Sheltered by its mighty walls, Ferrara has welcomed visitors for centuries, seducing them with the charm and atmosphere of its historic town centre and a jealously guarded culinary tradition.
Secluded in a corner of Italy not far from Venice, here the ideas of the Middle Ages were transformed into the Renaissance thanks to the foresight of the Este dynasty, a noble family who, from 1200 AD onwards, made this city into one of the most important European capitals of thought and culture.
Under Este rule, Ferrara became a benchmark for art, music, architecture and urban planning. For three centuries, generations of artists and literati have found their source of inspiration here, taking part in the creation of a cultural heritage that is so significant that it was recognised as a World Heritage site in 1995.
All this is still visible today. In fact, the historic centre of Ferrara has maintained an admirable elegance and a perfect balance. One of the greatest minds of all this was the architect Biagio Rossetti who, to the backdrop of the Este Castle, created a new, modern neighbourhood, the so-called Herculean Addition, considered the first, true example of modern urban planning.
Next to the earlier medieval area, large avenues, gardens and squares began to be built, protagonists of a new idea of the aesthetic and functional celebration of the Este Lordship. Everywhere splendid mansions, such as Palazzo dei Diamanti sprang up, now a wonderful exhibition space; Palazzo Schifanoia, designed for the amusement and diplomatic activities of the court; Palazzina Marfisa Este, Palazzo Bonacossi and Palazzo Costabili, now home to the National Archaeological Museum.
The city became a forge for art. Great painters like Cosmè Tura, Dosso Dossi and Garofalo worked in the heady, stimulating and creative atmosphere, which, in a short time, also brought scholars, scientists and writers to the court, such as Pietro Bembo, Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso.
However, the activities of the Este family were not confined to the city alone, and during their reign they also invested in their entire surrounding territory through careful landscape planning centred around their country residences, the so-called Delizie (such as the Belriguardo at Voghiera, Del Verginese at Portomaggiore and, finally, Mesola Castle). Many of these have disappeared today, but the layout of that ancient design, which is still legible in the landscape, is a testament to man’s uninterrupted work on land and water, which is also recognised as a World Heritage site.