Ferrara and Estense Castle

Ferrara, renaissance city of Emilia-Romagna, in the past dominated by the Este family, is synonymous with elegance and refinement. Its many architectural and artistic features represent the maximum expression of the medieval and Renaissance periods. The city is characterized by surprising intrigue owing to its narrow medieval streets that suddenly open up into large, open and bright spaces. We will see a succession of splendid palaces, noble houses, churches and castles: we seem to take a dive into the past and still hear the voices of the characters of the noble families who inhabited them. As always in Emilia-Romagna, we can taste the traditional dishes such as the cappellacci pasta filled with pumpkin, guinea fowl cooked in lemon and drink a good red Ferrara wine.

Its walls surround the old town: almost nine kilometers of uninterrupted walls, which constitute one of the most impressive defensive systems of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. On one side you can enjoy a magnificent view of the countryside, to the river Po, while on the other side, the panorama shows church bells and towers.

Palace of the Diamonds and Estense Castle

Our journey begins at the Palace of the Diamonds: a building famous in the whole world for its exterior decoration made of 8,500 blocks of marble in the shape of diamonds. The main floor of the Palace houses the National Art Gallery with a collection of paintings of the Ferrara school from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Continuing along Corso Ercole I d’Este, located in the core of the Republic Square, we will find the majestic Estense Castle, symbol of the city. It is one of the few castles still surrounded by water. It was built, starting in 1385, under order of Nicholas II d’Este projected by the architect Bartolino da Novara. Originally the castle was a defensive fortress of the  Este family and later became the residence of the court.
Joined to the castle by a covered walkway is the Town Hall dating back to 1200 which was the ducal residence of the Este family until the construction of the nearby castle. The palace overlooks the square of St. Georges Cathedral built in 1135. With a splendid façade begun in Romanesque style, the upper part was then finished in Gothic style. It is famous for its painting the Last Judgment by Bastianino, inspired by Michelangelo’s masterpiece of the Sistine Chapel. Its unfinished Renaissance bell tower is the work of architect Leon Battista Alberti.

Via delle Volte and the Jewish ghetto

We continue our walk on the South side of the cathedral alongside the Loggia dei Mercanti, where the medieval shops used to be concentrated. In the same area, on Via San Romano, we find the Cathedral Museum which houses the ancient artifacts and sculptures coming mostly from the same building, along with all the drawings made to date for the completion of the tower.
Continuing along Via Mazzini we reach the magnificent via delle Volte so called for the characteristic suspended arches and passageways. It was once the center of intense commercial fervor, now one of the most characteristic areas that has kept the charm of medieval Ferrara.
Ferrara did not escape the papal laws of 1624 and, unfortunately, also here a boundary was erected considered as a Jewish ghetto, it was closed by five gates and was designated to the Jews living in the city. The gates of the ghetto were reopened only in 1848. The area is still inhabited today and well preserved, evidence of a painful past difficult to forget. The buildings of this district have beautiful terracotta decorations on the ancient entrance doors, windows and cornices and beautiful wrought iron balconies.

Palaces and Museums to see

Resuming the via San Romano we return to the heart of the city: we are in front of the Cathedral and we can decide to go for a stroll to discover the most hidden and charming corners, or visit the many palaces or museums of the city. The most striking is certainly the Palazzo Schifanoia (literally meaning “avoid boredom”) dating back to 1385 it was commissioned  by the Este family who conceived it as a place of  “divertissement”  where to devote themselves to idleness. The beautiful frescoes of the Salone dei Mesi (Hall of the Months), profane in character, are the most important of Italian  15th century art. Just think about the fact that the iconographic program was entrusted to a court astrologer and librarian who contacted artists of the highest level such as Cosme Tura and Francesco del Cossa. The name of the hall comes from the personifications of the months of the year, each one corresponds to a sign of the Zodiac and various allegories with related work activities.
Other important buildings are Casa Romei Via Savonarola: unique example of a blend of medieval and Renaissance elements with the courtyard, characterized by the famous baldresche or the Monastery of Corpus Domini with the tombs of the Este family in via Pergolato, 4

From September 2016 the Palazzo dei Diamanti will host the exhibition “Orlando Furioso 500 years: What did Ariosto see when he closed his eyes.”

Meeting point:  Palazzo dei Diamanti
Arrival point:   St. George’s Cathedral