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Ferrara and the Po River Delta

The historic centre in Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna, included by UNESCO in the World Heritage List in 1995, represents the concrete realization of the humanistic concept of “ideal city”, thanks to the ambitious project entrusted to the architect of the court Biagio Rossetti by Duke Ercole I d’Este between the late Fifteenth century and early Sixteenth century. The work, known as Addizione Erculea or Erculean Addition, has marked the beginning of modern urban planning, influencing subsequent developments.  Ferrara is one of the few large Italian cities to not have been originally designed with a Roman plan. Rather than starting in the centre, the city, in fact, develops on a linear axis along the shores of the Po, with longitudinal roads and crossings.

Among the architectural examples of merit, the Ferrara Cathedral, dedicated to Saint George, which dates back to the Twelfth century, is certainly the most important testament to the Medieval period.  With its unusual façade, which was begun in Romanesque style in the lower part and was subsequently completed in Gothic style in the upper part.

San Giorgio Cathedral - Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna

In the central nucleus of Piazza della Repubblica, we find the Castello Estense, monument exemplifying the ostentation of the Este family. Built in 1385, the Castle dominates the urban panorama with its towers, the crenellated walls and the deep moat. Visiting the internal areas, such as the ducal apartments, the kitchens and the prisons, means taking an actual leap back in time to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Castello Estense - Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna

The numerous historical architectural elements help add to the splendour that is Ferrara. Connected to the Estenste Castle by a covered indoor pathway, the Palazzo Municipale, the Town Hall, dates back to approximately 1200 and was the ducal residence of the Este family until the Sixteenth century. Today the seat of the city government, the Palazzo looks out over the Cathedral square with its characteristic entrance adorned by the Volto del Cavallo, topped with the statues of Nicolò III and Borso d'Este.

Palazzo Municipale - Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna

The Palazzo Schifanoia (currently closed for restorations) is not far from here, it was commissioned by Alberto V d’Este in 1385 and subsequently expanded. Today, the Palazzo is the location of the Museum of Ancient Art, with collections of various types, from the Fourteenth century wing to the ‘Salone dei Mesi’ containing one of the most important fresco cycles of the Fifteenth century. Palazzo Costabili, a not-to-be missed stop, which according to legend is attributed to Ludovico il Moro, is today the site of the National Archaeological Museum and Palazzo dei Diamanti, built by Sigismondo d’Este, with its ashlar façade in white and pink marble and the Pinacoteca Nazionale located inside.

Palazzo Schifanoia - Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna

In 1999, the site is extended to the Po Delta Park and to the Delizie Estensi, a grouping of approximately thirty villas used by the Este family as leisure and hunting areas, testament to the influence of the Renaissance culture on the natural environment.

Delizia Estense del Verginese - Emilia-Romagna

The Po Delta constitutes a natural ecosystem of great value; the reclamation of the swamps and the works for the use of the fertile lands realised in a Renaissance period have given life, according to UNESCO, to “an exceptional planned cultural landscape which, in a significant way, keeps its original form”.  It is possible to visit it on foot, by bicycle, horseback, by boat or motorboat along the river waterway which cross it.  Lastly, the park is a paradise for lovers of birdwatching. In the area, we can also find the Pomposa Abbey, the city of Comacchio and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.


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