An unusual way to visit Ferrara and its surroundings, like the travellers in the 18th and 19th centuries who visited the fascinating places where Dukes and Duchesses of Este as well as poets such as Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso lived.
During the period of papal rule, the streets and buildings were almost deserted and inhabited almost exclusively by “blue cats”: this is how writers and artists described Ferrara a few centuries ago, fuelling the myth of the city of silence.
The route starts from Porta degli Angeli in Ferrara, at the northern walls of the city, a short distance from the city centre. Here we are in the area of the Erculean Addition, an urban expansion built at the end of the fifteenth century commissioned by Duke Ercole I d’Este and characterized by wide majestic streets and celebrated by writers such as Carducci and D'Annunzio.
Here stands the Temple of S. Cristoforo alla Certosa with the monumental complex that fascinated travellers of the Romantic period for its rarefied and melancholic atmosphere.
A short distance away is Parco Massari, which hints at the landscape of the English garden with its centuries-old Lebanon cedars, shady groves and ancient fountains, and the famous Palazzo dei Diamanti, an elegant building with diamond-shaped ashlar marble cladding.
We recommend that you take a slight detour to see Ludovico Ariosto's House in Via Ariosto, where the poet spent the last years of his life, working on the third and final edition of Orlando Furioso, published in 1532. A first-floor room overlooking the small but delightful inner courtyard contains a book, which over time, has collected the signatures of famous visitors and travellers who have stopped here.
Continuing towards the city centre, you will find Piazzetta S. Anna, the area where the ancient hospital of the city was built, which today is characterized by the ancient and suggestive cloister. It also contains the bust of TorquatoTasso, to commemorate his imprisonment in the building after he was considered mad by the court. Byron, the poet, who stayed in Ferrara in 1821, also wanted to visit it to give voice to the lament of the tormented poet.
Walking through the ancient streets of the historic centre you then reach Palazzo Paradiso, home to the Ariostea Library, which contains the funerary monument to the great poet Ludovico Ariosto.
The building housed the University and in addition to the precious books and ancient manuscripts, still houses the eighteenth-century anatomy theatre.
Once an ancient fortress and subsequently the residence of the Este Court, the Estense Castle became the headquarters of political representation during the papal rule of the city. Still today, as in the past, it is famous for the ancient prisons of the Lions’ Tower, the scene of the tragic love story of Ugo and Parisina.
A mandatory stop for romantic travellers, artists and scholars. The building can be visited by taking a museum tour that includes the medieval rooms, the basements, the frescoed halls, the Orange Garden and a panoramic vantage point over the city, right at the top of the Lions’ Tower.
Next to the mass of the Castle is the eighteenth-century Municipal Theatre, a testimony to a brief period of enlightened government of the cardinals and their rule over the city. At the centre of the building, the Rotonda Foschini, with its elliptical opening towards the sky is enchantingly illuminated in the evenings: today it is a passage just as it was in the past, when it saw the transit of the carriages of those arriving to attend concerts and the opera.
About 35 km from Ferrara lies the town of Cento, which was visited by Goethe in 1786 during his Travels in Italy: having climbed the bell tower of the Church of San Biagio, the great writer was impressed by the view of “a small and nice town, well built, full of movement and life, modest but clean and tidy, in the middle of a plain cultivated as far as the eye can see”.
Cento has a beautiful Rocca, (temporarily closed) an impressive fortress where our journey starts. The original construction, built in 1378 due to the will of the bishop of Bologna, was replaced by a new military structure around the middle of the following century. It was reinforced and extended several times, especially during the residency of Cardinal Giulio della Rovere (bishop of Bologna and future Pope Julius II), who also commissioned decorative cycles that have now disappeared (1485) and who, it is said, stayed several times in the Castle.
Going along Via Guercino, the main street of the city that leads to the square of the same name, you will come across the colourful, nineteenth-century Borgatti Theatre, whose facade is rich in terracotta decorations. It was inaugurated in September 1861 and named after Giuseppe Borgatti, a famous tenor and native of Cento to whom a small museum was also dedicated in 1933 and which is still located in the foyer.
A short distance away is Piazza del Guercino with the Governor’s Palace and the statue of the famous painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino, whose paintings can be found in various churches around the city (Church of San Lorenzo, the Church of the Rosary) and in the Civic Art Gallery, which is currently closed for restoration.
Lastly, behind the main square, hidden by the characteristic porticos, is the small but evocative Jewish ghetto, which recounts the history of the Jewish community in the city over the centuries. The houses of the Ghetto, characterized by traditional Spanish wrought iron balconies, were inhabited from 1636 onwards.
The neoclassical elegance of Modena Palace, which later became Carpi Palace (1820), is also worth seeing. Unfortunately, the synagogue was destroyed, but its remains are preserved in the synagogue of Ferrara, including a beautiful baroque Aròn in polychrome marble.