Also known as Padua to us English folk (because we like to confuse things with different but similar sounding place names) this was my second full day of solo travel. Only one train stop before Venice, it is well placed for tourists, and I would highly recommend extending your weekend get-away on the city of water to allow time for Padova also.
Though lesser known than many other Italian cities to foreigners, it holds quite as many attractions and landmarks, claiming both the largest piazza in Italy, and the second oldest and one of the leading universities of the country. Its history(with the university dating back to the 13th century) makes for exemplary architecture, and if you explore the insides, you will find hosts of beautiful artwork.
I was lucky enough to receive a full and free guided tour at the Scuola Della Carità, opposite Convento San Francisco, the half of which I understood (sorry to the volunteer, but apparently I can’t yet comprehend Italian as fully as the art world would wish) connected the several religious artworks with the local area’s history and other nearby monuments. It is certainly worthwhile to pop in after seeing the Convent of San Francisco, but watch out for the visiting times as they are rather irregular, depending on volunteers, and difficult to find online. Thankfully, I made a note whilst there: Thursday 10-12pm and 4-6pm; Friday 4pm-6pm, Saturday 10-12pm and 4-6pm.
Other must see places are the Duomo (cathedral) and Piazza Prato Della Valle. You will find the cathedral as one of the central attractions in nearly every Italian city, and if I’m honest I’d started to grow rather bored of them – there’s only so many ancient Popes’ artifacts and Virgin Mary artworks you can admire. Yet Padova’s Duomo rekindled my admiration. Though not especially exemplary from the outside (okay, it is beautiful, but not extravagantly more so than many others), the inside could be deemed in comparison with Milan’s, thought by many to be Italy’s greatest show of Catholicism. It holds some of the most interesting and intricate sculptures I have seen, on which (depicted below) I could have spent hours interpreting.
If you’re looking for a place to rest your feet, there is nowhere better than Piazza Prato Della Valle. It is not only the biggest piazza in Italy, but also one of the most beautiful. Okay, so when first stumbled upon it may seem simply a giant roundabout (or was that just me?), but you only need to cross the road to discover its strange tranquility amongst the surrounding traffic. And once again, it is a sculptures’ paradise – ever entrance bridge, along with the entire central piazza, is bordered by beautiful statues, as seen below.
There are also plenty of benches available throughout, but my personal favourite was by the central fountain, as it allowed a view of the entire surrounding area, as well as the peak of the Duomo. (It was also here where I began writing this post!) The piazza is perfectly placed as a resting spot for those starting their journey at the train station, since it rests on the opposite side of the central tourist areas: you can make you way from the station, through the centre, ticking off all the attractions, to reach Piazza Prato Della Valle and bask in the glory of your successful day.
Travel-wise, I highly recommend seeing the city by feet, for four main reasons:
1. It is well signposted for tourists, even more so than key tourist cities such as its neighbour Venice. I normally end up relying on my phone’s GPS at some point (I have yet to develop a good sense of direction), yet I found this unnesccesary in Padova, since every couple of streets had a tourist mpa detailing your whereabouts and nearby attractions. You would have to really try to get entirely lost here.
2. Save your pennies. There are several museums and attractions In Padova that you do, unfortunately, have to pay for. Okay, a bus ticket might only cost a few euros, but you’d save little time (the entire city centre is walkabout in half an hour) and that money could be better spent paying part of your entry to Cappella degli Scrovegni – a chapel containing some of the best preserved artworks dating back to the 14th century. (P.S. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of free attractions – I spent a day there are only €2.40, which went on a cappuccino and brioche).
3. Convenience – every city has traffic, and Padova is no different. Leave your car behind, and maybe even take the train there –the station is only a ten minute walk away from the first tourist spot, the Roman Ruins – head straight outside the station and you can’t go wrong.
4. You don’t want to miss a thing. Okay, so the tour bus might take you to all the “key” places, but is that really all you want to see? The same few landmarks a thousand other tourists flock to every weekend? On your feet you can always find something new, and take a picture that doesn’t resemble the ones from your guidebook. In Padova especially, it is easy to find such places: the architecture throughout the city is simply stunning, and there are some beautifully decorated piazzas and parks for when your feet grow tired.
Padova, along with Verona, now remains one of my most treasured Italian cities. It combines a beautiful historica landscape with an open, friendly atmosphere (likely added by the large student and international population provided by the university). So much so, that I even noted that pigeon’s friendliness – normally my nemesis, I found them strangely polite and accommodating to humans. Having only one afternoon to spend there, and working only as an aupair, I was short on time and money so missed out many important landmarks: Orto Botanico (Botanical Gardens), Basilica di Sant’Antonio (Saint Anthony’s Cathedral), Oratorio di San Giorgio (St George’s Oratory) and Cappella degli Scrovegni (Scrovegni’s Chapel) are four reasons for me to return to this haven as soon as possible. Yet it certainly stands for something that despite missing these apparent “must-sees”, I fell in love with Padova. Because if friendly pigeons don’t make a city to fall in love with, I don’t know what will.