A traditional dialect rhyme describes Padova as having a meadow without grass, a saint without a name and a café without doors.
The meadow without grass is Prato della Valle, one of Europe’s largest squares. The current configuration of Prato della Valle dates from 1775 when a marshy area was reclaimed. At the centre is a large elliptical island surrounded by a canal and decorated with 78 statues of famous people associated with Padova. People go there to practise sports and on Saturday it is transformed into an evocative market.
The saint without a name refers to the basilica dedicated to Saint Anthony, known by the city’s inhabitants simply as “il Santo” (the Saint). Built in the 13th century, it contains numerous works of inestimable artistic value. Its silhouette, with oriental style bell towers, stands out majestically against the sky, a characteristic feature of the city’s horizon.
The café without doors is the Caffè Pedrocchi, built in 1826 to a design by Jappelli. It was described as without doors as it represented a “refuge” ever ready to welcome travellers and intellectuals. A place to meet and talk, it is animated by concerts, exhibitions and conferences. But the city goes on and on, in squares and corners which tell its history, in historic buildings which reveal its art, in streets which year after year welcome students and accompany them during their stay.
The Scrovegni Chapel, built at the beginning of the 14th century, is a masterpiece. Giotto’s cycle of frescoes depicts episodes in the life of Mary and Christ, bringing the places, customs and costumes of his time to life through the study of perspective and colour.
The street known as the Liston, or via VIII Febbraio, joins the City Hall, the Caffè Pedrocchi and Palazzo del Bo, the original University building. This is where new graduates begin their graduation celebration.
The Jews apparently settled in the Ghetto in about 1380, occupying themselves with trade, the supply of agricultural equipment and the sale of strazzerie (second hand objects such as furniture, books, jewellery and clothes). The four gates to the Ghetto were closed in 1603 and only removed in 1797. The German synagogue, the first to be built, is now a conference hall. The Italian synagogue, built in 1548, is still functional.
In the medieval heart of the city stands the Cathedral, an example of Romanesque and Renaissance art, and the adjacent Baptistery with its 14th century frescoes by Giusto de’ Menabuoi.
The Palazzo della Ragione, built in 1218, is known by the inhabitants of Padova as “Il Salone”, as the top floor is a single large room. It was once the City Tribunal. Repainted after the fire in 1420, the interior frescoes take up the astrological themes of Pietro D’Abano. The ground floor is occupied by shops and an evocative covered market takes place under its arcades. The Palazzo della Ragione is surrounded by Piazza dei Signori, Piazza della Frutta and Piazza delle Erbe in the heart of the historic city centre, which each morning is redolent with the scents and flavours of the marketplace and the sounds and colours of the stands.