Padua is a city rich in art, culture, history, and gastronomy. Also known as the city of the Saint, Padua can be visited in any weather and in any season, as it boasts twelve kilometers of arcades under which you can walk when it rains.
Things to do in Padua
The itinerary to follow to visit the historic center on foot starts from the railway station. Not far from here, in fact, along Corso del Popolo, after about 700 meters, is the Scrovegni Chapel, a building that houses the most important cycle of frescoes in the world, created by Giotto between 1303 and 1305. The Chapel, which is located in Eremitani square n. 8, was built in the area of the ancient Roman arena, purchased in the fourteenth century by a wealthy Paduan family of bankers, the Scrovegni.
Under the starry sky of the vault, episodes from the life of Joachim and Anna, those from the life of Mary and the life and death of Christ are depicted. Giotto took only two years to complete the frescoes. With the Scrovegni Chapel, Giotto began the revolution of modern painting. The visit lasts a total of 30/40 minutes: in the first 15/20 minutes, you enter into the compensation room to stabilize the internal microclimate and watch a video on the Paduan monuments and on the frescoes you are about to see. In the following 15/20 minutes, however, you can access the spectacular Scrovegni Chapel and admire Giotto’s frescoes in all their splendor.
Church of the Eremitani
In the same square, at number 9, is the Church of Santi Filippo e Giacomo (known as the Eremitani), built-in 1276 and which unfortunately suffered a lot of damage during the Second World War. The frescoes inside are very interesting (even if at first glance the church is a bit bare). Admission is free.
A few meters from the Scrovegni Chapel there are also the Civic Museums which are divided into the Archaeological Museum (ground floor) and the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art (first floor).
The Archaeological Museum collects artifacts from the Paleovenetian, pre-Roman and Roman periods and an Egyptian section with the findings of the extraordinary Paduan explorer Giovan Battista Belzoni. The Museum of Medieval and Modern Art instead collects works by the great masters of Italian painting in the period from 1300 to 1800. The most important work of art in the collection is Giotto’s Crucifix, which was previously on the altar of the Scrovegni Chapel. There are also numerous works of art by Venetian painters: Boccaccio Boccaccini with the “Madonna and Child”, Veronese, Tintoretto with the “Dinner at Simone’s house” and “The Crucifixion”, Giambattista Tiepolo with “San Giuseppe with the Child”, “Madonna” and “Christ in the garden of olives”. It takes a long time to visit this place, as the gallery is very large.
With the same ticket used to visit the Civic Museums, it is also possible to enter Zuckermann Palace (Corso Garibaldi n.33), which is located on the opposite side of the road, inside which is the Bottacin Museum and the Museum of Applied and Decorative Arts.
Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua
The other important monument in Padua to absolutely visit is the Basilica of Saint Anthony, built starting from 1232 to house the remains of the Franciscan friar. The Paduans call Saint Anthony “The Saint”, without adding the name. This makes us understand not only the affection but also the importance of the Basilica that houses the relics of Saint Anthony.
The Basilica of Saint Anthony is also worth a visit for the presence of many masterpieces of Italian art. The first thing you notice is the coexistence of different styles due to the several interventions: the Romanesque facade, the seven Gothic chapels, the Byzantine domes and the Moorish bell towers. Inside, starting from the right, there are the Gattamelata Chapel and the Chapel of San Giacomo, frescoed in 1300 by Andriolo de Santi, one of the greatest Venetian architects and sculptors of the time. Immediately after there is the Chapel of the Crucifixion and then the Chapter Hall, with a fragment of the Crucifixion attributed to Giotto. The “Treasury of the Basilica” with the relics of the Saint is located in the apse. In several display cases, the intact tongue and chin of Saint Anthony are visible. Before leaving the basilica it is also possible to visit the beautiful cloister.
In the square in front of the basilica do not miss the equestrian monument to Gattamelata, a bronze statue by Donatello: it was the first large equestrian statue made outside architectural elements.
Botanical Garden of Padua
From Piazza del Santo, take Via Orto Botanico and continue to the end of the street. This leads to the Botanical Garden of Padua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. It is the oldest university botanical garden in the world, founded in 1545 to help students recognize medicinal plants. The plants are arranged in well-defined flower beds, according to thematic collections such as poisonous plants, rare and endangered plants, medicinal plants and many others. Inside the Garden of Biodiversity, established in 2014, the climatic zones of the Earth (tropical rainforest, subhumid tropical forest, temperate areas, Mediterranean areas and arid areas) have been reproduced.
The Basilica of Saint Anthony takes much of the attention of tourists visiting Padua, overshadowing the city’s Cathedral and Baptistery. The Cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, was built starting from 1522 on a project by Michelangelo Buonarroti.
The façade, on which the three portals open, is incomplete while the interior is large and harmonious. Much more beautiful is the Baptistery adjacent to the Cathedral with a cycle of frescoes considered the masterpiece of Giusto de ‘Menabuoi. The dome is frescoed with hundreds of angels and saints, with Christ Pantocrator at the center of the scene. On the other walls are represented “Stories of Genesis”, “Prophets and evangelists” and “Stories of Christ and the Baptist”.
