University campus and admire the former abattoir, built in the nineteenth century by Jappelli. Not far away are the gardens of the Roman Arena, enclosing the Scrovegni Chapel, and at a short distance is the Hermits Church. Then if you really want to overdo it, do not miss the nightly excursions in the moonlight.

Cappella degli Scrovegni di Giotto

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