The itinerary leads you between the city and the territory of Ferrara, to discover the women who have marked the course of events in the history of the Este family, between Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The route tells about the city and its history through a visit to fascinating and more hidden places such as monasteries, historic palaces and cozy and refined residences, giving voice to the women linked to the Estense Court: duchesses, nuns, courtesans and young brides, protagonists of events of love and blood.
The Delizia del Verginese, the last stop of the journey, is a small jewel immersed in the green countryside of Ferrara and tells the love story between Duke Alfonso I d’Este and the beautiful Laura Dianti.
The route starts from the Monastery of S. Antonio in Polesine, which is home to the cloistered Benedictine nuns. It contains frescoes from the Giotto school, painted between the end of the thirteenth century and the middle of the fourteenth century. Beatrice d’Este, daughter of Azzo VII, who lived in the thirteenth century, was the founder of the religious community that gained importance around her personage over time. After her death in 1262, the tomb inside the convent became a pilgrimage destination, also because of the miracle that takes place every year in the winter: miracle water mysteriously drips from the stone that covers her ancient tomb and is collected by the nuns.
Visiting the internal church, which is reserved for the nuns, is a deeply touching experience both for the uncorrupted atmosphere you can breathe and for the works of art it contains. The nuns continue to live here and early in the morning, you can hear their mass being sung with the melodies of Gregorian chants.
Walking along the ancient streets of the medieval village you reach the Church of S. Maria in Vado and the Convent of Corpus Domini located in an area, which in the Middle Ages was one of the most elegant in Ferrara, just a few steps away from via di San Francesco and the building belonging to the Este family located on that road.
Founded in 1406 and approved under the rules of Santa Chiara in 1431, the monastery owes its fame to Santa Caterina Vegri, a young woman of noble origins who abandoned the luxuries of the court, where she lived, to retire to religious life. A mystic and writer, she lived here until 1456. She was declared a saint in 1712 because of a miracle linked to the baking of loaves.
Inside, the public church and the choir room can be found, where famous people of the Este family are buried, including Ercole II, Eleanor of Naples, Alfonso I and his second wife, the famous Lucrezia Borgia. She was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, became the Duchess of Ferrara in 1502. She lived in the Estense Castle for 17 years and administered power wisely. She was educated, although not a true intellectual, and was surrounded by poets and scientists, including Ercole and Tito Vespasiano Strozzi, Niccolò da Correggio, Celio Calcagnini, Giraldi and Tebaldeo.
Casa Romei can be found in the same block and is joined to the convent. It was built by the merchant Giovanni Romei in the mid-15th century. It was extended and embellished on the occasion of his marriage to Polissena d'Este in 1460. Among the precious decorations found inside is the lady with a white unicorn, which alludes to the coming of the young bride. The suggestive and elegant residence contains a late Gothic style courtyard, the Room of the Sibyls and the Prophets, wooden ceilings and frescoed vaults that constitute a unique artistic corpus in Ferrara.
In front of Casa Romei stands the Palace known as Renata di Francia, which commemorates the protestant duchess, wife of Ercole II d’Este and daughter of King Louis XII of France. The palace was called the “golden prison” as it housed the rebellious duchess who was dismissed from the court for having embraced Calvinist thinking.
While walking through the maze of ancient alleyways, you might like to make a short detour to Via Cammello where you can stop in front of the Casa di Stella dell’Assassino, which recalls the beautiful mistress of Niccolo' III d'Este, Stella de' Tolomei, the mother of the unfortunate Ugo and the brothers Leonello and Borso who managed to rise to power thanks to their paternal legitimacy.
We are in the streets of the ancient "Castrum", a military-type settlement which constitutes the first generating nucleus of the city of Ferrara and which is identified in the system of horseshoe-shaped streets that are articulated around via Porta San Pietro; according to authoritative studies, it was founded by the Byzantines of Ravenna in the seventh century to counter the Lombard invasion.
You can walk through medieval streets where time seems to have stopped and which offer very suggestive glimpses.
A short walk away is the Cathedral dedicated to San Giorgio, patron saint of the city of Ferrara.
The building, built around 1135, is a symbol of the municipal period of the city and has a beautiful marble facade, which is characteristic due to its blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The interior, which underwent a major renovation in the eighteenth century, changed the physiognomy of the church. It is partially accessible with “work in progress”, which is bringing to light ancient capitals and columns.
It is said that the central nave contains the gravestone of Marchesella degli Adelardi, a descendant of the noble Guelph family, who died prematurely in 1186 at the age of 8 after having been fiercely disputed between the noble families of the city divided between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.
In front of the Cathedral, one can admire the Ducal Palace, the first residence of the Este Court: today it is the town hall but on weekdays you can ask the ushers if you can visit the intimate and suggestive Stanzino delle Duchesse, which was designed for the daughters of Duke Ercole II, Eleonora and Lucrezia d’Este.
The dressing room well represents the taste and extraordinary sophistication of the Este family with its decorations created between 1556 and 1560 by the Filippi family, painters who were active in the Castle and other Este palaces. The two sisters had different destinies, but for a long time they were both protagonists of the Duke's court, protecting musicians and writers including the tormented poet Torquato Tasso.
You can't leave Ferrara without stopping at the city's symbolic monument: the Estense Castle.
Built as a fortress at the behest of Niccolò II d’Este in 1385, it was later transformed into a ducal residence.
The fate of many women of the Este court was decided here, where the tragic love story between the young Ugo, son of Niccolò III d’Este and the beautiful Parisina Malatesta, the second wife of the Marquis, also took place. Still today, you can visit the ancient prisons where the two lovers spent their last hours before being executed on 21 May, 1425.
In the afternoon, the route takes us to the Delizia Estense del Verginese, immersed in the Ferrara countryside. Originally a country house, it was transformed into a ducal residence in the early sixteenth century by Alfonso I d’Este and donated to Laura Eustochia Dianti. On the death of the Duke, she retired there, making it her small private court and ordered its renovation, which was carried out mainly by Girolamo da Carpi. He designed the castle as a building with a rectangular plan and two orders, delimited by four crenelated towers having a square plan.
Starting from the eighteenth century, the interior was decorated with stuccoes, liberty-style flowers in distemper, shells, rosettes, spirals and thick frames that outline the ceilings.
Its rooms also house the the permanent exhibition “Mors Inmatura. Il sepolcreto dei Fadieni”, the burial ground of the Fadieni family that documents the discovery of a small Roman necropolis which lies just a stone's throw from the Delizia.
Outside, the garden, called brolo, attached to the delizia was re-landscaped in the Renaissance, consisting essentially of flowers and fruit trees, to combine the delight of colours and scents with the usefulness of producing fruit for the table. The dovecote tower, a remnant of the accessory structures originally placed around the delizia dates back to the sixteenth century.