Off to Padua this morning. My plans included three sites and two back-to-back guided walks, so deciding between the two morning train options pretty much got made for me – I had to catch the earlier train, leaving Venice at 9:10. So I was up before 8, cleaned, dressed and packed, and hauled my roller down two flights of stairs. After checking out, back to the Guglie bridge and then into the Santa Lucia Station. After getting through security at the entry to the train platform, I was able to walk to the third carriage and board, putting the luggage into the rack and finding a window seat on the north side.
#Padua, as the English call it, or #Padova as in Italy, is pretty close to due west and a half hour train ride. When planning the trip, I’d contemplated stopping there first, from Vicenza, but the opera performance on Tuesday was the deciding factor. Padua’s train station is one of those “thru stops”, with the tracks running east-west in two pairs, with 4 platforms.
When I arrived and go on the platform, I intended on heading south, so that meant stairs and a pedestrian subway. I was really getting to hate hefting that 50-pound bag up and down stairs.
Outside the station, I followed Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi due south almost a kilometer before making a right on the far side of Largo Europa. Modern, with glass and chrome, the Hotel Europa has 3-stars, 6 floors of rooms, and an efficient reception. A room on the third level was ready for me, so after checking in, I took the lift up and deposited my bag, taking only the light weight jacket as the weather was perfect.
Out the door and to the left, at the corner a left up three blocks, a right for 2 more and then followed the Via Dante Alighieri through more commercial storefronts.
Passing the Torre dell'Orologio across from the Piazza Dei Signori this astronomical clock had been built in the early fifteenth century. Another block and I was able to cross the Piazza Duomo. The Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta would close at noon, and with my schedule, this was my only opportunity to get inside.
The entry façade faces east, and there are two crossings, both with domes. The ends of the main transepts and apse are curved, and the higher dome, of lead, is there. With the various diocesan offices, the plaza and the historic chapel, the Baptistry of St John the Baptist, it occupies a large irregularly shaped hexagon. The plain brick entry façade, facing east, is “unfinished”, and has three simple entrance doors. To the left is the bishop’s residence, to the right the thirteenth century baptistry building.
Within, the interior is simple, relatively unadorned. The flooring is red, gray and white marble squares, the walls are white. The chapels and altars are tasteful while understated. I understood why I say that, once I reflect having been to the shrine and basilica, but this is the lesser major church in Padua. After roaming around the nave and viewing the presbytery, I went to the adjoining baptistry.
Octagonal, the walls and dome are packed with frescos. The central feature is the baptismal font, in the center of the room. An altar sits, set back from the room, with a stunning altarpiece/reredos. It is quite the contrast from the simplicity in the cathedral.
Next on my list was the Basilica Pontificia di Sant’Antonio. “Il Santo”, a place of pilgrimage, is the more significant church in Padua. (There are 8 international shrines recognized by Rome, and only one in Italy. Three are in Poland, and one each in India, Latvia and Portugal.) The walk was about a kilometer and a quarter, through mostly commercial/residential space, and took me 20 minutes at a stroll to reach the Piazza del Santo.
Raised to honor the Padovano Saint Anthony, the brick-clad basilica was built around the convent chapel where his will directed his body to be buried. With seven domes and a lantern with two spire-ing towers, it faces west with the high altar, apse and ambulatory to the east and a crossing about midway. It is so large, it is a difficult place to capture on a single shot – one of those times I wished for a drone.
Today is Ascension Thursday, a high holy day to Catholics, and sort of a holiday. I arrived about halfway through the lunch hour, so the crowds of visitors and pilgrims were a little less, and the queue to enter only took 15 minutes. (It also happens to be the birthday of my father’s Aunt Gladys.) The interior is highly ornate, with art everywhere, and gilding, filigree and appurtenances in abundance.
Onwards, but not necessarily upwards. Back to the Via del Santo with all its stores. A few turns, and I was at the University of Padua, and the Palazzo del Bo Anatomical Theater. The world’s oldest surviving anatomical theater in the place of the Ox (“Bo”) made it onto my list after an Atlas Obscura clip.
Plus Galileo Galilei had lectured here for 18 years at this university. How could I not visit? (When I was an undergrad, I worked part time at the Medical College, and walked into the anatomy lab countless times.) I had an hour, not long enough for the guided tour, but I was given a self-guided map to explore. The anatomical theater; the lecture hall, walls covered with memorials; arcades both inside and out. I could have spent hours, and want to take the tour next time.
At 2:30, I was outside, and I found my GuruWalk guide Olena and another couple from Germany. Olena is Ukrainian, a professional painter, and a student at the University in psychology. The Germans, Horst and Grete, are on holiday from near Hamburg, so my Hochdeutsch and their Plattdeutsch led to a few mixups. Olena had a very aggressive walk planned for us to understand Padova, maybe 6.5 kilometers.
