Parma for non-foodies
You do not need to be obsessed with food to go visit the first UNESCO "Creative City for gastronomy”. There are many things to see outside bars and restaurants and cafés.
Visited in November
Parma was founded in 183 B.C. by Romans. It flourished as a Roman center until the Barbaric invasions in the 5th and 6th centuries when raids and destruction completely changed its appearance. During the Byzantine period (400AD - 1400AD), Parma flourished again. The city was ruled by the Visconti, the Sforza, the French and then by the Papacy from the 14th to 16th centuries. The Farnese, descendants of Pope Paul III, ruled the city during the 16-17th centuries.
In 1731 Parma passed into the hands of the Bourbons, in 1802 in the ones of Napoleon and in 1816 to Bonaparte's second wife, Maria Luigia of Austria. Then, Parma became one of the great cultural centers of Europe. When Maria Luigia died in 1847, the Bourbons took over until 1859 when the Independence war broke out. Parma joined the newly unified Kingdom of Italy with a plebiscite on March 18, 1860.
Parma is a charming human-sized city with colourful houses, beautiful churches and fantastic museums.
Casa della Musica
The beautiful 15th century Palazzo Cusani houses the headquarters of the Casa della Musica. This institution has the aim of conserving and enhancing documentary heritage of musical culture, promoting specialized research and disseminating acquisitions. There are sometimes exhibits and you can always access the courtyard.
The Ducal Theatre has a neoclassical facade and an interior combining mid-nineteenth century elements with neobaroque.
It is famous for having hosts many Verdi operas. As a matter of fact, Verdi was born and grew up in the outskirts of Parma. His operas and their subsequent adaptations always have had a special place in the Regio's programmation.
Stendhal lovers will not find any Charterhouse of Parma for it is situated outside Parma. If you decide to visit the certosa, hours are very limited and not guaranted.
Duomo & Baptistery
The Duomo (S. Maria Assunta) represents one of the finest examples of the Romanesque style in the Po Valley. It is situated outside the original town walls.
Consecrated during the papacy of Pasquale II in 1106, it was badly hit in 1117 by a violent earthquake.
Its reconstruction altered its structure and decoration.
The frescoes are magnificent.
Not to be missed is the dome frescoed by Correggio. It depicts The Assumption of the Virgin.
The baptistery of Parma Cathedral marks the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles. As such, it is considered to be one of the most important Medieval monuments in Europe.
Abbazia di San Giovanni Evangelista
After it was destroyed by a fire in 1477, the abbey basilica was rebuilt from around 1490 until around 1519. Its marble Baroque facade contrasts with the Renaissance architecture of the cloisters and convent.
Inside the church, there are several artworks by Corregio.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Steccata
This imposing and beautiful Renaissance church dating from the 16th century hosts a fresco cycle on the arch above the presbitery, painted by Parmigianino between 1530 and 1539.
Chiesa di Santa Lucia
Built and consecrated in the 17th century, this small church has some fantastic frescoes and organs.
Palazzo della Pilotta
Do not be fooled by the area around the palazzo. It looks a bit dodgy with all the works done at the moment (Dec 2018) but is is totally safe.
This colossal palazzo is located between the Po River and Via Garibaldi. It was built between 1580 and 1620 as a Court Palace (Farnese family).
Largely destroyed in 1944, the south and west wings of the Pilotta had to be rebuilt.
It is now hosting a great number of prominent museums and is therefore a must see.
The monumental scissor staircase is the first example of an “Imperial” staircase in Italy.
Because of this monument alone, Parma is worth a visit.
Can you believe the theatre was almost completely destroyed during WWII and that what you see today is was completely restructured by 1956? You can see where it was rebuilt as these sections were left bare.
Built in 1618, the teatro was inaugurated 10 years later. It figures one of the first, if not the first, Royal Booths in the world.
It was built entirely out of wood and plaster but painted so it seemed to be made of expensive marbles.
Museo Archeologico and Galleria Nazionale
The visit starts at the back of the Teatro Farnese, with the Hall of Triumph dedicated to decorative arts.
The visit continues with artworks from Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Do not miss La Scapigliata (Head of a Woman) at the far end of the National Gallery. It is a beautiful painting in oil on wood by Leonardo da Vinci.
La Rochetta wing hosts some beautiful artworks from Allegri, Mazzola, Parmigianino and Correggio.
The large and bright nineteenth-century halls are divided into three large rooms, with paintings and scuptures exposed.
The Ducal Museum of Antiquities, now the National Archaeological Museum of Parma, was founded in 1760 by Don Filippo di Borbone in conjunction with the start of the excavation of the Roman town of Veleia. For a long time, it was the first example of an institution linked to an archaeological enterprise in Northern Italy. Artefacts from Veleia and other places are exposed.
Beautiful library established in 1761. No bags allowed at all. The best is to leave them at the Archaeological Museum entrance so you take them back after you have visited the whole complex. Photos allowed. No flash.
The masterpiece of this museum is a Greek version of the Book of Iliad dating from 1808.
Camera di San Paolo or Camera della Badessa
Only 2 rooms can be visited in the ancient monastery of the Benedictine nuns.
The 2 communicating rooms of the Abbess Giovanna da Piacenza are the work of Alessandro Araldi who worked there in 1514. The decoration is very close to the canons of Roman painting of that time and describes sacred and profane scenes.
The Chamber of the Abbess Giovanna is a work by Correggio, mixing sacred and profane scenes as well.
What really is exceptional is the description of the Abbess symbolised by the Goddess Diana on the chimney.
Oltretorrente (Parma Vecchia)
Crossing the Po river, you will find the Palazzo Ducale as well as the oldest part of Parma.
And yes the Po did look that thin when i was in Parma. It was not the case 10 day before when heavy rains fell on Northern Italy. It is forbidden to go on its banks because the area can be flooded without any warning.
Oltretorrente is the most popular and typical district of the city. It is unfortunately undergoing gentrification.
In 1922 the district became the scene of an armed resistance against fascist squads. After five days of fighting, the resistants were victorious. This act off resistance became known as "the barricades of 1922".
Inside the Ducal Park, one will find the Ducal palace, which nowadays houses the Carabinieri offices.
In between Palazzo della Pilotta and the Po river, there is a small building with beautiful pieces of street art.