Ferrara is a rare example of a city whose historic centre has remained surrounded by the walls over the centuries. For nine almost entirely uninterrupted kilometers, the city still boasts one of the most powerful defensive systems of the Middle ages and Renaissance. While the city walls could be a nearly impregnable defensive tool in times of war, it became an extraordinary garden that hosted the leisure and entertainment of the court’s nobles in time of peace. The city’s entire history is enclosed within these walls and today they are an authentic monumental park, containing a unique historic and artistic heritage that is made available to citizens and visitors.
|Road type:||mixed paved/dirt road|
|Number of stops:||13|
|Departure/end point:||Castello Estense, Piazza Savonarola|
- CASTELLO ESTENSE
This route departs from the castle (on the Piazza Savonarola side), one of the rare examples of a dwelling surrounded by a moat. The symbol of the city, it was built by Marquis Niccolò II d’Este in 1385. Declared a symbol of strength and power, it became a noble residence at the end of the 1400s, when a part of the Este court moved there from the nearby Palazzo Ducale. Still today, the two buildings are united by Via Coperta, a covered walkway that passes over the arcades along one side of Piazza Savonarola.
Inside, visitors can admire the mysterious prisons, rooms and halls of extraordinary artistic beauty with frescos from the late 1500s, while the Torre dei Leoni offers a breath-taking panoramic view of the city.
- With the castle to your back, head down Corso Martiri della Libertà until the Volto del Cavallo portico in Piazza Cattedrale. Turn right and head into the Piazzetta Municipale.
- PIAZZETTA MUNICIPALE
- Continue along Via Garibaldi, one of the oldest roads in Ferrara. Stop at number 90.
- PALAZZO BENTIVOGLIO
The current appearance is the result of the restructuring ordered by the nobleman Cornelio Bentivoglio in the early 1580s: as history has it, the work was done in part by Neapolitan antiquarian Pirro Ligorio and Ferrarese architect Giovan Battista Aleotti. After the WWII, the building became the seat of the Court of Ferrara and today, after a careful restoration, it is home to private offices and apartments.
- Continue along Via Garibaldi until Via Arturo Cassoli. Once you reach Viale IV Novembre, turn right. The city walls will begin to appear. Cross Viale Cavour. At the end of Via delle Barriere, after another pedestrian crossing, continue along the walls.
- THE BELVEDERE WALLS
This section of the city walls was designed mainly by Biagio Rossetti upon the request of Ercole I d’Este near the end of the 1400s. The Ferrarese architect, as well as other intellectuals, contributed to the grandiose urban plan of what is called the Erculea Addition, an expansion that, thanks to its originality and rationality, made Ferrara the “first modern city in Europe”. Before Ercole I d’Este focused on buildings and palaces, he decided to fortify the zone with defensive fortifications. He thus constructed the walls on the north, destined to enclose a new portion of the city, characterized by large, organized, regular quarters, just like in a true European capital.
- Continue along until the Porta Catena bridge.
- PORTA CATENA – TORRIONE DEL BARCO
Proceeding for a dozen meters or so, on the left-hand side is the Torrione del Barco, a still-standing example of military architecture. The openings that can be seen on the left were used to position the gunners who protected the area at the base of the walls. During times of peace, it was also a docking place for flat-bottomed boats that used the external flooded wall for commercial transactions. The section that follows differs in its semi-circular towers and long walkway along the parapet for sentries.
- Continue along to the next building at the end of the famous Corso Ercole I d’Este.
- PORTA DEGLI ANGELI
- Continue until the dirt road runs along an actual hill.
- PUNTA DELLA MONTAGNOLA
When Ferrara became part of the Papal States, this defensive section was altered to what you see today.
Continue along, slowly…
Large trees such as linden, elm, chestnut and oak line the path. Here, the walls separate two realms. That outside the city, with the frenetic buzz of never-ending yet distant and non-bothersome traffic, contrasts with that within the city, which seems as if time has stood still, meditative and enchanted. A serene silence envelopes the vegetation.
