A Day in Padua (Part 1)

I had the privilege of having a 10 day stay in Venice in March 2023 and was able to use that time to get to know the famous city of Venice in more detail than previous visits allowed as well as being able to visit some towns and cities within a couple of hours of Venice. I was familiar with the name of  Padua (Padova in Italian) as it was the name of a Franciscan College back home in Brisbane. Having visited Venice previously, I had passed Padua in the train and decided to look for an opportunity to visit this city not far from Venice.

In terms of world fame, the city of Venice is a  much more familiar name than its neighbour Padua. However, Venice and its lagoon communities only date to the around the fifth century CE whereas Padua claims the right to be considered the oldest city in Northern Italy, having been founded sometime around 12th century BCE. Padua stands beside the Bacchiglione River and the map to the right shows that the city’s medieval walls still stand and sections of this river still flow around the old city centre.

Padua is listed twice in the UNESCO World Heritage list for its ancient Botanical Garden and its 14th century frescoes in various buildings in the city centre.

When I got off the train in Padua, I looked for and failed to find the tourist bureau where I could have made life easier for myself by collecting a map of the city. There was a map outside the station and I noticed that there was a large church in the distance to the left of the station so I decided this was as good a direction as any to start my walk. I made my way down to the church which I subsequently discovered was generally called the Tempio della Pace (Temple of Peace). It was built after World War 1 when the citizens of Padua were concerned that the Austro-Hungarian troops invading Italy from the north would take over Padua. The invaders were stopped north of the city and the church was begun in 1920. It became a church where casualties of WW1 were interred. The church (image left below) was not open when I arrived.

My next step was to ask a local for directions towards the centre of the old city. As can be seen from the map above, I simply had to turn right and head towards the river and the old medieval walls that ran along beside it. Crossing the bridge on Via G.Gozzi, I found myself immediately in the old narrow streets of Padua and it wasn’t long before I encountered my second church of the morning.

I found myself walking along beside a very substantial church called Chiesa degli Eremitani. It was originally the church of the monastery run by the Augustinian Friars from the middle of the 13th century. The monastery was closed during the short-lived Napoleonic period in the early 19th century in Italy and today it is a parish church. The building next door is the old monastery of the monks and is today the home of the archaeology museum, Musei Civici agli Eremitani.

There was a large poster in the church of the Eremitani about the period in the life of the great Italian poet, Petrarch (1304-1374) that was associated with Padua. Petrarch spent many years in the latter part of his life living on an estate outside Padua which is today a museum to this father of Italian Literature.

After I moved on from Chiesa degli Eremitani, I crossed the road to make a decision about which direction I would take as I walked further into Padua. I looked back down the road I was on (Corso del Popolo) and noticed that further back towards the railway station, there appeared to be an old stone wall that may have been of Roman origin. I had read that there were the ruins of a Roman Arena in Padua and I wondered if I had missed them. I decided I would check out this place on my return to the railway station later on in my visit to Padua.

PARCO DELL’ ARENA (Roman Ruins of Padua, Archaeology Museum)

From the Church of the Eremitani, I walked down to the Piazza dell Insurrezion. My destination from here was to find my way towards the Padua Cathedral (Basilica Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption). I eventually found myself at the back of the cathedral (below left) and made my way around to the Piazza del Duomo which was the first of three large piazzas that were the centre of old Padua.

It was at the back of the cathedral that I noticed my first black cartoon painted low down on a wall. I took a photo of it, little knowing that I would encounter quite a few of these mural cartoons around the alleyways of the three pizzas that I would make my way through on my way towards Padua’s famous university. (See Appendix 1)

Piazza del Duomo is where the first major church in Padua was built not long after the Roman Emperor Constantine in 303 announced the Edict of Milan which meant the Christians were able to meet and worship freely in the Roman Empire for the first time.

The basilica has a very plain façade that was surprising for such a significant building. One of the extensive ‘rebuildings’ of the church began in 1551 and continued for two centuries, completed without a façade in 1754.

There is a baptistery that was built to the right of the Duomo in the 12th century. There are some amazing frescoes inside painted by Giusto de Manabuoi in the 14th century. (Note ceiling fresco to the right below)

Connected by an alleyway to Piazza del Duomo is Piazza del Signore. When I entered this piazza, I found  myself immediately mingling with a large group of senior school students who were clearly doing some research on the white building that took up a large part of the western end of the piazza. This section of the piazza consists of two, three storey Loggias from the 16/17th centuries with a medieval clock tower between them. It appeared to be the main subject of study of the students who were mingling around while I tried to get a good photo of the ‘Torre dell Orologio.’

