Ferrara: an interesting city about 60 km from Bologna
Where to go from Bologna or Padua – readers ask. Ferrara is an option. The city is small, quiet, but with a rich history and a beautiful old center. When is the best time to go to Ferrara and what to do here – briefly in this review
Ferrara is the capital of the province of Ferrara in the Emilia-Romagna region. A relatively small city, quiet, nevertheless has a rich history and many architectural sights. The lack of a large flow of tourists allows you to view the beautiful buildings and experience the atmosphere of the city without the usual hustle and bustle of larger cities. The historic center is made of stone and is almost devoid of greenery, which gives it an austere, somewhat gloomy medieval look. The center of Ferrara is protected by UNESCO.
What you should know about the city
Ferrara has a population of 133,000 people. In the Middle Ages the city was equal in population and importance to Milan, Venice and Florence. The first settlements appeared here in the 8th century, but most of the heyday of Ferrara was during the reign of the House of d’Este, one of the most famous aristocratic families of Europe. In the 15th-16th centuries Ferrara was a duchy city; due to its position as a ducal city, commerce flourished and the city was an important cultural and economic center. The Ferrara court of the Este family was noted for its love of luxury, aristocrats were interested in and promoted literature, theater, music, and painting, and a university was founded in the city (Nicholas Copernicus was its graduate).
When to go to Ferrara
The climate here is typically Mediterranean – humid, warm winters and hot summers. Autumn and spring are warm, but there is often rain and fog. In late summer when we visited Ferrara it was hot and stuffy, lack of greenery and dense stone buildings did not add comfort, but there were few people.
In August a lot of cafes, restaurants, businesses and stores in a non-touristy part of Italy do not work – they close, go on vacation, and the smaller the city, away from the tourist centers, the greater the chance to catch a solid closed doors in the streets. However, the major shopping centers do not apply, but to eat at a small family-run pizzeria or buy a souvenir in a tiny authentic store in August and may not be able to.
How many days to spend in Ferrara
One or two days is enough to see Ferrara itself, the center is compact and not very big. If you want to stay for a longer time, you should go to Bologna, Ravenna, Padua, Verona, not far from the beaches of the Adriatic Sea in Lido del Nazioni and Porto Garibaldi. The famous resort of Rimini, the tiny state of San Marino and the famous Venice is 2-3 hours away by car.
What to see in Ferrara in 1-2 days.
1. Castello Estense
The main attractions of Ferrara are in the center. The main one is Castello Estense, symbol of Ferrara and residence of the rulers.
The castle is red, surrounded by a moat of water, with four large towers and a courtyard with palm trees, in which you can see the cannonballs and cannons that guarded the residence. It has remained virtually unchanged since its foundation. It somewhat resembles the Sforza Castle in Milan. The rooms of the castle are open to the public. The halls have explanations in Italian and English and you can understand what used to be in this or that room – the kitchen, prison or bedroom. There is almost no furniture, of course, but very beautiful frescoes on the ceiling. Admission costs 6 €, to climb the tower – another 2 €. From February to September is open daily, the rest of the months are closed on Monday. Monday to Friday open from 9:30 to 17:30, Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 to 18:00. Cashier closes early.
2. The Cathedral (Cattedrale di Ferrara)
The Cathedral, dedicated to the patron saint of the city, St. George, is a beautiful building from the 12th-14th centuries.
The facade is made of pink marble and later a bell tower was built. Elements of Gothic and Romanesque architecture make the cathedral unlike any other building in the center of Ferrara, much more refined. The entrance to the cathedral is guarded by marble lions. The cathedral is active and admission is free. We were lucky enough to attend Sunday service; the singing was wonderful.
Palazzo Municipale – the first residence of the Dukes of Este, a red building with arched windows, a tower and bronze statues.
There’s also the Piazza del Municipio, a typical Italian rectangular square with arched galleries and tables where locals and tourists have a leisurely coffee. It is a cheerful, lively square, the heart of city life. Even though it’s in the center of town, you can only get there through an archway because the buildings in this part of town are so dense, like in Bologna or Padua. At every step there are palazzos or cathedrals, or just medieval houses of wealthy families.
