Did you know? The historic centre of Ferrara is another one of the Italian places included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Also the river Po delta is included in the list. Discover here the "City of the Renaissance" with its patron saint and other marvels.
Saint George is one of the most venerated saints since ancient times, although there is not even certain information about his existence. He is always depicted as a knight in the act of killing a dragon, rescuing a princess. This has a symbolic meaning, indicating the St as the protector of the weak who triumphs evil.
According to the tradition, Saint George lived in the 3rd century, being born in Cappadocia (a part of present Turkey) from a Christian family. He joined the Army and was part of the emperor Diocletian's bodyguards (or maybe Daciano, Persian emperor, according to other sources).
When in 303 Diocletian ordered the persecution of Christians, George gave all his possessions to the pop , confessed his faith be for the tribunal and, asked to abjure, he refused.
He was tortured and thrown in jail where he had a vision of God.
After many tortures and miracles, George was beheaded and promised protection to all those who worshiped his relics, now kept in a crypt underneath the church in Lod, present time Lydda, in Israel.
The veneration of Saint George spread rapidly after his death; there is a source dated 368 that mentions a church of Saint George and in 530 another source mentions the cult of his sepulchre in Lod.
The legend of Saint George and the dragon originated at the time of the Crusades, in the 13th century, established by the Legenda Aurea, which is a collection of the lives of saints.
The story of St George and the dragon has inspired a huge number of paintings and other forms of art and represents good that the defeats evil.
The saint patron celebration
Il Palio di Ferrara
The celebrations of the patron saint in Ferrara consist in the Palio di Ferrara in Saint George's honour. The tradition of the "palio" exists in many places in Italy and data back to the Middle Ages. The palio was a piece of valuable fabric that was given as a prize to the winner of a race. The Palio di Ferrara is the oldest palio race in the world, considering that it started as a folk tradition in 1259, to celebrate the victory of Azzo II over Ezzelino III. In 1279 the municipality of Ferrara decided that there should be two races, one on the 23rd of April in St George's, honour and one on the 15th of August to celebrate the Assumption of the virgin, at the presence of the city's authorities. There were races of horses, donkeys, boys and girls, to which anyone could take part.
The races took place uninterruptedly until 1600. From 1933, that tradition of the Palio races has been started again and now the races take place on the last Sunday of May, to commemorate the extraordinary race run to gave a hearty welcome to Borso d'Este, come back to Ferrara on the last Sunday of May in 1471, after being appointed Duke by the Pope.
The blessing of thepalio
Over a month, different types of celebrations take place. They start with the blessing of the palii, which will be given to the winners, the candle offering to St George in the cathedral, with a procession of people dressed up with Renaissance costumes, to represent the duke's court, followed by the representatives of the eight quarters (contrade), with musicians, flag-wavers, ladies and knights
Also, during the weekends of May, there are performances by the flag-wavers of the different quarters. Eight days before the races, in the evening, the most suggestive show of these celebrations takes place: the historic procession, that is the parade of all quarters, with about 1500 people wearing Renaissance costumes.
The duke, coming from the castle and followed by his court, enters Piazza Castello and gets on a platform.
Then the eight quarters, perform a show before the court and they register their respective participants to the races of the following Sunday: boys and girls (putti and putte) under 16, donkeys and footmen, horses and jockeys.
Don't miss this opportunity to visit this jewel of Italy!
The origins of Ferrara are not known. Its name appears for the first time in a 753 document, issued by the Longobard king Desiderius.
During its first centuries of life, the town passed from hand to hand and eventually year it gained a degree of freedom sufficient to become a free Comune (municipality).
Ferrara enjoyed its golden era thanks to the Estensi (a noble family from Este) who, from the beginning of 1300 ruled it for about three centuries, making it a capital of European importance.
It was during the Renaissance that the buildings that still compose the historical centre of the city were built. Ferrara is the perfect example of the Renaissance ideal city, remained intact.
The period of greatest cultural splendor began in 1391, with the foundation of the University. Then there was a constant increase in culture and magnificence.
