Our train to Parma via Bologna was
at 12:30 so we had time to join the throngs around Piazza
della Erbe enjoying the sights and smells of the fresh
fruits vegetables, cheeses, and breads. The only
difference is that the others walked away with full bags
and we left with fond memories.
The day was bright and sunny and it
was an enjoyable 15 minute walk through the center of
Padova to the train station. We arrived in Parma at 16:00.
It was a 5 minute walk along Via Verdi to Via Bononi 3
and the Jolly Hotel Stendhal. We have stayed in Jolly Hotels previously
and although its a large chain, we have found each
property to have its own design and character.
This one is located in the heart of
Parma in part of a courtyard of the Palazzo Pilotta
overlooking the green lawns of the Piazzale dell Pace. We
were welcomed by the striking contemporary European
designed lobby. Crimson walls, marble floors, graceful
crystal chandeliers, and attractive furnishings are
conducive to leisurely relaxation or intimate discussion.
The reception desk is attractively framed by pillars and
manned by polite, friendly and extremely helpful staff.
The adjoining bar is equally refreshing with a bit more
There are 62 spacious rooms each in
a different style. Our twin-bedded room was beautifully
furnished with all the comforts and lots of room to
wander. There was a roomy built-in closet in the entryway.
The large bathroom with a bath/shower was stocked with
When one thinks of Parma one
immediately thinks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and
Parma ham. The Emilia-Romagna region is Italy's
agricultural heartland and food enjoys a special cultural
status. It is said that the people of Parma are certain
that their recipes for the regional cuisine are more
innovative and refined than their counterparts. We don't
want to take sides, but we did have two fabulous dinners
in Parma. Competition is good!
Parma has a rich art and cultural
heritage along with some monumental architecture. Think
Verdi, Toscanini, Carreggio and Parmigianino. There is a
lot packed into this rather small city.
Torrente Parma runs through the
center of the city. The heart of commerce and culture is
on the right bank, with Piazza Garibaldi at the
geographic center. The Parco Ducale dominates the north
part of the left bank.
Lovely and colorful residential
streets comprise most of the rest of the city which are a
delight to navigate after visiting the historic monuments.
After a few hours of walking with map in hand, getting a
lay of the land, it was time to put this "food thing
to the test.
Osteria del 36, via A. Saffi 26/A,
telephone-0521-287061, call for reservation, the two
small rooms fill up quickly, is a neat cozy osteria with
wood ceilings and yellow walls decorated with wine
bottles. The owner and waiter warmly welcomed us and made
us feel right at home. We were having a difficult time
deciding our choices because everything on the menu
sounded tempting and we have learned that it is very easy
to over-order when this is the case. So while we were
nibbling on the marvelous house appetizer of salami and
grana and sipping the local amazingly fruity Lambrusco we
asked our wonderful waiter for suggestions and to bear in
mind the size of the portions. He assured us the portions
were plentiful (oye!) but that shouldn't deter us from
having a nice variety because everything is fabulous.
Thankfully we followed his suggestions.
We shared two spectacular pasta
preparations. The gnocchi were extremely plump, light and
the perfect texture and topped with a house made sausage
ragu that was awesome. The tortelli were extra large
pouches filled with ricotta and spinach with a butter and
Parmigiano sauce. We were totally thrilled that the
portions were as large as they were.
Linda had contrafiletto di manzo
alle erbe fine e olive taggiasche, thick slices of very
tender filet of beef with a sauce of fine herbs,
garnished with olives. My stinco di maiale al forno, a
large roasted pork shank smothered in sautéed onions,
was accompanied by divine pan fried potatoes. The quality
of the product and preparation of both was as good as it
It was necessary to find out if the
dolce could measure up. Both the apple pie, with a touch
of almond, and the rich creamy vanilla ice cream were
home made. We were disappointed that we shared one and
didn't have one each. The prices were very reasonable
which added up to exceptional value.
We started the next morning at nearby
Palazzo della Pilotta. In the green area in front of the
palace known as the Piazzale dell Pace are a sculpture
paying tribute to Verdi and also a grand monument to the
Partisan contribution during WWII. Everything is massive
about this building particularly in proportion to the
size of the city. It was not built as a residence but as
the headquarters for court and state services. It now
houses some of the towns major institutions. A huge
double staircase topped by an enormous octagonal dome
leads up to the amazing Teatro Farnese. Made entirely of
wood it is one of the world's most innovative theatre
designs. The stage was equipped with a series of
ingenious devices as movable scenery and waterproof
cavity that could be purposely flooded to recreate sea
battles. It was almost completely destroyed during the
war and was rebuilt in the 1950s except for the
painted trompe l'oeil effects.
