Italian culture and history: What to do and see in Parma, Italian Capital of Culture 2020
- WTI Magazine #123 Jan 19, 2020
A refined arts town, Parma amazes visitors with its elegant monuments, churches, museums and green spaces, but is also a city of theatre and music and a land of gastronomic excellences.
Its rich historical, artistic and culinary heritage has earned Parma the title of Italian Capital of Culture 2020: with a calendar of more than 500 events, 2020 is the perfect year in which to go and discover this city.
What to do and see in Parma? Here are our tips on what not to miss.
Visit Cathedral Square
A visit to Parma has to start from Piazza del Duomo, heart of the city’s art and sacred vocation. It hosts its two main symbolic places: the 12th century Cathedral , one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy and a treasure chest full of remarkable Renaissance works, like the amazing dome frescoed by Correggio, and, next to it, the imposing Baptistery with octagonal plan, entirely covered in pink marble and decorated with paintings and frescoes.
Retrace history in the Abbey of San Giovanni Evangelista
Just a few steps from Cathedral Square you reach the Abbey of S. Giovanni Evangelista, right behind the Cathedral. Inside this monastic complex, founded by Benedictine monks in 980, you can visit the church with 16th century frescoes by various painters (including Correggio), three different cloisters, the library and the “spezieria” (ancient pharmacy).
Take a plunge into the beauty of the Monastery of San Paolo
Going back towards the Cathedral, in five minutes you arrive at the Benedictine monastery of San Paolo, providing another amazing opportunity for you to immerse yourself in beauty. Today, the ancient monastery is a museum comprising a room frescoed by Alessandro Araldi and the wonderful Abbess' Chamber, recently reopened to the public, with its beautiful vault frescoed by Correggio.
Take a cultural tour of Palazzo della Pilotta
Crossing the green area of Piazza della Pace, in 4 minutes, you get to Palazzo della Pilotta, a late 16th century monumental complex comprising various buildings. One ticket admits you to all the collections and artistic treasures of the Farnese family: the National Archaeological Museum, the Galleria Nazionale, Teatro Farnese, the Bodoni Museum and the Palatine Library.
Watch a show at Teatro Regio
From Palazzo Pilotta, going back to Piazza della Pace and along Strada Garibaldi, in just three minutes you reach the Teatro Regio of Parma. Commissioned by Duchess Marie Louise during the 1820s, it is one of the most important theatres of Italian operatic tradition. The venue for opera and dance shows, concerts and recitals, most notably the events of the famous Verdi Festival (held each year in October, the birth month of the great composer from Parma).
Admire the masterpieces by Parmigianino in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata
Just a few meters beyond the theatre, you come across one of the most significant churches in Parma: the 17th century Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata, worth a visit because of its large frescoed dome and the works by Bernardino Gatti and Parmigianino. Seat of the Sacred Constantinian Order of Saint George since 1718, inside, the church also houses a treasure of art and history – the Museo costantiniano della Steccata – with sepulchral chapels of the ducal family, wooden statues and religious ornaments.
Celebrate the greatness of Arturo Toscanini
Turning right in Strada Mazzini and crossing the “Ponte di Mezzo” in a few minutes you reach the Oltretorrente quarter where Arturo Toscanini’s House is located, birthplace of one of the greatest orchestra directors. Today the house is an interesting museum displaying period furniture and relics, items and opera costumes, and evocative spaces like the Piano Room and the room where Toscanini was born in 1867.
Go for a stroll in the Ducal Park
Parma boasts a large garden that stretches out just a few steps from Arturo Toscanini’s House: the Ducal Park, the ideal place for a relaxing walk before leaving the city. In addition to its boulevards with centuries-old trees, statues, fountains, kiosks and playground, the park also hosts the ancient Ducal Palace and the Palazzetto Eucherio Sanvitale, dating back to Renaissance times.
Enjoy Parma’s exquisite food & wine
Parma boasts a high-end food & wine tradition with dishes and specialties that are favourites all over the world, like its cured meats – especially Prosciutto di Parma (which even has its own museum) -, Parmigiano Reggiano, and traditional local recipes such as torta fritta, tortelli d’erbetta and many other delicacies. This outstanding culinary excellence allowed Parma to become the first city in Italy to win the title of Unesco Creative City of gastronomy.
Explore the castles around Parma
The beauties of the Parma area also extend well beyond the boundaries of the city’s historic center: its surroundings are full of testimonies of the times when Parma was capital of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza. Of the many castles of the Duchy, those undoubtedly worth visiting include Colorno Castle, the so-called “Versailles of Emilia”, 15 km from the city center; Torrechiara Castle (20 km away from Parma), located in a panoramic position on top of a hill, one of the best preserved castles in Italy, and Rocca Sanvitale, in Fontanellato (less than 20 km from Parma), with frescoes by Parmigianino, still entirely surrounded by a moat that preserves its Medieval beauty.