Padova: Past and Present

Founded by a Trojan prince in 1183 BCE following the fall of Troy, Padua is one of Italy’s older cities.

Brief History

The city of Troy is believed to have been located in the northwest corner of modern-day Turkey. According to legend, the Trojan elder and counselor, named Antenor, escaped during the fall of Troy and led the Veneti people, north to Italy. Antenor is mentioned in both Homer’s Iliad (written 700-750 BCE) and Vergil’s Aeneid Book 1 (written 30-19 BCE). Vergil writes that Antenor had escaped from the fall of Troy and founded Patavium, today called Padova. Whether the story of the Trojan elder is myth or not, there is a 13th century ‘Tomb of Antenor’ monument proudly standing in Padova, created to honor the ancient sarcophagus claimed to be that of the Trojan counselor.

Tomb of Antenor, the Trojan founder of Padua

Records show an established settlement by the 10th century BCE and by the 4th century BCE Padova had become the main Venetian center. During the time of the Romans, Patavium, as Padova was called by the Romans, was one of the most important cities of their empire. On the bell tower of the Duomo di Padova hangs a plaque from Roman times that mentions the history of Padova from 49 BCE.

In the early 7th century (602 CE) the Lombards, after a long and bloody siege, conquered Padova destroying all but the Roman amphitheatre and a few bridge foundations.

In 1222, the University of Padova was founded by scholars and professors that left the University of Bologna to create the 2nd oldest University in Italy. The Palazzo del Bo’ has housed the main part of the university since the 15th century.

Galileo taught at Padova in the late 14th-early 15th century and Copernicus studied there in the early 16th century. The city proudly claims that the first woman in the world to earn a university degree, did so in 1678 at the University of Padova. Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, a Venetian noblewoman, graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy.

Elena Piscopia, the first woman in the world to graduate University

Orto botanico di Padova

Padova also claims to have the first Botanical Garden in the world. This UNESCO Heritage Site is operated by the University of Padova. It may be a smaller garden but it is compact and holds many plants. Additionally there are greenhouses that showcase plants from numerous climates and displays of plant based products that humans make use of to create weapons, musical instruments, furniture, building materials, clothing, decorations, food, medicine and much more. Can you imagine life without plants and trees?

The garden was founded so university students could research and recognize medicinal and poisonous plants. The gardens coincidentally offers great views of the city’s Basilicas.

An Ephedra plant in the botanical garden

After exploring the gardens, tucked into one corner we discovered a temporary art exhibition that was phenomenal.

Entitled How Nature Works the curious art pieces of nature, flowers, even an apocalyptic city were made entirely from electronic and computer bits and pieces. They are the creations of Krištof Kintera (1973), a Czech artist and sculptor.

The Botanical Garden art exhibition – How Nature Works

Musei Civici agli Eremitani

This civic museum is made up of two parts, an archeological section and an art gallery.

We saw items that had been discovered around Padova that date back the 8th to the 3rd centuries BCE. There was a wonderful collection of floor mosaics from the 4th century CE and funerary busts figurines, vases, amphorae, and gravestones.

Other smaller rooms showcased Etruscan, Greek and Egyptian collections. Two rooms host archaeological finds by a famed Paduan explorer named Belzoni.

Eremitani Museum of Archaeology – Roman floor mosaics

Their collection of paintings and sculptures created between 1300 to 1800, number in the thousands.

There were two paintings by Faustino Bocchi (1659-1742) who apparently specialized in bizarre paintings of dwarfs. One was titled ‘Trapped dwarf rescued by his companions’ and the other ‘Fortune teller parrot’ that were interesting and comical. The description refers to them dwarves but clearly the parrot is much larger than the tiny figures.

Fortune teller parrot by Faustino Bocchi

The gallery has a collection of work by important Italian artists Giotto, Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini and so many more but we were drawn to the 4 seasonal paintings by Antonio Diziani. We always get a kick out of finding reference to the Argonauts. This artwork, called ‘Expedition of the Argonauts’ was painted by Lorenzo Costa in 1484 – 1490

Expedition of the Argonauts by Costa

We appreciated finding Giorgio Fossati’s 1773 ‘Race of the Jockeys’ painting of Padova’s huge square by the name of Prato della Valle. The next photo is only part of Fossati’s painting with the Abbey of St. Justina in the center bachground. (The entire painting is in the link at the end of the blog.)

Prato della Valle – 1773

Prato della Valle

Just two years after Race of the Jockeys was painted, the great public square was completely transformed into an urban and vibrant park-like destination. We spent our first afternoon exploring the beautiful 22 acre (90,000 m²) square. Long gone is the former Roman theater and race track replaced by a simple refreshing green park surrounded by 78 stone statues lining both sides of a wide peaceful canal, 2 pedestrian stone bridges are flanked by a broad expanse of flagstones. A great place to sit and relax and our photo of the Abbey of St. Justina is just as striking today as it was in the 1773 painting above.

Prato della Valle – December 2021

La Torre dell’Orologio

Padova’s original astronomical clock, built in 1344, was destroyed at the end of the 14th century and a replacement was built in 1434.

It has a 24-hour dial and the hand makes a rotation just once a day. These fascinating astronomical clocks show the day of the month, the current phase of the Moon, the motion of the planets and the position of the Sun in the Zodiac.

This clock you may notice has only 11 zodiac signs, it is missing the sign of Libra. In the pre-Roman system oddly Scorpio and Libra were united as one Zodiac sign.

La Torre dell’Orologio

Palazzo della Ragione

Built in 1218, the Palazzo della Ragione was a medieval market hall, town hall and justice building.

The upper floor was dedicated to the town and justice administration; while the ground floor, 800 years later, continues to host the historical covered market of the city.

The upper level today is popularly referred to as “il Salone” (the big Hall) and the 14th century frescos within have been recently recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the holiday season in December, beautifully patterned innovative lighting shows illuminated the Palazzo attracting one and all to linger in the square.

Palazzo della Ragione

We spent a short amount of time in the welcoming city of Padova. We do recommend adding this city to your wish list, especially if you are interested in archeology, medieval and modern art, St. Anthony of Padua and Italian history. We will remember our visit with great fondness.

Salute from these Padovano,

Ted + Julia

View our Prato della Valle photo album here

View Eremitani Museums – Museum of Archaeology photo album here

View Eremitani Museums – Museum of Art photo album here

View our L’Orto Botanical Garden photo album here

View our L’Orto Botanical Garden – Art Exhibition photo album here

View the Rest of Padua photo album here

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