A not-so-secret passageway from
Teatro Farnese's backstage leads to the Galleria
Nazionale, which is one of Italy's most important and
largest art galleries. The collection represents works by
some of Europe's finest artists comprising paintings from
the 13th to 19th centuries and a section on Parma and
Emilian painting from the 15th to 18th centuries. It was
here that we met Marie-Louise (portrait), the second wife
of Napoleon, who became a Duchess, moved to Parma, and
contributed significantly to the art, culture and social
well being of the town. She was beloved by all the people.
The magnificent octagonal
Baptistery made of Verona marble is one of Parma's most
notable architectural gems. Started in 1196 it was
finished in 1307. The bright sun highlighted the soft
pink exterior which features four tiers of open straight-headed
loggias topped by a row of blind arches and glorious
decorative sculptures with theological references and
medieval iconography. The interior is a wide, tall 16-sided
polygon. The lower part of the wall has sixteen niches
above which are two tiers of loggias with slender columns
and graceful ribs that support the pointed umbrella vault.
On the floor in the center is a pool that is still used
for baptism. The upper frescoes are still original, but
the lower ones, which are easy to reach and touch, have
been repainted. The only original one at the lower level
is behind the altar.
The Duomo across the way in Piazza
Duomo was under renovation and almost completely covered.
The wooden doors are preceded by a porch supported by
stone lions. Above the doorway are sculptures
representing the months of the year. The interior is in
the shape of a Latin cross. The ceilings and walls are
covered by frescoes, which add warmth to the sober
medieval design. Huge pillars and archways define the
large and attractive side chapels. A 16th century red
Verona marble staircase leads up to the transepts. Above
the marble alter is the enormous void of the dome which
was frescoed by Correggio between 1526 and 1530 with the
"Assumption of the Virgin". The impression of a
swirling heavenward movement up through concentric
circles of clouds and heavenly hosts was Carreggio's
finest achievement of his illusionist work. This
masterpiece was so far ahead of its time that it did not
receive the approval of his clients, the clergy.
Carreggio quit the project before finishing the
decoration of the apse. It wasn't until fifteen years
later that the work was recognized as being very special.
It is truly spectacular!
Next door is the ancient church,
San Giovanni Evangelista, founded in the 10th century and
rebuilt for the Benedictine order between 1498 and 1510.
The intricate white marble Baroque facade contrasts with
the Renaissance architecture of the complex. The interior
of the church is well known for its cycle of frescoes by
Correggio. The twelve side chapels are decorated with
frescoes by other well known Emilian artists.
The entrance to the Benedictine
monastery is to the left of the church. The enormous
complex has three magnificent and elegant cloisters each
with attractive architecture and art. There are now
sixteen monks living and working in the monastery. There
is a shop where they display artifacts from the original
apothecary and sell herbs, lotions, shampoos, remedies,
etc. still made from ancient (some updated) formulae.
Parma is synonymous with opera and
the great yellow Teatro Regio on Via Garibaldi 16 is the
1400 seat theatre in which it comes to life. It was built
between 1821 and 1829 by order of Marie Louise. Its
neoclassical front has an Ionic portico. The first
performance was on 16th May 1829 featuring Vincenzo
Bellini's Zaira, which he composed just for the occasion.
The theatre is used for other musical events outside of
the opera season.
The bustling Piazza Garibaldi is not only
the geographic city center but is also the municipal
government center. The square is defined by several
imposing buildings. On the north side is the yellow (this
color dominates the buildings in Parma) Palazzo dei
Governatore with a long classical facade uniting two 13th
century buildings. There's a 17th century tower in the
middle with an 1829 sundial and a 1762 statue of the
Madonna and Child. There are popular cafes in front and a
bronze monument to Garibaldi.
Across the way is the imposing
brick Palazzo dei Comune. Alongside is a monument to
Correggio and opposite a 19th century fountain surmounted
by a 16th century bronze grouping with the figures of
Heracles and Antaeus. The municipal complex includes
other buildings of medieval origin.
The design of the Church of San
Pietro on the west side has a yellow facade with tall
white columns, a very unusual design for a church in
Just off of Piazza Garibaldi on
strada della Republica is the quaint "Color Viola,
one of Parma's oldest perfume shops. Featured here is the
essence of Parma called "Viola". It was the
favorite of Duchess Marie-Louise.
