Ferrara (Italy) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights of Ferrara with descriptions, guides and maps.
City of Ferrara (Italy)
Ferrara is a city in northeastern Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region, the capital of the province of the same name. It is located on a large plain in the Po Valley, 50 km from the sea. Ferrara is a magnificent city of art and one of the capitals of the Renaissance, its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ferrara is a great place for those who want to get away from the traditional route Venice – Florence – Rome, and touch the culture and traditions of northern Italy. Here among the winding medieval streets lurk masterpieces of art, architecture and culture. The most striking page of Ferrara’s history is connected to the Dukes d’Este, who ruled the city for 3 centuries.
The streets of Ferrara
Ferrara is an interesting example of urban planning in which half of the city is medieval and the other half is Renaissance. At the same time, all of these are successfully combined and overlapped. At that time Ferrara was considered the most modern city in Italy. To visit this wonderful place is best in spring and autumn.
What to do (Italy):
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Geography and climate
Ferrara is located on the Padana Plain in the Po Valley. It borders the Veneto region to the north and Bologna to the south. The city is located in a swampy area. Summers are hot and stuffy. Winter and autumn are cool and rainy. Fogs are frequent in Ferrara during the cold season.
Streets of Ferrara
- Population – 132.5 thousand people.
- Area – 404.4 square kilometers.
- Language – Italian.
- Currency – euros.
- Visa – Schengen.
- Time – Central European UTC +1 in summer +2.
- Tourist office is located in Castel d’Este.
- Ferrara is a rich Italian city. So here you can find a lot of stores from budget fashion to expensive boutiques. The main shopping areas are via Mazzini (street leading from Piazza Trento-Trieste) and via Garibaldi (street leading from Palazzo Municipio), as well as the entire city center around Castello d’Este.
- A must-taste in Ferrara is cappellacci di zucca (pasta with pumpkin), al burro e salvia (pasta with oil and sage), al ragu (pasta with meat sauce) and other Italian dishes.
- In the evenings a lot of young people gather in the main square and socialize noisily, drinking beer and cocktails.
The history of Ferrara begins in the 5th century when refugees during the barbarian invasion began to settle here. During the reign of the Lombards, a fortress was built here. In the 8th century, the King of the Lombards gave the city to the Pope. But already in the 10th century Ferrara was given to the nobles of Tuscany.
In the 10th-13th centuries the city quickly grew and prospered, becoming one of the most important and largest cities in Northern Italy on a par with Venice, Florence and Milan.
In the 13th century the d’Este family came to power in the city, under them Ferrara became one of the cultural and scientific centers of Italy. The Estes defined Ferrara for two centuries and their court was one of the most beautiful and luxurious in Europe.
At the end of the 16th century, after the fall of the d’Este, Ferrara lost its independence and became part of the Papal State. After the Napoleonic wars the city was occupied by the Austrians. In 1860 it became part of Italy.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to Ferrara is by train. The city is on a line with trains from Florence, Bologna and Venice. In the same cities are located airports.
The main attractions of Ferrara are located in the old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historic center has largely preserved its medieval appearance and Renaissance style layout. All the most famous monuments of architecture and culture in Ferrara bear the stamp of the d’Este family.
Castello Estense (Castle of Este)
Castello Estense (Castel Este) is one of the main symbols of Ferrara. This mighty fortress was built in the 14th century on the site of a small fortress. The reason for its construction was the citizens’ rebellion. The castle stands out for its imposing proportions, towers, drawbridges and moat.
The Castle of Este
Its protective role was subsequently transformed into a representative one. The castle thus became a magnificent ducal residence and was decorated with roof terraces at the top of the towers, marble balconies, a Renaissance courtyard (at the time entirely painted with frescoes) and sumptuous apartments. The four corners of the castle are highlighted by imposing towers, symbols of the power of the d’Este family.