Here you’ll find two historic symbols of the city: the Jewish Cemetery and the Ferrara Charterhouse and Cemetery (La Certosa). Along with the Church of San Cristoforo, the latter can be traced to an ancient monastic complex built at the behest of Borso d’Este and later transformed in the 1800s into the most important, most monumental cemetery in the province. Here you will find tombs listing famous names such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Giovanni Boldini and Filippo de Pisis. Next to La Certosa are the fields of the Jewish Cemetery, dating back to the 1600s. This vast expanse of greenery inspired Giorgio Bassani when he wrote The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, an extraordinary novel that tells the tale of a wealthy Jewish family living in Ferrara during the 1930s. its adaptation as a film of the same name by Vittorio De Sica in 1970 placed Ferrara square in the public eye.
- Continue towards the end of this first section. Note the periodic appearance of circular towers and the walkway atop the bastions.
- TORRIONE DI SAN GIOVANNI BATTISTA
In 1999 the tower become the headquarters of the Jazz Club, one of the most beloved music venues in Europe. Enjoying a jazz concert within a perfectly-maintained Renaissance building is an absolutely one-of-a-kind experience.
- Continue along, through you will no longer be on the embankments. Cross Corso Porta Mare via pedestrian crossing on the left, go past the car park in front of you and enter into what is called the “sottomura” (the area just below the walls), until you reach a long hedge.
A very important section for the history of the city’s defence system begins at this point. In the 1500s, as military strategies evolved and new defensive needs emerged, the walls changed, becoming more imposing and impressive. Duke Alfonso I d’Este, nicknamed the “Artilleryman Duke”, was the one to build the large outcropping bastions in the shape of arrows. These structures, as high as the walls themselves, were positioned so as to protect the dangerously exposed straight sections.
- EX-BALUARDO DI SAN ROCCO
- Continue along, paying attention to the intersection that briefly interrupts the area at the base of the wall near Piazzale delle Medaglie d’Oro. The pedestrian crossing is on your left. Once back on the dirt road, after 1 km there will be a small square with an ancient passage. Get off your bicycle and take the corridor on your right.
- PALAZZINA DEI BAGNI DUCALI
- Continue along the tree-lined street to your right and admire what time has preserved up close. Go around the mountain, then go back to Palazzina dei Bagni Ducali. On your right is an inner courtyard, what was the Baluardo della Montagna (Bulwark of the Mountain).
The Palazzina was set amid a landscape that one could only describe as paradise-like. What the residents of Ferrara now call the “Montagnone” (large mountain) was once an imposing defensive cavalier measuring over 100 meters high (so soldiers could shoot long distances) with its slopes covered in streams, grapevines and fruit trees. At the foot of the mountain were two grottos designed by Girolamo da Carpi and decorated by Flemish artists with grotesque motifs, studded with precious marble and shells. At the base of the artificial mountain, facing the slides, was a fish farm, while between the lake and the city was a long pergola, made of marble columns and iron arches, covered in grapevines and trees. There was also a labyrinth that stretched between the mountain and the walls. Here they raised albino peacocks, monkeys, ostriches, dwarf donkeys and turkeys. Today, on the peak of the mountain, stands the structure that from 1890 to 1932 was the city’s aqueduct.
- Head back down the same road you came on to return to the bicycle path. Pedal until the 17th-century watchtower. Use the pedestrian crossing to get to the other side of Viale Alfonso I d’Este and then follow the path ahead of you. Continue along the area at the base of the walls to your right.
- THE SOUTHERN WALLS
- PORTA DI SAN PIETRO
- At the end of this section of the walls, you’ll see Porta Paula in all of its splendor.
- PORTA PAULA
- With Porta Paula behind you, head down Corso Porta Reno to return to the area near the castle.