I'll be starting my Italian vacation in Parma, where I'll stay for 3 nights. That isn't as much time as it sounds to see this small city an hour east of Bologna in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region. I'll actually land in Rome, which isn't really convenient, but I got a decent deal on a direct flight from Toronto to Rome. That simply means I'll have a longer train ride to reach Parma and so, I expect my first day in Italy will be pretty well taken up with travel. It will likely be cocktail hour when I finally arrive in Parma, so I'll have only a short time to explore, have dinner and likely crash hard.
That still leaves me with two full days to explore a city I know very little about. As yet. But I'm already getting the sense that a premier attraction will be the Duomo di Parma. The photo above shows the wonderfully frescoed nave of the cathedral, and is taken from the website Sacred Destinations.
It describes the Duomo di Parma as is an important 12th-century Romanesque cathedral filled with Renaissance art. Its ceiling fresco by Correggio is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance fresco work. The cathedral's most famous work of art is said to be the Assumption of the Virgin by Correggio in the central cupola. Painted in 1534, the fresco features the Virgin Mary ascending through a sea of limbs, faces and swirling drapery. (Shown in the photo below by Bill Tyne for Sacred Destinations)
I have to say that this doesn't seem to be the most dignified depiction of the Virgin Mary -- it gives me the sense she is being sucked up towards the light, like a figure in some overwrought drama. In fact, it seems that this imagery of the Assumption has created some bemusement over the years, with one contemporary of the artist comparing it to a "hash of frogs' legs" and Charles Dickens suggesting that the scene was such that "no operative surgeon gone made could imagine in his wildest delirium."
Tradition has it that Correggio was paid for the painting with a sack of small change, in order to annoy the miserly artist. The story goes that he went home with his sack of coins in the heat, caught a fever, and died at the age of 40.
Parma, home of proscuitto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (which is more than enough to attract me!) is also a magnet for opera lovers as well as boasting significant art displays. Beside Correggio's Assumption, another must-see is the Renaissance church San Giovanni Evangelista, which apparently has a beautiful bell tower and a number of important 16th century paintings and frescos, including other works by Correggio and by Parmigianino (aka Francesco Mazzola).
Parmigianino’s work is also displayed in Madonna della Steccata, a Renaissance church that may have been designed by Bramante. Nearby is the Palazzo della Pilotta, a palace built by the Farnese duchy and home to the Palatine Library, the National Archaeological Museum, the wooden Farnese Theatre, the Bodoni Museum and the National Gallery. These all sound interesting and I hope to get a chance to spend a fair amount of time here. It also seems that my hotel, the Torino, is almost on the Palazzo della Pilotta, making sightseeing very convenient.
Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any opera performances scheduled while I'm in Parma, where the great composer Verdi grew up (he was born in 1813 in a village just north of Parma.) That will have to wait until I reach Bologna, where I plan to see The Marriage of Figaro. Until then, it seems there will be lots of great art and wonderful food to occupy me in Parma.