Italy 2002 Part I - Padua


For the great desire I had to see fair Padua, nursery of arts, I am arrived… and am to Padua come, as he that leaves a shallow plash to plunge in the deep, and with satiety seeks to quench his thirst. —William Shakespeare

Padua claims to be the oldest city in northern Italy. According to a tradition dated at least to Virgil's Aeneid, and rediscovered by the medieval commune to glorify itself, it was founded in 1183 BC by the Trojan prince Antenor. The city exhumed a large stone sarcophagus in the year 1274 and declared these to represent Antenor's relics.

The inn we stayed at in Padua - Casa del Pellegrino (Pilgrim´s Inn) - has been an inn for at least 300 years. Until 1950, it used to be called "Aquila d oro" (Golden Eagle) in the past. Among its guests were Emperor Joseph II of Austria and his brothers and Goethe.

Rosy feeds the pigeons at Piazza del Santo (Saint´s Square). Il Santo - the Saint - is not Simon Templar but Anthony of Padua, whose statue you can see in the collage on top. The Cathedral is dedicated to him and houses his relics. St Anthony is a very popular saint and also has a statue at the Cathedral of Cologne. He was a gifted preacher and orator and has become the patron saint for things lost.

St Anthony is usually portrayed holding baby Jesus. In fact, he is just second to Mary of Nazareth as the saint most often seen in artwork holding Jesus. Although Anthony has been frequently portrayed in art since his death at the age of 36 in 1231, images of him with the Christ child did not become popular until the 17th century.

According to one version of the legend—and there are many—there was a Count named Tiso who had a castle about 11 miles from Padua. On the grounds of the castle the count had provided a chapel and a hermitage for the friars. Anthony often went there toward the end of his life and spent time praying in one of the hermit cells. One night, his little cell suddenly filled up with light. Jesus appeared to Anthony in the form of a tiny child. Passing by the hermitage, the count saw the light shining from the room and St. Anthony holding and communicating with the infant.  The count fell to his knees upon seeing this wondrous sight. And when the vision ended, Anthony saw the count kneeling at the open door. Anthony begged Count Tiso not to reveal what he had seen until after his death.

Anthony is wearing a Franciscan habit. He was a contemporary and dedicated follower of St. Francis of Assisi and had  joined the Order of Friars Minor while Francis was still alive. Being a committed member of Francis’ Order, Anthony would have known well the spirit, teachings, values and dramatic actions of Francis. Like the other friars, he would have surely heard about Francis’ famous celebration of Christmas near Greccio, Italy, in 1223. On that occasion, St. Francis had people come to Midnight Mass in a cave where there was an ox and an ass and a manger filled with straw. And the story went around that the Christ child appeared in the straw and Francis held the child in his arms. The story of the baby Jesus appearing to Anthony is amazingly similar to that of St. Francis and may have been attached to him in folklore.

Francis was tremendously impressed by the “poverty” and littleness of God—a God who left behind his divinity and chose to become a vulnerable child. In God’s entering the human race as a little baby on Christmas Day, Francis saw a God of unbelievable generosity, a God who held nothing back from human beings, a God of total self-giving, humility and poverty.
The poverty of God made a strong impression on St. Francis. He instructs his followers that they should “serve the Lord in Poverty...because the Lord made himself poor for us in this world.”  Anthony would have read this rule often. More than this, he would have taken to heart the larger spiritual vision of St. Francis, which extended beyond his fascination with the feast of Christmas. St. Francis also saw God’s poverty and vulnerability and self-giving love in Jesus’ suffering and death, so much so that he often broke into tears at the sight of a cross. He saw God’s poverty in the Eucharist, as well, where under the common forms of bread and wine Jesus humbly hands his whole self over to those he loves.

To see St. Anthony holding the infant Jesus in his arms, therefore, is to see a true follower of St. Francis. At the same time it is a reference to his talent as a preacher, holding and communicating to the world the Incarnate Word of God. Very often the infant in Anthony’s arms is portrayed as standing on the Bible, a symbol  that it is represents the very embodiment of the Word of God. (wikipedia,

Souvenir booths in front of the Basilica di Sant´ Antonio sell all kinds of religious and local items - picture books, postcards, figures and St. Mary´s medals like the one you can see in the collage above. The Medal of the Immaculate Conception — popularly known as the Miraculous Medal — is said to have been designed by the St Mary herself!

In 1830, Sister (now Saint) Catherine Labouré, a novice in the community of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, was visited by St Mary three times in visions and was given a mission. She saw both sides of the medal and was told to “have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck.”  With approval of the Church, the first Medals were made in 1832 and were distributed in Paris. Almost immediately the blessings that Mary had promised began to shower down on those who wore her Medal. The devotion spread like wildfire. Marvels of grace and health, peace and prosperity, following in its wake. Before long people were calling it the “Miraculous” Medal. And in 1836, a Canonical inquiry undertaken at Paris declared the apparitions to be genuine.

