Ferrara: A Renaissance city
History, sights, things to see and do?
Ferrara is an Italian municipality of only 132 thousand inhabitants located in the province of the same name in the northeastern Emilia-Romagna region. Interesting fact for mountainous Italy: The territory of the province is 44% below sea level, which is why the area has suffered from floods for centuries. The city itself is located below the average water level of the River Po, so numerous diversion channels and embankments have been created. But the area is considered an area of low seismic hazard.
Since 1995 the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And there is a reason for it: Ferrara is a true masterpiece, whose urban layout uniquely combines artistic and architectural heritage of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This is thanks to the Dukes d’Este, who, with the artistic genius of the architect Biagio Rossetti, turned the city into the cultural and political center of the Duchy of Ferrara.
The city’s name has several variants of origin. On the one hand, historians see a consonance with the word “ferro”, i.e. “iron”, because iron ore was processed here. On the other hand, there are parallels with the word “farraria” (land where spelt bread was grown), and a third variant, the origin of the name “ferrara”, is linked to the fairs that were held there up to several times a year, called Feriarum aree.
History of the city
The history of the city began in the 7th and 8th century A.D. after the bishop of Voghenza, exhausted by the barbarian invasions, moved to the quiet settlement of San Giorgio, which was situated on the right bank of the Po river and was subsequently renamed Ferrariola. In the middle of the 8th century the area was already under the control of the King of Lombardy.
Around the same period Ferrara, along with Ravenna, Bologna and Adria, was given by King Pepin the Short to Pope Stephen II. The rest of northern Italy at that time was already controlled by the King of the Eastern Franks, Otto I of Saxony.
In the early 14th century the Republic of Venice declared war on the Papal Region, and the Dukes d’Este were forced to wait until 1332, after which power over Ferrara returned to their hands. Nevertheless, wars with Venice continued until the 16th century.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, Ferrara minted its own coins, called “denaro ferrarese,” which had a higher value than others. On one side of the coin was embossed the name of the emperor “Federick”, or rather his abbreviation, “F.D.R.C.”, and the word “emperor” in a circle, while on the other was a cross, surrounded by letters folded into the word “Ferraria”.
Thanks to the Dukes d’Este, Ferrara prospered. At the end of the 15th century, the city reached its maximum development thanks to the efforts of Ercole I d’Este, who hired the architect Biagio Rossetti. New squares and buildings with Renaissance architecture aesthetically blended into the medieval urban landscape, transforming it beyond recognition. The most important artists of the time, such as Torquato Tasso, Piero della Francesca, Pisanello, Leon Battista Alberti, Andrea Mantegna and Rogier van der Weyden, also came to court. And Cosme Tura, Ercole de Roberti and Francesco del Cossa laid the foundation of the Ferrara school of painting.
Napoleon distinguished himself in Ferrara by replacing the statue of Pope Alexander VII in Piazza Ariostea with his own statue. This period was characterized by popular uprisings and riots, executions and shootings, the storming of the city, the short rule of Murat, which was then seized by the Austrians, and finally, by 1861, it all ended with the incorporation of the Kingdom of Italy.
The Second World War also left its mark: several historic buildings and private mansions were destroyed by Allied bombing raids. For the city the war ended with the arrival of the British troops on April 24, 1945.
The second half of the twentieth century was marked by the construction of new residential complexes and numerous renovations of old facades, the mechanization of agriculture gave rise to the migration of some unnecessary agricultural workers to other cities.
Now Ferrara, as already mentioned, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the cities of art, along with Ravenna, Bologna, Florence, etc.
Attractions. What to see?
Dukes of Este influenced the architecture of the city and we recommend that you begin with their castle complexes. The first to see is Castello Estense, which is a symbol of Ferrara. It was built in 1385 under the direction of Bartolino da Novara, the engineer. The main tower of the castle, the Tower of the Lions, had already been built in the 13th century, it was a watchtower, and the engineer completed the other three, connecting them with the castle wall. Inside the castle there were rooms for the garrison, forges and armories, as well as casemates. Since 2006 the castle has been open to the public, the ticket costs about 10 euros.
Another palace of the dukes, Palazzo Sciphanoia, is practically not a palace, but a villa. It was supposed to hold lavish balls and banquets. The interior decoration of the outwardly unremarkable palace was left to the architect Pietro degli Ordini and the walls were painted by the best masters of the Ferrara school of painting. For those who are interested in them, the Hall of Months is worth a look; it is decorated entirely with frescoes on zodiacal themes. The palace’s ornate name has a simple explanation: it comes from the local expression “skivar la noya”, which translates as “contempt for boredom”.
The very first residence of the Dukes d’Este was the Municipal Palace, built in 1245. The family lived in this castle for almost three hundred years, it is clear that during this period the castle was expanded and rebuilt several times. You shouldn’t miss the Hall of Tapestries with Flemish tapestries from the 17th century, the Duchesses’ Room with unique hand-painted wooden panels, and the Golden Hall with a coffered ceiling, also decorated with magnificent stuccoes and frescos from the 15th century. By the way, admission to the palace is free.
Another example of Renaissance architecture, with the hand of the Duke’s favorite architect, Biagio Rossetti, is located at 21, Corso Ercole I d’Este and is called the Diamond Palace. The façade of the building is decorated with marble blocks resembling simple cut gems. It is now home to the Pinacoteca Nazionale and the Gallery of Modern Art. It is worth going here for those who are interested in Italian paintings of the 14th-18th centuries.
For connoisseurs of ecclesiastical architecture, we recommend the Ferrara Cathedral, an ancient temple from the 12th century that has changed its appearance many times, so it is an artful combination of Romanesque, Gothic, Classical and Renaissance elements. Unfortunately, almost all the interior decoration of the cathedral was burned by fire in the 17th century, since then only the fresco by Sebastiano Filippi “The Last Judgment” has miraculously survived.
A very interesting street in terms of urban architecture is Via del Volte. It is a whole enfilade of arched vaults that join together the closely spaced medieval facades of the houses. It was once home to merchants and gambling houses, and the street itself was later much loved by the Jews.
Another street that is definitely worth visiting in Ferrara connects the Castle of Estense with the ancient city gates and is called Corso Ercole I d’Este. It is an important urban artery that ends with a lush green area of old trees that have survived several centuries. The street “look” the most beautiful facades of the local palaces, which deserve the name of “architectural pearls” of the city. The street is absolutely pedestrian, so you can take your time walking along it without being afraid of ubiquitous cars and slowly immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the ancient city, combining the lightness and airiness of the Renaissance in its heart with the gloomy charm of medieval architecture. We are on Yandex Zen