The Diamond Palace (Palazzo dei Diamanti)
The work of Italian painter Cosimo Tura Giudizio di San Maurelio painted in 1480.
A little further north is Palazzo dei Diamanti – a very unusual building, its walls are decorated with square marble tiles in the form of pyramids
The palazzo now houses the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Ferrara, with paintings by Garofalo, Guercino, Dossi, Mazzolino and Titian. Entrance from the courtyard, go up to the second floor by the stairs in the corner. The ticket costs 6 €, on the first Sunday of the month admission is free. Open from 10:00 to 17:30, Monday off.
In the same building – Gallery of Modern Art (admission – 13 €). A little further away from the center, the streets and squares are planted with trees and bushes, here you can find refreshment and rest surrounded by greenery, which is so lacking in the medieval main streets.
5. Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico di Ferrara)
Next to the Diamond Palace and the Massari Park is a small botanical garden. It doesn’t look very well maintained, but it has a good selection of plants.
The botanical garden has 700 species in both seedbeds and greenhouses. Swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum), 20 species of carnivorous plants, a pond with aquatic plants and various maples – this is already interesting. So if you’re a fan of botanical gardens, it’s worth stopping by. Especially good in late spring and early summer. Admission is free.
6. Parco Massari
In Parco Massari there are no special sights, but it is a very nice place to take a walk, admire the fountains or just sit.
The park is on the way from the historical center to the station. Huge Lebanese cedars, plane trees, oaks and chestnuts grow here. There is a free toilet.
7. Church of Saint Cristoforo Alla Certosa
Certosa is a monastery founded by the monks of the Carthusian order (Carthusians). Saint Cristoforo Alla Certosa is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Europe.
Certosa was built in 1551. Worth seeing both inside and out. And the place is beautiful. However, in 2012 it was damaged in an earthquake, and now it is being restored, so not all the pieces can be seen.
8. Il Castello Centro Commerciale
Shopping centers are located on the outskirts of the city, the largest is Il Castello Centro Commerciale
An unexpectedly large mall for such a small town, worthy of attention, and here’s why. It has a lot of departments of famous brands, Zara, H&M, the Italian OVS and many others. It has a better variety of clothes than other Russian stores, you can dress the whole family. In addition to clothes, near the ticket office there are stands with cosmetics, perfumes, toys, underwear, accessories – you can bring the necessary and high-quality gifts to friends and relatives.
The period of great discounts is in August, at other times there may be no discounts at all. In the same mall there is a supermarket where you can buy groceries, often at half price, as well as cosmetics, housewares, dishes, and household goods. This is a good alternative to souvenirs bought in tourist spots, often of dubious quality and overpriced. And since Ferrara is not a tourist city, it is not an easy task to find souvenirs. There is also a food court, but the prices are high and the food is ordinary, nothing special. Nearby, on the street, is Burger King. At the entrance there is a beautiful playground, large, with wooden elements and comfortable surface.
The 11 most popular tourist attractions in Ferrara and easy day trips
Everything in Ferrara seems to have the stamp of the all-powerful Este family. Their lined ducal castle dominates the city center, and almost every museum and attraction is housed in a palace built by some member of this eccentric dynasty that ruled this part of the Po Valley throughout the Renaissance. UNESCO has named the old center of Ferrara, which includes the magnificent Castello Estense and the 12th century Duomo , a World Heritage Site as “. a fine example of a Renaissance city that managed to maintain the integrity of its historic center.
When you walk its streets and peek into its palaces, you can imagine being transported back to an era when the medieval way gave way to Renaissance Italy. Because so many of Este’s palaces were surrounded by gardens preserved in parks, Ferrara is one of the greenest cities in Italy. Its location in the fertile Po Valley, not far from Bologna, considered by many to be the culinary capital of Italy, means you can find great restaurants serving local produce.
See also: Where to stay in Ferrara
1 Castello Estense (Este Castle)
Castello Estense (Castel Este)
The uprising of the citizens of Ferrara in 1385 caused enough fear in the reigning Duke of Este that he built this massive brick fortress to protect himself and his family. The castle’s walls and towers behind their moat look less implacable today, and its huge courtyard is often filled with colorful banners and booths for the local fair or festival. Pick up a tourist brochure in English to learn about its history and art as you explore the apartments, halls, marble balconies, corridors and roof terraces. Not every room can be discovered, but the highlights are the magnificent painted ceilings of the Ducal Suite, the Gold Room , and the Duchess of Camerino , the latter is a jewel box in a room lined with painted panels that showcase Estes’ refined tastes and the talents of Renaissance artists.
