The Italian Job: Day 23 – Another Day Trip to…

Another day and another day trip. After a quick breakfast, without the guesthouse’s dog or tortoises wandering over (some of them more slowly than others) for tidbits; but a very polite “buongiorno’ from the landlady’s ten year old grandson who then proceeded to ignore his grandma (and it would have made his life far easier if he had just said “ciao” in reply to her); I headed for the railway station, passing the setting up stalls for the Saturday flea market.

The station was quiet. The train was on time. I was the only person in the carriage and it looked like there was unlikely to be any entertainment as the train pulled North out of Rimini. The green fields were blushing with poppies – the only other colour as we passed vineyards and fields of barley.

Just over an hour later, the train arrived into Ferrara and the day was already heating up.
Ferrara which, while not being noted for fresh air and fun, is known as the first modern city and one of the culturally most important Italian Renaissance city states. It was one of the European capitals of culture, arts and politics. But more importantly than that… it’s apparently famous for its food. This hypothesis obviously would need to be rigorously tested at some point today though, spoiler alert, the high temperatures did rather put an end to my appetite.

It’s another walled city, so OF COURSE I went for a walk around the walls. The perimeter stretches about six miles around the original medieval city (though Ferrara has expanded beyond these confines in the centuries since) and apparantly the most complete walls in Italy… apart from the bits knocked down to allow roads into the city centre and residential development but we won’t mention that.

It’s another city with UNESCO status and for Ferrara that’s mostly because of its history of town planning. Stand by, more Public Health Geeking – where and how we live shapes our health and wellbeing. The humanist concept of the ‘ideal city’ came to life here in the neighbourhoods built from 1492 onwards by Biagio Rossetti according to new principles of perspective. The completion of this project marked the birth of modern town planning and influenced its subsequent development.

A series of urban planning schemes were implemented from the 14th to 16th centuries, which made Ferrara the first Renaissance city to be developed using a complex urban plan. In this plan, the network of streets and walls were closely linked with the palaces, churches and gardens as part of an overall scheme that gave precedence to the harmonious layout of urban perspectives, rather than accentuating the beauty of individual buildings. More about the greater good of the population and how a town works rather than one rich person or o e grand monument.

The Ferrara Architectural School exported urban design views and elements, mostly specialising on walls and fortresses, into the planning of other Italian and European cities.

The history of this Renaissance city was closely tied to the ruling Este family. The city had been an important medieval centre, a free city with its own laws and even its own mint, but only under the Estes was it to become an internationally known capital with great importance for the arts, economics, ideology and religion. The court flourished in splendour and for two centuries was on a par with cities such as Florence and Venice or with other great European courts in France or Spain.

The walls form a park around the medieval centre now with trees growing from the wide embankments. It’s popular with joggers, cyclists, walkers and the occasional group of women having a picnic.

By the time I’d completed a circuit, I was ready for something to eat but rather than sampling the local delicacies, I needed salad and fruit juice, preferably somewhere shady and peaceful.

That quiet lunch I fancied? Yeah, yeah, nah… that wasn’t happening. I found the salad and the freshly squeezed juice but the area I was sitting in was fenced off and it seemed some kind of pageant was underway. We had kids in medieval costumes (yes that would be leggings where one leg is burgundy and one leg is golden). Some of them had trumpets with flags hanging off them. Some of them had drums. The warm up sounded like an out of tune version of the opening to “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Once in the performance area the drumming performances sounded amazing.

They marched in and out of the main square four times in the hour I lingered over lunch and I didn’t get the impression that these costumes were comfortably cool. They were wearing thick woollen leggings.

Something must have gone wrong during the fourth outing because two of the kids were looking a little teary-eyed and I watched a steady stream of the other kids and supporting adults give them hugs, high-fives, back pats and clearly reassuring (hands on shoulders, smiling and clearly light-hearted) pep talks. And they did so repeatedly. The two looked a lot happier after receiving all this lovely support.

I left the medieval centre: brick built houses, narrow streets, trapping the heat and headed for the more French style wider boulevards and a park to cool off. Next to the park was the Charterhouse, built by Borso d’Este in 1461, and transformed into a monumental cemetery at the beginning of the 1800s.

It began as a monastery for the Order of the Carthusians in 1461 until the end of 1700, when under Napoleonic, the suppression of religious orders and the confiscation of church property began. The cemetery project was entrusted to the architect of the Este court official Biagio Rossetti by Duke Ercole d’Este in 1498 beginning Work on the construction of the new church, the Basilica of St. Christopher, a temple surrounded by the immense courtyard.

The Certosa cemetery houses the graves of famous Ferrara residents and painters. The signage around the site tells the storiea of the people buried here. There’s one story which, in the simple retelling at the cemetery sounds very heroic. Georgi Cini, killed in an airplane accident in 1949 had worked to release his dad from Dachau during WW2 and in his memory a cultural foundation was created by his dad. The story is actually more complex.

Vittorio Cini had a long relationship with the Italian Fascist party, having joined in 1926, and had occupied influential positions within government and industry throughout the decades of Benito Mussolini’s rule. In early 1943 he was named to the Ministry of Communication, but soon resigned, publicly castigating the obvious dire state of the national situation.

He joined a plot against Mussolini, and during the Nazi occupation of Northern Italy his role was identified and he was arrested by the SS. He was sent to the Dachau concentration camp but upon transferral to a hospital, his son Giorgio was able to get him released by bribing officials with diamonds and jewellery. Giorgio would also lobby successfully against his father’s legal exclusion from political activities, arguing that his final break with Mussolini mitigated his long years of collaboration.

It’s an incredible space to visit and I would have lingered longer but it was closing and I had a train to catch, after ending the day in the now time honoured way.

Aperitivo Time
Categories: Environment, Ferrara, Italy, Nature/Landscapes, Public Health, The Italian Job, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: