I read a book about the Borgias, the infamous family that included a Pope, a murderous son and Lucretia of the poison ring stories. The book inspired a visit to Ferrara where Lucretia went to live in 1502.
Ferrara is in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. It is 50 kilometres from Bologna and just over 100 kilometres from Venice. It seems to sit in the shadow of both and doesn’t attract as many visitors as it probably should. It has much to offer.
Ferrara’s most famous building is the Este Castle. Duke Ercole 1 converted a defensive fortress into a castle refuge for his family. The Este clan were rivals to the Medici from Florence in power and prestige. The castle was built in 1385 and is surrounded by a moat. It has 4 bastions and towers which were added to in the 16th century.
Lucrezia Borgia is the most famous resident of the castle. I think she is badly treated by history with tales of murders and poison rings. She was the daughter of the corrupt and vicious Pope Alexander VI, otherwise known as Rodrigo Borgia, and one of his mistresses, Vanozza dei Cattanei. She was married off as a teenager to further her father’s career. He had this marriage annulled when it no longer suited him. Her second husband Alfonso of Aragon was killed, probably by her murderous thug brother, Cesare.
Her third marriage at the age of 22 was to Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara. Her new husband to be rushed to the Ponte Poledrano Bentivoglio Castle to meet her…it was the beginning of a love story. At the wedding ceremony the subjects were won over by the bride when she fell from her horse. She quickly regained composure, and getting to her feet, she smilingly mounted one of the mules in the procession. Poor Lucrezia went on to have 8 more children and several miscarriages. She died shortly after the birth of her 10th child at the age of 39.
It seemed quite strange to be walking through her house and wondering what her life was really like. It seems that her marriage was filled with love even though both partners had a roving eye.
There is much to see near the castle. Girolamo Savonarola keeps stern watch over the piazza named for him. He was a Dominican friar from Ferrara who was murdered in Florence in 1498.
Teatro Comunale stands in front of the castle. The theatre was inaugurated in 1798. I didn’t go inside, but I was impressed by the elliptical courtyard, which in earlier times provided passage for carriages.
Palazzo Comunale was the original Este residence. It was begun in 1245, but has had many transformations. The columns support statues of Marquis Nicole III on horseback and Duke Borso on the throne. The originals were destroyed in the French invasion in 1796. Copies were created in 1927.
The cathedral is dedicated to Virgin Mary and St George, Ferrrara’s patron saint. The facade has Romanesque features from 1135 and Gothic from the middle 13th and 14th centuries.
I liked the carvings on the facade, particularly the animals.
One clearly foretold of the emergence of the bicycle (I have never seen so many in an Italian city) as a popular means of transport…and also provides a good parking spot.
The interior of the cathedral holds several ancient works of art but I found it quite gloomy.
At the back of the cathedral is an interesting interpretation of the maddona and child. It is tucked into a little alcove opposite the bell tower in the next photo.
The side view of the cathedral with the campanile is lovely.
A little out of the centre of the city is the Palazzo Schifanoia. Its main feature is the Hall of Months with beautiful frescoes commissioned by Duke Borso.
The adjoining room called the Hall of Virtues, or Hall of Stuccoes, has rich decoration on the ceilings and higher parts of the walls.
In a different direction is the Palazzo dei Diamanti, Diamond Palace, named for the diamond shaped blocks on the facade. It is now the National Picture Gallery.
Off in another direction is Casa Romei, the best preserved Renaissance building in Ferrara. It was the residence of Giovanni Romei who was related by marriage to the Este family. It later became the home of the nuns of Corpus Domini, which probably saved it from destruction. This beautiful house was my favourite thing in Ferrara. I happily wandered for some time in the beautiful rooms.
Parts of the old Ferrara wall survive and they reminded me a little of Lucca’s magnificent walls. They provide a lovely walking area on the edge of the city.
I found a pretty park near the wall.
There are some delightful back streets to discover.
It was in this area I found a couple of charming restaurants…Trattoria da Noemi.
…and Trattoria il Mandolino.
A speciality of the area is cappellaci di zucca…pumpkin filled pasta…delicious.
Keep and eye out for coppia Ferrarese, a twisted bread first created at a dinner for the Duke of Ferrara in 1536.
I also had a wonderful meal at Hostaria Savonarola.
The selection of local cured meat was excellent.
This is a type of sausage particular to the area. It is made with red wine.
The shopping is good in Ferrara. There are some stylish shops with lots to tempt shoppers.
There is much to see in Ferrara. The interesting sites are a little spread out, so you may need to stay a couple of nights to make the most of what the city has to offer. Make sure you don’t get run over by a bicycle.