Blog TWHS Visits

Padova Urbs Picta

One of the disadvantages of almost having ‘finished’ Italy - I have 2 out of the 54 WHS left to visit - is that I am missing the regular weekend trips out there to enjoy the historic cities and their art. So although Padua’s Scrovegni Chapel is only up for nomination in 2020, last week I fitted in an easy weekend trip to this self-proclaimed  ‘Capital of the 14th century fresco painting’. It even already has a nomination website and an epic title: Padova Urbs Picta (Latin for “painted city”).

Inside the Baptistery

I had been to Padua once before, in 2007. Then already I had a booking for the Scrovegni Chapel, but I ran out of time that day and only ‘did’ the WHS Orto Botanico. Now I had some 24 hours to spend in the city and I stayed overnight. Padua is not the most immediately likeable city: it has some prominent examples of fascist architecture, the railway station area is rather scruffy and it takes a long walk from there to get to the historic center – a center that is split into several piazza’s with not much of interest in between.

On my first afternoon I visited 4 out of the 9 proposed locations. I was staying near the Prato del Valle square, from where the Basilica del Santo is the closest location. This is a huge pilgrimage attraction – its interior holds the spectacular tomb of St. Anthony - but I did not manage to find the ‘right’ frescoes made by Giotto and his contemporaries (the church is fully covered with paintings and frescoes). A better bet lies next door: the small Oratorio di San Giorgio. This is a cute funerary chapel entirely decorated with frescoes and worth the separate ticket.

The Oratorio di San Michele lies somewhat out of the way, but it is also a small former church. I was the only visitor. The frescoes here have been severely damaged. Finally I went to the Battistero della Cattedrale, the Baptistery of the ‘other’ or real Cathedral of Padua. It was packed with visitors inside and some scaffolding disturbed the views, but I found it quite brilliant in general. There’s a lot to admire here, especially the dazzling ceiling fresco with a crowd of faces surrounding Christ.

Hell in the Scrovegni Chapel

For the next morning I had a pre-booked ticket for 10 a.m. to enter the Scrovegni Chapel. I was afraid to miss my time-slot again, so I already showed up at the adjacent Eremitani Museum an hour before to exchange my printed ticket for an official one (A4-sized!). That gave me some time to explore the museum first. It is large and a bit of a maze. The best 14th century art is concentrated in 2 or 3 exhibition rooms upstairs on the first floor. There’s a lot of other stuff also, including Roman, Egyptian and Etruscan archaeology plus art from various ages. The museum is to be part of the WHS nomination, as it holds some works that were taken away from their original location. These include the Croce by Giotto (originally painted for the Scrovegni Chapel) and the painted panels by Guariento (originally located in the Cappella della Reggia Carrarese). It takes at least an hour to do the exhibitions justice.

The Scrovegni Chapel itself did not disappoint: I felt a bit rushed in the beginning, would the 15 minutes that you are allowed inside be enough? But in the end I was OK with the time given. I also enjoyed the video that is shown in the 15 minute period while you're in the 'holding pen': it's a nice warm up and programmes your mind to see certain details. Because of the low sunlight I found the frescoes on one of the walls hard to see.

It is quite remarkable that taking pictures is allowed here, as well as in the museum. At the other nominated locations it is forbidden as far as I noticed, although the bans are not strictly enforced. At the Baptistery everybody was happily snapping away with their phones while the only staff member on duty was busy selling tickets. 

Palazzo della Ragione

After having spent 1.5 hour in this part of the city, I just forgot to pay a visit to another location next door: the Chiesa agli Eremitani. I went back to the Cathedral area instead, where I also had planned to have lunch. Not to be missed here is the Palazzo della Ragione. This huge former town hall annex covered market holds a great space on its first floor: a hall also covered in 14th/15th century frescoes. They're not really masterpieces up to the Giotto standard, but the hall itself and its wooden features are not to be missed. Trying to complete the 9-out of-9 locations, I searched in vain for the entrance to the Cappella della Reggia Carrarese. It lies close to the Cathedral as well, but signposting isn't great and its best frescoes are in the Eremitani Museum now anyway.

A final conclusion: I am still not smitten by Padua as a city in general, but the Scrovegni Chapel, the Battistero della Catedrale and the Palazzo della Ragione are worth the trip out there.

Els - 10 March 2019

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Zoë Sheng 11 March 2019

For Italy I would make an exception, it's beautiful "everywhere", but in particular these TWHS are worth going for no matter if they are world heritage candidates or not:
Maddalena Island
Giardini Botanici Hambury
Island of Asinara
Lake Maggiore and Lake D'Orta
Sila NP
Pelagos: The Cetacean Sanctuary
The Aniene valley and Villa Gregoriana in Tivoli
The Marble Basin of Carrara (I met the guy who drove around with the stunt guy from the Jamese Bond movie...what a connection indeed!)
The Prosecco Hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (actually the mountains nearby are worth a look instead in summer)
Via Appia "Regina Viarum" (probably impossible to miss if you go to the tombs in Rome anyway)

Nan 11 March 2019

I always thought it's just the chapel itself. I did not pay that much attention to the other churches. In Italy one quickly grows a bit tired of churches. Good that you wrote an extensive review.

@Zoe: Visiting tentative sites is a fool's errant for the most part.

Els Slots 10 March 2019

I have visited only about 5 out of 40 from Italy's Tentative List. But I do not target TWHS per se, only pick them up when they are close to nomination or when I am in the general area and they seem interesting enough.

Zoë Sheng 10 March 2019

It's indeed a lovely place. I walked around slowly twice in the 15min and it's just enough. Don't you have enough tentative places left to visit though?

Caspar Dechmann 10 March 2019

I also found the duomo baptistery stunning. But while I was not sure about “right” frescoes in Saint Anthony I found several of the side chapels very rich and fascinating. Therefore the whole church could be part of the inscription though not all of it may be from the specific century. Also it’s a maze of cloisters Is not to miss. Great is also the teatro anatomico, the best kept example of its kind. This could even be a candidate on its own or perhaps together with the few surviving buildings of the old university.