Palazzo Schifanoia frescoes Renaissance palace Ferrara middle ages site

Ferrara middle ages site, Renaissance palaces, Unesco heritage

Ferrara Middle Ages site is the only major Emilian center that does not have its origins in ancient times. In fact, its first settlement was built in the seventh century by the exarchs of Ravenna. In fief to the Counts of Canossa, in 1115 Ferrara regains freedom but is involved in the struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Hence to the Guelphs join the Este family, and from 1240 it traces the real beginning of the lordship. Under the domination of the Este starts an era of economic development and artistic splendor.

A great cultural season

The Romanesque cathedral, a maximum monument of the medieval city, had already been inaugurated in 1135. As a result, Ferrara as art city lives a great cultural season by offering hospitality to Leon Battista Alberti. As well as to Piero Della Francesca. In 1492 it is built a true Renaissance city, with parks, gardens and orchards: the Herculean Addition.

Ferrara has an intriguing feature almost unique in Italy. In fact, walking around is like to go back through the ages. As a result, this town gives a relaxing and narrow streets, beautiful palaces, and tranquil parks. Hence, its architecture, its university, and its traditions make it a cultured city. Worth of note, Giorgio de Chirico gained inspiration here. He was the founder of the Metaphysical Avant Garde art school.

Ferrara Unesco World Heritage Site

The historic center of Ferrara is a Unesco World Heritage site. Hence nowadays the walls made in the fifteenth century enclose the town. In fact, a green circle closes the streets overlooked by medieval houses and Renaissance palaces. Most of all, for three centuries Ferrara was the capital of the Este Duchy. As a result, it has become one of the richest and most vibrant cities of the Renaissance of Italy. Worth a note, Ferrara was able to attract painters like Piero Della Francesca, and architects such as Leon Battista Alberti. As well as poets like Ariosto and Tasso. Ferrara is now a rich art city that adds to its heritage the organization of many exhibitions.

The Cathedral

They consecrated the church in 1135 and they dedicated to St George patron of the town. Hence in the lunette above the central door, there is a sculpture of the Saint slaying the dragon. As a result, it is a work of Nicholaus, an artist of the school of Wiligelmo. Worth a note, Wiligelmo made the carved decoration of the cathedral of Modena. Furthermore, the façade is tripartite with two buttresses with pinnacles. As a result, a solution that blends the Romanesque lines of the lower part with the second order gothic elements. Among the works preserved inside, we find some frescoes by Garofalo. As well as the martyrdom of San Lorenzo (1629) of Guercino. Hence, Bastianino made the Last Judgment, the fresco of the apse of the cathedral, between 1577 and 1680. And it seems that he got the inspiration from the Judgment of Michelangelo.

From the church to the signory of the Este

The church and the Longobards controlled the town in 986. But in the age when church rule began to weaken, the noble families increased their power. As a result, the Estense emerged at the head of the anti-Papist faction. Hence, Obizzo D’Este took control of the town in the 13th century. During the Este family domination, they built fine palaces and churches. But, in 1598, without male heirs, they forfeit the province back to the Pope. However, they left an important imprint of the Renaissance.

The Este, Lords of Ferrara

Originating from Padua, the Este became Lords of Ferrara in 1264. First of all, they were clever diplomatics. In fact, they grow their power by binding ties of kinship to the noblest families of the time. Among the most celebrated, Borso d’Este (1413-71), who had the investment of Duke from the Emperor Federico III. Like also Ercole I d’Este, who hosted poets like Ludovico Ariosto and Matteo Boiardo. As well as painters like Cosmè Tura and Francesco Cossa. Most of all, the court of the Este reached the peak of their power with Alfonso I and Ercole II. After that, the decadence began. In fact, the last Duke Alfonso II died without legitimate heirs. Hence, the pope Clement VIII claimed the duchy and the court moved to the towns of Modena and Reggio.

The defensive walls

They destroyed the old, high, medieval walls as the town expanded. Today, the city still retains 9 km of its 15th to 19th century boundary walls. And it is possible to cycle around them. The walls are quite low as was the Renaissance style. This due to the introduction of gunpowder and cannon. In fact, the thick low walls defending the city allowed the cannon to fire at their targets on the ground. Therefore, a 33 meter wide, deep moat surrounded the walls. And the green moss on the walls indicates the old water line. In this mini canal, the Este family organized boat fights, using soldiers, for their pleasure.

The Castle

The construction of the Castle of San Michele dates back 1385. For sure, after a violent uprising by the people of Ferrara, exhausted by hunger and oppressed by taxes. In the detail, the Marquis Niccolò II d’Este commissioned the architect Bartolino da Novara to built it. Hence the location of the Castle was close to the northern medieval wall of the city. As a result, a wide moat surrounded all the building. Worth a note, the moat was part of a network of canals that ran through the city at that time.

At the end of the fifteenth century with Ercole I d’Este, they add one level to the Castle. Hence it became the seat of the court. From 1492, with the creation of the Herculean Addition, the city doubled its boundaries to the north. Worth a note, the Herculean Addition is the great urban plan of Biagio Rossetti. As a result, after these works, the Castle is now at the center of the city.

In 1554, after a fire, a renovation work began that transformed the appearance of the Castle from military to courtly. First of all, they remove the medieval battlements. Hence they replace them with elegant marble balustrades. And then they built the terraces, which animated the building inviting the contemplation of the landscape. Where the dense network of urban gardens gave a prelude to those of the “Delizie”.

After the devolution of the city to the Pope, a succession of Cardinals settled in the Castle. As a result, they stayed in the Castle until the unification of Italy.

The Herculean Addition

In 1492, due to the military needs, they start the intervention that would draw the new, definitive limit of the town. First of all to the defeat suffered in the 1482-1484 war. In fact, the Venetian army arrived at the gates of the castle. An event that persuaded Duke Ercole I to take an important decision. The opportunity to move the defensive structures of the town to the north.

We must add also the prestige needs of the court. In fact, the project doubled the size of the urban surface. Hence it places the castle of the Duke, from the extreme limit, at the exact center of the town. Important note, the project is entrusted to Biagio Rossetti.

The Herculean Addition is the clear demonstration of what a clever town-planner can make, free from excessive political constraints. First of all, Biagio Rossetti satisfy the demands of the Duke, realizing immediately the new defensive walls. As follow, he dedicates himself to the street and urban fabrics. With rare freedom, as well as well balanced, he applied the new principles of the organization of the space.

The ideal city

Under the guidance of Rossetti, they made different constructions of historic and artistic importance. In the detail, we find twelve churches and twenty palaces dedicated to the nobles of the town. But the project represented a new idea of the city, inspired by the principles of the cosmic harmony of Platonic derivation.

Let’s consider the center of the prospective structure. In the detail, the key point where the two main roads of the Addition meet. Here, Rossetti placed the most prestigious buildings: the Diamond Palace, built for Sigismondo that is the brother of the Duke. As well as the Turchi-di Bagno and the Prosperi-Sacrati palaces. At the same distance from this central knot, there are two churches. To the east, the church of St John the Baptist and to the west the complex of St Benedict. But it is all the urban fabric that is arranged in harmonious symmetries in the orthogonal system created by Rossetti.

The decline

In 1598 the last Duke leaves the city retreating in Modena and Ferrara switches to the pope state.

And at the end, the town of Ferrara joins Italy in 1859.

Ferrara, cradle of the Renaissance

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