Most of the most popular attractions are located in the Centro Storico, which, of course, is not at all surprising. In the Middle Ages, the old city was surrounded by fortress walls. The central square of Ferrara is Piazza Trento and Trieste with the castle at one end and the cathedral at the other.
Piazza Trento and Trieste
The square is car-free and often filled with market stalls. The main centers of power were located here: the ducal palace of the Lords of Este; the bishops’ palace and the palazzo della Ragione, the seat of the civil authorities.
St. George’s Cathedral
St. George’s Cathedral is a cathedral with a beautiful façade. Its appearance is a peculiar evolution of architecture from the Romanesque lower tier, built at the beginning of the 12th century, to the beautiful early Gothic loggia of the 16th century. Nearby is an impressive bell tower with pink and white marble in the Renaissance style. The side that faces Piazza Trento and Trieste is an arcaded gallery with small stores and is called the merchants’ loggia. Above the central loggia is a sculpture of the Last Judgment carved in stone.
Via delle Volte
One of the highlights of Ferrara is its architecture and layout, which is frozen between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. To get a sense of the past, just stroll down the long Via delle Volte or the other ancient streets of the old city. Here you’ll find old cobblestones underfoot and passageways between buildings that form a series of arched tunnels overhead. Delle Volte, unlike many such picturesque medieval streets, is not overloaded with stores and other tourist attractions.
The city walls
The eight kilometers of brick walls surrounding the historic center of Ferrara are some of the oldest and most perfect medieval and Renaissance defense systems in Italy. Here you can see all the elements that cities used to defend themselves in the past: moats, city gates, bastions, towers and archery shelters. Now it’s a great place to walk around.
Archaeological Museum in Palazzo Costabili
The Archaeological Museum is housed in the historic Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro, commissioned by Antonio Costabili. It is a beautiful 15th century Renaissance palace with an inner courtyard and frescoes. The museum’s splendid collections mainly contain artifacts from the Greco-Etruscan and late Roman periods.
Pomposa Abbey is a masterpiece of Romanesque art with a beautiful high bell tower. The church was founded in the 6th century and from the middle of the 9th century there was a community of Benedictine monks. The abbot’s spiritual and political jurisdiction extended to all the surrounding villages. The monastery had one of the most extensive libraries of the time.
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Attractions in Ferrara
It takes 1-2 days to see the sights of Ferrara and they are all compactly located in the historic center (Centro Storico). Tourists usually prefer to visit the masterpieces of architecture walking slowly through the cozy streets and squares, paved with ancient cobblestones.
You can also enjoy cycling through the city. Rental rates are extremely affordable, and some hotels offer guests the use of popular local transportation completely free of charge.
Ferrara is called the “city of bicycles” (“Citta delle biciclette”), which is not surprising, there are many specially equipped paths, and the center is almost devoid of cars and motorcycles. Bicycles are no less here than in Amsterdam, and the culture of traveling on two wheels was born in Ferrara in the mid-twentieth century.
The old city is of great historical and cultural value, not for nothing it was recognized in 1995 as part of the World Heritage List and is protected by UNESCO.
The modern face of Ferrara was formed at the end of the XV and beginning of the XVI centuries thanks to the work of the architect Biagio Rossetti, engaged by the Duke Ercole I d’Este.
The master was given the task of enlarging the urbanistic space while taking into account humanistic ideals in architecture, the needs of the inhabitants and local traditions. As a result, Ferrara became a model of urban planning, perfectly combining proportion, symmetry of form and respect for historical heritage. The strict Roman geometry of the new wide avenues blends seamlessly into the maze of narrow medieval streets.
What are the main tourist attractions to see in Ferrara in one day?
Via Corso Ercole d’Este
Corso Ercole I d’Este, paved with ancient stones, is recognized as one of the most picturesque streets in the world. It was designed in the nineties of the fifteenth century. During the Renaissance, it served as an important artery of the city, stretching from south to north and connecting the Duke’s Castle (Castello Estense) with the gates of the ancient fortress walls.
