Cappellacci alla ZuccaWhat the Emilia Romagna region of Italy lacks in landscape, it makes up for in its rich cultural traditions. Ferrara, as Antonello and I learned yesterday, is no exception to this rule, and our day trip to the Renaissance-style city was marked with sunshine--the first sunny Sunday of spring so far.
Driving through Emilia Romagna is like driving through northern Indiana--flat and mostly farmland. During spring it is especially nice, though, and there are rows and rows of pink-blossomed peach trees that dust the landscape for miles around. Flat Ferrara barely greeted us when we arrived. As used to the hill towns of Le Marche as we are (where churches and palaces are visible from a distance, perched up on their hills), we found it strange when were were unable to even see the city center of Ferrara on its leveled ground. We parked where we thought might be the start of the old center, and we foolishly bought a six euro map, only to discover that it was a short, straight walk into town to the main piazza. ("Oh well," Antonello said, folding the map up quickly so we didn't look like tourists, "we can always use it as a souvenir!")
Ferrara is a Renaissance town, well known for its fortress-like castle (complete with a moat), charming and elegant side streets, and Romesque-Gothic cathedral. Plus, it's the birthplace of Girolamo Savonarola, an outspoken monk who was burned at the stake in Florence for his strong criticism of the church. Unknowingly, we had chosen to come to Ferrara on a busy tourist day, where market stalls lined the main piazza, and people moved about in a sort of chaotic mess, something we weren't expecting at all. As we made our way from the characteristic side streets (some lined with porticoes, very Emilia-Romagnese in style), we emerged upon this piazza, filled to the brim with an outdoor antique market, locals riding their bicycles, and shoppers and tourists, intermingling among the various wares.
But while it was a little overcrowded, I barely noticed. All I saw was something I hadn't expected: it was exceptionally charming. There was a row of porticoes with shops closed in beneath it, and there were autumn colored apartments above it, windows with intricate ironwork netting them in, a church in the background, a pink and white bell tower as well. As we turned the corner, pushing our way through the crowd of shoppers and bicyclists, we arrived in front of a white marbled church, decorated in Romanesque style with carvings that told a story, marble lions guarding its gates.
The day continued like this. Ferrara was a surprise of beautiful things--the castle was more exceptional than I had imagined, with its moat carved out in the middle of the city and its high towers and spacious courtyard. There were palaces that I would have loved to have explored (we didn't have more than a half day there, really), and in the church, as we paused in front of the rows and rows of lit candles, I ad a chance to reflect about the weekend's occurences--the pope's passing away. Ferrara had an elegant, Renaissance court aspect to it, yet it had this religious depth as well, and the inside of the church felt like a place of worship rather than a museum.
And while we found an Indian restaurant that made me crave rice and aloo gobi and samosas, we dined instead at a particularly cozy Tavola Calda (Antonello felt it was too cozy--"no room to breathe" while I was charmed by it--very American of me), each of us getting the Ferrarese special Cappellacci alla Zucca--oversized hat-style tortellini filled with pumpkin--and plenty of Ferrarese curly bread to go with it.
The best thing that I saw all day, however, was a statue of Savonarola, arms out and wide, preaching over the piazzetta that led into the Commune. There he was, eyes serious, critical, arms stretched and exaggerated, his head covered by the hood of his robe, and right below him were a flock of market stalls, cheerfully selling brightly colored scarves and exotic silver jewelry, the laughter of children echoing throughout. What a statement for the town--the joyous flavor of Renaissance Ferrara looked over by Savonarola, who seemed to be more or less drowning in the liveliness of Sunday afternoon.
And amid all of the beauty of the sun-filled day, it seemed likely that he might even be smiling as well.