Padua, or Padova in Italian, is a quiet little city in the Veneto area of northern Italy. Unlike its illustrious neighbors Venice and Verona, Padua sees much less tourist traffic making it an ideal place to spend a few hours wandering its dense network of arcaded streets where you’ll find lazy piazzas, artwork by famous Renaissance artists including Donatello and Giotto, a university, bridges, and several churches including a Duomo and a Basilica.
Padua is the setting for Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Although it’s not really certain whether the Bard actually spent time in the area it was clearly a region he liked. He set several plays in the Veneto including The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen From Verona, and of course the tragic romance Romeo and Juliet which was set in Verona.
Padua is situated on the Bacchiglione River 25 miles west of Venice. The Brenta River once ran thru the city and still touches its northern part. In fact the Brenta Riviera Cruise from Padua to Venice departs daily from the historic Burchiello’s Stairway at Portello the city’s ancient river port. This slow boat takes tourists down the Brenta River, thru its canals, and stops at historic villas once home to the Venetian elite. That’s a day long excursion from Padua and ends in Venice in the late afternoon.
Other than the river the city is home to the University of Padua one of Europe’s oldest universities founded in 1222. Galileo Galilei lectured at this same university between 1592 and 1610. It is still a bustling university today!
In Padua one can visit “Il Santo” as the locals call the Basilica di Sant’ Antonio da Padova the most celebrated Paduan church. It houses the bones of the saint in the chapel richly decorated with carved marble and the works of great artists including Sansovino and Falconetto. The church is dedicated to St. Antonio of Padua aka St. Antonio of Libon, the Portuguese Franciscan who spent part of his life and died in the city.
This Basilica is one of the eight international shrines recognized by the Holy See in Rome.
Although Il Santo is the city’s beloved church it is not the titular cathedral of the city. That honor belongs to the Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta a church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is the seat of Padua’s Bishop. The current structure dates from the 16th. century and its construction involved Michelangelo.
A must see for art lovers is the Cappella degli Scrovegni. The chapel situated in a small church next to the Augustinian monastery contains a fresco by Giotto that is considered to be a masterpiece of western art.
Another Basilica with beautiful chapels and artwork is the one adjoining the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Giustina.
The abbey and its adjoining Basilica faces the Prato della Valle. The church was built in the 520s to house the remains of St. Justina of Padua and other Christian martyrs of the city. The interior is home to chapels dedicated to various saints and is decorated with ornate multi colored marble from quarries in France, Genoa, Padua, and Carrara.
Statues and paintings throughout the church were done by various artists.
My favorite place in the city is the Prato della Valle. It’s 90,000 sq. meter elliptical “square” in the city.
It’s border is defined by a moat that is ringed by 2 rows of statues depicting Padua’s elite citizens of old. There are 4 bridges that span the moat and allows you to enter the huge green space where you’ll find the fountain in the center.
The Prato della Valle is a great place to let the kiddies burn off all that pent up energy while the adults relax on one of the low walls or on the grass.
At certain times of the year the square hosts concerts, markets, fairs, and other events.
The square is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and cafes. It really is a great space to relax after wandering this charming city!
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