Padua was so much more than we expected—and we expected a lot.
We stayed in a wonderful little B&B with a gorgeous dramatic room and bath with 10 foot ceilings and a charming host named Mario. Little B&B’s are popping up all over Italy since the category was created in 2000. It’s a great alternative to hotels, and we’ve had nothing but good luck in the last three places in Italy where we’ve opted to go this way. It’s like having a friend who lives in town. If you’re careful about checking the location and feedback online, it’s a great way to go, and saves a fortune over hotels.
We were more lucky than clever in Padua. We arrived in the afternoon and took the tram to our place, then wandered into the old city to see what we could see. I thought we should go to the Basilica of St. Anthony first, since it stayed open until 7:30 and was one of the major reasons for visiting there. This was a twofold pilgrimage—for art and for the spirit. St. Anthony was the saint to whom my grandmother prayed for many things. Whenever we lost something, she would tell us to pray to St. Anthony. When I was trying to have a baby, she prayed to St. Anthony for me. Visiting the basilica was a chance to see one of the most visited pilgrimage sights in the Christian world, and to get in touch with my grandmother’s roots as well. So many pilgrims lined up to touch the tomb of the Saint and to deposit notes and photos with their intentions or thanks for answered prayers. I was one of them. It was very moving.
I was also moved, of course, by the beauty and majesty of the phenomenal basilica itself, especially the Donatello altar and his bronze equestrian statue outside of the church. I could only get photos outdoors, so check out the web site for more about the church: http://www.basilicadelsanto.org/ing/home.asp The marble reliefs in the Saint’s chapel were beautiful and we had to return the next day for a second look at them, the reliquary chapel, and the frescoes in the Chapel of St. James.
After the Basilica, we decided to walk across town to get a feel for the city, and planned to stop for a drink in one of the many great piazzas—probably Piazza degli Signore. But on our way, we came across the crazy celebrations of newly minted graduates of the University of Padua. Among all of this religious tradition, the city of Padua has one of the oldest and most progressive universities in the world. As for the craziness–Please check out my earlier post “Dottore, dottore” to see the video—the link has been fixed so you can watch it and hear the song. Graduates wear the traditional laurel wreaths and then add crazy costumes, as they stand in front of their caricature posters and read their friends’ list of “charges.” It’s really entertaining, including the song that is sung over and over by friends and family to each of the grads, all afternoon and well into the night. IN spite of all the Italian swear words, we couldn’t get the little ditty out of our heads the next day! We were in their good company for our cocktails in the piazza. We tried to stop for a drink, a meal, or a coffee in every piazza in Padua during the few days we were there—and I think we may have succeeded! Maybe it’s because it’s a College town, after all, but we just felt so comfortable in Padua from beginning to end.
However, the main reason we wanted to visit Padua had been the Scrovegni chapel. Ever since a course years ago on Italian Renaissance Art History, I’ve been obsessed with seeing Giotto’s masterpiece, arguably the turning point for Renaissance painting. I never use the word “awesome”—but in this case, it’s appropriate. I was surprised by the efficiency and seriousness of the reservation and entry process, designed to keep temperature and humidity constant and preserve this precious site. In spite of having seen and studied each one of these works on web sites, in slide presentations, and in books, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the four levels of frescoes adorning the chapel. I can’t possibly describe it—just read about it if you’d like to. But I can tell you that when I walked into the chapel, I gasped out loud. Before leaving, I shed a few tears. There were others weeping, though admittedly most were little old ladies. Maybe it was Stendhal Syndrome? I don’t know, but Ray and I were both quite overwhelmed by its beauty. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrovegni_Chapel#Anthology_of_images
Great Italian food and wine—amazing iconic artworks, why is it we are going to France now? I guess you’ll find out in a few days.