The UNESCO Series: Ferrara, city of the Renaissance and its Po Delta


UNESCO is the UN Agency specialized in protecting the world heritage and promoting education and culture in all the Member States. One of it’s main task is that of collecting applications by any country who believes a specific site, which is found within the context of it’s own terrtory, is of such a value to be protected and enlisted among the world heritage. Sites can be man made or natural and even non tangible, such as a special singing tradition or a special art. Sites are included based on different criterions which must be respected both at the moment of their inclusion among the UNESCO world heritage list and in the future. Therefore the state of the art have to stay the same to keep the UNESCO sign and deploy the touristic advantage of being globally reknown for a special added value.

Every Country on Earth has at least 1 site included in the UNESCO list of world heritage, however there is a Country which, provided the small scale of it’s extension and the unparalleled cultural heritage, ranks 1st in such list: Italy.

Some of the Italian protected sites are pretty obvious for anyone as well as the reasons behind their inclusion such as Venice and it’s lagoon, the old town of Rome and the properties of the Vatican State, the old town of Florence, the leaning tower of Pisa and more. Other sites are less known and may represents a good travel destination for those willing to discover another side of the Italian Peninsula, far from the most crowded destinations. Through my UNESCO series, I will present you some of the least attended UNESCO sites of Italy which I hope you will enjoy and maybe consider for your future travel plans. Let’s start with a marvellous city, where my great grand father was from, called Ferrara. Not only the city is protected but also the mighty delta of the Po river which is a very special bio divertisty hub, among the richest in the world.

Ferrara, city of the Renaissance and its Po Delta

Ferrara, which grew up around a ford over the River Po, became an intellectual and artistic centre that attracted the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here, Piero della Francesca, Jacopo Bellini and Andrea Mantegna decorated the palaces of the House of Este. The humanist concept of the ‘ideal city’ came to life here in the neighbourhoods built from 1492 onwards by Biagio Rossetti according to the new principles of perspective. The completion of this project marked the birth of modern town planning and influenced its subsequent development.

Este Castle – photo by Emilia Romagna Turismo

What is the outstanding value of Ferrara?

The inscribed property extends to the ring of defensive walls that first enclosed the historic urban centre of Ferrara in the 12th century. Over time, the encircling walls of the medieval town were extended to accommodate urban growth, and today the walls encircle the medieval city, the Cathedral of San Giorgio and the Estense Castle. A series of urban planning schemes were implemented from the 14th to 16th centuries, which made Ferrara the first Renaissance city to be developed using a complex urban plan. In this plan, the network of streets and walls were closely linked with the palaces, churches and gardens as part of an overall scheme that gave precedence to the harmonious layout of urban perspectives, rather than accentuating the beauty of individual buildings. The best known of these schemes, the Addizione Erculea designed by Biagio Rossetti at the end of the 15th century, was one of the first urban plans based on the idea of perspective – that is, balancing humanist principles relating to form and volume in architecture with open space, the needs of the city, and local traditions.

Cathedral of Ferrara – Photo by Huffignton Post

What’s special about the Delta of the Po River?

The Po Delta of the Po River valley has been settled for millennia. From the 14th to the 16th centuries, the ruling Este family carried out extensive land reclamation and building projects, which give this area a distinctive character link with Ferrara, seat of the Este family. Transformations made to the countryside surrounding Ferrara during the Renaissance included: drainage of huge swathes of swampland, establishment of castalderie (estates), creation of new waterways and streets as part of the overall urban development plan and construction of a network of noble residences known as the delizie estensi. This work led to a new fabric of agricultural production and the construction of Ducal residences as the political sign of magnificence. These were designed to mirror the image of the Court beyond the urban confines and again formed part of a process of integration and continuity between the city and the surrounding countryside. The original form of the Renaissance landscape of the Po River Delta is still recognisable in the region’s 21st-century layout.

Po River Delta – Photo by Comune di Comacchio

Artists such as Piero della Francesca, Mantegna and Michelangelo attended the Este Court and worked there. With great support from these artists, the Este family created the first example of a studiolo and their practice of art collection became a model for both the Medici family and the Pope. 

If you plan to visit Ferrara consider 1 hour by train from Venice and 1 hour from Bologna. If you do a self drive travel, distance will be covered also 1 hour from both cities, depending on traffic. Do consider at least 1 full day in Ferrara: despite it’s size the city offers so much to see that a shorter visit would be a simple “see and run” experience that won’t leave you much of the incredible heritage it contains.

If you plan to visit Ferrara you can find information about accommodation, places of interest and more on the official website of the local tourist board, including the attraction and the activities inside the natural park of the Po River Delta.

A portion of this post is taken from the Unesco website.

2 thoughts on “The UNESCO Series: Ferrara, city of the Renaissance and its Po Delta

  1. Thanks for the great historical perspective. Ferrara is on our list to see when we are in Bologna for a year (hopefully beginning this fall). We didn’t get there in 2019 but definitely will on our next trip.

    Liked by 1 person

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