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Parlez-vous Parma?

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I haven't said much about Parma, the first stop on my June trip to Italy, and it really was a delightful small city. I was especially struck by how many people there spoke French and Italian, rather than English as a second language. That's a result of Parma's interesting history, and helpful to me (since my French, while faulty, is far better than my Italian language skills!)

It seems that at the tail end of the 18th century, the Duchy of Parma was occupied by French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte. And by 1814, Parma and several other duchies fell under the power of Napoleon's Habsburg wife, Marie Louise, who was to rule them for her lifetime. (She died in 1847)

Marie Louise's presence, and a whiff of the French culture, remain in Parma.

It's a very wealthy city and that struck me, as people seemed slightly reserved, very proud, calm and deliberate -- I didn't feel a lot of hustle and bustle. The centre was also quite small, making it very easy to stroll despite June's heat and humidity.

There are some beautiful buildings, including Parma's lovely Duomo and a stunning Baptistery (pictured above) which both have some interesting frescos. My favourite (which I visited a few times for shock value) is the Assumption of the Virgin by Correggio in the central cupola of the Duomo. 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)

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Heck, I even liked the BACK of the Duomo!

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An unexpected pleasure was the delightful Church of San Giovanni, the Renaissance church of St. John's, which is fronted by a lovely square and belfry and lies directly behind the Duomo.

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The hulking Palazzo della Pilotta was also interesting, with large grounds boasting several monuments including this one to composer Giuseppe Verdi. The Palazzo complex includes the Galleria Nazionale and the wooden Teatro Farnese (which are both worth visiting) along with the University of Parma's Institute of the History of Art, and the Museo Archaeologic Nazionale.

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I also ate really well in Parma -- fantastic cheese (of course!) and I had an especially good dinner at Trattoria Tribunale.


Comments (8)

What a gorgeous post!

Brad'll Do It:

Spent a night in Parma after arriving in Milan on one of our early trips to Italy. I remember it being quite charming, even when we were ticketed for entering/parking somewhere you shouldn't have. Always wanted to go back, but from your post, sounds like a day trip. Is that accurate?

Sounds like an amazing city! I really would like to make it to Parma one day. Your photos and descriptions are awesome!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, wonderful post on Parma. That's interesting about its history and the French influence. And its great that your language skills in French was very helpful to you while there. You took some beautiful photos. Parma sounds like a really pleasant and quaint town and I would like to one day visit there.

Thank you for sharing more of your experiences from your recent trip and for posting some of your wonderful photos.

Nice photos. It looks like a very elegant city. Love that first campanile (and I like the back of the Duomo too).

OT but I thought of you last night when I watched an interview with Susan Boyle and she used the phrase "absolutely gobsmacked." (Her rags to riches story IS pretty gobsmacking!)

sandrac:

Thanks Leslie!

Brad, I think that there is enough to see and do in Parma to rate a couple of days. That is, if you enjoy looking inside churches -- Parma has several beautiful churches.

Also because it really adheres to the 3-hour break at lunch -- everything shuts right down -- so it would be hard to see much in a day. As well, there are several good restaurants (I really better dig out my notes to write some reviews!) So you really need time to have a few meals there!

Candi, it is quite lovely -- I hope you're able to visit there sometime.

Hi Kathy, the French influence is interesting and while I'm obviously not an expert, I have the sense that that history and the effect that has had on Parma's development is something quite important to the city.

Annie, elegant is the perfect word. Just like gob-smacked! I can so easily imagine that term coming from Susan Boyle -- it's not exactly an elegant expression (to be smacked in the gob) but it is just so descriptive!

Amy:

Parma and the E-R is so at the top of my list for when I get back to Italy!

The first thing I looked for when I entered the Duomo on this trip was the Assumption of the Virgin by Correggio in the central cupola. I had to laugh to myself when I saw it and thought of you.

I really love Parma and was happy that I returned, even if only for a short visit. I am glad you enjoyed your stay in Parma. I definitely agree about the food. I think it is even better than the food in Bologna.

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