The itinerant Este court often moved between its various residences, the so-called "Delizie": country villas, leisure houses and hunting lodges where the Dukes participated in tournaments, and where government offices were also decentralized, responsible for the monitoring, maintenance and reclamation of the Po Delta.
The itinerary proposed here, in the hinterland of Ferrara, follows one of the journeys that these nobles undertook to leave the city by boat, and which today we can retrace, travelling on two wheels instead of on a bucentaur.
The starting point is Piazza Savonarola, next to the Estense Castle.
Up until 1645, this was the site of a small dock for boats travelling down the Panfilio canal, which ran along what is now the present-day Viale Cavour, connected to the castle’s moat.
Under Este rule, the west of the city was characterised by ponds, lakes and canals that were lined and protected by hedges that concealed the dukes from the prying eyes of their subjects as they sailed down what was then called the Cavo dei Giardini, to reach their estates and Delizie.
Under papal rule, the canal was enlarged and connected to the Po river, taking the name of Canale Panfilio. It was filled in at the end of the 19th century to make way for today's Viale Cavour, which connects the town centre with the railway station.
Along the avenue, you can admire some early twentieth century Art Nouveau style villas designed by the engineer Ciro Contini where the relationship between architecture and vegetation can still be seen today:
At number 112, you can find Villa Masieri-Finotti, which already from a first glance of the façade, with its combination of materials and phytomorphic motifs, immediately reveals its adherence to the Central European Jugendstil.
At number 184 is Villa Melchiorri, the first of the residential villas on the new Viale Cavour. The house's ornamental features are dominated by the circle and the sunflower, ideal elements of the creation of a garden city.
Lastly, at number 194 there is Villa Amalia where the usual Art Nouveau style is simplified and the linear geometric elements prevail over floral motifs, even if the rose is present as a prominent decorative element.
Leaving the city, the itinerary continues along the cycle path, following the signs for Mantua (sign for FE101) and, shortly afterwards, crosses the wooden bridge over the Boicelli Canal.
This canal was created between WWI and WWII to connect Po di Volano with Po grande, which acts as the border between Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto regions.
Following the "Burana” tourist indications you reach the cycle path, which is one of the easiest and most peaceful of the entire province, largely shaded by poplars and willows. The route, also known as the “Burana habitat corridor”, is rich in fauna and vegetation: you may come across pheasants, grey herons, egrets and peacocks, which are now accustomed to passing cyclists.
Near Vigarano Mainarda, close to the cycle path there is a former quarry that has been transformed into a lake, surrounded by a public garden.
After a few kilometres, the cycle path meets Via Diamantina. Following the signs we will arrive at the Delizia della Diamantina, a noble estate belonging to the Este court and a jewel of rural architecture.
Like many others, this Delizia ensured the productivity of the land, protecting it from the threat posed by water. The Este court often came here, via the waterways, either to check in on the farms that enriched the ducal larders or to go hunting or fishing, but also to establish diplomatic relations.
In the late 1800s, this Delizia was transformed into a large farm. Today the Delizia is privately owned and is home to the Farming Museum that exhibits a large collection of tools, equipment and objects related to farming. It can always be viewed from the outside but can only be visited during special short-term events.
At this point, it's time to take a refreshing break and have a picnic in the green countryside surrounding Ferrara.
After the break, we will go back to the Burana cycle path and, following the canal towards the west, we arrive at Bondeno, the oldest settlement in the Ferrara region.
In the Middle Ages, the town was a fief of Matilde di Canossa and then became the property of the Este family as a fortified centre for the defence of Ferrara.
In the central Piazza Garibaldi, there is the "G. Cattabriga” Civic Art Gallery. Named after Galileo Cattabriga (1901-1969), the important painter from Bondeno, it houses numerous modern and contemporary paintings as well as some ancient paintings.
Leaving Bondeno, we head towards the last stop: after the bridge over the Panaro river, we follow the left bank until we reach Stellata, a small village located close to the river Po.
Local archaeological artefacts dating back to Neolithic, Bronze, Iron and Roman times are documented in the “G. Ferraresi” Civic Archaeological Museum where artefacts dating back to various eras are exhibited. The Museum is located inside Casa Ariosto, which belonged to Virgilio Ariosto, the son of the poet Ludovico.
The ancient Mighty Fortress of Stellata (Rocca Possente di Stellata) is located on the green floodplain. Today it can only be viewed from the outside.
Built on the right bank of the Po, the fortress was a true military stronghold, a strategic gem in the perpetual struggle against Venice. Its strategic position, together with the Rocca di Ficarolo on the opposite bank, which no longer exists today, allowed it to control navigation.
The star-shaped structure probably dates back to before 1570 and this characteristic shape gave the village of its name.
Lastly, to return towards Ferrara, take the first part of the “Destra Po” cycle track, which has Stellata as its starting point.