Friday, February 21, 2014

Venice 2007: Venturing Inland

For a holiday respite, I devoted my Friday posts through December and January to recounting my trip to Venice in 2007. Using photos and notes from the trip, I highlighted the urbanist issues of day-to-day life in perhaps the most famous car-free city in the world.

However, I reached the end of January without exhausting the stories and insights that I’d hoped to share.  With Venice being too fascinating to leave behind with tales untold, I decided to continue with the occasional Friday post into February and beyond.  Today will be the first of those extra posts.

During my time in Venice, I took several day trips to other Italian cities.  The first outing was to Padua, only thirty miles from Venice, but far enough to become familiar with railway travel in Italy.

(Language note: The outing to Padua also alerted me to another of my language faux pas, much like “Pompa”.  The train station in Venice was called “Ferrovia”, which had a romantic sound to my ear.  I liked the feeling of “Ferrovia” on my tongue.  And then I realized that the train station in Padua was also called “Ferrovia”.  Upon cogitation, the reason became evident.   “Ferro” is the Latin root for iron and “via” is the Latin root for road.  “Ferrovia” wasn’t the cool name of the Venetian train station; it was the generic Italian word for train station.  Oops.)

Padua was a great daytrip, but not because of any one aspect of the city.  Padua has a number of points to recommend it.  The sprawling and lively outdoor market.  The sense of history in standing before the University of Po where Galileo worked on his theories of planetary motion.  The antiquity of the formerly Roman city of Patavium.  The Donatello equestrian statue that is considered a milestone of the Renaissance.  All of these add to the Paduan experience.

But ultimately what mattered was that Padua was an accessible city, fully walkable and enjoyable from the train station.  It was a walkable urban place that opened itself to the traveler in a way that too few American cities do.

As was true of most of my Venetian adventure, my travels eschewed rubber-tired vehicles.   Vaporetto along the Grand Canal to train to electric single-track street car into downtown Padua.  It was a fine way to travel.

Within Padua, the outdoor market is reportedly the second-best outdoor market in Italy, made even more memorable by the architecture surrounding it, including the Palazzo della Ragione, the 13th century town meeting hall.  With interior dimensions of 235 feet by 85 feet and no interior columns, the Palazzo remains an impressive engineering effort, even 700 years after its original construction.

The light inside the Palazzo was faint for photography, but I took my favorite photo of the day in the frescoed colonnade outside.  I’ve always been a sucker for a good colonnade

Moving away from the downtown core I found the Duomo for Padua.  It’s a handsome building, but plays second fiddle to the real star of Padua, the Basilica of St. Anthony.  The Basilica is a major pilgrimage destination for Catholics, many of whom want to see the tongue of the well-spoken St. Anthony that displayed in the Reliquaries.  The Reliquaries were closed when I was there, so I missed the tongue.
The horse statue in front of the Basilica is interesting.  It may look like town statues everywhere, but when it was cast by Donatello, it was the first life-size bronze equine casting in over 1000 years.  One more sign that the Renaissance was truly underway.

Lastly, I visited the cloisters of the Basilica.  As always, I can’t resist a good colonnade.

Becoming foot-weary, I headed back to the train station (ferrovia!) and thence Venice, thrilled by the amble around Padua and the quiet joy of a walkable town.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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