Pavia - Castello Visconti
The Certosa (famous ancient monument to prayer begun by Visconti), ancient castles, valleys, mountains, the plain bathed by the rivers Ticino and Po are some of the most beautiful landscapes in Lombardy and are to be seen in the varied countryside of Pavia, Oltrepo and Lomellina.
The province of Pavia– is predominantly flatland with Pavia at its centre, standing at the junction of the rivers Po and Ticino on a hill protecting it from floods and, in ancient times, from enemy attack. Lomellina is located on the right bank of the Ticino and is turned over to rice cultivation and abundant waters. Finally, there is Oltrepo`, beyond the right bank of the river Po, which straddles valleys dotted with vineyards and castles, and incorporates the dense forests of the Pavese Apennines on the border with Emilia Romagna. The network of waterways criss-crossing the territory is augmented by its canals. Primarily, the Naviglio Pavese which starts from the heart of Milan at the Naviglio Grande, and goes as far as Pavia. Built by Gian Galeazzo Visconti starting in the mid-fourteenth century, it goes past the Certosa, powering a number of ancient windmills still visible today. Not to be forgotten is Naviglio di Bereguardo which crosses the territory to the north, leading to Milan; this is a favourite canal route for canoeists.
Pavia has retained many monument from its glorious medieval past from the days Pavia was regarded as the most important centre of northern Italy. Among the splendid churches, the leading example is the Cathedral, which boasts one of the largest domes in Italy, and the Basilica of Saint Michael, a masterpiece of the Romanesque style. The tour of the city continues with Castello Visconteo, a square-plan building with four towers surrounded by a large moat, now home to the Musei Civici with relics from the Roman period, as well as sculptures from the Lombard era and an art gallery. Another famous attraction is the covered bridge, a reproduction of a thirteenth century bridge destroyed during the Second World War, which leads to the Borgo Ticino, where the church of Santa Maria in Betlem is located.
Lying between Pavia and Milan is the Convent of Certosini, a monumental marble complex built in the fourteenth century by Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The Certosa of Pavia was completed about a century later with the construction of the church, and, to this day, it is a place where an atmosphere of calm pervades in harmony with the delights of precious art works. The carved marble entrance door gives visitors their first hint of the grandeur that characterizes this place. Inside is the Palazzo Ducale where noble guests were accommodated. The façade of the church overlooking a spacious courtyard is also in marble.
In the area of Oltrepo`, the area south of Pavia offering varied countryside, a point of reference is Voghera, its ancient town centre surrounded by avenues that replaced the old city walls. Inside this perimeter is the Castle of Visconti and the Colleggiata of Saint Lorenzo surrounded by arcades. Varzi, on the other hand, still maintains its medieval district, with the palace of Malaspina, the quadrangular tower and the Capucin church built in limestone in Romanesque-Gothic style. The medieval part is reached through two ancient towers, the Mangini and the clock tower, added in the eighteenth century. Another medieval town in Oltrepo` is Viguzzuolo, with the Pieve of Santa Maria. In Lamellina the most important town is Vigevano, embellished by the Piazza Ducale, a fine example of Renaissance architecture based on a three-sided design with arcades and palaces with elegantly painted facades, closed on the fourth side by the Baroque façade of the Cathedral.
Part of the large river park of Ticino lies in the province of Pavia, with its 25 ecological tourism routes. The valley, bathed by the river and by canals, can be crossed on foot, for those who enjoy pleasant hikes. It can also be crossed on horseback or by bicycle, all the better to discover the rich flora and many bird species.
One route that is rich in historical, artistic and religious influences follows the Via Francigena, the ancient Roman road that used to connect Rome with the rest of Europe and was declared a European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe. The discerning tourist will appreciate the cyclist and motorist tourist itineraries which the province of Pavia province has inaugurated, as well as the pedestrian itinerary which is connected with the Via Francigena route but which crosses the territory of the Pavese province. Another itinerary leads from Varzi to Genoais following the “via del sale” (salt road), so-called because of the role it played in the transportation of salt from the sea. On this itinerary lie beautiful churches and castles, hamlets and landscapes, with wooded areas populated by roebucks and deer. The route can be covered on horseback, bicycle or car.
Historical events are held in all towns in the Pavese province. In Varzi, there’s an annual historical re-enactment of a specific episode from its medieval past. The oldest parts of the town are used as a backdrop for a painstaking reconstruction of the era.
The town of Vigevano boasts the Palio delle Contrade. This is a horse race that dates from the medieval era. Elaborate costumes are faithfully reproduced from paintings and images from the period, and are the pride and joy of the procession. In the middle of Spring each year, a distant period in history is brought to life, with its drums, dances, ancient arts and crafts, but also with the foods and flavours from long ago. Those who prefer relaxation can visit the spas at Salice Terme, Rivanazzano and Mirandolo. These resorts treat body and mind with various kinds of therapeutic waters and new techniques.
The influence of Liguria, Piemont and Lombardy are much in evidence in the cuisine. Rice, dairy products and meat are the essential ingredients. Sausage production is at its best in the DOP salami from Varzi, which dates from the twelfth century. Prized produce includes the coppa, pancetta, cotechino and small game.
As well as being renowned for its medieval towns such as Santirana, Lomello and Scaldasole, the Lomellina area is also famous for the cultivation of rice. In the plain traversed by the River Ticino, there are many extensive rice fields, which played an important part in the history of the region. Rice is the king of Pavese gastronomy. Five varieties are cultivated here, and they vary in the size and shape of the grains. Rice dishes include not only risottos or timballi, but also ordinary white rice to accompany fish fillets or frog recipes, and used in making cakes.
Pavese soup is also well known and is made with broth, eggs and cheese, served with bread and watercress.
Oltrepo` is an area rich in mushrooms, especially truffles. White truffles are the most common, clustered along the banks of the River Po. Another typical medieval product is the tasty salami made from duck meat, which evokes medieval culinary traditions, the cake make using duck fat. There are many DOC wines in the Pavese, including the famous Barbera, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Malvasia and Moscato.
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