Short Presentation of Padua (Padova)

Padua (Padova) is a city located in the north-east of Italy, between Verona and Venice, in the core of the Veneto region. According to the tradition, it was founded by the Trojan counsellor Antenor after the fall of Troy and due to its 3000 years of history, Padua claims to be the most ancient city in Veneto. Walking under the covered walkways, it is possible to read the history of this dynamic and creative city through the Renaissance churches, Middle Ages buildings and modern constructions.

Padua is known as the city of the three “without”: the coffee without doors, the valley without grass and the Saint without name. The first refers to the Pedrocchi Café, a cultural and commercial centre for artists and students. From the 19th century to the early 20th century, it was open day and night, with an open porch and no windows. The second is related to Prato della Valle, one of the biggest squares in Europe. Due to the intensive usage of the square, the floods that have taken place in the past centuries and the tree planting in the 19th century, grass has always struggled to grow in this “valley”. The elliptical square is surrounded by a canal and 78 statues of personalities who have a connection with the city. Finally, the Saint refers to the Basilica of Saint Antony of Padua, one of the most visited places in the city and the destination of pilgrimage from all over the world. Inside the 13th century Roman church, there are the relics of the Portuguese friar and the tomb of the famous Middle Ages condottiero Gattamelata, whose equestrian statue by Donatello is outside the Basilica.

There are several places of worship in Padua and, like The Saint, some of them are examples of artistic treasures. It is impossible not to mention the unfinished Padua Cathedral, rebuilt three times from the 4th to the 18th century, with its Medieval frescoes painted by Giusto de’Menabuoi in the Baptistery. The Abbey of Santa Giustina is the most ancient place of worship in the city, with its Renaissance architecture. Furthermore, Padua is also known for the Scrovegni Chapel, a small church part of the Museo Civico of Padua, that the banker Enrico Scrovegni commissioned to Giotto. Inside the Chapel one can admire the magnificent fresco cycle made by the Tuscan painter in the 1305. The Medieval masterpiece narrates the sacred stories of the Life of Christ, the Virgin and in the counter-façade it is represented the impressive Last Judgment.

One of the hotspots of this city is its University. Founded in 1222, it is one of the ancient Universities of the world and boasts the first University botanical garden (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a permanent anatomic theatre. It was founded by a group of students and teachers who came from Bologna, with the purpose of defending the freedom of thought both in studying and teaching. This purpose is still explicit in the University’s motto: Universa Universi Patavina Libertas. The main university building is Palazzo Bo. The name derives from “Hospitium Bovis”, an inn opened by a butcher in the 15th century. The origin of the building explains why the crest of the University is a bucranium (the skull of an ox). Inside Palazzo Bo, one can admire the Cortile Antico, adorned by the coats of arms of the students’ families and scholars of the University. Considering also the main lecture all, there are nearly 3000 coats of arms in the building.

In the Cortile Antico there is the statue of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, who became the first woman in the world to be awarded a university degree. An important room is the “Room of the Forties”. Forty stands for the number of portraits on the walls of the room, which represent the most famous students of the University, including Niccolò Copernico and William Harvey. The Room of the forties also hosts Galileo’s desk, as the scientist taught in the University from 1592 to 1610. During his stay in Padua, he made some of his most important discoveries, including the four Medicean stars of Jupiter. Galileo used to observe the sky from his house, not from the Specola, as many people think. The Specola is instead a prison-tower reorganized an observatory in 1771 by Astronomy Professor Giuseppe Toaldo.

In front of the Palazzo Bo is the city hall, Palazzo Moroni, which is linked with Palazzo della Ragione, another distinctive building in Padua, that dates back to the 13th century. The upper floor was dedicated to the town and justice administration, and the ground floor still hosts the historical covered market of the city. The walls of the so called “Salone” (“Great Hall”) are covered with allegorical frescoes and the protagonist of this space is the gigantic wooden horse, which reminds the Donatello’s one in Piazza del Santo. Both sides of Palazzo della Ragione overlook two squares: Piazza della Frutta and Piazza delle Erbe.

Piazza dei Signori is another important square in the city and it is dominated by the mannerist Clock Tower. Its name comes from Signori Carrara, as it was Ubertino from Carrara who promoted the construction of the square. For centuries, it hosted civic and government celebrations. The Clock Tower shows the zodiac signs. A peculiarity is that the Libra is not present, as in the pre-Roman system Scorpio and Libra were a single zodiac sign.