Historic Centre of Parma
Historic Centre of Parma has been part of the Tentative list of Italy.
The Historic Centre of Parma is a city located in the Po Valley, first founded a Roman colony. At its heart lies its Romanesque Cathedral, one of the most significant achievements of Romanesque architecture in the Po Valley, later decorated with celebrated frescoes by Correggio. Alongside the cathedral stands the pink and white marbled Baptistery, whose external decorations are the most significant Italian Romanesque sculptures.
Map of Historic Centre of ParmaLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Although I get the feeling that even Italy is reaching the limits of its WH potential, its Tentative List still holds 39 prospects. Among them are numerous examples of the typical medieval-Renaissance cityscape, such as Lucca, Pavia, and Bergamo. And Parma: a city with Etruscan origins, and self-rule as a Free Commune and Duchy for a long time afterward. Especially the rulers of the latter two periods have left their imprint on how the city still looks now.
I visited Parma on a day trip from Bologna. Frequent trains take just under an hour. My first impression was that of a pleasant, liveable city. Certainly compared to Bologna and its porticoes that block the daylight, Parma feels more spacious and inviting with green areas and many benches to sit on.
I started my explorations by crossing a bridge to Oltretorrente, the quarter at the “other” side of the river. Here is where the Garden Palace of the Dukes of Parma was built. It lies in a large French garden, with a lot of chestnut trees already turning to their autumn color.
Back in the town center, I made my way to the Piazza Duomo – the square with the Cathedral, the Baptistery, and other important buildings. It has superficial similarities with the WH designated square in Modena. The cities are only 60km apart, so it is not strange that they both used pink Verona marble to construct their most important buildings. Both cathedrals are also decorated with two marble lions at the entrance, the pair in Parma dates from the 13th century, while the Modena ones are Ancient Roman spolia. Another difference is that the Modena Cathedral kept its Romanesque murals, while the one in Parma has gone full Renaissance. It is spectacular however, the wall paintings that cover the full interior including the dome have a dramatic quality.
Entrance to the Cathedral is free, the Baptistery next door costs a steep 12 EUR. I doubted entering but decided that they probably are asking such a high fee for a reason. At least it deterred most of the tourists, so I could enjoy this octagonal structure at ease. The Baptistery is mostly known for its painted domed ceiling, with rays that connect with the arches. I did also enjoy the many small sculptures, of which some represent the months of the year.
And then I had even saved the best for last. At the pre-booked time slot of 13.30, I entered the Palazzo della Pilotta. The gigantic building was the headquarters of the Farnese family when they were the Dukes of Parma. It now holds the National Gallery – an exquisite Italian art collection from the ducal families. Among the highlights are an original work made by Leonardo da Vinci and two sculptures of Giants from Ancient Rome.
The best sight of all Parma however proved to be the Farnese Theatre, a huge wooden construction from the early 17th century. The theatre was built by one of the Farnese to show off to Cosimo de' Medici, who was supposed to visit. The duke wanted to marry off his eldest son to the de' Medici family. However, Cosimo canceled the trip and the theatre was only finished 10 years later. The antique-style theatre wasn’t used much in its time, as it is so large (it would fit a modern opera or musical theatre better).
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Prior to my visit to Parma, I heart already about the ensemble of Tower, Baptistery and Duomo with Romanesque façade and Baroque decoration of the dome by Corregio, and, of course, about prosciutto crudo and parmiggiano reggiano… So, I was very curious. Eventualy, I was slightly disappointed by what I have seen in Parma (but definitely not by what I ate there…)
It is true that the highlight of Parma is the ensemble of Duomo with Bell Tower and Baptistery (PHOTO). The latter is really masterpiece - especially interior. The cathedral has the west façade comparable to churches in Pavia or Arezzo. Its shape is quite special: it has three apses, which are not parallel to each other but perpendicular - as seen also in Pisa. The bell tower reminds me S Zeno in Verona. Almost every inch of interior is covered by Baroque frescoes (go also to nearby S Giovanni Evangelista to see something comparable!) with the focus point in the dome with famous Assumption of the Virgin (I must frankly say that I expected that it would be more spectacular…)
But the rest of town lacks something that would make the historical center really exceptional. The frame of streets is compact and quite big, but besides few other large churches and Galleria Nazionale there is nothing that would compete with the ensemble seen in Piazza del Duomo. There are better examples of historical towns in Emilia such as (already WHS) Ferrara or even Bologna. The Duomo with Baptistery has also no chance to be inscribed, because this is already well represented even in Italy such as Pisa, Florence, Siena, etc.
Parma is a gem of a city. Culture, history, gastronomy. Bliss! However, you have to draw a line somewhere. Italy's WHS make up almost 5% of the total list! The Baptistry and the Duomo's steeple are my personal highlights (apart from the several trattorie serving local cheeses and cold cuts).
2021 Removed from Tentative List
Includes former TWHS Baptistery of Parma
2006 Added to Tentative List
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