Have you ever pulled into a train station on your way to somewhere else and then promised yourself that someday you would make your way back? That was my experience with Ferrara.
Almost 20 years ago while on a train from Rome to Venice—a slow, regional one—I glimpsed Ferrara from my train window and instantly felt a longing for the place. It helped that the town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had been recently kissed with an unusual late November snow, thereby leaving an impression in my mind of a cozy, wintry village.
Most of that was an illusion, a memory I must have settled on because I liked the name of the town: Ferrara.
FER-RA-RA. FER-RA-RA. The name cheers for itself.
For someone who is not only able but thrilled to roll her Rs when speaking Italian, Ferrara provided me with the name of an idealized northern Italian town that I could put on my must-see list. Even if I had no idea what it was that I had to see.
At the end of December, I learned what was worth seeing (and worth eating) in Ferrara.
This post is mostly a gallery of some of the images that I captured in Ferrara during the Christmas holiday season, a time when the city is cold and foggy yet warm and sparkly thanks to its large food and gift market on the Piazza Trento e Trieste.
Ferrara is also a hub for holiday tourism as it boasts a choreographed firework show over the Castello Estense, the city’s main landmark, on New Year’s Eve.
Outside the Castello Estense
A Quick Background on the Castello Estense
The castle is named for the House of Este, the dynasty that ruled this area from the mid-13th to the late 16th centuries. As for the history of the family’s namesake castle, the official website has a good overview of Castello Estense’s evolution from watchtower (12th century) to military fortress (14th century) to ducal residence (16th century).
Inside the Castello Estense
Around the Duomo and Piazza Trento e Trieste
Other Sights in Ferrara
I regret that I didn’t see as much of Ferrara as I would have liked.
Ferrara’s Renaissance Walls
Did you know that Ferrara is considered the most bike-friendly city in Italy? In fact, the city walls are a jumping-off point for the Destra del Po, a 125-km bike path that cuts through the vast and flat Po Delta along the river’s right bank.
I missed touring Ferrara’s 9km-long Renaissance walls. Beyond the Castello Estense and the Palazzo Diamante, these formerly defensive walls are one of the most distinctive features in the city. My hope is to one day return to Ferrara during warmer weather, rent a bike, and ride the circumference of the city walls.
The Emilia-Romagna Tourism Board has a walking and biking itinerary for Ferrara’s city walls.
Another aspect of Ferrara I wish to explore more is Jewish Ferrara, particularly the city as described by Giorgio Bassani. A native Ferrarese, Bassani wrote extensively about Ferrara, particularly in his novels The Garden of the Finzi-Continis and The Novel of Ferrara.
(Update: Known chronicler of Italy Tim Parks wrote a review of Bassani’s Novel of Ferrara, which was translated for the first time into English, by a single translator, in 2018.)
All we managed to do was stroll down Via Mazzini, one of the main thoroughfares of Jewish Ferrara, and see the exterior of the city synagogue. But there is so much more to see and learn according to the local tourism board, which offers itineraries on Giorgio Bassani’s Ferrara and Jewish Ferrara for those who want to discover it.
I also missed touring inside several palaces, including the Palazzo Municipale and the Palazzo Schifanoia, famed for its frescoes that were added to “avoid tedium” (schivar la noia).
Other missed palaces were the Palazzo dei Diamanti, the location of the Pinacoteca Nazionale and a contemporary art gallery, and the Palazzo Costabili, known for the Renaissance ceiling frescoes in the Sala del Tesoro in addition to housing the city’s archaeological museum.
Despite all I missed in Ferrara, I feel like I saw a lot to inspire me to return. Hopefully next year I can come back when local soccer club SPAL is playing in the Serie A. Have you followed the team’s amazing rise in the Serie B? It’s a Cinderella story worthy of a dreamy little Renaissance town like Ferrara.
Forza SPAL e Forza Ferrara!