This square was originally built in the 14th century and it was a place designed for festive activities conducted by the rulers of Padua. The clock tower was constructed in the 1420s and a new clock was added to it in 1427. The dial of the clock has the earth in the middle surrounded by the phases of the moon, days, months and the signs of the zodiac. In front of the clock tower is a large column with a Venetian lion on top. The original lion was destroyed by French troops in 1797 and the current lion was installed in 1870.

The photo to the left is looking away from the clock tower and shows the rest of the busy square where there is a clothing market in full swing. The eastern end of the piazza shows the façade of the Church of San Clemente. Tradition holds that the church is very old, built by Venetian immigrants in the fifth century. However the earliest documents about the church are from the 12th century. In the background to the left is the Tower degli Anziani which stands tall in the next piazza.

One of the most impressive and significant buildings in Padua is the one that came into view as I passed into Piazza dei Frutti, the magnificent Palazzo della Ragione. In the Palazzo Comunale which is a large complex of ‘interconnected palaces’ beyond Piazza dei Frutti, there is a plaque that describes this building and its history (see below).

Palazzo Ragione

Erstwhile Padua’s Law Courts, it was built between 1218-19. The external Loggias and the roof in the shape of upturned ship’s hull were created by Fra’ Giacomo degle Eremitani between 1306 and 1309. Inside a magnificent fresco cycle of astrological subjects inspired by an idea from Pietro D’Abano (1424-1440) which took the place of the frescoes by Giotto after they had got lost during the fire in 1420. (The building also contains) a renaissance copy of the Donatella’s monument to the Gattamelata (wooden horse) and a modern copy of Foucault’s pendulum.

The photo to the right below shows the magnificent wooden horse in Palazzo Ragione. I can only suggest that visitors to Padua make sure they have plenty of time to wander through this palace and admire not just the horse but the amazing frescoes throughout.

The image to the left above shows the eastern end of Palazzo Ragione and the Torre degli Anziani which was constructed between 1215 and 1296. It was originally a ‘noble tower’ belonging to the Camposampiero family but was sold to the town. The tower was completely renovated in 2021. The curious column with the pointy top in the photo above left is called the Colonna del Peronio, named after a type of shoe that was once was sold next to this column.

From Piazza dei Frutti I made my way through to via Cavour and I was struck by the imposing Palazzo Comunale or Town Hall of Padua whose main façade faced this main street of the city. Whilst it looks like one huge building from the front, it consists of 8 separate palazzos that were built in different centuries starting from the early 13th century. I wasn’t sure if there was a major incident ongoing in the area but there appeared to be a lot of police on the street and around the town hall. I noticed an entry way into a courtyard with a policeman standing beside the entryway so I wandered over and asked him if the public were allowed to enter. He courteously ushered me through to the courtyard where the staircase to the right below enabled me to walk up to the base of the Torre degli Anziani which is one of the buildings that makes up Palazzo Comunale. I had a good walk around the various sections of the courtyard, the statue of the water-carrier (below left) being one of the highlights.

On the pavement in this area were some copper plaques in memoriam of Jewish citizens who had been removed from their homes to concentration camps.

From the Palazzo Comunale I walked over Via Cavour to another large building, Palazzo Bo. This has been the historical site of the University of Padua since 1493. Visitors can book themselves in for a guided tour and reports say this is very worthwhile. Given I was on a day trip, I just didn’t have the time to stop for the time such a tour would take. I wandered into the building and made my way through a number of the ground floor courtyards before I exited onto Via S.Canziano.

On the university’s website is to be found a brief summary of the history and significance of this institution.

“The University of Padua is one of the oldest in Europe, the second oldest in Italy (1222). The University of Padua has hosted illustrious figures who have changed the cultural and scientific history of humanity: Copernicus, Vesalius, Galilei, Harvey…

Here in 1594 the first permanent anatomical theater was built, here in 1678 the first woman in the world graduated. Palazzo Bo, historical site of the Patavino University, is a treasure trove of history, culture, art and beauty.”


From Palazzo Bo to the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua

APPENDIX 1: Murals on Padua Piazza Walls

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