Padova, Italy: An art-filled day trip from Venice
If you are visiting Venice and you have a day to spare, you should add to your travel itinerary the beautiful city of Padova (Padua). Padova is closer to Venice than many think—only about a half-hour by train or an hour by bus.
Padova is famous for having been home to Saint Anthony, a Franciscan friar who lived in Padua for several years and died there on June 13, 1231. The remains of Saint Anthony are preserved in the Basilica of St. Anthony, the destination of many pilgrims from around the world and one of the city’s main attractions (see below).
Some of the sights I recommend visiting:
Loggia della Gran Guardia
On the corner of the road which leads from Piazza dei Signori to the Duomo, the true heart of the town rises. The Loggia della Gran Guardia got its name because this is where the Great Council used to meet after the fire of the previous hall in 1420. The elegant Renaissance building was designed by Annibale Maggi da Bassano. The building is commonly known as “Gran Guardia.”
One of the masterpieces of international art, well worth a visit to the city, the Scrovegni Chapel stands in the ruins of the ancient arena in Padua (probably built between 60 and 70 AD). In the fourteenth century it was bought by the Scrovegni family, a wealthy Paduan family of bankers and usurers, and in 1300 the family began building their palace.
Between March 25th, 1303 and March 25th, 1305 the Chapel of Our Lady was erected by Enrico Scrovegni in memory of his father Reginaldo. The father, you see, had been condemned to Hell by Dante (in his Divine Comedy) because of his unfair business practices.
Giotto was given the task of representing a sequence of stories from the Old and New Testaments, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the Last Judgement. He wished to urge those who entered the chapel to meditate on Jesus’ sacrifice. The work was completed very quickly so that in 1305, after only two years of work, the chapel was decorated throughout and was consecrated a second time. Giotto work in the Scrovegni chapel is considered by many to be his masterpiece.
The Chapel is open only by appointment by booking on their website.
Admission charges: Full-priced ticket: €13, Museum ticket only: €10, Reduced-priced ticket: €8, Special reduced ticket €6.
Palazzo della Ragione
The building of the Palazzo della Ragione helped revolutionize construction techniques and designs in the Middle Ages. The Palazzo is popularly called “Il Salone” (The Big Living Room). The great room upstairs was a miracle of architectural boldness and solidity. Palazzo della Ragione is situated in the center of a cluster of municipal buildings, including the palace.
Entrance from “Scala delle Erbe”, Piazza delle Erbe
Opening times: from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., closed Mondays.
Entry tickets: full tickets € 4, reduced € 2, free entry for children up to 6 years old and for people with disabilities.
Prato della Valle
Prato della Valle, one of the great symbols of Padua, is a great elliptical square, which aside from being the city’s largest square (88,620 square meters), is also one of Europe’s largest, second only to Moscow’s Red Square.
The elaborate design of the square was inspired by the great tradition of Venetian patrician gardens. The square is a monumental space featuring a central island green called “Memmia Island” in honor of the mayor who commissioned the work. The island is surrounded by a canal adorned with statues of famous personalities from the past. Today you can see 78 statues, along with eight pedestals topped by obelisks, while two are empty. Four lanes on bridges across the lawn meet at the center of the island.
In Padua, as in Venice, in the late 18th and early 19th century, many cafes were opened where people used to meet and read.
Antonio Pedrocchi in 1816 commissioned the famous Venetian architect Giuseppe Jappelli to expand upon the small coffee house he inherited from his father. In his plan the new cafe had to be the “fairest of the land.” It opened in 1831. For more information, visit Caffe Pedrocchi’s website.
The Palazzo Zuckermann houses the Bottacin Museum and the Museum of Applied Arts. Established in 2004, the new museum of Palazzo Zuckermann, opposite the Scrovegni Chapel, houses an extraordinary collection of over 2,000 objects, including hidden assets of the Civic Museums of Padua.
For visitor information, visit the Palazzo Zuckermann’s website.
Basilica del Santo
The Basilica of St. Anthony, known as “The Saint,” is the city’s most important religious center and attracts thousands of pilgrims each year. The Basilica is especially busy on June 13, the Feast of the Holy, when thousands arrive in the city for the famous procession. The enormous building presents a remarkable fusion of styles: Romanesque, Gothic Byzantine and Moorish.
For more information, visit the Basilica’s website.
Padua offers two tourist cards that are intended to make your visit more convenient and affordable. They are:
The PadovaCard grants admission to Padova’s major sights and monuments and offers discounted fares for parking and transportion throughout the city. For full details, visit the PadovaCard website.
Validity: 48 or 72 hours
Cost: €15 (48 hours), €20 (72 hours).
The PadovaMusei card offers admission to the city’s major museums. The cards can be purchased at museums and at Piazza Hermits.
PadovaMusei Family pass: 2 adults and 2 children under 12 years
Validity: 15 days from the date of first use
PadovaMusei One-Year Pass (per person)
Validity: One year from the date of first use
Cost: Adults €15, reduced €12
Getting to Padova from Venice
Padova is situated just about 40 km from Venice, within easy reach by car or by train or by bus. The train journey is only 25 minutes from Venice Santa Lucia train station or from Mestre train station, a round-trip ticket cost about €6 and the trains are very frequent.
The bus journey is more pleasant, as you get to follow the River Brenta and you get to see amazing Renaissance villas on your way. The bus leaves from bus lane C4 in Piazzale Roma. Tickets costs about €8 and the trip takes about one hour.