At the end of the street is a splendid green area formed by centuries-old trees. The intersection of Angels (Quadrivio degli Angeli) is one of the most interesting sections, decorated with the facades of ancient palaces, architectural gems of Ferrara. Via Ercole d’Este is completely closed to traffic and there are almost no modern stores, so you can immerse yourself in the solemn atmosphere of the Renaissance.
Via del Volte – Street of the Vaults
A stroll along the narrow and quiet Via delle Volte, around 2 km long, takes guests back to the Middle Ages like a time machine.
The ancient houses, standing right next to each other, are linked by low arched vaults and passageways. Thanks to this feature, the name of the street appeared. Buildings dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries belonged to local merchants, some were public and gambling houses, and later served as a Jewish ghetto.
The forerunner’s houses are no architectural masterpieces but the detailing of the old windows and doors, the brevity of the brick facades and the design of the pointed lancet apertures are all of great interest to history buffs.
The Basilica Cattedrale di San Giorgio Martire is the main ecclesiastical monument in the city.
The building of the church, originally built in the spirit of Romanesque architecture, was consecrated at the dawn of the XII century. During the following centuries, the church was repeatedly rebuilt, transforming its appearance.
The decor of the facade is a whimsical symbiosis of architectural styles born by the change of historical epochs. The lower part of the outer walls, clad in white marble, has been supplemented over time by an elegant loggia with Gothic arches, niches and lancet windows. The bell tower, designed in the classic Renaissance style by the famous architect Leon Battista Alberti, dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
A destructive fire of the XVII century irrevocably destroyed almost all the interior decoration of the cathedral. Only the fresco “Last Judgment”, painted in the 70-80s of the XVI century by the famous painter Sebastiano Filippi, a bright representative of the Ferrara school of painting, is preserved.
The new interior was created in the sensual Italian Baroque style. The ornate stucco vaults, ceiling and wall paintings, and relief and sculptural compositions create a sense of grandiosity, monumentality, and dynamism.
The Cathedral of St. George is located in the square of the same name, Piazza della Cattedrale. It is still a working cathedral. It hosts solemn archbishop and papal services and ordinations. Entrance is free, daily from 7:30 to 18:30 (lunch break from 12:00 to 15:30). On Saturday and Sunday, the cathedral closes at 19:00.
The church has a museum (Museo della Cattedrale) founded in 1929. The museum’s collection includes exhibits on the history of Ferrara, church utensils and works of art from the palaces of the local nobility. Since 2002, the exhibition has been housed in the former Church of St. Romana (Ex-Chiesa di San Romano), opposite the cathedral, in the nearby Piazza Trento e Trieste.
The doors of the museum are open to visitors all days of the week except Monday. Opening hours are 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The cost of admission is 6 euros. For less privileged categories of citizens receives a 50% discount.
Elegant and impregnable in appearance, Palazzo Municipale was built in 1245 and served as the first residence of the powerful d’Este clan.
The dynasty lived in the palace until the 16th century and later housed the town hall (today it houses the offices of the Municipality of Ferrara). In the course of the centuries, the palazzo was repeatedly reconstructed and expanded: significant modifications were made under Niccolo II d’Este, and during the reign of Ercole I d’Este, in the 80-s of the XV century, the dukes’ residence acquired its current shape and size. At the beginning of the 20th century, the façade facing the Cathedral Square was redesigned in the neo-Gothic style. Some of the interior rooms of the palace have preserved the atmosphere of former times. Of particular interest are:
- “The Golden Hall (Stanza Dorata) with a decorative coffered ceiling decorated with magnificent moldings and fragments of frescoes of the XV century;
- “The Tapestry Room with works by Flemish masters of the 17th century;
- “The Duchesse Room (Stanzino delle Duchesse), decorated with painted wooden panels.
The luxurious interiors of the Palazzo Municipale can be seen on any weekday, admission is free. The tours, in Italian and English, are scheduled as follows: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 to 13:00 and Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 17:00.
