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Ferrara of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance


Ferrara, city on the low Emilian plain surrounding the ford of the Po River, is an enchanting result of Medieval and Renaissance art and architecture

During the Renaissance, some of the most important Italian maestros, in the service of the Estense Court, realized structures and monuments of exceptional value for Ferrara. The city's history is profoundly tied to that of the d'Este Family, who rendered  Ferrara (between the 13th and 16th Centuries) the magnificent place it is today.

The very first thing visitors to Ferrara should do, in fact, is roam the charming city streets for a bit. Admire the unique network of roads, because Ferrara is one of the few big Italian cities whose urban structure is not Roman. After all, it was the House of Este to give their own imprint to Ferrara, with an ambitious city plan that later, along with other aspects, led to Ferrara's meriting a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List (1995).

The most significant testimony left behind by the Middle Ages is, without a doubt, St. George's Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Giorgio), built in the 1100s. Its rather particular facade was begun in the Romanesque (lower section) but finished in the Gothic (upper). And in its Museum are finds and sculptures that include the old organ doors, and 13th-Century tiles from the Cathedral's "Door of the Months" (Porta dei Mesi).

In the city's central nucleus, Piazza della Repubblica, there appears a vision of the majestic Castello Estense, an exemplary monument alluding to all the pomp and circumstance of the d'Este Court. Realized in 1385, the Castle dominates the urban setting with its towers, crenellated walls and deep moat. If you visit its interiors - ducal apartments, kitchens and prisons - you will feel as though you have taken two steps back into Medieval times!

Yet, the architectural splendor continues, with the Palazzo Comunale (c. 1200), Ducal Residence for the d'Estes and today, Communal Government seat. The Palazzo faces Piazza della Cattedrale, where you will notice the characteristic Volto del Cavallo, equestrian statues mounted by Nicolò III and Borso d'Este.

Then, nearby is Palazzo Schifanoia, commissioned by Alberto V d’Este in 1385 (later expanded and enhanced). Today it serves as the Museum of Ancient Art, hosting collections of a varying nature; a standout is the 14th-Century wing "Hall of Months," containing one of the most impressive cycle frescoes from the 15th Century.

Be sure to visit Palazzo Costabili, attributed to Ludovico the Moor, and currently the National Archaeological Museum; as well as Palazzo dei Diamanti, constructed on request of Sigismondo d'Este - it boasts a unique ashlar facade in pink and white marble, while inside lies the National Painting Gallery.

Read more: Ferrara and the House of Este