Why you should visit Padua: what to do & see!
This time I asked Laura Teso of My Corner of Italy, a young woman from Padua, and also a really good blogger, who writes in English about Veneto and Italy. Here is her post, where she talks about the city where she is so lucky to live in!
Padova: the city of the Three Withouts!
Padua or Padova (in Italian) is a lovely town in Veneto, famous for its university, one of the oldest in the world, and for Saint Anthony, the Portuguese friar who lived there for many years.
It is also called the City of the Three Withouts and here is why!
Arriving in Padua
Let’s suppose you arrive by train from Venice for a day trip. You could start by walking towards the city centre along the main avenue, Corso del Popolo, crossing a brig bridge and carrying on along Corso Garibaldi.
On your right, you will spot the dome and the bell tower of the Carmine basilica as well as a modern structure on the river bank. That is the Memoria e Luce, the 9/11 Memorial by Libeskind, preserving in its core a steel beam of the World Trade Center, donated by the United States to the Veneto Region.
On the left side you will see the public gardens, called Giardini dell’Arena, taking their name from the relics of the Roman Arena. The adjacent Scrovegni Chapel is absolutely worth a visit because of the amazing frescoes by Giotto, father of the modern painting – but remember to book in advance. All info at Cappella Degli Scrovegni .
Proceeding along the main road, straight on, you will soon reach the pedestrian area. A few steps and the Café Pedrocchi, dating back to 1800s, will appear on the right, with its four lions guarding the entrance. You can step inside and try the famous Caffé Pedrocchi, which is an espresso with mint flavoured cream and a sprinkle of cocoa powder on top.
Remember, Pedrocchi has 4 halls. On the left, there are the three ancient halls, green (where you can sit without purchasing), red (the ancient café) and white (for lunch or dinner). In the middle, the modern part, less expensive. Pedrocchi Café is nicknamed Caffè senza porte, cafè without doors. Up to 1916 it was in fact always open, day and night. And that’s our first without.
One you go out of the Café, proceed along the main street and you will immediately reach the University (left) and the Town Hall (right), facing one another. The University was founded in 1222. Therefore is one of the oldest of the world. Galileo Galilei was a professor here for 18 years between 1592 and 1610. In Padova he improved the spyglass, he made the first observations of the Moon, of the Milky Way and discovered also the major Jupiter’s satellites.
The Piazze of Padova
Take the road on the right between the Pedrocchi Café and the Town Hall, and you will reach the piazze (squares) , the core of Padova’s historical center: Piazza della Frutta and Piazza delle Erbe, sharing the beautiful Palazzo della Ragione, the ancient Law Court. The upper hall has wonderful frescoes, the down part hosts the city covered market. Here, people come every morning to buy fresh bread, meat, cold cuts, cheese, wine, fruits and vegetables. It is one of the most interesting parts of the city. You can explore the market and grab something to eat there.
Further on Piazza dei Signori, with the clock tower and dozens of tables to eat al fresco during the warm season. A little detached (turn left when you reach the clocktower), the Duomo. If you like frescoes, I suggest a visit to the Baptistry. It is fantastic. An absolute hidden gem that also many padovani (Padova people) have never seen. Sadly!
From Piazza Duomo, with the church behind your back, take the small road in front of you. You will walk along the small but elegant Jewish Ghetto, where once used to live Padova’s Jews. Some of them still live here. The place is one of my favourite, with cobbled alleys, medieval and Renaissance palazzi, original shops and a small, lovely café, Il Caffé della Piazzetta, where you can stop for a drink or a snack before going on with your visit.
Prato della Valle in Padua
Walking straight you will reach Via Roma. Turn right and walk along the street. This is the street of the daily passeggiata (walk), full of shops, and it leads to Prato della Valle, the Valley’s Lawn. It’s one of the biggest squares in Europe. It is called the lawn without grass, because it was once just a marshy area. It is the second of the three withouts. Now there’s a lawn at the centre of the square, surrounded by a moat, adorned with statues. It’s the perfect place to rest a while on the grass, reading a book or having a gelato. There’s an historical green kiosk on the left corner as soon as you enter the piazza.
The Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua
Now, take the first street on the left. You will immediately see Saint Anthony Basilica at the end of the road. And that’s the third without. Yes, because you have to know that in Padova we do not call it Saint Anthony, but simply The Saint, il Santo. For us it is the Saint by antonomasia, so there’s no need to name him. We say for example: “Il ristorante vicino al Santo”. The restaurant close to the Saint.
The Basilica is dedicated to Saint Anthony, who died in Padova, and houses his relics (his tongue to be exact). The church was built along the centuries. Therefore its style is very eclectic: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and also Baroque. Every year, on the day of his death, June 13rd, there’s a procession involving thousands of people.
You can now take Via del Santo (there’s the Saint statue on the corner building, you can’t get lost). Along the street you will see on the left a small Enoteca (Wine bar). It is a small shop where to rest and have a glass of wine with local cheese and cold cuts, before proceeding.
Having a Gelato in Padova
If you follow the road to the end, and then take via Zabarella, you will end up at the Scrovegni Chapel again, near the train station. But, before going away, I suggest you take a last stop for a gelato at Gelateria Giotto, a place which I love very much. They have only about 10 flavours but all good, with local, fresh ingredients. The peculiarity of this place is that the gelato is prepared by the inmates of the local Jail, as part of a recovery project, which allowed to reduce the recidivism rate to 2%.
I tried this place out of curiosity when it opened, but now I’m an affectionate client. Their fruit flavours are exquisite. Try the ciliegia (cherry) if you come in the right season and then let me know!
There are other things to see in Padova (like the Orto Botanico, Botanical Garden), other places where to have a gelato, where to sip a cappuccino or have dinner. But let’s save it for the next time! 😉
And here is my article on the Orto Botanico di Padova, the Botanical Garden of Padua.
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