Padua - Pilgrims and Much More

The walk from Padova's (Padua) station to the centre is not overly inspiring. The trams and buses run alongside the bicycles and cars down streets that seem too narrow to house them all.
As we crossed over the bridge and passed the entrance to the park we could see the remains of the Roman arena. There is little to see of the original Roman, they have been patched up over the centuries with a mixture of substances, and the layout is not overly clear. In front of the walls is the Cappella della Scrovegni which houses what has been described as some of the most important examples of western art.

Entrance to the chapel is by reservation only, and you need to give 24 hours notice. The frescos by Giotto that are housed in the chapel are in a fragile state, though reportedly stable at the moment, and entry is via a specialised waiting room whcih allows a large number of visitors to view, without damaging the frescos. The frescos tell of the life of the Virgin Mary and Christ and were completed between 1303 and 1305. I think you have to appreciate artwork of the fourteenth century to want to spend €13 for a ticket. (A Padova card for €16, will provide a discount to this and many other attractions in the region).  I did not pay the price, and settled for the images on the chapel's website instead.

The frescos in the Eremitani Church next door to the Scrovegni are in a poor state. The whole of the church is undergoing reformation, but even with the noise and the dust it is still worth the visit (just be aware of the dust on the camera lens - too late before I noticed). An Augustinian church of the thirteenth century the frescos date from the fifteenth century and were painted by Andrea Mantegna. Destroyed by allied bombing in 1944, as attempts were made to eradicate the Germans in their nearby quarters, the fresscos are slowly being restored, or re-composed, as fragments are found and returned to the ICR (Istituto Centrale per il Restauro)who are responsible for the reformation work. The church is a single nave with chapels at the end which house the Mantegna frescos. The ceiling is a wonderful wooden beamed affair of lines and curves that intrigue the eye.  The church is also the resting place of Jacopo and Urbinello de Carrara of Padova. The poet Petrach was a friend of Jacopo's, and after Jacopo's assassination Petrarch fled the city where he composed an elegy for his friend,
Alas what a confined space for such a great man! Beneath this short marble slab lies the father of the patria, its hope and salvation. Whoever you may be, reader, who casts a glance at this marble slab and reads of this dwnfall of the city, combine your prayers with your tears.
Mantegna frescos being restored.

We entered the medieval part of the town and, avoiding the sun, kept beneath the arched walkways which housed modern shops an cafes and above which sat the older buildings.  At the Palazzo Bo, we watched as a man with enough military ribbons to start a haberdashery instructed two military-clad women in the art of carrying a piece of wood in the entrance of the town hall opposite. We turned into the Hero's Entrance to the University of Padova. A staircase, decorated with frescos by Gio Ponti that depict the birth of humanity and human culture, leads up to the Rector's rooms. At the base sits a scultpure of Aenas's oarsman which is in honour of the University's role in the Resistance of WWII, whilst plaques commemorate the students who fell in conflicts from the 1848 War of Independence to WWII.
Heraldic devices in loggia of Padova University

The loggia of the Old Courtyard is decorated with the heraldic devices of the students of the University, which was formed as a breakaway from the University of Bologna at the start of the thirteenth century. These decorations were of far more interest than a modern 'scultpure', 'Resistance and Freedom Monument', that sat as a scar on one of the walls of the loggia. It was a series of planks of wood that had seen better days, ugly if nothing else. As it was degree ceremony day we were restricted to where we could go and made our way towards the Prato della Valle. Under one of the walkways we pushed our way past the dark doors of the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Servi. A man swept quietly and carefully around the edge of a black and white chapel that sat opposite the doors and was one of the side chapels that line the single nave church. A shaft of light hit the altar as a woman hurried in, knelt before the altar, offered up her prayers and left almost as quickly.

We crossed over the Ponte dell Torricelle that offered a poor man's version of Venice, where shrubs and trees grow from the water's edge, up the side of houses blocking the entrances to the boat houses below. the Prato della Valle opens up from the shade of the cobbled streets. A fruit and vegetable market curved along the tram tracks at the piazza's edge, the sweet smells rich in the sultry air. Two rows of statues, 78 in total, ring the green island, l'Isola Memmia, and the canal. On the island, in the shade of the trees, the people of Padova rested or took an early lunch. The cupolas of two of Padova's main churches rise into the sky at the edge of the piazza. We chose the Basilica of Santa Giustina first.
View from the Ponte delle Torricelle

The birdscarer at the basilica de Santa Giustina
did not appear to be working.

An old monk greeted us at the door and let us know we were not at the Basilica of St. Antony. We had only five minutes before the basilica closed for the early afternoon (as a great number of Italy's monuments do). The original church had been built in the fifth century upon St. Giustina's tomb. She was a Christian girl who had taken a  vow of chastity and was martyred in 304AD as part of Diocletian's persecution of Christians.  The church was rebuilt in 1502 and is crowned by eight cupolas with 14 side chapels, mainly martyred saints on the left hand side. It is an austere church with nothing particularly outstanding to grab the interest, unless of course you are a pilgrim. The church had been suppressed by Napoleon and used as a barracks, and the church was not returned to its religious use until 1919. This may account for the lack of atmosphere within its walls. We were ushered out into the sunshine by the Benedictine monk in his black habit and made towards the Basilica of St. Antony of Padova, a place of pilgrimage for many.

On the corner of the street leading to St. Antony's basilica was a quaint little shop its windows crammed with various goodies from herbal remedies to absinthe and water colours. It is a shop of little wonders that has probably not had much stock turnover since it opened in 1936. The street is further lined with stalls selling statues of Saint Antony, medals, candles, rosaries and anything that could be remotely linked to the venerable saint. As the basilica came into view its skyline reminded me of Istanbul with a mix of architectural styles - cupolas and towers rising into the sky. To the right of the church a narrow alleyway leads to the sacristy, penitentiary and Anthonian Museum of Sacred Art - we stepped into the basilica.
Basilica Sant Antony

Avoiding temptation.

The central area, with the altar is of a gothic style with medieval decorations of a blue ceiling with gold stars and columns decorated with paintings. To the left was the Chapel of St. Antony and opposite the Chapel of St. James - they could not be more disimilar. St. Antony's chapel with marble reliefs from scenes of the saint's life and his tomb in the centre, under the altar, is strikingly obvious. Pilgrims stood with their hands resting on a dark marble slaab at the back of the tomb and prayed. St. James' Chapel meanwhile is decorated with colourful frescos (by Altichiero da Zevio) of episodes from the saint's life. A nonna sat with her granddaughter on the steps of the chapel and described the different stories. I know which I preferred.

I do not think there is a monument of standing in Italy that is not undergoing some form of refurbishment and the basilica of St. Antony was no different. Many of the smaller chapels we could not see for netting and scaffolding. One thing free from work was the funerary monument to two of the de Marchetta family. The busts of the deceased sat atop of a pile of books which were surrounded by the figures of Galeno, Hippocrates and Avicenna (with his cockerel). Above them all was a cheeky Death playing his trumpet. Interestingly, the official basilica wesbite says that the numerous funerary monuments are of little interest to visitors. Perhaps not for those who come on a pilgrimage, but for me they are a source of social history; and if they have an entertaining depiction of death, even more so.


As Padova snoozed - men on benches, women beneath statues - we made our way in the stifling heat back to the station. I found Padova to be a city of interest and looks, where the modern and medieval architecture have become comfortable bedfellows.




G. M. Memmo seems distracted by
the woman sleeping at his base.

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