I never weary of great churches. It is my favourite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral – Robert Louis Stevenson.
Okay! I made it to Italy! Big time!
I have landed in no other city than Venice. Is it a sign this new travel will be a thrilling and dramatic one?
So, it seems like my au-pair experience has started. I will write further on the subject in a later article.
For now, I am going to focus on the amazing city of Padua. I have visited the place several times already, and I am amazed at how much there is to see for such an unknown place abroad. True! I mean every time I said I was going to Padua, people gave me the contorted face of ignorance. As soon as I said ‘between Venice and Verona’, people’s faces immediately illuminated (‘oh yeah! Right! Nice!’)
So, it happens like Padua is a really nice place. Let’s see what can interest you.
I am going to start with religious places.
Well, you are in Italy. One of the only countries left where people’s life is still rhythmed by church bells. What I found out while discussing with my host family is that Padua’s region, the Veneto, is a very religious area of Italy. People still depend upon the Church and its charities a great deal. As a matter of fact, when they need money and benefits, they turn to their parishes…not to their politicians. In a few words, you won’t escape the religious aspect of the country, so embrace it fully and visit the many churches, cathedrals, chapels… that Italy has to offer.
1) Santa Giustina Di Padova.
A bit of history:
Santa Giustina is an ‘Abbazia’ and a ‘Basilica’ (abbey and basilica). The actual building dates back from the 16th century, though an older edifice can be traced back from the 12th century, and an even older one from the 5th century. The abbey is said to have been built on the place of Giustina’s martyrdom. Giustina (Justina) was a young virgin from Padua who was made a Saint by the Catholic Church. She was such an iconic figure of Padua that she became the Holy Patroness of the city.
(Just so you know, the dinosaur is not there normally…)
The whole construction can seem a bit gloomy and dark. The stones seem dusty and bland, and the imposing façade and front porch leave you awestruck. Unless you possess a very nice and efficient camera, you actually won’t be able to take a decent picture of the whole architecture. You cannot take pictures of the inside unfortunately (it is the case for a lot of free churches in Italy) But, look at this impressive block! The good thing is that you cannot miss it from afar!
Tip: if you wonder what to visit first, I would say go to Santa Giustina. It is central and facing the Prato Della Valle, the bigger square in Padua, which makes it ideal to start off your discovery of the city.
2) Basilica Sant’Antonio Di Padova
A bit of history:
The basilica is the place where Sant’Antonio (Saint Anthony) is buried. Saint Anthony was originally born in Lisbon, Portugal. After a short life of preaching around Europe, he died of exhaustion in Padua where his body still supposedly rests to these days. The basilica is also named ’The basilica of The Saint’, making of Saint Anthony the imposing symbol of Padua. From Sant’Antonio di Lisbona, he was renamed Sant’Antonia di Padova, tightening the link between ‘Il Santo’ and the city. You will encounter ‘Il Santo’ everywhere: from shops’ names to typical cakes. Saint Anthony has the peculiarity to be prayed in order to recover a lost object or person. The construction of the basilica started a year after The Saint’s death which happened in 1231. It was built on the grounds of an already existing church. People come from all around the world to pray for Saint Anthony. He is one of the most important saints in Christian’s faith.
Here is the biggest attraction of the city! And what an attraction! I mean…C’mon!
Not convinced yet? Oh…you are a really difficult reader who has seen it all, uh? Unfortunately, I cannot show you pictures of the inside of the church as pictures are once again forbidden (in order to take pictures of Saint Anthony’s tomb, you can do an offering to the basilica) Nevertheless, I promise you the second most luxurious decorations after the Vatican. You cannot even start to imagine how rich and borderline indecent it is inward. Marble statues and bas-reliefs, golden structures and frescoes on every wall. If you are lucky, you will enter the grounds while a mass is taking place. The ambient fervour will make it even more otherworldly. Just raise your head, and behold. Believe me, you will spend a long time watching out for everything that Sant’ Antonio encompasses.
When you think the visit to be over, sadly following the big sign that indicates the exit, you may well just be starting to discover the best part of the church. You arrive in the main cloister, and you are finally free to take pictures! (victory!!!)
The strangest thing happened to me when I went out in the sunlight. I was even more impressed by the cloister than by the beauty of the innards. It was perhaps an aftershock… The basilica is composed of a multitude of cloisters. It means that when you walk along the curve of the first cloister, you find another cloister…and another one! In this never-ending maze, you will be pleased to discover new statues, busts, bas-reliefs, gardens, paintings… (and you will eventually find the toilets)
Do you understand now why I said to go and see Santa Giustina first? If you do it after Sant’Antonio, you will be disappointed.
3) Il Duomo
A bit of history:
The Cathedral is a fairly recent realisation. The actual construction was only finished in the 18th century. It took two centuries to re-build the edifice after it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 12th century.
A ‘Duomo’ in Italian is a cathedral. In Padua, it is situated right in the city centre. Its convenient location makes it almost insignificant or invisible. When I entered, I did not know it was the Cathedral. I would never have imagined it to be. Upon my discovery, I felt a pinch of disappointment. I expect cathedrals to be grand and impressive, but well, after having seen Santa Giustina and Sant’ Antonio, for what can you hope?
Obviously, these are solely the main religious monuments of Padua. You have dozens of other churches scattered in the whole of the city. For instance, I live near two churches myself. Walk around, take the bus and you will be sure to find a religious place. All churches are free in Padua. You do not find this in every city in Italy, so take the chance to visit a few of them. They represent and contain the finest art that Italy ever produced.
I hope this first article will make you want to visit Padua,
I M Gullivering.