There is no superstition, nothing of magic, connected with the Miraculous Medal. The Miraculous Medal is not a “good-luck charm”. Rather, it is a great testimony to faith and the power of trusting prayer. (

The front shows St. Mary standing upon a globe, crushing the head of a serpent beneath her foot. She stands upon the globe as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Her feet crush the serpent to proclaim Satan and all his followers are helpless before her (Gn 3:15). The year of 1830 on the Miraculous Medal is the year the design was given to Saint Catherine Labouré. The words "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee" support the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary—not to be confused with the virgin birth of Jesus, and referring to Mary's sinlessness, “full of grace” and “blessed among women” (Luke 1:28)—that was proclaimed 24 years later in 1854.

On the back side, twelve stars encircle a large "M" from which a cross arises. Below are two hearts with flames arising from them. One heart is encircled in thorns and the other is pierced by a sword. The twelve stars can refer to the Apostles, who represent the entire Church as it surrounds Mary. They also recall the vision of Saint John, writer of the Book of Revelation (12:1), in which “a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars.” The cross can symbolize Christ and our redemption, with the bar under the cross a sign of the earth. The “M” stands for Mary, and the interleaving of her initial and the cross shows Mary’s close involvement with Jesus and our world. In this we see Mary’s part in our salvation and her role as mother of the Church. The two hearts represent the love of Jesus and Mary for us. (See also Lk 2:35).

The horseman statue is Gattamelata (gotta love someone with the nickname "honeyed cat").  Erasmo of Narni (a place in Italy, not CS Lewis´ Narnia) was a famous mercenary in the 15th century and at some point dictator of Padua. His statue was made in the mid 15th century by Donatello (the artist, not the Ninja Turtle) who later said he almost died “among those frogs in Padua”. The nickname is a reference to Erasmo´s gentle nature, immense strength and cunning as well as his mothers´ name , Melania Gattelli.

Prato della Valle

At 90 000 square metres, this is the largest square in Italy, and one of the largest in Europe. The statues depict personalities from art and culture.

Orto Botanico/Botanical Gardens

The Botanic Garden (Orto Botanico) of Padova dates back to 1545 and is regarded as the most ancient university garden in the world.

Beginning from its foundation, it was devoted to the growth of medicinal plants, since they made up the majority of the "simples", i.e.the remedies directly obtained from nature without any further concoction: for this reason it was named "Hortus Simplicium".  The Botanic Garden was steadily enriched with plants from all over the world, and especially from those countries connected either politically or commercially with the Republic of Venice. Accordingly, Padova's Garden has played an important role in both the introduction and the study of many exotic plants. This scientific institution has witnessed the evolution of Botany from its initial application to medicine to its many present branches. The garden's development was gradually accompanied by the establishment of a library, a herbarium and a number of laboratories.

The Botanic Garden was inspired by the Medieval Horti Conclusi (Enclosed Gardens). Its architectural peculiarity is marked by the perfection of the circle enclosing a square divided into four quadrants (quarti) by two alleys oriented according to the cardinal points. In each quadrant, plants were grown inside small and variously shaped beds which formed a graceful geometrical pattern. In 1704 the four gates were built and, soon afterwards, the enclosure wall was refined by a white stone balaustrade.

The two fountains outside the southern and eastern gates were embellished with statues representing Theophrastus and Solomon with the Four Seasons, respectively. Greenhouses and the botanical theatre date back to the first half of the XIX Century. One of the greenhouses still mantains its original iron arches and slender columns.

Until 1984 the oldest plant was a Vitex agnus-castus whose presence had been acknowledged since 1550. At present, a palm (Chamaerops humilis var. arborescens) planted in 1585 is the oldest plant in the Garden.It is commonly known as the "Goethe palm" since, in 1786, the famous German writer drew, from a careful study of this palm, his intuitions about evolution, which were published in his essay about Metamorphosis of Plants; this palm grows in a glasshouse located inside the circular garden (Hortus Cinctus). The latter hosts other important trees: a ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba) and a magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) which date back to about the mid-1700, and are considered among the oldest specimens in Europe. (

Rosy with Seasons

Few people can claim to have been sunbathing in a sundial!

250-year-old magnolia tree

Goethe Palm

Come on, have a seat...

A street market

Another street market near our inn.

Torre dell´ Orologio - Palazzo Capitano has a clock tower built in 1599 and a 1344 astronomical clock.


