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Leaning Toward Visiting Emilia-Romagna? – GO!

When visiting Italy, don’t skip the great sites of Emilia Romagna.

Whether a first-time visitor to Italy or twentieth, too many tourists go from Florence to Venice without stopping at the fantastic region in between – Emilia Romagna.  And if you’re a foodie, art and architecture aficionado and music lover, you don’t know what you’re missing. 


Bologna, the capital of Emilia Romagna, towers over most cities in Italy. Unlike Pisa, Bologna has two leaning towers – twin towers – next to one another.  The Asinelli Tower is the taller and the Garisenda Tower is the one that leans the most.  Built in 1119, they’re even older than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  There are 19 other medieval towers in Bologna which, during the Middle Ages, had over 180 towers.


Bologna has miles of porticoed (arcaded) streets (24 miles) where you can walk no matter the weather.  Bologna’s porticoed streets are even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


The Neptune Fountain in Bologna’s main square, Piazza Maggiore, dates from 1200 with its three palaces and its Petronius Cathedral.  The largest palace on the piazza is the Palazzo Comunale, Bologna’s City Hall, home to the Bologna Civic Art collection with many masterpieces dating from the Middle Ages to the 19th century.


Also in Piazza Maggiore is the main church of the diocese of Bologna, the Basilica of San Petronius.  Its construction started in the late 14th century and is still unfinished today.   The main façade’s first story was started in the 16th century in white stone with elegant carving highlighting its three doorways.  However, only its first story was completed – above it, left exposed, is weathering rustic-brown brick.  


Like many Italian cities Bologna has its “National Picture Gallery” with paintings by Raphael, Titian and Tintoretto plus its own homegrown Renaissance and Baroque Italian artists – the painters: Guercino, Guido Reni and Carracci.  


The Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vitale has one of the most expressive emotional sculpture groups, the life-size terracotta “Lamentation over the Dead Christ” by Nicollo del’Arca which, for the 15th century, visibly shows the facial physical outpouring expressions of grief and despair. 


Parma – What the Medicis are to Florence, the Farneses are to Parma.  Every city in Emilia Romagna was a fiefdom to a powerful family.  For tourism the most important part of powerful patronage is funding for the arts, art, architecture and music.  


The Farneses supported local talent including a great artist who belongs up there with Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael – Correggio.  Antonio da Correggio was the generation that came after those great High Renaissance artists.  Instead of carrying on the early 16th-century antithesis of High Renaissance style called Mannerist, Correggio had the courage to look ahead a hundred years and prefigure the Baroque.  And the best place to see his greatness come to life is to visit the Duomo, the Cathedral of Parma, where Correggio’s “Assumption of the Virgin” fresco, lining the dome, breathtakingly uses foreshortening perspective almost carrying the viewer up to be “consumed” along with the Virgin Mary – making the frescoed figures on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling seem almost one-dimensional.  


Step outside the Romanesque Cathedral of Parma to view its Romanesque, round-arched window frames, which, when viewed together, look almost Venetian.   Directly in front of the Cathedral is its Baptistery, where you can see the transition from the Romanesque of the 12th century to the Gothic – a century later.  When you step into Parma’s Baptistery you’re totally enveloped by the ribbing – stone bars that separate the panels of the dome and extend into the walls down to the floor thereby making you feel as if you’re in a beautiful Gothic cage.


The Farnese Theater had many firsts – the first use of a proscenium arch in front of the stage and the first use of a wider span of seats instead of the usual “horseshoe” and instead of permanent scenery – moveable scenery adaptable to whatever play or opera was being staged.


The Duchess of Parma was the second wife of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte – and as ruler of Parma she commissioned Parma’s Regio Theater – still, today, Italy’s second most important opera house after Milan’s La Scala. 


The Castle Estense dates from the 14th century.  It’s in the center of Ferrara and is surrounded by a moat.  When it comes to Medieval architecture, where there’s a moat, there’s usually a dungeon complete with prisoners’ graffiti, which you’ll find at the Castle Estense dating back to the 16th century – with graffiti you can still read! 


The Cathedral of Ferrara has a four-story facade – starting with its ground-level Romanesque arched windows.  Then up to its second to fourth levels with windows crowned by Gothic-pointed arches.  All four stories stretch across the entire façade. Usually, a church façade is taller in the vertical center, reflecting its interior with the nave being higher than the side aisles.   


Ferrara’s National Gallery is in a very rare building, the Palazzo Diamante – each stone on all its facades is faceted, like a diamond. The Palazzo Diamante dates from the very end of the 15th century. On this palace’s ground floor is Ferrara’s National Gallery of Art.  In the Palazzo Diamante’s basement is its Civic Museum of Modern Art with many famous international artists and even some French Impressionists.


Ravenna – If you can’t make it to Istanbul, head east from Ferrara to Emilia Romagna’s unique Byzantine city, and former capital of Italy when it was transferred from Rome to Ravenna in 408 and remained until the official “Fall of Rome in 476.”  Ravenna is a melting pot – a mosaic of different styles – from Late Roman, to Early Christian, to Byzantine reflecting in their mosaics – chips of stone arranged to create pictures.  


The tomb of the daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius, Galla Placida, is a Late Roman mausoleum from 425 with mosaics showing Christ as a Shepherd among his sheep.  The building is built on an Early Christian cruciform floor plan.


The Church of San Vitale, consecrated in 547, was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his former actress wife, Theodora. Their portrait in mosaics, along with portraits of their retinue, graces the walls of San Vitale. 

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