Dukes d’Este Castle
Surrounded by a moat of water, the majestic and somewhat heavy Dukes of Estense Castle is the main and most recognizable symbol of Ferrara.
Its architectural complex consists of four huge towers and an inner courtyard. The construction of Castello Estense dragged on for a long 200 years. The initial phase of the work, which began in 1385, was directed by the architect and engineer Bartolino da Novara, who was invited by Niccolò II d’Este. The master built three similar structures next to the Tower of the Lions (Torre dei Leoni) built in the 13th century, connecting them with powerful walls. In the second half of the XV century, a roofed passage was built to unite the old residence of the dukes (Palazzo Municipale) with the impregnable castle, designed to protect the dignitaries from possible popular uprisings and revolts. In addition to the ducal chambers, the inner rooms of Castello Estense also contained:
- armory workshops;
- blacksmiths’ shops;
- rooms for the garrison;
- the underground chambers of the prisoners.
The court architect of Ferrara, Girolamo da Carpi, who worked during the reigns of Ercole II d’Este and Alfonso II d’Este, made a significant contribution to the transformation of the castle. Its present spectacular appearance is the result of the master’s engineering and creative ideas.
In 1999, Castello Estense underwent extensive restoration work. Seven years later, the interior of the castle was opened to the public. The maximum entrance fee is 8 euros, and there are discounts for children and organized excursion groups. You can visit the site daily from 9:30 to 17:30 in the period from March to September, the rest of the months Monday – off. For more information, see the official website.
Construction of Palazzo Schifanoia began in 1385 commissioned by Alberto V d’Este. The palace, situated in a quiet spot that was once considered a remote outskirt of Ferrara, was to serve as a country villa for lavish banquets and other entertaining events. Hence the name of the palazzo, a phrase that literally translates as “to despise boredom”.
The palazzo’s original appearance was quite simple: it was a one-story structure with a moody brick façade. Later the square of the palazzo was enlarged, and a marble portal appeared with the family coat of arms of the rulers of the city on top. In 1465, under the Duke of Borso d’Este, a second tier was added. A few years later the architect Pietro Benvenuti degli Ordini completed the interior decoration.
Of particular interest to art lovers is one of the rooms called the Salone dei Mesi, decorated with a cycle of frescoes with zodiacal themes.
The wall paintings were made by the best masters of the Ferrara school of painting. In 1493, the building underwent another and this time last modification, which included the addition of another room on the east side of the palace.
After the d’Este dynasty had ceased to exist, Palazzo Scifanoia changed hands several times. The lack of care for the monument of architecture and painting led to considerable damage: the valuable frescoes were covered with a layer of plaster, the staircase overlooking the inner garden and the loggia were also damaged. The wall paintings, the greatest heritage of the Renaissance, were restored. At the end of the XIX century the palace became the property of the municipality and was part of the Musei Civici di Arte Antica.
The property is located at Via Scandiana, 23. The palace is open to guests all days of the week except Monday, from 9:30 to 18:00. The ticket price is 3 euros.
The Diamond Palace built between 1493 and 1503 by Biagio Rossetti is considered a true masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.
Its creation took into account the peculiarities of perspective and the play of light and shade. The palazzo got its name from the decoration of the facade, decorated with blocks of marble, skillfully cut as precious stones. Like all similar structures in Ferrara, the building was commissioned by the Ducal clan d’Este.
In the 1930s, the palace became the property of the city; today it houses the Gallery of Modern Art and the Pinacoteca Nazionale, which preserves the works of masters of the XIV-XVIII centuries. For example, there are paintings by such famous painters as:
- Gentile da Fabriano;
- Cosme Tura;
- Andrea Mantegna;
- Vittore Carpaccio.
The attraction is located at Corso Ercole I d’Este, 21. You can get inside the Diamond Palace any day of the week except Monday, from 9:00 to 14:00, and on Thursday from 9:00 to 19:00. The cost of admission is 2 euros. Exhibitions of contemporary artists are charged separately.
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