The Rough Guide warns that Padua (or ‘Padova’ in Italian) might disappoint. It is, says The Rough Guide, “hemmed in by the sprawl that has accompanied its development as the most important economic centre of the Veneto.” However, it's only a short train ride from Venice, and has plenty of treasures to discover.
First and foremost, there’s the Giotto frescoes from 1305 in the Scrovegni Chapel; and every pilgrim’s goal, ‘Il Santo’, the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua. There’s also the second-oldest university in Italy, a couple of delightful market squares - Piazza della Frutta and Piazza delle Erbe (for your fruits and veg); and some lovely porticoed walks.
|Pretty Padua. In parts.|
|Piazza della Frutta. Or maybe Piazza delle Erbe|
Padua also has the world’s oldest botanical garden, and - just for contrast - a monument to September 11 by Daniel Libeskind called “Memory and Light”. It contains part of a girder salvaged from the World Trade Centre. It looked kind of moody on a rainy day - I suspect it’s a different sight lit at night.
The Prato della Valle claims to be the largest town square in Italy, but I agree with The Rough Guide on this one: “a generally cheerless area, ringed by very wide roads...”
Padua’s Duomo is also dismissed by The Rough Guide: “an unlovely church whose architect took his design from drawings by Michelangelo”. But it does wax lyrical about the adjoining Baptistry: “one of the unclaimed delights of the city.”
|Padua's Duomo. It was closed.|
But the pretty Bapistry (to the right) was open.
The Baptistry was built in the 13th century, and it’s still in use today. It’s small round interior is heavily frescoed with 14th century paintings by Giusto de’Menabuoi. These do make a fascinating comparison with Giotto’s much more famous cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel - they were done a little later, but I suggest you view them first. You’ll be bowled over by them -- and then you’ll see that Giotto’s are even more amazing.
Menabuoi’s paintings cover a smaller surface, but a lot more ground. He has many Old testament stories going on on his walls, as well as the lives of Mary and Christ, and of course the inevitable Last Judgement. Though I must say that his airy Resurrection pictures are gently surreal.