Address: Largo Castello, Ferrara
2 Piazza Trento and Trieste and Central Storizo
Piazza Trento and Trieste and Central Storizo
Most of the popular sights and things to do in Ferrara are located in the Centro Storico, a historic center that was surrounded by the old city walls. At its core is the long Piazza Trento and Trieste, with the castle at one end and the cathedral forming one whole side. This side of the cathedral, known as the Loggia dei Merciai (Loggia of the Merchants) is an arcade with small stores hidden underneath. The square is free of traffic and often filled with market stalls. The square dates back to the Middle Ages, when it was really a place of power for the entire region, dominated by the Este family. Here were all three sources of power: the ducal palace of the Lords of Este; the palace of the bishops; and the Palazzo della Ragione, seat of civil authority.
3 Archaeological Museum The Archaeological Museum
Sala del Tesoro (Treasure Room) Andrea / photo modified
Do not be confused by the different names you will see for the palace that houses this museum. Although most commonly Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro , it was actually commissioned by the nobleman Antonio Costabili, so it is also known as Palazzo Costabili. By any name, it is a beautiful 15th-century Renaissance palace with an inner courtyard and frescoes that are early examples of trompe-l’oeil (“fool”) painting. Its splendid collections are mostly found on burials in the neighboring Greco-Etruscan city of Spina. Spina flourished from the 6th to the 3rd century BC and then was submerged by the waters of the Po delta and lost until the early 20th century, when excavations were uncovered from thousands of graves. The beautifully preserved Etruscan vases show scenes of daily life and the oil jars are shaped like animals. The Sala degli Ori (Jewelry Room) is an unusual collection of gold, silver, amber and glass personal jewelry by both Greek and Etruscan artists and is also decorated with frescos of the Sala del Tesoro (Treasure Room), two boats from the late Roman Spin period.
Address: Via XX Settembre 122, Ferrara
Official website: www.archeoferrara.beniculturali.it
4 St. George’s Basilica (Cathedral of St. George)
St. George’s Cathedral (Cathedral of St. George)
Next to the castle, and on the UNESCO site, the Ferrara Cathedral is an architectural example of the city’s history. Its facade moves from a Romanesque lower tier, built in the early 1100s, all the way to a beautiful early Gothic loggia from the 1500s. The impressive pink and white marble bell tower is in the Renaissance style. Along the side of Piazza Trento e Trieste , the Loggia of Merchants housed stores from medieval times, and above it two colonnaded galleries. Stop to peruse the unusual Last Judgment carved in stone above the central loggia of the facade. The righteous souls, clothed and crowned, go to heaven, while the naked damned are thrust into a boiling cauldron or into the mouth of a beast of jubilation. The artistic sculptor of the work remains unknown.
Address: Piazza della Cattedrale, Ferrara
5 Palazzo dei Diamanti Art Galleries
Art Galleries Palazzo dei Diamanti
Palazzo dei Diamanti is hard to miss, and its entire exterior is covered with more than 8,500 faceted marble blocks. This unusual (and famous) example of early Renaissance architecture was, as the Palazzo Ludovico il Moro , part of Admiral Ercole of the Duke of Ecola d’Este (“Herculean addition”), a plan to remake Ferrara in the late 1400s. Today the palace contains the Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Gallery), with works by artists from the 13th to the 17th century Ferrara school, and on the upper floor changing exhibitions in the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Core works by Impressionists, Impressionists and other later artists.
Address: Corso Ercole I d’Este 21, Ferrara
Official website: www.palazzodiamanti.it
6 Via delle Volte
Via delle Volte
One of the most attractive things about Ferrara is the grace with which it moves between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. To feel like you’re back in the Middle Ages, take a walk down the long Via delle Volte. The cobblestones are rounded beneath your feet, and overhead are rooms and passageways between buildings that form a series of arched tunnels. Unlike many such picturesque medieval streets, this one has not become a line of stores, although you will find several places to eat in the old buildings that build it.
