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Ferrara, Province of Ferrara, Emilia‑Romagna

Ferrara, the capital of its province and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is situated 30 miles northeast of Bologna, on a branch of the Po river. Its wealth of Mediaeval and Renaissance monuments, some dating from the 14th century, are connected to the court of the house of Este, which made it a European capital of music, art and culture.

Info

  • Altitude: 90 m a.s.l
  • Population: about 130,000 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal code: 44100
  • Dialing Area Code: +39 0532
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Administrative Division

The comune includes the following Frazioni: Aguscello, Albarea, Baura, Boara, Bova, Casaglia, Chiesuol del Fosso, Cocomaro di Cona, Cocomaro di Focomorto, Codrea, Cona, Contrapo, Corlo, Correggio, Denore, Fossa d'Albero, Fossanova San Biagio, Fossanova San Marco, Francolino, Gaibana, Gaibanella, Malborghetto di Boara, Marrara, Monestirolo, Montalbano, Parasacco, Pescara, Pontegradella, Pontelagoscuro, Porotto-Cassana, Porporana, Quartesana, Ravalle, San Bartolomeo in Bosco, San Martino, Scoline, Spinazzino, Viconovo, Villanova

History - Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The origin of Ferrara is uncertain, it was probably a settlement formed by the inhabitants of the lagoons at the mouth of the Po. The name first appeared in a document of Aistulf of 754 AD as a city forming part of the exarchate of Ravenna. After 984 it was a fiefdom of Tedaldus, count of Modena and Canossa, nephew of the emperor Otho I. It afterwards made itself independent, and in 1101 was taken by siege by the countess Matilda. At this time it was dominated by several powerful families, among them the Adelardi.

In 1146 Guglielmo, the last of the Adelardi, died, and his property passed, as the dowry of his niece Marchesella, to Azzo VI d'Este. His descendant, Obizzo II (1264–1293) was made perpetual lord of the city by the population. At this time the house of Este settled in Ferrara. In 1289 he was also chosen as lord of Modena, one year later he was made lord of Reggio.

During the reign of Ercole I, one of the most significant patrons of the arts in Renaissance Italy, Ferrara grew into a cultural center, especially for music. Composers came to Ferrara from many parts of Europe, as Josquin Des Prez who worked for Duke Ercole writing for him the Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae, Jacob Obrecht and Antoine Brumel.

History - the Renaissance and Modern Times

Alfonso I, son of Ercole, was also an important patron; he married the famed Lucrezia Borgia, and continued the war with Venice. In 1509 he was excommunicated by Pope Julius II, and attacked the pontifical army in 1512 outside Ravenna, which he took. With the succeeding popes he was able to make peace. He was the patron of Ariosto from 1518 onwards.

His son Ercole II married Renée, daughter of Louis XII of France; he too embellished Ferrara during his reign (1534–1559). His son Alfonso II married Lucrezia, daughter of grand-duke Cosimo I of Tuscany, then Barbara, sister of the emperor Maximilian II and finally Margherita Gonzaga, daughter of the duke of Mantua. He raised the glory of Ferrara to its highest point, and was the patron of Tasso and Guarini, favouring the arts and sciences.

During the reign of Alfonso II Ferrara was an important musical centre, with composers such as Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Lodovico Agostini, and Carlo Gesualdo, virtuoso performers as Laura Peverara, Anna Guarini, and Livia d'Arco. Alfonso II had no legitimate male heir, and in 1597 Ferrara was claimed as a vacant fiefdom by Pope Clement VIII, as was also Comacchio. The town remained a part of the states of the Church; the fortress was occupied by the Austrians from 1832 until 1859 when it became part of the kingdom of Italy.

What to see

  • The square castle of the house of Este, in the centre of the town, a brick building surrounded by a moat, with four towers. It was built after 1385 and partly restored in 1554, when the pavilions on the top of the towers were built. Near it is the hospital of S. Anna, where Torquato Tasso was confined during his insanity (1579–1586).
  • The university library, preserving valuable manuscripts including part of the Orlando Furioso and letters by Torquato Tasso.
  • The Palazzo del Municipio, rebuilt in the 18th century, the earlier residence of the Este family.
  • The Archivio Storico Comunale contains a relevant amount of historical documents, starting from 15th century. The Archivio Storico Diocesano is more ancient, mentioned in documents in 955, and contains precious documents collected across the centuries by the clergy. cathedral of Ferrara
  • The cathedral of San Giorgio, consecrated in 1135, when the Romanesque lower part of the main façade and the side façades were completed. It was built by Guglielmo degli Adelardi, who was buried here in 1146. The upper part of the main façade, with arcades of pointed arches, dates from the 13th century. The interior was restored in the baroque style in 1712. The belltower, in the Renaissance style, dates from 1451–1493, but the last story was added at the end of the 16th century.
  • The Palazzo dei Diamanti, so called from the diamond points into which the blocks of stone with which it is faced are cut. It contains the National Picture Gallery, with a large number of pictures of artists of the school of Ferrara, such as Cosimo Tura, Francesco Cossa and Ercole dei Roberti.
  • The Palazzo Schifanoia, built by the Este family, with famous cycles of frescoes depicting in the lower row the life of Borso of Este, in the central row the signs of the zodiac, and in the upper allegorical representations of the months.The building also contains fine illuminated choir-books, and a collection of coins and Renaissance medals.
  • The house of Ludovico Ariosto, erected by himself after 1526, in which he died in 1532.
  • The Synagogue and Jewish Museum, in the heart of the medieval centre, close to the Cathedral and the Castello Estense, part of the ghetto where the Jews were separated from the rest of the population of Ferrara from 1627 to 1859.

Events

  • (usually) last week in August: the Ferrara Buskers Festival a non competitive parade of the best street musicians in the world, the most important festival of this kind. Hundreds of thousands of people each year from all over Italy and the world gather in the medieval and Renaissance squares of Ferrara.

Where to stay