Ferrara Day 1 – Castello Estensi, Museo Civico di Storia Naturale and Corpus Domini

The city of Ferrara is somewhere I have wanted to visit for a long time given it’s connection to both Girolamo Savonarola and Lucrezia Borgia. The city itself has a long and varied history but is best known for the buildings that went up during the Renaissance, including the magnificent Castello Estensi (which let me tell you, is STUNNING). The City was also one of the first truly modern cities and a hub of both art and culture.

The moment you get to Ferrara it really is like stepping back in time – the buildings are almost all originals and the side streets…oh my GOD, the side streets. As you wander through the twists and turns of old Ferrara it really does feel like you’re back in the 1500’s.

Our first evening was spent basically looking for somewhere to eat after an incredibly long day of travelling and we ended up at a little pizzeria right by our hotel. All I’ll say is this – bloody lovely. As for our hotel – it was situated in a converted Palazzo that dates back to the fifteenth century. All throughout are bits of the original building poking through including these stunning doors half way up the marble staircase.

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On the first day we got up crazy early and ate a hearty Continental breakfast before heading out to the Castello Estensi – somewhere I was REALLY looking forward to seeing. This imposing castle really takes your breath away when you first see it – and even the second time. And third. And fourth. Construction of this castle was began in the fourteenth century after a revolt in the City led to the rather nasty death of Tommaso da Tortuna, a city official whose actions had led to the revolt in the first place. The whole episode convinced Niccolo II d’Este that he really needed to build somewhere more defensive, that could keep his family safe if something like that ever happened again. So construction of the castle began in earnest. Each successive Este ruler added to the construction of this magnificent building but during the Second World War it was badly damaged during extensive bombing of the city. In 2002 an extensive restoration project was began to restore the castle to its former glory. More recently, in 2012, one of the towers partly collapsed after an earthquake and underwent restoration.

From the moment we walked into the Castello, I was in awe. Absolutely in awe.

The strange thing about Ferrara is that most of the museums close over lunch time. This is probably due to the fact that it’s not really a very touristy place. So after a nice lunchtime respite back at the hotel we headed back out and ended up at the Museum of Natural History.

I have just one thing to say about this..damn nature, you scary.

Following this, we took a walk across the city and went in search of the Convent of Corpus Domini. This place was of particular interest to me due to its connection with Lucrezia Borgia. During her years in Ferrara she spent a lot of time there and, when she passed away in 1519, was buried there along with other members of the Este family.

If I’m honest, I really wasn’t expecting to be able to get in. Corpus Domini isn’t what I would call open to the public – rather they will let you in if you ring the bell and ask but it has to be during a small window in the afternoon. Apparently sometimes even if you do that, they don’t always let you in. I must stress as well that it’s very important to speak at least a little bit of Italian. We were let inside by the caretaker who was a lovely gentleman. He showed us the tombs and explained who was buried where and allowed us a few quiet moments of contemplation. I found myself getting very, very emotional standing where Lucrezia Borgia rested with her husband, mother in law and two of her children – it truly was an honour to be allowed inside the very quiet, still working convent and I only have good things to say about the Nuns who reside there and their caretaker. It was an absolutely fantastic experience and one that I will never ever forget.

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