Padua Antique Markets
But Padua is not only famous for its churches and museums. For centuries Piazza delle Erbe has been the place in Padua for the market as well as the commercial center of the city. Vegetables were sold in this square. Behind Piazza delle Erbe, divided by the Palazzo della Ragione, is the other commercial square in Padua: Piazza della Frutta (Square of the fruit). Also in this case the name clarifies its origin, even if it now hosts a market where clothes are sold almost exclusively.
The two squares are joined by the “Volto della Corda” (passage of the rope), a covered passage so called because here liars, cheaters and debtors were hit on the back with a rope. The ropes always remained hanging from five stone rings fixed in the wall as a warning. The corner under the “Volto della Corda” takes the name of “Canton delle busie” (corner of lies) because the traders held their negotiations here. The white stones with the ancient Paduan measures are still visible today, a reference to prevent sellers from cheating customers.
Palazzo della Ragione
The most imposing palace and symbol of Padua overlooks Piazza delle Erbe: the Palazzo della Ragione, an amazing Palace built in the 13th century. It was the seat of the Court, from which it takes its name. The Paduan people also call it “The Hall” because the first floor is actually a single room shaped like a hall, for many centuries the largest in the world, which can be accessed from Piazza delle Erbe.
The interior of the building is amazing: a single room 80 meters long and 27 meters wide, completely frescoed. The pictorial cycle inside the palace is one of the largest in the world: zodiacal, astrological, religious and animal motifs follow one another, symbolizing the activities of the city, in the different periods of the year and the intervention of the judges of the palace to derive the questions. In front of the Hall (next to the Town Hall) is the “Palazzo delle Debite”, used as a prison which could be accessed directly from the Palazzo della Ragione with a passage now destroyed. The raised portico is also very impressive, allowing you to have a view from above of the entire Piazza delle Erbe.
Prato della Valle
Continuing the tour you will arrive at Prato della Valle, a large square that is second only to Moscow’s Red Square by total extension. To understand how big it actually is, just think that it is made up of a central island, completely green, called “Isola Memmia” in honor of the mayor who commissioned the work.
Around the island there is a channel of about 1.5 km in circumference, surrounded by a double row of numbered statues (there are 78) of famous people of the past. To reach the central island there are 4 crossed avenues with relative bridges over the canal. Prato della Valle is located in a place that has always been the fulcrum of Padua’s life: here there was a large Roman theater and a circus for horse racing. In the Middle Ages, fairs, jousting and public celebrations took place. Today in Prato della Valle tourists and Paduans walk, cycle or sunbathe in the summer.
Palazzo del Bo
In the historic center of the city there are streets with arcades and elegant cafes frequented by students of the University of Padua, founded in 1222. Its historical seat is in the Palazzo del Bo, in via VIII Febbraio n. 2 (the building takes its name from an old butcher’s shop) where people such as Leon Battista Alberti, Galileo Galilei, Niccolò Copernico have passed. The University of Padua was born as a center of legal studies and only later was it extended to other disciplines such as medicine, philosophy, theology and astronomy.
Among its main attractions we mention the Anatomical Theater, commissioned by Girolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente in 1594: it is an extraordinary walnut wood theater that allowed students to watch the autopsies on the bodies from above. Palazzo Bo is visible only with a guided tour lasting about 45 minutes. It starts from the Aula Magna, now used for the most important ceremonies, to then move on to the “Sala dei Quaranta”, so called for the forty portraits of foreign students, where there is the wooden Chair from which Galileo Galilei taught mathematics and physics from 1592 to 1610. Then we arrive at the Anatomical Theater, built in 1594, the oldest in the world and in excellent condition. In the small room next to it there is a small dedicated exhibition.
Piazza dei Signori
Last but not least we have Piazza dei Signori, the square of the city full of cafè and bars where you can meet for an aperitif. At the bottom of the square you can see the Palazzo del Capitanio, in the past the seat of a Venetian captain who was in command of the city when Padua was under the dominion of Venice. At the center of the building is the Clock Tower, one of the oldest in Europe.
What to eat in Padua
The Paduan cuisine is based on the vegetables that can be grown in the home gardens and on the animals that are raised in the courtyard.
Therefore, dishes based on Paduan hen abound but also goose, capon, duck, guinea fowl, dwarf cockerel and the most common chickens. From these ingredients are born the typical dishes of the tradition: among the first courses, we have the “bigoli” (thick and rough spaghetti) and the very traditional “risotto”: “risi e bisi” (rice and peas) but also with asparagus, or radicchio . Bigoli go beautifully with “Oca in Onto”, boneless goose meat, salted and preserved in its own fat, also used as a main course. Among the first courses we also have pasta and beans, soup with cabbage or other vegetables. Second courses also follow the tradition: mixed boiled meat, goose ham, salami, sausage and cotechino. But also horse and mule-based cold cuts. Among the desserts to try, the fugassa Padovana (focaccia), the “figassa” (fig cake), the “smegiassa” (with raisins) and the “sbrisolona”. There is also a long pastry tradition linked to Saint Anthony with “Pan del Santo”, “Dolce del Santo”, “Amarettoni” and “Merletti”. Each lunch opens with a very classic Spritz aperitif and ends with the grappa liqueur. For wines, you are spoiled for choice.