A day in Ferrara in search of the city described by Giorgio Bassani, a writer from Ferrara, places in which imagination becomes real and where memory is made tangible by the evocative atmosphere.
And, in the city of bicycles, what better opportunity than to enjoy this experience by bike?
The route starts from Corso Giovecca, which links the medieval city and the Renaissance city, the "main street" of Ferrara, as Bassani calls it in the poignant poem Rolls Royce.
The road is mentioned in many stories and if we stop briefly with our eyes closed, characters from some of those pages could appear: Dr. Athos Fadigati (The gold rimmed glasses), or the students leaving the "Liceo Guarini" (Behind the door).
An unparalleled image of this street, almost like a vintage postcard, is also presented by the author in The stroll before dinner.
The ride down Corso Giovecca ends at Porta della Prospettiva and from there we carry on along the cycle path of the Mura di Alfonso as far as Torrione, where we take the wide path along the Mura degli Angeli embankment.
Today, the Walls of Ferrara, which were once the city’s formidable defensive bulwark at the time of the Este family, are a public park. By bicycle, on foot, running, the inhabitants of the town meet at any time to exercise or relax.
Even the characters of Bassani's stories find refuge along the walls to experience moments of serenity, like the lead character in The gold rimmed glasses who contemplates the sky at sunset behind the monumental mass of the Church of San Cristoforo.
There is also the atmosphere and the places mentioned in the famous novel The Garden of the Finzi-Contini, such as the dialogue between the protagonist and Micol, who were still teenagers. Following the internal cycle path, you reach the Jewish cemetery in via Vigne.
This setting is characterised by ancient gravestones and large green spaces that give it an atmosphere of calm and serenity.
The Garden of the Finzi-Contini begins with the commemoration of the cemetery and of one tomb in particular, the imposing, almost monumental one of Alberto Finzi-Contini.
Today, Giorgio Bassani is buried here; his tomb is indicated by the stelae of Arnaldo Pomodoro.
Leaving the cemetery, where many famous people are buried, we continue towards the nearby Certosa and Parco Massari.
The green areas and centuries-old trees (such as the cedars of Lebanon) of the Massari Park reminds us of Micol Finzi-Contini's tender and affectionate description of the trees in his much-loved garden and makes tangible the grandeur and beauty of the garden described in so much detail by Bassani that it becomes real.
Then continue along corso Ercole I d’Este, the road "as straight as a sword", as Bassani describes it in The Garden of the Finzi-Contini, following the same route as the young people in the novel who walked to Alberto and Micol's house and played on the tennis court in their garden after being expelled from the 'Eleonora d'Este' tennis club because of the racial laws in 1938.
At this point, we suggest that you take a break and sit in one of the numerous cafés in the historic centre and soak up the atmosphere of the city or have lunch and enjoy some of the gastronomic specialities of Ferrara cuisine.
The route resumes from the Estense Castle, the fortress and ducal residence, which with its mighty size dominates the city. On the night of 15 November 1943, the Castle became the scene of a dramatic massacre in which eleven opponents of the fascist regime were shot, which Bassani recalls in his story A night in '43, one of the Five stories of Ferrara: “Who does not remember what happened on the night of 15 December 1943 in Ferrara? … It was an interminable anguished vigil for everyone… ”.
Florestano Vancini, the film director from Ferrara, was inspired by this story for the film The long night of '43.
The route then continues into the streets of the ancient Jewish ghetto.
A short ride away is Via Mazzini, once called via Sabbioni, which is the main street of the Jewish ghetto. The Synagogue (closed for restoration) can be distinguished by the plaques on its façade in memory of the deportation of 1943, which inspired Bassani to write the story A Plaque on Via Mazzini. It tells the story of Geo Josz, a veteran of concentration camps, who attempts to adapt to the general desire to forget what happened, but following an episode that everyone refers to as "an enigma", he returns to take on the role of a deportee to bear witness to a tragedy that people want to forget, but finds himself increasingly isolated.
Continue along the nearby Via Vittoria, one of the streets of Ferrara’s ancient Jewish ghetto whose name marks the end of segregation, “quando i cancelli del ghetto erano stati abbattuti a furor di popolo” (when the ghetto gates had been pulled down by a fervent crowd), as Salomone Corcos recalls in The stroll before dinner.
In the same street there was the Spanish synagogue, a building donated by Duke Ercole I d’Este to the Jewish refugees who arrived from Spain in 1493.
Crossing the piazza named after the doctor and philosopher Isacco Lampronti, you reach via Vignatagliata.
The Jewish School can be found on this street. The school was closed after the doors of the ghetto were demolished, but it was reopened after the promulgation of the racial laws in order to provide refuge and give the possibility of studying to children of different scholastic levels after 1938. Bassani himself taught for some time in this school and transposed his experience in the character of Bruno Lattes in the short story The final years of Clelia Trotti.
A plaque, next to the entrance door, remembers that this was for a long time a place dedicated to education and a witness to the persecution of the Jewish people.