Shadows distorted by cobbles, windows shuttered against the heat, suited men eating ice-cream outside the gelaterie – a typical Italian setting. This is Rovigo, a town in the northern province of Veneto just eighty kilometres south-west of Venice, and it is an archetypal Italian town. It is only March so the heat is not typical. I have left the southern shores of Málaga, Spain for the north of Italy and the temperature has soared to 29˚C; hence men eating ice-cream. They eat the ice-cream, as Italians do most things except driving and drinking coffee, unhurriedly. Nonchalantly leaning against the walls of the ice-cream parlours, savouring the pistachio or fragoli flavours they watch as others cycle home.
Rovigo is on the Po plain, the land is flat and cycling is a popular method of getting around. All ages - students, middle-aged and old – ride on their old fashioned bicycles, sit-up and begs we called them, with baskets front and back, through the town and on the roads out into the countryside. The train station is surrounded by bicycles chained to railings or simply with the padlock through the wheels. No showy, shiny bikes here, just plain, useful bikes. And so it is that the air of the Piazzas Giuseppe Garibaldi and Vittorio Emmanuelle II is punctuated with the tringing of bicycle bells and the soft whirr of wheels rather than abrasive horns and squealing brakes.
Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi is an elegant square lined with palazzos whilst the eponymous hero is captured in bronze astride his horse. In the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuelle II, behind the portly figure of Vittorio Emmanuelle himself, is a column topped with the lion of San Marco, the symbol of Venice. The lion was installed in 1591 in honour of the town’s association with the Republic of Venice, only to be removed in 1797 by Napoleon’s troops. Twenty years after the unification of Italy, in 1881 the lion was returned to its rightful place, in the largest piazza of Rovigo. Colonnades, a fourteenth century loggia and a war memorial in the far corner and the square has all that one would expect.
|Piazza Vittorio Emmanuelle II plays host|
to a local artisan food market
The remains of the town’s castle, on the edge of a small park, consist of a tower and part of the gate-house tower and walls. The towers lean, quite precariously. Lintels above doorways rest at a quirky angle. Started during the time of Rovigo’s inclusion in the House of Este, the whole was a fortress designed to withstand the attacks of neighbouring republics and provinces and now serves as garden ornamentation. Ornamentation that I would be a little wary of sitting under; I don’t think that anywhere near the money spent on keeping the tower of Pisa upright has been spent for the same purpose on these towers.
|Rovigo's two leaning towers|
No Italian town is complete without a church or four and one of Rovigo’s is definitely worth a visit. The Rotonda, officially known as the Church of Madonna del Soccorso, is a small church sitting behind the larger church of St. Francis. It was built (1594 – 1606) to house a miraculous image of a Madonna with Child carrying a rose. It is not round but octagonal and surrounded by a portico. The walls are completely decorated with 17th century paintings by local and Venetian painters and also house statues of key saints and bishops in niches. It is an intimate church that felt comfortable rather than claustrophobic, despite its size.
But Rovigo is not just a place of history it is a modern, vibrant town with wi-fi hotspots in the piazzas (sitting under the monuments is optional), designer clothes shops and swishy looking coffee shops.
|Garibaldi provides a seat from which to utilise the wi-fi hotspot|
Rovigo, with a taste of everything Italian – piazzas, ruins, colonnades, leaning towers, churches, coffee bars and gelaterie – is Italy in a microcosm.