Piacenza and its Colors
Not much is known about Piacenza, because the town is often overlooked in favor of the illustrious towns of the Emilia region (like Parma for example), yet it has always been in a strategic position, on the banks of the largest river in Italy, the link between Lombardy and Emilia Romagna (but not far from Liguria and Piedmont).
During the Renaissance Piacenza became the capital of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, enriching itself with works of art and becoming one of the most famous Italian cities of art.
Of course, in Piacenza, one doesn’t find the Baptistery of Parma or the Cathedral of Modena that draws the crowds, but the urban center is well preserved and full of attractions, which are worth the exploration of a day or two.
Here are the main attractions to see in Piacenza in a weekend, before proceeding to the nearby highly recommended locations of Castel’Arquato (one of the “Most Beautiful Villages”), and Grazzano Visconti.
Cathedral and Piazza “of the Horses”
The beginning of the visit is undoubted to the Duomo. An ancient church, whose facade is curiously two-tone; part in sandstone, part in pink Veronese marble. Note the portals—particularly the one man supporting the column sitting cross-legged. Apparently, it is a wise man, the cross-legs are the position of wise people! 🙂 it dates back to 1100. Also beautiful is the bell tower, from 1333, on which stands a “wind angel” Piacentini citizens say that if it looks towards Parma the rain is in the forecast! Inside the Duomo, the main attraction is the dome, frescoed by Guercino.
Interestingly Guercino was a very diligent painter and very attentive to his money too. He left behind his accounting books where we got to know exactly how much he was paid. For that dome, he was paid about the equivalent of 300,000-400,000 of today’s US$. Not bad at all!
Just in front of the Duomo, there is the main street; “Stra Drita“, or via XX Settembre, it was once called via Degli Orefici (because of the goldsmiths’ shops, which some still remain today). It leads—between trendy shops and boutiques—to piazza Dei Cavalli, the secular center of Piacenza, which is pleasant and always lively. The name of the square derives from the two equestrian statues of Alessandro and Ranuccio Farnese. (The Farnese family were the rulers of Piacenza); they are by sculptor Francesco Mochi: for almost 400 years they have been guarding the magnificent palace (unfinished), all of terracotta and marble, open only for events.
Sant’Antonino, all made of bricks, is among the oldest (it was founded in the 4th century) and has an unusual shape, with a transept preceded by a very high pronaos, called Paradise, whose marble portal has valuable Romanesque sculptures. San Savino, on the other hand, is to be remembered for the crypt. In the crypt, the Romanesque capitals are beautiful, as well as the floor mosaic with the months, the zodiac signs and the agricultural works.
Madonna di Campagna Church
Last but not least, the church that should not be missed: the splendid Santa Maria di Campagna basilica, which is among the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in northern Italy. It is in the western part of the city where a long time ago it delimited the boundaries of Piacenza city together with the Farnesiane walls (still visible today).
In the area where today you can see Piacenza hospital, Vittorio Emanuele Care Home, and Santa Maria di Campagna basilica, Pope Urbano II in the spring of 1095 gathered here the Council that preceded the official opening in Clermont, France, of the first crusade in the Holy Land.
The sixteenth-century building that can be admired today is beautiful, harmonious, with a grandiose dome in the center, frescoed in large part by Pordenone (1530), who made his masterpiece here. And then there is another beautiful Guercino.
In Piacenza there are numerous museums; the Galleria and Collegio Alberoni, which preserves a touching Antonello da Messina (but is only open on Sundays), the Cathedral Museum and the natural history civic museum. In the Civic Museums of Palazzo Farnese.
But, in Piacenza, there is a cumulative ticket that allows you to get in easily in five city museum institutions.
Piacenza can be walked to discover the many churches scattered in the historic center, but like many lowland cities, the shops are concentrated in a couple of streets (via XX Settembre and Corso Garibaldi), while many aristocratic palaces follow one another in a silent progression. Each has an element of particularity.
Where to Eat in Piacenza
Here you can taste typical dishes of the Piacenza tradition but also a more creative and attentive to novelties.
Usual dishes are the typical cold cuts, to then continue with first courses such as “Tortelli Alla Piacentina” or “Pisarei and Fasö” (Pasta and Beans).
The location is elegant and welcoming and the service is kind and attentive. The well-stocked wine cellar offers local white and red wines.
Where to Sleep in Piacenza
A short distance from the highway and the center, the Hotel Ovest, is a nice hotel with a gym, laundry service, bike rental (10 minutes from the downtown), internet point and parking.