Day 35: To Ravenna via Ferrara

The day was spent in Ferrara as we headed to Ravenna. Ferrara is the centre of the city-state ruled by the d’Este dynasty, whose court was one of the most lavish and cultured in Renaissance Italy. Population over 130,000 on the Po di Volano, a branch of the Po River. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was an Etruscan city in the 6th century. In 1264 Obizzo II d’Este was proclaimed lifelong ruler of Ferrara, taking the additional titles of Lord of Modena in 1288 and of Reggio in 1289. His rule marked the end of the communal period in Ferrara and the beginning of the Este rule, which lasted until 1598. It then became part of the Papal States.

Counts, marquises and dukes received their titles either through the Pope or the Holy Roman Emperor. In Ferrara, it was the Pope. The title holders were vicars and held their titles on sufferance and could be lost should the Pope or Emperor decide, so their position was vicarious, which is the derivation of the word’s modern usage.

Palazzo Schifanoia was an Este retreat much like Palazzo Te and Palazzo San Sebastiano in Mantova. We went to see the elaborate astrological frescoes. The name “Schifanoia” is thought to originate from “schivar la noia” meaning literally to “escape from boredom” which describes accurately the original intention of the palazzo where the Este court relaxed.

The allegorical frescoes with details in tempera by Francesco del Cossa and others, possibly Cosmè Tura, were executed ca 1469–70. Salone dei Mesi (Hall of the Months) pagan cycle of the months is an allegorical pageant with the Olympian gods presiding on their fanciful carts drawn by the beasts, with appropriate personifications of the constellations of the zodiac and figures believed to represent Babylonian or earlier depictions of star patterns. The scheme came perhaps from the court astrologer, Pellegrino Prisciani, with some details drawn from Boccaccio’s Genealogia Deorum (Genealogy of the Pagan Gods) as well as ancient texts.

Dr. D-S interprets them as the stars or fates dictating what went on below on earth.

They were covered up after Ferrara became a Papal State and not rediscovered until the 19th century. The poor state of some of the walls was largely due to using secco or dry fresco and not buon fresco where the paint is applied to wet plaster, a more difficult technique.

A different room where the ruler dispensed justice, i.e. a Renaissance courtroom:

Also some illuminated manuscripts, some showing Medieval musical notation:

Ferrara cathedral, Basilica Cattedrale di San Giorgio, originally of Romanesque design, was almost completely redone in 16th and 18th centuries. There are Gothic elements in upper levels.

The Renaissance campanile some say was designed by Alberti but Dr. D-S strongly doubts that attribution as there is no documentary evidence.

We could not go inside because of restoration work but we could go to the Cathedral Museum where like the Baptistery in Mantua there are Medieval sculptures of the months of the year.

Below, the ancient organ doors depicting the Annunciation and Saint George and the Dragon by Cosmè Tura, leader of the fifteenth-century Ferrarese school.

Castello Estense or Castello San Michele, a moated 15th-century stronghold built to protect the Este family, is now mostly government offices.

To accommodate the growth of Ferrara, in 1492 the Duke Ercole I d’Este demolished the medieval walls of the city on the north, and had the court architect, Biagio Rossetti, design an urban expansion known as the Addizione Erculea. Palazzo Diamante at the prestigious intersection of what was the ancient Roman Decumanus Maximus and Cardo Maximus marked the beginning of a Renaissance addition to the city. Too bad it was raining too much to take photos of the streets which retain their Renaissance character.

Built between 1493 and 1503, the most striking feature is the bugnato of the exterior walls: it consists of some 8,500 white (with pink veins) marble blocks carved to represent diamonds, hence its name.

We then headed to Ravenna, located in Emilia Romagna, but with a unique history. It is now landlocked but during ancient Roman times had a harbour. After the Roman Empire split into east and west, the western capital was eventually shifted from Rome to Ravenna and served as the capital until the end of the western Roman Empire. It subsequently became capital of Ostrogothic and Byzantine Italy. During that period Early Christian and Byzantine building were constructed and contain the best-preserved concentration of mosaics. It has 8 UNESCO Wolrd Heritage buildings. Current population is about 160,000.

It had been raining fairly heavily all day and as we were driving to Ravenna, the tour manager received a call advising that all the monuments in Ravenna would be closed the next day because of flooding. He and Dr. D-S quickly decided to stop in Classe, very near to Ravenna. Classe was part of Ravenna’s port, which was once one of the largest in the Roman world. It’s current population is only around 2,000 and virtually all that is left of its Roman past is the great Basilica di Sant Apollinare, an early Christian basilica consecrated in 549.

The Byzantine mosaics are of subjects closely linked to the fight against Arianism, as it restates both the divine and human nature of Christ, the former negated by the Arians.

The church also contains 5th and 6th century sarcophagi.

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