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Padua: Home to some beautiful Italian Renaissance art

Nestled beside the rolling Euganei hills and bordering the farmland of Pianura Padana and the lake of Veneto lies the city of Padua (pronounced Padova by the Italians). Home to some of Italy’s most beautiful works of Renaissance art, the city of Padua grew from an ancient farming village to a major commercial and industrial center serving as the hub of communication for all of north-eastern Italy.

History of Padua

Padua was founded in the 10th century by Antenor, a man whose tomb still serves as one of the major tourist attractions in the city. The Romans declared Padua (Patavium) an official ally and Roman “civies" (town) around 43 B.C. The city was a valuable addition to the Roman Republic due to its great location and proximity to the prosperous city of Venice.


After the Romans, the city of Padua fell under the rule of many different hands, including the Longobards, Charlemange and the Hungarians, and the powerful Venetians, who held Padua for 300 years, until Bonaparte liberated the city in 1797. By 1813, however, Padua was once again under foreign rule, this time controlled by the Austrians. The city was finally liberated on July 11, 1866.

In 1174, the city was destroyed in a great fire, but was eventually completely reconstructed. Among the new additions to the city was the university, the second oldest in Italy, and one of the oldest in the world. Nicknamed the “Bo” or Ox after a certain medieval inn, the university boasted the Anatomic theatre, the first ever classroom dedicated to the study of anatomy. Built in 1594, this building is one of the few remaining original structures. Galileo is the university’s most famous professor, having taught physics there between 1542 and 1610.

Padua’s most famous patron, San Antonio, was living in the city during the period of the city’s reconstruction. Lovingly called “the patron and defender of the city” by its citizens, St. Anthony was renowned for performing various miracles, such as re-attaching lost limbs, aiding seekers of lost things and guiding pilgrims. St. Anthony died in 1231, and in testament to his memory the people erected the beautiful Basilica di San Antonio. The church itself is one of the major tourist attractions in Padua, designed with a blend of Romanesque and Byzantine styles and housing a beautiful high altar crafted by Donatello. St. Anthony’s feast is celebrated on June 13th by hundreds of pilgrims who all gather in the Piazza del Santo to pay homage to the saint’s memory.

Sights for Visitors

Padua has always attracted many visitors throughout its history, including some of the most gifted artists of the Renaissance. In the years following the death of the beloved St. Anthony, the city was budding with the artistry of those such as Mantegna, Titia, Giotto and Donatello. The collection of Early and Mid-Renaissance works that can be found in various churches and museums throughout Padua makes the city one of the major art centers in all of Italy. One of Padua’s most visited churches is the Basilica degli Scrovegni, or Arena Chapel. This gothic chapel features the most complete and best-preserved fresco cycle of Giotto, one of the greatest master painters of the Early Renaissance. The chapel itself is located right next to the ruins of the ancient Roman arena. Also nearby is the Eremitani museum, which includes a gallery exhibiting a large collection of works by Giotto, Bellini, Mantegna, and other Renaissance masters.

Among other sites not to be missed during a visit to Padua is the CafĂ© Pedrocchi. Located nearby the university, the cafĂ© has been a popular gathering spot for intellectuals, artists and students since the middle of the 19th century. The Prato della Valle, located only minutes from the train station, is a large sprawling field encircled by a channel and adorned with statues of famous historical personalities, as well as numerous cafes and shops. Other notable sites to visit include the “Orto Botanico”, or Botanical Gardens, originally planted to produce medicinal herbs and plants; the Palazio della Ragione, which lies between the Piazza della Frutta and the Piazza della Erbes, two large fruit and vegetable markets; the Basilica di Santa Giustina, built in the 15th century Baroque style; and the Benedictine monastery, which is located just outside the city.

Getting Around

Tourists can choose to explore the city by bus or by foot. Visiting the various museums can be made easier and more economical by purchasing a “biglietto unico”, which allows entrance to most of the city’s museums. It can be bought at participating museums or any tourist office. Padua is also a great base from which to travel to different cities in the north, including Verona and Venice. Trains run daily to and from each city, offering quick travel time and low fares.


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