Padua was feeling very shy today, and the key things we saw had strict photo restrictions. I couldn’t even cheat – which I only do when I am the only person in a room who seemed to have seen the sign.
Take the University of Padua, for instance. We were very much looking forward to our tour of this incredible institution. Founded in 1222, it is one of the first, greatest and most progressive universities in Europe. (However, it is not progressive in its camera policy, so understand the interior photos are cribbed from the Internet.)
Imagine looking at your class schedule and seeing that you had Copernicus for astronomy or Galileo for mathematics, Harvey for anatomy or Casanova for sex ed. What a faculty!
The Anatomy Theatre is the real sight to see here. Built in 1594, this is where much learning about human construction took place for centuries. What is impossible to convey is how very tiny this place is. In the center where the corpse had the place of honor, barely four of us could stand. The galleries are extremely narrow, so those medical students must truly have been starving to fit inside the rows.
Another stunner is the lectern from which Galileo taught for over 18 years. It probably had some elaborate drapery, but that’s the actual wood he leaned on.
There is also a great hall which is very impressive, with coats of arms from various students who wanted to be remembered, I suppose.
It must be an amazing experience, to be part of that tradition of scholarship and academic achievement. The good news is that students here apparently also find time to do the usual student things – like drinking and carousing.
We knew the Giotto chapel was strictly off-limits for pictures, so no surprises there. It was a stunning experience, we must report. Having seen reproductions of the frescoes, it was wonderful to see them in the chapel and feel the impact of the tall and narrow space. Beautiful.
The baptistery of the Duomo here is also richly frescoed. It was done by a lesser artist than Giotto, but that would describe so many talented painters. We thought it was breathtaking, but – no photos allowed.
The only treat we can really share today was our visit to the Basilica of Saint Anthony. Construction on this began right after the saint’s death in 1231. For nearly 800 years, this has been an important pilgrimage site.
The saint’s tomb is in a side chapel and – as we were there early this morning – there was no long line to simply touch the tomb. We saw some people lay their head against the marble to pray and many just press their fingers there as they walked by. Very lovely sculptures of Anthony’s life surround the tomb.
But all of that paled in comparison to the reliquary. While I did not take pictures inside of it – that was verboten – I did manage one from outside the doorway. Saint Anthony’s relics are in a class by themselves. There is the cloak his body was wrapped in when he died in 1231. His Franciscan tunic. The rock he used as a pillow. His wooden coffin. And then, there are the parts of his body that never corrupted. First of all, you have to know that he was considered an amazing preacher. St. Francis had him on a constant speaking tour. So what remained when his grave was opened in 1263? How about his tongue, his lower jaw with his teeth, and his vocal cords. How fitting. And how stunning was this chapel.
There are three cloisters outside that are open to the public. In one of them, there is a huge magnolia tree, planted in 1810. Nearby is the tomb of Gabriel Fallopius, faculty member of the university who gave his name to the female body part he “discovered.”
Outside the Basilica is a statue of a Venetian general noteworthy because it was done by Donatello, and also because it was the first life-size, secular, equestrian statue cast from bronze in a thousand years. Took quite a while to catch up with the Romans and Greeks…
Padua continues to delight with wonderful medieval buildings, enticing street markets and its colorful people. The beautiful Prato della Valle right outside our door is stunning, and has real overtones of Venice, which is not surprising.
We will be going further afield for our last two days in Padua, but that’s not because this city doesn’t offer more to see and enjoy. It is worthy of more time than we can give it, so we move on with regret.
Don’s Food Corner
We hit a winner today. First, it was open. That was a good beginning. However, we arrived a little after noon and were told the kitchen wouldn’t be open until about 12:30. They kindly let us sit at a table, order water and wine, a recommended local white. Plus, the bread basket was better than usual. Lots of different types of bread sticks. Since we are staying in an apartment this week and not at a hotel serving lavish breakfast buffets, we get hungry early. (Interestingly, in Italy if an hotel is rated with three stars or more they are required to serve breakfast.)
It was an unusually handsome dining room with very tasteful furnishings and excellent (and flattering) lighting.
The menu was rife with regional specialties. Since Padua is in between Venice (and had for many years been ruled by Venice) and Bologna, the regional offerings borrow from both influences.
We started with the classic vitello tonnato — cold veal slices in a tuna sauce resembling mayonnaise. This is the first time we’ve seen this offered and wanted to sample it in the area where it was invented. Although at home the dish is often served usually with sliced chicken breast instead of with veal since we’ve all had to think about how calves are raised for veal, the Italians appear not to have any qualms about it. In this case, the veal was clearly sliced from a veal roast and not sauteed from scallopine. It was superb. It’s going back into our repertoire, even if we have to eat it with the blinds closed so that people won’t know we’re serving veal.
Next, Jo had tortelloni with a tomato sauce. The tortelloni, clearly homemade and handmade, were large: there were only four of them on the plate. The filling was spinach and cheese. The sauce was a deceptively simple tomato and basil affair. The sweetness of the tomatoes shown through. I wouldn’t call it a hearty tomato sauce, but it obviously had spent a considerable amount of time on the stove.
I went with a special of the day, a cod stew that the waiter said was a regional specialty. I didn’t get the name of the dish (it wasn’t on the menu) and I’m not sure what all the ingredients were. I heard him say something about garlic (although I didn’t detect any particular garlic taste) and oregano. Whatever it was, it was just the kind of combination of flavors that you would expect from the best of Italian cooking. It came with a generous serving of a gloriously smooth and creamy polenta. The polenta was so freshly made (no small feat) hat after it started cooling a little I noticed a slight crust started to form on top of it. I guess I was eating too slowly.
Because the meal was so excellent, we decided to go for dessert as well. We only add that extra dish when we are sure the extra calories will be worth it. One of the specials was a pear crumble. Nice chunks of pear, lots of nuts and raisins — with a scoop of extra-rich ice cream.
We had a long list of recommended restaurants in Padua, but this one will have to be the only one we can sample. But we have hopes for the future. Stay tuned.