Palazzo del'Bo contains an oval Anatomy Theatre built in 1594, the world’s first. The Auola Magna is a large baroque room where Galileo worked for 18 years, developing his law of accelerated motion and designing the first astronomical telescope lens

The university was founded in 1222 when a large group of students and professors left the University of Bologna in search of more academic freedom ('Libertas scholastica'). The first subjects to be taught were jurisprudence and theology. The curriculum expanded rapidly, however and by 1399 the institution had divided in two: a Universitas Iuristarum for civil law, Canon law, and theology, and a Universitas Artistarum which taught astronomy, dialectic, philosophy, grammar, medicine, and rhetoric. (The two were only reunited into one university in 1813.)

The student body was divided into groups known as ‘nations’ which reflected their places of origin. The nations themselves fell into two groups: the cismontanes for the Italian students and the ultramontanes for those who came from beyond the Alps.

From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, the university was renowned for its research, particularly in the areas of medicine, astronomy, philosophy and law. This was thanks in part to the protection of the Republic of Venice, which enabled the university to maintain some freedom and independence from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. During this time, the University adopted the Latin motto: Universa universis patavina libertas (Paduan Freedom is Universal for Everyone). The university had a turbulent history, and there was no teaching in 1237-61, 1509-17, 1848-50.

The Botanical Garden of Padova, established by the university in 1545, was the second such garden in the world, and is the oldest which remains to this day on its original site.
Since 1595, Padua's famous anatomical theatre drew artists and scientists studying the human body during public dissections. It is the oldest surviving permanent anatomical theatre in Europe. Among the students was illustrator Andreas Versalius, author of De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543). The book triggered great public interest in dissections and caused many other European cities to establish anatomical theatres.

On June 25, 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman graduate in history when she was awarded a degree in Philosophy.
Galileo Galilei held the chair of mathematics [1] between 1592 and 1610, alumni: Nicolaus Copernicus, astronomer, Torquato Tasso, poet, Giacomo Casanova, traveller, author and seducer.

Originally, the site of the historical seat of the University was occupied by an inn, at the “sign of the Ox” (Bo), which had been given to a butcher by Francesco da Carrara, Lord of Padua, in repayment for the meat supplied during the 1405 siege of the city. In 1539 the building became the property of the University, and ever since then it has housed the main seat of the Institute, though the name by which it is familiarly known has maintained that reference to the "sign of the Ox".

One enters through the Atrio degli Eroi ("Atrium of Heroes") and there passes by plaques commemorating the Padua University students who have died in the various conflicts in which Italy has been involved - from the 1848 War of Independence to the Second World War; the statue of Aeneas's helmsman, Palinurus, was in fact raised in commemoration of the University's role in the Resistance, for which it won the Gold Medal for Valour. On the the staircase and surrounding walls are works by Giò Ponti, depicting the birth and development of humanity, culture and science.

Nearby is the Old Courtyard built by Andrea Moroni, where the double loggia is decorated with the heraldic devices of students who have studied at the University; the statue at the foot of one of the staircases is of Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman in the world to gain a university degree - here in Padua itself, where she graduated in Philosphy in 1678.

From the gallery of the Old Courtyard, one passes into the Sala dei 40 (Hall of the 40), the old "Aula Magna" (Main Assembly Hall) of the university; its name comes from the portraits of some of the great foreign students who have studied at Padua. In this room there is Galileo Galilei's desk, which once stood in the"scuola grande dei leggisti" (the present-day Aula Magna), where he used to teach. The old "Anatomy Theatre" is very atmospheric; built at the behest of G.F. D'Acquapendente in 1594, it was actually the first permanent anatomy theatre in the world. Originally, in fact, even this theatre had been dismantled at the end of the anatomy courses, and the structure that preceded this final theatre dated back to 1583. As it stands now, the elliptical theatre has six tiers and contains seating for more than three hundred people. In the centre there is the autopsy table at which the professor used to teach, dissecting corpses which, at the end of the lesson, would be dumped into the river that runs under the building.

(picture of anatomy theatre:

Parco dell´Arena

Caffe Pedrocchi, an historic cafe that opened in 1831. Manin and other Risorgimento leaders plotted here to rid Italy of the Austrians, and it’s been a favorite meeting place for students and intellectuals ever since. Stop for espresso and ask to see the upstairs rooms, decorated in Egyptian, Roman, Renaissance and other themes.

I've come to wive it wealthily in Padua,
If wealthily then happily in Padua.
If my wife has a bag of gold,
Do I care if the bag be old?
I've come to wive it wealthily in Padua.

I heard you say, "Gadzooks, completely mad you are!"
'Twouldn't give me the slightest shock
If her knees now and then should knock,
If her eye were a wee bit crossed,
Were she wearing the hair she'd lost,
Still the damsel I'll make my dame,
In the dark they are all the same,
I've come to wive it wealthily in Padua.

(Kiss Me Kate)