Byzantine Chrysopolis: The Golden City
After a busy program the day before visiting the cities of Ravenna and Ferrara, today was more quiet for a smaller city, and mostly because we could not count with the entire day since we needed to return to Bologna airport in the afternoon to get the flight back to London. In any case, another weekend and another success with the plan we had in mind that worked very good and now we can cross another three cities in one go off the list.
While the city is known for its beautiful monuments across a nicely preserved medieval core, when we think of Parma, we have in mind something else of course. First, the indisputable Parma Ham, one of the top delicacies in the whole of Italy itself comes from this region; and the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the true Parmesan cheese. But it is not only about these 2 delicacies, it is for the large amount of restaurants serving some of the best dishes we’ve ever had in Italy, all of which non expensive, nor touristy places. only for its food and a relaxing sightseeing walk through the city it was a very worthy day what we planned.
To visit the city, half a day is more than enough. It is not big and the historical core is very compact with all the sights at walking distance from each other hence no need to plan longer. For us coming here after breakfast from Bologna, 100 kilometres east, and leaving back to Bologna after 15.00pm in good time to make it to the airport was well enough; otherwise any longer as an entire day and you will end up without places to visit.
The most common tourists do is visiting both Parma and Modena in the same day. The distance between both is around 50 kilometres, making it extremely comfortable and doable. As Modena is a city we’ve already been in the past, there was no need to plan it again this time; but with a flight to catch later in the afternoon it would have not been possible to visit both in the same day, unless the flight would have been late in the evening.
For more information about Parma check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Parma
- Piazza del Duomo The most important square and heart of Parma. Taking it as a good point to start the visit as the sights are north, west and south from here.
-Cathedral Built in the 12th century in Romanesque style it is the major landmark in the city. Of special importance is the cupola frescoes in illusionist influence.
-Baptistery Also from the 12th century was designed by Benedetto Antelami in octagonal shape and constructed in pink marble known as rosso di Verona. Considered as one of the key medieval monuments in Europe. 6 Euros to enter.
-Bishop’s Palace From the 11th century in origin. Opposite the Cathedral.
-San Giovanni Evangelista Literally behind the Cathedral is a large complex of abbey, church and monastery completed in 1519. Of importance are the illusionist frescoes Vision of St. John the Evangelist by Correggio.
- North of the Cathedral Along the beautiful medieval cobble stone streets.
-Santa Elisabetta Church Built in 1662.
-Cusani Palace Just across the square from Santa Elisabetta. Built in the 15th century for the rich Cusani family, it is nowadays the House of music, a prestigious reference point for music research and documentation.
-Church of San Francescodel Prato The largest and most important Gothic structure in Parma, built in the 13th century as the seat of the Franciscans, which was suppressed by Napoleon and turned into a jail in 1800. Its opposite the Cusani Palace.
- West of the Cathedral With the most notorious renaissance and neoclassical palaces among historic churches.
-Piazzale della Pace Recently revamped by architect Mario Botta, is entirely surrounded by palaces at all sides.
-Riserva Palace From the 17th century in Neoclassical style. One of its sides (the one east of the Piazzale della Pace) is home to the Glauco Lombardi Museum, with a rich collection on the Duchy of Parma from the second half of the 18th century to the Unity of Italy.
-Palazzo della Pilotta Named after the Basque ball game “pelota” that was once practiced in one of the courtyards. It is the largest complex of palaces in the city, built in the 16th century for the wealthy Renaissance Farnese family. It was said to be one of the finest in all of Italy. It contains the National Archaeological Museum, the National Gallery, Bodoniano Museum and the Farnese Theatre.
-Teatro Farnese Originally built in 1618 making it one of the oldest Baroque theatres in Italy, rebuilt after WWII and reopened in 1962.
-Palazzo della Provincia On the south side of the square, built in 1841 in neoclassical style on the site of the Benedictine convent of Saint Alessandro.
-Teatro Reggio Linked to the Palazzo della Provincia, was built between 1821 and 1829 on the site of the Benedictine convent of Saint Alessandro.
-Church of Saint Alessandro From 1527, only building to survive the demolition from Napoleon of the Benedictine convent of Saint Alessandro. It is linked to the Teatro Reggio.
-Basilica of Saint Mary of Steccata Opposite the Church of Saint Alessandro, built in 1521 is the best example of Renaissance church in Parma.
-Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi The next most important square in the city, with the Town Hall and Governor’s Palace as centrepiece.
-Palazzo del Governatore The Governor’s Palace, with a facade dating to 1760 and an astronomical clock in its Baroque bell tower used to be the seat of the Capitano del Popolo.
-Palazzo Comunale The Town Hall, built in 1673 in late renaissance style.
-San Pietro Church From 1762 consisting of a single long nave.
- West side of the river Just across the Torrente Parma from the historic old town.
-Ponte Verdi Located right behind the Palazzo della Pilotta, connects the old city directly with the Ducal Park.
-Ducal Park The most beautiful and historical park in Parma. Created from 1560 and extended in the 18th century in French style.
-Palazzetto Eucherio San Vitale Built in 1520, is a remarkable example of Renaissance architecture, with beautiful frescoes inside.
-Ducal Palace Built in the 16th century in Mannerist style for Ottavio Farnese, later enlarged by Ennemond Petitot in the 18th century by adding four corner pavillions.
-Fontana del Trianon Is the largest monumental fountain and pond in the park.
-Ponte di Mezzo Is the next bridge south from Ponte Verdi. It connects the main street along the historic old town that passes through Piazza Garibaldi with the west part of the city in continuous straight line.
- South of the city Not much to see in this area, bearing the enormous citadel.
-Cittadella This fortress, built after the project of Duke Alessandro Farnese between 1591 and 1601 in perfect pentagonal shape, is now a public park for anyone to enjoy.
The city has an airport, although it serves very limited routes to Italy, and that to London Stansted with Ryanair yet not daily. It does not make much sense to be searching for flights here, as majority of the air traffic goes to nearby Bologna serving many routes through Europe much more frequently. For us this was our preferred choice and we found a great deal of flight+hotel with British Airways. Don’t forget to check this option specially when flying from/to London since it is generally cheaper to get BA flights and a nice hotel than booking separately a Ryanair flight and hotel!
From Bologna airport there are frequent trains and buses towards Parma. The city lies on the mainline Milan–Bologna, with trains also towards Verona, Venice, Rimini or La Spezia.
Within the city and because of its reduce size of the historic old town there is no need to take any public transportation to move around. Most of the streets in the old town are pedestrian friendly, and distances are short.
I cannot recommend this time any hotel in the city as we did not stay over at Parma since we decided to make our base at Bologna and commute from there to our three destinations for this weekend: Ravenna, Ferrara and Parma. While the three cities are quite small, Bologna in the other hand is big with a choice of hotels much larger and with better deals.
Hotels in the city can be, in any case, higher than what you expected, but we found a great deal with British Airways when booking the flight and hotel together. This is something we are doing now more often, since you can get incredible deals that cannot be beaten if booking separately, not to mention that you get more air-miles this way. In any case, if you only need to book a hotel, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the AC Hotel Bologna by Marriott, in 28 Via Sebastiano Serlio, meters from the central train station and 15 minutes’ walk to the beginning of the historic old town. A great choice in every sense. Location, comfort, staff and nice breakfast. And perfect for making your base to visit the cities nearby since the train and bus station are next door, or if you rent a car, easy free parking along the street. For a guide of Bologna with further details on accommodation of the time we visited this city, check the guide here.