In Ferrara under the Este rule, gardens were appreciated and widespread. Practically every noble house or building had an Edenic, almost theatrical appearance: fragrant flowerbeds, babbling brooks and waterfalls, woods, dramatic hedge mazes, grottos and manmade mountains, symbolizing the power and glory of the court. The Este family spent a solid two centuries designing buildings and urban spaces in perfect harmony with nature. This route winds among courtyards and parks, crossing through the Erculea Addition.

 

Duration: 1 hour, plus stop to picnic
Length: 11 km approx.
Road type: mixed, asphalt/dirt
Number of stops: 7
Departure/end point: Castello Estense, Piazza Savonarola
 
  1. GIARDINO DEGLI ARANCI – CASTELLO ESTENSE
Looking at the castle, your eye will be drawn to the Giardino degli Aranci, the orange garden built in the 1500s is a hanging garden embellished with citrus trees, located next to the Torre dei Leoni. At the time of Alfonso II d’Este (duke from 1559 to 1597), the garden was crossed by trails, via which numerous kinds of ornamental and medicinal plants were cultivated.
 
  • Head to the intersection of Corso della Giovecca. Cross the road and turn left, then immediately turn right onto Corso Ercole I d’Este. Stop at Palazzo dei Diamanti.
 
  1. THE “QUADRIVIO” AND PALAZZO DEI DIAMANTI
Halfway down Corso Ercole I d’Este is an impressive intersection, where every last detail has been designed to impress: the Quadrivio degli Angeli is considered the heart of the Erculea Addition. Here three buildings look out over the intersection, giving it a sense of monumentality: the famous Palazzo dei Diamanti, Palazzo Turchi di Bagno and Palazzo Prosperi Sacrati. Palazzo dei Diamanti was built in 1493 and it is covered in over 8,000 marble ashlars sculpted into the point of a ‘diamond’, the heraldic symbol of Duke Ercole, brother to Sigismondo.
The building is currently home to the National Art Gallery of Ferrara and is the setting for temporary art exhibits of international importance.

The garden or courtyard of Palazzo dei Diamanti
Originally, the courtyard was decorated by roses, medicinal herbs, fruit trees and a “wood pergola” covered in interwoven vines. At the start of the 1800s, the end of the garden was delimited by a high wall with columns and arches. The current seventeenth-century perspective portal on the east side of the courtyard, brought here in 1931, was built to decorate an ancient building in Viale Cavour.

 
  • Leave the intersection and turn right. Cross Corso Porta Mare at the firs pedestrian crossing you come to and enter the park.
 
  1. PARCO MASSARI
Parco Massari is the largest garden within the city walls, designed in 1780 by Ferrarese architect Luigi Bertelli for the Marquis Camillo Bevilacqua. Archive documents give us an idea of how the park looked: rich with statues, ornamental plants and citrus trees. At the entry was a single path, lined by columns upon which stood statues of heroes and divinities. There was also a fountain larger than the one seen today, marble arcades and a theatre decorated by hedges. Unfortunately, this paradisiacal plase was destroyed during the French occupation, with their troops encamped in this very location. Around the mid-1800s, the Massari Counts acquired the building, restoring the gardens and modifying the entire complex to take on the appearance of an English garden, planting trees that are still alive today, such as the two Lebanon cedars at the entrance. It has been a public park since 1936. The entry on Corso Ercole I d'Este was designed to be the access point to the gardens, quite imaginatively, of the Finzi Continis in the 1970 film of the same name directed by Vittorio De Sica which was an adaptation of the novel by Giorgio Bassani and winner of the Oscar for best foreign film.
 
  • Head back to the entry to the park, cross Corso Porta Mare and turn left. After a few meters, you’ll see one of the most symbolic squares of the Italian renaissance. Head into its centre.
 
  1. PIAZZA ARIOSTEA
Located along the decumanus of Erculea Addition, it was ideated by Biagio Rossetti in 1494. The statue of Ludovico Ariosto, symbol of the culture of the Este family, giving the square its current name. In 1930s, it hosted the famous Palio di Ferrara horse race.
 
  • Go up the ramp in front of Via Folegno and cross Corso Porta Mare. Continue along Via Folegno then turn on Via delle Erbe to immerse yourself in the “urban countryside”.
 
  1. THE URBAN COUNTRYSIDE
Via delle Vigne, Via delle Erbe (Vine Road, Grass Street)… even the street names indicate an increasingly rural area. Ferrara is the only city in Italy that has a 5-hectare agricultural grounds in its historic centre, a place where organic and biodynamic farming is practiced.
 
  • Follow the dirt road to reach the embankment, staying to the left. Once you’ve reached the Porta degli Angeli descend and leave the walls. Pass under the crossing, staying on the bike path, and cross Via Bacchelli at the traffic light.
 
  1. PARCO URBANO “GIORGIO BASSANI”
This is one of the main public parks in Ferrara, the location of numerous sports facilities and various events. During the time of the Este dukes, it was a vast hunting area and where animals, including exotic species, were raised.
 
  • Once you’ve explored the park, continue along the hedge that marks the edge of the park, go past the golf courses and, at the end of the path, cross Via Riccardo Bacchelli using the pedestrian crossing that leads to the bicycle path at the base of the walls. Continue for one km, then, with the tower behind you, head across Piazzale San Giovanni to continue along in the area just below the walls. Once to the next intersection, go up the ramp and turn right onto Piazzale delle Medaglie d’Oro. Pass under the argace and go beyond the square at the foot of the steps. Then head towards Viale Alfonso I d’Este. Follow the signage for Palazzo Schifanoia.
 
  1. PALAZZO SCHIFANOIA
Having reached the end of our route, stop to admire the façade of Palazzo Schifanoia, one of the Este delizie. Legend has it that the name “Schifanoia” means “to loathe”, as in “to loathe boredom”, distance oneself boredom in the search of pleasure. It was here that the court met in a more intimate atmosphere, free from the daily duties of good governance.
The first building was constructed between 1385 and 1391 by Alberto d’Este.

The Salone dei Mesi in Palazzo Schifanoia
Inside Palazzo Schifanoia is the Salone dei Mesi, a room that preserves one of the most important frescoed cycles of the Renaissance, painted between 1469 and 1470 by artists of the so-called Ferrarese School. The frescoed cycle represents the twelve months of the year, with only those from March to September being visible. Each month is divided into three levels: the first depicting a pageant of the Greek gods of Mount Olympus, the central one with zodiac signs and “decani” (mysterious astrological figures connected to the constellations), while the lower register features scenes of daily life with the artwork’s commissioner, Borso d’Este, as the protagonist. He used art as a means for propaganda, demonstrating how well the city was governed under his rule.
Vertically reading the frescoes places the courtly world, the physical world and that of human action in relation to the symbolic world of the gods who seem to determine, with their influence, the course of the month. Horizontally evaluating the compartments, however, brings out the activities completed in each period of the year: the duke departing for the hunt, rural scenes with farmers intently pruning, diplomatic court scenes, all within the refined setting of Ferrara under the Este rule.

 
  • Go back towards Castello Estense, going straight and taking Via Borgo di Sotto, Via Saraceno, Via Mazzini, and Piazza Trento Trieste.


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