The city attracted great artists such as Leon Battista Alberti, Pisanello, Piero della Francesca and Titian. The local artists school was called "Officina Ferrarese" and among them there were Cosmè Tura, Ercole de’ Roberti and Francesco del Cossa.
All the highest musicians of the time worked for the dukes of Ferrara, as well as the poets Ludovico Ariosto, author of Orlando Furioso and Torquato Tasso, who wrote Jerusalem delivered.
The small state was included in the Papal States in 1598 and then centuries of decline. After Napoleon period, Ferrara took actively part in the Risorgimento to become later a modern city, rich in wonders from the past that you can admire still today.
Practically the whole of the historical centre of Ferrara is a monument, although, obviously, there are buildings that stand out more and that house museums and collections of works of art. The most imposing one is the castle, castello Estense, then there is the cathedral, Duomo, started in the XII century, with its wonderful facade of white and pink marble, the church of Saint George that used to be the cathedral until the building of the present Duomo, with its beautiful cloister and many more churches.
The castle was started in 1385, by order of Niccolò II d’Este, as a defensive building and it is one of the few castles that is still surrounded by a moat full of water. Inside it, you can visit the duke's apartments, very richly frescoed.
The city walls, Mura, built from 1493, are about 9 km long and run around all the historical centre of the city, having remained almost completely intact. This is a characteristic of only few cities such Ferrara, Lucca, Bergamo. It is possible to go along all their length, both on foot or by bike and admire several species of plants and flowers that grow wild there.
The building of Palazzo Schifanoia (from "schivar noia") was ordered by Alberto d’Este as a place for amusement, to dispel boredom. Here too there are many collections of art and you shouldn't miss the big Salone dei Mesi, with frescoes representing the activities during the different months of the year. There is also the Sala delle Virtù with the ceiling decorated with descriptions of the virtues and of the Este family's exploits.
The Palazzo dei Diamanti (Palace of Diamonds) is really special. It has this name because of its facade that features over 8,500 blocks of marble with a shape that recalls diamonds. They are of different sizes and are placed at different angles to create perspective effects.
Watch the following video, you can see the most important monuments of the city, the duomo dedicated to Saint George, and its beautiful facade.
Overview of Ferrara
Besides to the historical centre, included in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage List are the so-called Delizie (delights), a group of 19 villas scattered along the area of the city and its province. These were the Este family's summer amusement places, linked to the city through navigable canals. Palazzo Schifanoia too is one of the Delizie.
Close to the castle is the Palazzo Municipale (town hall), begun in 1245. Long time ago it used to be the duke's palace, Palazzo Ducale, before the Este family moved to the castle. Its most impressive feature is the great Scalone d'onore, an ample staircase covered with a vault, flanked by columns that support it and form arcades.
In addition to palaces, in Ferrara there are several wonderful parks where you can relax and enjoy nature. Those who are keen on plants also form a scientific point of view, cannot miss the botanical garden (orto botanico), officially established in 1771. Also there is parco Massari that is the largest park within the city walls, and the smaller parco Pareschi.
North of the city, between the walls and the river Po, you find the Parco Urbano. This was once a game preserve of the Estensi, an area for enjoyment and relax, although it served also as an extension of the defensive system.
Now the park includes also many sport facilities, including a 18 hole golf course and the council swimming pool and the park dedicated to the famous writer Giorgio Bassani, with green areas, ponds, footpaths and cycle lanes.
Ferrara Buskers Festival
Nowadays perhaps the event thanks to which many, also abroad, know Ferrara, is the Ferrara Buskers Festival, that is the street artists festival, which is held here every year in the last week of August.
That of street artists and entertainers is something more common abroad than in Italy, but every year musicians, jugglers, dancers and any other sort of very good quality entertainers converge here and perform in the streets. Have a look at this video.
Ferrara Buskers Festival
The fire of castello Estense
Another show not to be missed is that of New Year's eve, the fire of the castle! Watch it in this video, it's really spectacular and realistic.
With all these beauties, don't miss the opportunity to visit Ferrara at any time of the year!
Other important recurring events
all year: opera, symphonic seasons, theatre, ballet at the