We stopped at Pizzeria il Poeta,
Via Garibaldi 21/A for a bit of lunch. This tiny take-away
was packed and with good reason. They offer pizza and
focaccia by weight plus various sandwiches. We chose
focaccia topped with melted cheese and Parma ham. The
dough, cheese and ham were individually outstanding and
the sum - yum!
The Palazzo della Pilotta is just
opposite the pizzeria and we passed through the grounds
to cross the river on Ponte G. Verdi to the twenty-hectare
Parco Ducale. The park was originally built for the Duke
of Parma and Piacenza, Ottavio Farnese. When he moved
into the Palazzo Ducale he wanted the green space for the
comfort of his court. Fortunately it was a glorious day
for us to take advantage of the Duke's wishes. Pathways
are designed to create various gardens each with
different trees and architectural elements such as
fountains, vases and statues.
The Palazzo Ducale is at the immediate right
of the entrance. It is fronted by 18th century statues of
divinities. The original center block was transformed and
enlarged by the addition of the four corner pavilions.
Today it is used by the Carabiniere. By the way, it is
yellow. Near the palace is the Teatro al Parco, a 1930s
design that was originally built for trade fairs but
later adapted to be a theatre. On the other side of the
park, opposite the Palace is the pretty Palazzetto
Eucherio Sanvitale. It is an H shaped building with four
corner towers connected by loggias and windows decorated
with sandstone candlesticks. The interior has remains of
Leaving the park we entered the
Oltretorrente area which history dates back to the llth
century. It had always been home to the working class. It
grew during the 12th and 13th centuries characterized by
hospices, monasteries and the first factories along its
banks. Those days seem to be long gone as it now appears
to be a thriving middle class neighborhood. The strada
Massimo D'Azeglio from Piazza F. Corridoni to Piazzale S.
Croce traces the religious history of the city.
The big, bold Chiesa della SS Annunciata is
at the start of the street marked by a tall tripartite
vestibule in the front. The large interior is oval-shaped
with high fluted pillars supporting the barrel vault
which is separated from the choir by a triumphal arch.
One of the side chapels presents a stunning model of a
nativity scene entitled Il Presepio di Padre Lino.
Ospedale Vecchio's partly porticoed
front stretches along strada M. D'Azeglio. This enormous
complex served as the city hospital until 1926. It now
hosts some public institutions as well as social and
commercial activities including antique shows on
Thursdays. In the middle of this huge building is the
tiny Oratorio di Sant'Ilario built in 1663. The wall and
ceiling are covered with pictorial decoration with
lunettes bearing the images of saints and blessed
At the end of the street are two
exquisite bell towers known as the Paolotti towers.
Across the way is Chiese Santa Croce, which faces the
huge Piazzale Santa. A funeral had just ended so we were
able to go inside to appreciate the lovely stone work,
frescoes and soft, relaxing colors.
We stopped at the branch of Lino's
Coffee Shop at strade M. D'Azegio 26 for what turned out
to be excellent coffee with the added advantage of happy
and friendly staff.
We crossed back to the city center
on Ponte di Mezzo and proceeded to our hotel to take
advantage of the Internet point and to freshen up before
La Gatta Matta, Borgo degli Studj 9/A,
telephone - 0521-231475 is cute, unpretentious osteria of
two rooms with a combination of wood paneling and yellow
(again) walls adorned with attractive posters. The
smiling owner seated us and introduced us to our English-speaking
waitress who turned out to be a sweetheart.
Lambrusco with a tart grape flavor
was a delicious way to start the meal. Our pastas were
outstanding. Cappelletti con brodo di cappone for me and
tortelli di radicchio Trevisano con salsa al gorgonzola
for Linda. Linda's costolette di agnello con riso basmati
e carciofi surpassed her high standards. The lamb chops
were well trimmed, beautifully grilled and tasted like
fresh from the farm. The rabbit guy had coniglio con
olive taggiasche and patate, chunks of tender rabbit
stewed with tomato, olives and herbs, an awesome
This wonderful meal was
unfortunately interrupted by a group of four young women
who got progressively louder as the wine took effect.
When we thought it was unbearable a group of fourteen
more were seated next to us. It was deafening but it did
not deter us from enjoying a luscious torta di ricotta
with raspberry sauce. Once again we ate extremely well at
very fair prices.
Parma is compact but overflowing
with worthwhile experiences. Tomorrow we leave for Lucca.
Rivarotta di Pasiano
Vicenza | Padova
Parma | Lucca | Firenze
Lucignano | Spello
Bevagna | Spoleto | Roma
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