Author: Fabio Macòr
Padua's origins are very ancient. In the 4th century B.C. it rose from a fishing village to become the most important centre of the Veneto people. Allied with the Romans against the Gauls, it became a Roman Municipium in 45 B.C. and reached a high degree of economic prosperity and great urban development under Augustus. Unfortunately, Padua suffered a mortal blow when the Longobards set the town on fire in 602 AD.
Recovery was slow. At the beginning of the twelfth century Padua was a free Commune and by the second half of the following century it was spreading its influence well beyond the Communal territory, clashing with Emperor Arrigo VII and with Verona-based La Scala family. During the long war, Da Carrara family came to the fore and commenced their enlightened seigneury of the town (1338-1405).
During this time, the city went through a period of great cultural and artistic fervour. The first circle of walls was built, followed by the Palazzo della Ragione, the Basilica of St. Anthony and the Church of the Eremitani. The University was founded in 1222; it was the second in Italy and attracted teachers and scholars from all over Europe. Both Dante and Petrarch stayed in Padua.
The artistic scene was dominated by Giotto, whose masterpiece is the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel (1303-1305). Artists such as Guariento, Altichiero and Giusto followed in the wake of the master, creating cycles of frescoes of unparalleled artistry.
The Da Carrara signory came to an end in 1405; Padua fell under the dominion of Venice, whose fate it shared until the end. Padua remained a leader in the artistic field at least untill the mid fifteenth Century, thanks to the presence of Donatello and Mantegna.
Padua continued its renewal in the sixteenth century: the new circle of fortified walls was built; the new Town Hall, the Palazzo del Capitanio, the imposing Basilica of Santa Giustina and the new Cathedral were also built. The University too knew a period of great splendour, with the Botanic Garden and the Anatomy theatre, the new Palazzo del Bo, where Galileo Galilei also taught.
During the following centuries Padua underwent a slow decline, reflected in the modesty of private and public buildings. The last great piece of town planning was the rearrangement of Prato della Valle (1775). After the fall of Venice (1797) and the period of Napoleon's rule, Padua passed into Austrian hands (1813) and this situation continued until 1866 when the town was annexed to the kingdom of Italy.
In the early years of the twentieth century, a new period of economic growth began, thanks to the development of industry, trade and services; this trend was accelerated even more during the last thirty years, thus making Padua the most important economic pole in North-Eastern Italy.
Major attractions in Padua
The Scrovegni Chapel holds the most complete cycle of entirely preserved frescoes produced by Giotto(1302-1305). They have mantained all their marvellous beauty! Palazzo della Ragione was built in 1218 by the Commune of Padua as the seat of the Podestà and the Law Courts. The upper floor is occupied by a single hall of exceptional dimensions entirely frescoed with astrological and religious subjects.
Saint Anthony's Basilica - simply called "il Santo" by the Paduans - is an imposing construction built in the 13th century in Romanesque-Gothic style, with eight domes and belfries of eastern inspiration. It contains the body of St. Anthony. There are works by famous artists (from the 13th to the 20th century) including those of Altichiero, Giusto de' Menabuoi and Donatello.
Padua University was founded in 1222. Along with Bologna, La Sorbonne (Paris) and the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), this is one of the oldest universities in the world. Here, the first woman in the world graduated in 1678: Elena Cornaro Piscopia. The large group of buildings was erected between 1542 and 1601 around the medioeval inn of "Bo" (ox), and has been rearranged several times. The Bo Palace hosts Galileo's chair, a rich collection of coats of arms and the famous Anatomy Theatre.
Prato della Valle, once a Roman theatre, has become the traditional site for fairs and amusement. It is a large elliptical green island, divided by four avenues corresponding to four bridges, surrounded by a canal along which 78 statues of famous men stand. Furthermore, Prato della Valle is one of the largest squares in Europe.
Caffé Pedrocchi is a complex building in neoclassical style with a flourish of ornate Gothic, designed by Giuseppe Jappelli (1831). Original and rare example of a multipurpose premises, the Pedrocchi was designed to be a café on the ground floor while the upstairs rooms, decorated in variuous styles, were intended as meeting and concert halls. It is still the most fashionable café in town...
The province of Padua is rich in artistic and natural beauties: Este, Montagnana, Cittadella, Monselice, the Euganean Spas are all worth a visit.
Contents are courtesy of Provincia di Padova - Photo credits: Comitato APT delle Città d'Arte, Regione Veneto