Padova (Padua)

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July, 2016

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We went to see the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel but found a great deal more. It was a return visit after thirty years but every bit as splendid as before.

Arrival by bus or train is outside the city centre but only a few minutes’ walk from the ancient gates. Even closer is the Scrovegni Chapel, on the edge of an archaeological site that doubles as a park beside the river. We had to confirm details of our pre-booked visit but had time first for a splendid coffee at a Sicilian restaurant in a quiet street at the back of the main road.

Before we had just walked into the chapel: these days, for conservation and security reasons you need to book in advance and visits are restricted in number and time. Fortunately the web site is very efficient and we’d booked from home before our holiday began. There is a “decontamination” delay in an ante-room where an informative film shows details of the story and conservation of the chapel and frescoes. Scrovegni was a usurer and would have found a place in Dante’s “Inferno” despite trying to buy his salvation with the chapel and the frescoes. In characteristic style he had himself included in the design, among the elect naturally.

The frescoes are on two levels: one shows the life of the Virgin, the other the life of Jesus, with a Judgement filling the height of an end wall. There is a parallel with the glass in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, although the two are independent.

A helpful guide describes what is depicted, enabling those who only want to take photos or selfies to have a running commentary. It seemed preferable to us simply to gaze and marvel at the skill of Giotto as well as the devotion. As we had heard, his rendering of solid forms was revolutionary.

Our fifteen minutes were all too brief but we emerged after another pause in an air lock to sunshine enhanced by what we had seen. Plenty to discuss too while we had lunch at the same restaurant – memories of Sicilian holidays and the hilarious puppet show in Palermo prompted by some less-than inspired illustrations on the walls.

We had decided not to visit museums or other churches but to explore the old city within the walls. There are helpful signs on street corners and maps in some of the piazzas. The Palazzo della Ragione is, as The Rough Guide says, extraordinary, gigantic rather than merely huge. Also impressive – and very expensive – is the Caffe Pedrocchi. More interesting from our point of view was the Ghetto. It is a district of narrow streets and alleys with no indication of separateness until you find a Jewish shop or a synagogue. We found it very quiet after the bustle of the main streets.

With temperatures in the high twenties sightseeing has to be rationed, even if there are shady streets. Another coffee and a third visit to the Sicilian restaurant prompted an amused conversation with the friendly staff. Then we realised what a hot walk it was going to be back to the bus station. Nonetheless a wonderful day in a splendid city: perhaps we’ll go again in a cooler season.


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