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Pondering Parma


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.

Comments (10)

LOL about the "hash of frog's legs." It's one of those paintings that will be worth seeing even if it is over-the-top! But the frescoes on the nave look very beautiful. And I too would be excited about the cheese. :)


And don't miss the K2 gelato--behind the duomo.
I loved Parma--hope you do too.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, Parma seems to have some beautiful art and places for you to see. That painting in the second photo is definitely different and interesting looking.

Thank you for writing this very interesting a informative post. Yet another place for me to add to my every growing list of places to see in Italy.

I am excited for you Sandra. I have never been to Parma, but I have read Playing for Pizza, set in Parma, and have been wanting to go since then.

I can't wait to read about your reaction to the Duomo. The Battistero is also pretty amazing. I agree with Jan about the K2 gelato. Where are you staying in Parma?


This has absolutely nothing to do with Parma, but did you see that President Obama went to Byward Market for a beaver tail? If it was at your suggestion of some time ago, I envy you your connections!


Annie, maybe the Assumption will look better in person. My Cadogan guide, with no hint of mockery, suggests it's very beautiful.

Jan, thanks for the gelato tip. Parma will be my first real stop on this vacation, so finding gelato will be a priority!

Kathy, I had been finding it a bit hard to get excited about visiting this region, until I really started to do some research and heard other people's very positive impressions of cities like Parma and Bologna. Now, I can't wait.

Candi, thanks for the reminder. I read Playing for Pizza last year and I think I'll re-read it for his impressions of Parma. I recall they were pretty glowing.

Girasoli, I'm staying at Hotel Torino, which I think you have recommended -- nothing fancy but a good location. I can't wait to see the Battistero.

Zerlina, I think my former colleagues in the press gallery were more excited about Obama's walkabout in the Market than anything else. I can only assume that, after he read my blog post about ObamaTails, he simply had to try one!

That is just where I have stayed! Simple but clean and conveniently located near the center.

Barb Cabot:

I'll be so excited to see and hear what you have to share about Parma. I've never been there. So happy for you.


the gelato place is behind and to the right of the duomo as you are facing it. I loved the outside of the Battistero, too.
You must keep up your blog while you're there!

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