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Home The Via dei Romei Ferrara


Pilgrims arrived in the 13th century city which at that time was located along the Po River and it was one of the most important ports along the Po, both for those sailing down from Northern Italy, and for those traveling by land from central Europe after going through the Brenner Pass.


In this period, the city was already under the long reign of the d'Este family.  Much smaller than today, medieval Ferrara consisted of the southern neighborhoods located around via delle Volte.


The current city structure- with a uniquely elegant and spacious Renaissance layout - dates back to 1492, when Biagio Rossetti created the "Ercolean" addition to the city for Ercole I d'Este.


The origins of Ferrara are much older and linked to a “castrum” or military camp of the byzantine defense system once located where the S. Gregorio church now stands.


Cathedral Ferrara


The first episcopal church of the city was S. Giorgio, established in the 7th century and it remained so until the consecration of the new cathedral in 1135.  It is located outside the city center, on the other side of the bridge over the river at the end of via Porta Romana.  It is interesting to visit this church because it shows where the “poles” of religious growth developed in the late medieval era of the city, on the banks opposite the military-commercial church at S. Gregorio near via delle Volte.  Imagining the church as it was when pilgrims came to visit it is difficult because the building was rebuilt in 1417 and then remodeled.  The bell tower, however, dating back to the late 1400s, deserves a visit as does the splendid tomb of the bishop Roverella (15th century).


The new cathedral was much more centrally located, and, consecrated in 1135 for the patron saint Giorgio, its imposing yet light forms could already be seen by our pilgrims.


Certainly, the lower parts of the façade were already visible, with its romantic architecture, while the upper part with gothic windows was being built in the 1200s and 1300s.


Later on the portico with shops along the right side and the marble bell tower were built, probably based on the design of Leon Battista Alberti, and the apse was completed by Biagio Rossetti.  The interior was remodeled during the 1700s, and it houses great works of art from the 1500s and 1600s.


In the Duomo Museum worth seeing are the twelve marble forms of the Antelami school, with the Months, which the pilgrims in the city would have seen on a gate which was later demolished, the 15th century organ covers painted by Cosmè Tura and two statues by  Jacopo della Quercia.


In front of the Cathedral is the 11th century municipal building.  Now radically remodeled, until the 16th century it was the official residence of the d'Este family; a covered walkway connects it to the castle.


In the heart of the medieval neighborhood there is a very long series of arches both 11th century ones that are Romanesque and rounded, and 12th century ones which are pointed and gothic; they go all along a main street of the old city.  The street is parallel to the streets Ripagrande and Carlo Mayr which in the Middle Ages were located on the banks of the Po.  The vaults provided a passageway among the blocks of houses.  On the corner of Porto Reno avenue, the Leuti tower from the 10th century was reused in the 1500s as a bell tower for the church of San Paolo.


Also from the late Middle Ages is the monastery of S. Antonio in Polèsine, in which the seclusion church houses frescos from the 1300s.  Founded by Augustinian monks, this monastery was originally located on an island (Polesine) in the middle of the Po River.  In 1257, it was passed on to the Benedictine monks, upon the request by Blessed Beatrice II d'Este, who is buried there.  The internal church can be visited; it consists of three large chapels decorated with frescos. The frescos are in the style  of Giotto in the chapel on the left, the Bologna style from the 1300s on the right, and the Ferrara style from the 1300s and 1400s in the central chapel.


From Ferrara, the pilgrims could then continue on foot on the road to Argenta: there they were forced to go by boat though the "Valles Argentensium", a marshy area, from north going south or going east to Ravenna.  The walk on dry land could begin again when the travelers disembarked in one of the southern ports in those swampy areas - such as Conselice and Bagnacavallo or Santa Maria in Fabriago and other minor locations near Lugo - where they could then continue on land along one of the side streets up to the via Emilia, built up on the "cardines"  from the Roman era.


Based on the "Annales Stadenses" from Ravenna pilgrims went on to Forlì and then up through the Apennines through the Bidente Valley until Bagno di Romagna and the Serra Pass to then go down along the "Sacred Valley" of the Casentino towards Arezzo.


For tourist information:
Redazione di Ferrara

Last modified Feb 02, 2017

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