A narrow graffitied lane led from Piazza del Doumo to Piazza Della Erbe where to my horror there were even more market stalls but this was principally a food market with all manner of colourful items on display and I was particularly captivated by the fungi – especially coming from a country where we only eat about four different varieties of equally tasteless mushrooms and think that chestnuts are especially adventurous – because the woodland produce on display here was colourful, pungent, mysterious, dangerous, misshapen and a whole lot more interesting than our ubiquitous tasteless varieties.
While most of our company were immediately sucked back into the clothing stalls by some sort of invisible tractor beam some of us choose instead to visit the medieval market hall, the Palazzo Della Ragioni, which is a huge building that separates the two sections of the daily market. At ground level there are more food stall, butchers, bakers, fishmongers and purveyors of dairy produce and the assault on the senses from the competing cacophony of sights and smells was wonderful, eye-opening and stimulating.
It was here that I decided that the next time I visit Italy, or France or Spain or anywhere else for that matter, I will find some self catering accommodation so that I can enjoy shopping in places like this, selecting the ingredients for myself, cooking simple food and eating and enjoying my own interpretation of local recipes.
It was with some difficulty that we located the entrance to the upper floors but after circumnavigating the building we found the steps and paid the modest entrance fee. The two-story loggia-lined “Palace of Reason” is topped with a distinctive sloped wooden roof that resembles the inverted hull of a ship and is the largest of its kind in the world. It was built in 1219 as the seat of the Parliament of Padua and was used as an assembly hall, courthouse, and administrative centre to celebrate Padua’s independence as a republican city.
The magnificent hall is eighty-one metres long and is considered to be a masterpiece of civil medieval architecture and today is a must-visit site for both its floor-to-ceiling fifteenth century frescoes that are similar in style and astrological theme to those that had been painted by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel (which we hadn’t yet seen) and a wooden sculpture of a horse attributed to Donatello which is massive but dwarfed by the interior scale of the building.
Walking around this place in complete dumb-struck awe it was right now at this exact moment that I was really glad that we had decided to spend the day in Padova.
Actually, a day spent in Padova was going to be nearly enough to see everything that we would have liked to have seen and I began to consider the possibility of an early return.
Leaving the markets we now walked in the shadows of medieval and renaissance buildings south along Via Roma and heading towards Prato Della Valle, which is claimed to be the biggest (or at least the second biggest) of its type in Europe but I cannot confirm this because we didn’t quite make it (another reason to go back) because legs were beginning to ache, blisters were chafing, feet were getting sore and grumbles were spreading like Japanese knotweed so we diverted off towards the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua and found it in an open square with Donatello’s magnificent 1453 bronze equestrian statue of the fifteenth century Venetian soldier and general Erasmo of Narni.
The majority vote now was for a coffee break but there was still too much to see so I left the others at a pavement café table and went to visit the Basilica with its frescos and domes but what interested me most of all were the invitations to send St Anthony a message and ask for help. I think this meant mostly physical or emotional problems so it was no real use asking for next week’s winning lottery numbers or getting a recommendation for lunch which is what we were thinking about next and after the drinks break in the sun we wandered off back to the city centre in search of food.
This was exactly the point at which plans started to unravel because we arrived back in the main squares to find that there was a restaurant conspiracy to close at three o’clock so we tried unsuccessfully to get some food and then had to admit defeat and go to a pavement café selling sandwiches and crepes. Personally I didn’t care for this so I declared my intention to leave everyone here and meet up later and go back to my original itinerary of cathedrals, art and museums and left them rearranging chairs and tables by the roadside before ordering food and drinks.
The situation didn’t improve. The basilica was still closed – on a Sunday! I moved on back towards the hotel and the station and the Scrovegni Chapel and the Giotti frescos but as it turned out these are so famous that there is real difficulty getting in to see them and the next available booking was at half past seven by which time we needed to be checking in at Treviso airport for the flight home. My congested afternoon schedule was suddenly no longer so congested so I admitted defeat and we went for late lunch in a pizzeria near the railway station before meeting back up with the others, collecting our bags and making our way back to the bus station and the airport.
Padova is a wonderful city, we had missed so much but that is not a problem because one of the first things that I did upon getting home was to book some more flights to return there as soon as we could to see the things that we had missed.