(All photos are clickable to increase their size and clarity)
From Certosa di Pavia to Parma we detoured through the lovely town of Piacenza which has the massive Piazza Cavalli in its centre. Two great horse sculptures flank the municipo in the Palazzo Gottico, the architecture in the town being otherwise quite low, leading to a unified feel in the central area. It was lunch time so almost everything was closed.
We came into Parma not really knowing what to expect, either in our accommodation or in the city. We were fairly sure that we wanted to visit some operations for the famous Parmesan cheese or to see the processes for proscuitto, but in fact we did neither. They simply were not something that featured largely in the tourist attractions of the city and short of taking a rather expensive day long tour, were not easily found. The tourist information office agreed that people wanted to see these things but remarked that these were working farms and the owners did not have a lot of time to spare. We could watch the cheese making process at 8am, at the farm next Tuesday. So we didn't.
Accommodation in Parma was great fun with amazing hospitality from our hostess Clementina, an exuberant Italian signora with a penchant for collecting, so that the rooms at La Pilotta were full of pictures and ornaments, furniture, plants and pretty things. We had a lovely suite, a living/dining room, a bedroom and a huge bathroom, the most plentiful breakfasts, air-conditioning, an elevator, a parking place and all right in the centre of Parma. A great find!
The real La Pilotta Palace is a huge building that now contains the National art gallery which one enters via an amazing wooden theatre, similar to ones seen earlier on our trip in Vicenza and Sabbionetta but much larger. It is terribly fragile and they do not hold any plays in it. We got to walk on the creaky, sloped stage to enter the very modern gallery in stone, marble and metal. The gallery layout folded back on itself so that there was a definite pathway through the exhibits, which ranged from early frescoes, through various eras of Christian art to the renaissance and beyond into some Dutch and French art. They even had a delightful head of a woman by Leonardo. We did get the giggles at a Canaletto of the Rialto Bridge in Venice which he painted with the basilica from Vicenza next to it. Not quite reality but nice to hang on your wall after the great tour perhaps. The gallery finished with the Correggio and Parmiginino sections, hometown boys made good.
Both the duomo and baptistry are extraordinary. There is not an unpainted surface in either. The walls of the duomo are painted with scenes from the bible and the ceiling is banded with painted strips and ovals. The cupola, by Correggio, has Mary ascending to heaven, we think in a rather inelegant way.
In the baptistry, which is a beautiful pink and white octagonal building, the dome is covered with ranks of saints and angels and the walls with scenes from the life of Christ.
In the city are also the church of St John the Evangelist with dome and apse painted by Correggio and three charming cloisters.
A tiny deconsecrated church has the Camere di San Paolo, beautifully decorated rooms of which the one by Correggio was delightfully painted with playing children in ovals, surrounded by greenery. Such treasures.
We did, of course, eat the lovely Parma ham, also the culatello di Zibello which is rolled and cured differently and tastes delicious, more earthy perhaps. The cheeses are also delicious and a lot less expensive than in Australia. It was quite usual to buy 36 month old cheese. I felt the overall taste was milder, less sharp, than Parmesan in Australia.
The nearby castle of Torrechiara was a must for photographs before we left the area. A superb castle but damaged by an earthquake so only a few rooms are open. We did not go in but got some good vantage points for photos. There are a number of castles in the area worth visiting and most have some cultural exhibits or musical offerings.
The countryside is beautiful and fertile, as might be imagined for such a rich agricultural area, but it holds so much more than just good food experiences.