Heading off from the University, we headed north to the Roman Amphitheater. A section of the elliptical wall is visible, and conservation is underway. At the Piazza Eremitani, we briefly visited the church, which has fragments of Mantegna frescoes. The Piazza Garibaldi is a big open square, the confluence of a number of thoroughfares, with a statue of the Virgin, and down one street, an old entry arch. Then, just down the street, we made a pit stop at Padron Caffé where Horst and I got a bottle of water while the women used the facilities.
Our next stop was the Church of St Nicholas, one of the oldest in Padua. A parish church, it has a number of art treasures, including the baptismal font. At the Piazza Capitaniato, we learned of the yellow-fronted palace on this plaza, where the ruling forces held sway for one period of Paduan history. Heading east, we came to the Piazza delle Frutta, the town square with the Ragione Palace facing it from the south. A vast market area, produce shops lined the front. Olena got a call, from her colleague Nadia, who was looking for me. I was to be her sole client for the walk which follow, and she was hoping to beg off. I was getting saturated with information, and agreed to let her have the evening off.
Heading to the north of the university, we walked down the Via Altinate. Beginning at the Porta Altinate, which we’d seen from the Piazza Garibaldi, we walked past countless retail stores, an army museum, several churches, the cultural center with dinosaurs, to where we turned to visit the church of St Sophia. Oldest church in Padua, it was built on the site of a Roman temple to Apollo. Exiting, we walked Via Santa Sofia to its end at the Church of St Francis, turning to follow Via San Francisco to Via Roma.
Turning down Via Roma, it is a main street, very commercial with clothing and jewelry shops, but also has the Chiesa dei Santa Maria dei Servi, which provides a covered arcade for a portion of the street. Just before the rotary which ends Via Roma, we turned right to walk along the canal which runs to the waterway which surrounds the city. We crossed a small bridge, continued with the canal to the right until we reached the end and crossed back to visit the Astronomical Observatory. Nice telescope!
Recrossing the canal, we headed to and walked down the Via Alberto Cavaletto, commercial, but more business oriented. A large park was off to our left, as we reached the Abbey and Basilica Church of Santa Giustina. Obviously a wealthy church, it was larger than the cathedral. From here we would be walking to the park Prato della Valle.
The largest “square” in Italy, it is a series of ellipticals alternating grass and water, with rectilinear walkways meeting at the center with a fountain. Pathways on either side of the water are lined with classic statues. We crossed from south to north, and then turned east to get to the Basilica of St Anthony. After describing the majesty and allure of the place, Olena ended the tour. Horst and Grete headed to the church, as the queue looked reasonable.
This is probably a good point to explain why Padua, besides the obvious – a cathedral. My grandfather, my mother’s father, had claimed #StAnthonyOfPadua as his patron saint. His middle name, once his parents corrected his first given name to a Christian one so he could be baptized, was Anthony. When I moved into New York City, where he’d lived his whole life, I was able to visit him in his flat – but I always came unannounced, as he would try to talk me out of coming if I alerted him first. And, yes, I still miss him even after 40 years. And will light a candle when I find a statue of St Anthony.
I walked back from the front of the church and began heading to the Monumento al Gattamelata, the bronze equestrian statue at the corner. Checking Maps, I was less than a kilometer and a half away from the hotel, probably a 20 minute walk if I didn’t dawdle. But I was going to stroll, as it was only a bit past 5. Following the Via della Santo again, I did more window shopping and people watching. As I approached the university complex, I crossed west a long block and started north again to Riviera Tito Livo.
Just beyond the corner was Sfizio break bar, and I decided I could use a break. Getting a glass of white wine, I selected a slice of torte from the display counter. Still hungry (but wanting to still have dinner later) I asked for water and one of their open-faced sandwiches – salami with pickled onion on a slice of baguette. Meanwhile, I had the journal out and was writing up my notes.
When I got to the next big corner, a remnant of a preChristian bridge stood in the median. There was a street name change, but I just kept plodding north, looking in windows and all about me. Then the street change into Largo Europa, and I was at the hotel. Greeting the folks at front desk, I related my excursions for the day, and then got to talking about my trip so far. I think there are a few jealous youngsters downstairs. Taking the lift, I went to my room and finished updating the journal, and then started the blog post. I didn’t need to eat until after 8, so that would give me time to get a good start.
Checking with the front desk, I asked for a place where I might get a rustic, Paduan meal. After a little dickering back and forth, the two young men agreed that Ostaria Al Traguardo should be perfect. They called and made sure I’d have a table, and gave me directions. Down the street and over a bridge, I was there in no time.
The menu was written in chalk on a board on the wall, all 6 items. Starting with a half carafe of Valpolicella. The ravioli to start, and it was one, and filled the plate. And it was delicious. To follow, a veal shank served on artichoke hearts. Just wonderful. A glass of limoncello to finish, and I was full and pleased. And they seemed happy with me too. I headed back to the hotel to finish this and then maybe do a little reading.