Ferrara Day 2 – Botanical Gardens, Museo della Cattedrale & Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Ferrara

Day 2 didn’t begin so well. After a night of constant hypos (low blood sugars) I woke feeling like death and couldn’t face eating breakfast. Once the other half had eaten though and I managed to get up and about we headed out for our second day!

We started out at the Botanical Gardens which is tucked away by the University of Ferrara. And let me tell you, it’s an incredibly peaceful place with some beautiful flowers and, the most important part, a pond for tortoises!

Right before we left, we watched one of the tortoises make a break for it. Literally he was so determined to get out he yanked himself up on the side of the pond and found a hole in the fence. And once he was free….people say these creatures are slow but this guy moved like he was strapped to a rocket!

After the gardens we decided to head to the Archaeology Museum. It was a bit of a walk, however we ended up walking along the Via Savonarola. This street was renamed in 1870 due to it’s links with Savonarola – it is said that the friar was born on this street at number 19. It was also the road on which Lucrezia Borgia’s lover, Ercole Strozzi, was murdered in 1508.

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The archaeology museum is housed within a Renaissance Palazzo known as the Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro, but actually named the Palazzo Costabilli. Legend has it that the Palazzo was commissioned by Il Moro as a place to escape should things get gnarly in his home town, however it was actually commissioned by a member of the Este’s court – Antonio Costabilli.

Today the palazzo houses a collection of beautiful Etruscan artefacts found at the archaeological site of Spina – once a thriving city that was then swallowed by the waters of the Po delta. Given that I studied archaeology at university and then worked in the field for a time, this place brought back some wonderful memories and reminded me why I loved studying archaeology so much. The artefacts on display are utterly beautiful ranging from pottery bearing mythical scenes to gold diadems and gorgeous jewellery.

We were the only people in the museum while we were there, meaning that we got to wander about unhindered. Whilst this was nice, it did make me wonder just how the place survives on so little footfall.

After a pitstop at the hotel whilst we waited for things to open after their lunch time siesta, we headed to the little Cathedral museum. Sadly the Cathedral itself was closed for renovation work so we didn’t get to see inside, however the little museum just over the way from it was open and let me tell you – bloody wonderful. And of course we stopped for some gelato on the way…

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The museum, set within the Church of San Romano, holds a number of artefacts relating directly to the Cathedral and the patron Saint of Ferrara, Saint George. It’s not a very big museum however I highly recommend popping in if you have a spare half an hour or so, as they have some utterly stunning artefacts and works of art inside, including the famous Madonna della Melagrana (Madonna of the Pomegranate) – a sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia that is considered to be one of the greatest Renaissance works of all time.

The works of art are utterly stunning and many of them show Saint George killing the dragon or undergoing execution. And yet again there were very few people in this museum while we were there, which really does seem a shame as this museum is well worth a visit.

Another pleasant day in all, finished with another fantastic dinner of Tagliatelle and chocolate salami. The next day would be our final full day in this gorgeous city so we planned to get an early night. Alas, this didn’t happen. It just so happened that our hotel room faced the courtyard of the hotel which served as a restaurant, a restaurant not actually owned by the hotel which was kind of weird. Anyhow, the noise went on until midnight, meaning that we wouldn’t get much sleep for the last day. Never mind, at least the bed was comfy and the AC was on!

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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