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Ferrara Italy: A Medieval Wonder

Aug 17, 2007
When North American travelers think of historic Italian cities, they often think of Florence, Rome, and Venice. But for those who know the real Italy, there are other incalculable riches. One such treasure is the town of Ferrara, protected by UNESCO on the World Cultural Heritage list as a priceless example of a living, breathing work of Renaissance art. A vast portion of the town survives from the middle ages and in the off-season, before the arrival of eager tourists, a quiet morning walk in the pedestrian center along the cobble-stoned streets and brick and stone palazzos will bring you back hundreds of years to a less complicated existence.

Our hotel, aptly named, the "Ferrara,"(39)-0532-20.50.48, is in the historical center in the main piazza overlooking the Castello Estense an imposing 14th century castle and the symbol of power and refinement of Ferrara's historical presence. There could be no better base for a visit of the town. In addition to enjoying our comfortable room, robe, slippers, and breakfast buffet, we were able to borrow the complimentary hotel bicycles to join the ranks of towns people who generally use the bicycle to get around. We used the opportunity to "ride the wall." Ferrara is surrounded by a fortification "wall" which is now used as a strolling, jogging, and bicycle path where eleven kilometers of exercise can be enjoyed while looking down upon the sights of the town.

The region of Emilia Romagna is known world-wide for its food, and our dinner at the Big Night Ristorante (+39 0532 242 367), a restaurant that shares an entrance and collaborative relationship with the hotel, was no exception. We ate a crostata salata di ricotta, which is a ricotta pie topped with grilled radicchio. This was followed by pasticcio di macaroni alla ferrarese con tartufo, a wonderful macceroni pasta with truffles covered by paper thin and crispy pasta dough. Our second course was filetto di manzo in crosta con punte d'asparagi, crema di Roquefort profumato al tartufo nero, which is a beef fillet in pastry with white asparagus tips, a hint of Roquefort and black truffles. All dishes melted in our mouths and were some of the finest I have tasted. The entire dinner was topped off with a chocolate masterpiece, dolcetto di cioccolato fondente con crema alla vaniglia, gelato di pistachio e curry indiano. If you can picture this, it was a warm chocolate cupcake with a liquid center, with vanilla cream, homemade pistachio ice cream and Indian curry. It would be the one food I would request should I have the misfortune to find myself on death-row some day. The chef, Fabio Zanella, is sure to have been scooped up an aggressive hotelier somewhere else in the world, were it not for the fact that he was born and bred in Ferrara and reluctant to leave.

Ferrara has many other sites, none of which should be missed. They include La Pinacoteca Nazionale (The National Picture Gallery), a home for a panorama of paintings from the mediaeval era to the 18th century and many other beautiful museums. The most heart-rendering, however, and one not to be missed by those exploring their Jewish heritage is that of the Jewish Ghetto, beautifully preserved with its three synagogues. The Jewish community prospered here throughout the 1400s thanks to the particular protection of the Estense dukes who welcomed refugees to the city from other European countries. Later in the 1600s, the community endured taxes and other impositions, restrictions and segregations. Still later, under fascist rule, gates closed off the quarter. The history of these centuries, both beautiful and horrendous is preserved in the walls, the streets, the synagogues and the Jewish museum and serves as an enduring historic monument to all that was endured over the centuries. Much credit must be given to the people of Ferrara for their dedication in preserving it.
About the Author
Denise Hummel is a native of New York, who moved to Italy with her husband and children. She directs a public relations/ communications business focused on sustainable tourism called Imagine Communications.
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