Here’re some top places to see in Padua; after all, it’s a lovely place for a day trip from either Venice or Florence!
The Clock Tower:
The Piazza dei Signori is spacious and light, as it should be; after all, it had been initially designed for tournaments and celebrations, and was known in its time as the Square of Triumphs. Now that the days of jousting are over, the Piazza plays host to various concerts and music festivals. However, the square is still dominated by one magnificent construction: the Torre dell’Orologio, translated somewhat understatedly as the Clock Tower.
This construction of pristine white stone, built in the 15th century, has seen the flowering of the Renaissance, the revolution of the Enlightenment, and the horror of two World Wars.
The astronomical clock commemorates the age, when the measures of time were still uncertain, and when the human life was thought to be governed by a myriad of supernatural factors – including the movement of heavenly bodies. Apart from the hours and minutes, the clock also indicates the phases of the moon, and zodiac signs can be seen running around its inner face.
However, this sublime monument also bears some imprints of the affairs much more earthly. The lofty inscription in Latin is dedicated to the Venetian Doge, Andrea Gritti; there’s also a bas-relief of the winged lion. This was the depiction I was more used to seeing in a certain city with a bit more canals and a lot more tourists.
These are the remains of the Venetian attempt to carve out a small empire on the terra firma, once their maritime dominion started crumbling. This little colonial experiment was, of course, overshadowed by the imperialism galore of the later centuries. However, the white stone remembers, the tower shining as starkly against the dense blue of Italian sky, as if it was erected yesterday.
This church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, looks especially humble next to the city’s grand cathedral, in whose shadow it sat for the last seven centuries. However, try not to skip it; more than anything, it resembles a plain jewelry-box, containing unimaginable treasures. Inside, you will see an explosion of colour – a magnificent fresco cycle, undimmed since its creation in the 14th century.
Even this thing of beauty didn’t escape the political upheavals of the outside world, though. Initially, the baptistery was designed as a mausoleum for the local rulers, the House of Carrara. However, after their power fell in 1405, and the city succumbed to the Venetian Republic, the soldiers of La Serenissima demolished the grand burial monuments and covered the numerous emblems of the Carrara with green paint. The restoration attempts began in the 20th century and are going on to this day.
Prato della Valle:
This is a peculiar place, really; the largest square in Italy (about 90,000 square meter), situated so far from the major tourist centers. Were it located in Rome, there would’ve been hordes of tourists on any day of the week. As it is, I was greeted by the stillness of the black canal water and the serenity of the marble statues, enclosing it in two rings.
This vision of classical grace has been brought about only in 1785. However, it has a startling precursor – the preliminary excavations revealed the remains of an ancient Roman theater.
There really must be something in the soil, because, when this place was still an expanse of swampy marshland, it managed to become the birthplace of modern opera. In 1636, Venetian noblemen used to organize musical entertainment there as a prologue to jousting. These amateur festivals are considered to be the immediate predecessor of the first public opera performances, which began in Venice itself the following year.
Looking for a place to stay in Padua? Here’re some options.