On The Road: Dante and Giotto - soaking up Veneto's cultural heritage
Shona Main in Padua
Saturday 13 November 2010
In conservative Veneto, Padua is the nearest you'll get to a progressive city. A draw to the likes of Dante, Petrarch and Galileo, whose ideas were before their time, it was also the region's radical hotspot during the pre-unification Risorgimento and, latterly, the anti-fascist Resistenza.
I start at Caffè Pedrocchi, where the ringleaders of both movements met. Sitting outside, next to a marble lion, I can't help but come over all dangerous. I order a caffè corretto – an espresso "corrected" with a slug of grappa – even though it's still only 10am.
Padua's must-sees include Goethe's palm in the Orto Botanico; the charming thaumatropes of the Museo del Pre Cinema; the Palazzo della Ragione and its salsicce-filled market below; and the vaulted loggias of L'universita, encrusted with the heraldry of it alumni. However, the city's marvels, even for unbelievers, are Giotto's frescos in the Cappella degli Scrovegni.
The chapel was built in 1305 by a guilt-ridden banker, Enrico degli Scrovegni, who sought atonement for his sins and those of his father, Rinaldo. Dante Alighieri, someone you wouldn't have wanted to cross, knew Rinaldo and threw him into the seventh circle of his Inferno. It is here that usurers sit on smouldering sands as fiery embers rain down upon them.
I spend 15 minutes in a decontamination chamber – where visitors' hot, moist bodies are cooled and dehumidified by a strange, ticking machine – then I enter. A star-studded azure ceiling gives the chapel a dreamy, dusk-like feel. On both sides of the nave are three long rows, depicting the lives of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. They are strangely stirring. Giotto used vivid colour and an early form of perspective. Gone are the flat, stylised faces (even if the Byzantine halos remain) and instead there's realism, facial expressions and feeling.
Scrovegni may have flung his money at the Church in the hope he might buy his way out of the bad fire but at least he had a conscience. If only our bankers were as bothered by their sins. Oh, what riches we'd have.
'Footprint Venice & Veneto' is available now (£13.99)
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
It's Italian, but it's definitely not Italy: Stephen Wood visits Lampedusa, an island beyond the map's edge, where North Africa meets Rome and even the sharks are poets
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
How double-decker trains would improve Britain's railways
The 10 Best hiking boots
French air-traffic strike: Planned industrial action called off
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...
Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...
£20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...
£25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...