7 Mura di Ferrara (City Walls)
Mura di Ferrara (City Walls).
The eight kilometers of brick walls surrounding the historic center of Ferrara are some of the oldest and most advanced medieval and Renaissance defense systems in Italy. You can see here all the elements that cities used to defend themselves in those uncertain times, including earthworks, moats, city gates, bastions, towers and archer slots. Today their use has been abolished; instead of repelling people, the walls attract them, and the area is a favorite place to walk, bike, and meet friends. For tourists, they are a great place to explore the city and countryside. Several parks are adjacent to the walls and moat.
8 Editor’s Choice Monastero di S. Antonio in Polesine
It is worth seeking out this tranquil cloister to wander through a club of medieval streets in the oldest part of Ferrara. It is quite a contrast to the grandiose avenues, parks and palaces of the new Renaissance city. The monastery, whose decoration was generously supported by the Este family, has a chapel open to the public, with a beautiful 17th-century fresco ceiling. The church inside, which a nun will show you if you ring the bell during the sent hours, has three chapels that are decorated with early 14th century frescoes, some of which are followers of Giotto. The carved and gilded wooden altar and the quiet convent are also worth seeing. During the service, the nuns sing to the accompaniment of antique musical instruments, a rare and beautiful experience not easily found elsewhere. If you go there early in your visit, you can check the schedule for that day and return.
Address: Vicolo del Gambone, Ferrara
9 Museo della Cattedrale (Cathedral Museum)
Museo della Cattedrale (Cathedral Museum) dvdbramhall / photo modified
Over the centuries, the cathedral has undergone a series of renovations, some to protect its artistic treasures (especially the exterior stone carvings, which have begun to show signs of environmental damage) and others to update it to the modern tastes of each era. Some of the precious works that have been replaced are nearby in the former church of San Romano, as well as other works belonging to the church, some of which date back to the Middle Ages. If you are not a great fan of church art, the main attraction of the museum is that it is arranged to give a good picture of the splendor of Renaissance Ferrara. Particularly beautiful are the early 13th-century tiles, a set of 15th-century hymns illuminated by Jacopo Filippo Medici and other artists, and the unusual organ shutters depicting St. George and the Dragon and the Annunciation.
Address: Via San Romano, Ferrara
10 Palazzina Marfisa d’Este
Palazzina Marfisa d’Este by Lorenzo Trombetta / photo modified
Built later than the sumptuous palaces of Este, the Villa Princess Marfisa d’Este is a fine example of a 16th-century patrician house. The beautiful gardens that once surrounded it are now enclosed by a loggia painted to imitate a pergola.
Address: Corso Giovecca 170, Ferrara
11 Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza (Museum of Resistance)
Those interested in World War II should definitely visit this museum to see its collections concerning the Fascist regime, their actions (including the attack on the synagogue and the murder of local priests), the local resistance movement and Italian liberation. The museum is a five minute walk from Castel Este .
Address: Corso Ercole I d’Este 19, Ferrara
Where to stay in Ferrara for sightseeing
We recommend these centrally located hotels in Ferrara, close to major attractions such as the castle and the cathedral:
Duchess Isabella Hotel: ancient luxury, 16th century villa, ornate furnishings, spa and sauna.
Day Trips from Ferrara
About 56 kilometers southeast of Ferrara, the small town of Comacchio sits on 13 islands connected by bridges that span the canals between them. The boats, bridges and waterways between its buildings make it a great place for photographers. To the north of the city is the Abbazia di Santa Maria di Popoposa, an abbey founded in the 7th century and abandoned in the 17th century. The complex includes a 9th century church with frescoes and mosaic floors, a 48 metre bell tower and a chapter house with better preserved frescoes.
Attractions near Ferrara
Near Bologna, Ferrara is well located as a central point between several of the most popular tourist towns in northern Italy. To the southeast along the Adriatic coast is Ravenna, with its brilliant Byzantine mosaics, and beyond that is Rimini, with some of Italy’s most popular beaches. The freeway leads almost directly to Padua, and from here it is only a short drive to Venice. To the west are Modena and Mantua, like Ferrara, home to the great ducal family. To the north of Mantua are Verona and Lake Garda.