Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fair Padua, nursery of arts

I woke up on Friday morning practically hopping with excitement over my trip to Italy, and despite the all-day travel required (train to CDG, flight to Bologna then train again to Padua), I arrived in the city ready to be charmed. Even if this hadn't been the case, it's easy to be seduced by the narrow cobblestone streets, medieval buildings and picturesque squares of the city. I headed out from my hotel near the train station to the city centre at around 7.30 pm, too late to do anything except wander the strangely quiet streets and grab a bite to eat.

The food I had in Padua (a pizza and a calzone - not at the same sitting) was notable only for its blandness, but that was forgivable since food was on the agenda in Bologna, my next destination, whereas I had only one reason for coming to Padua, and that was art.

A couple of months ago I happened to watch a BBC documentary on depictions of the devil in Western art (don't worry, this sort of thing is balanced out with plenty of less intellectual fare such as Top Chef and Project Runway), in which they visited the Scrovegni Chapel (or Arena Chapel) in Padua, site of an earlyish depiction of the devil. The documentary pointed out that he is blue, not red, since that was formerly the colour associated with darkness and evil, and hence the devil.

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The Scrovegni Chapel bit lasts for about 5 minutes from 34' in - worth a look for the panoramic view of the chapel

As soon as I set eyes on the chapel in the documentary, I knew I wanted to go there. I didn't expect to have ,my chance so soon, but once I worked out that Bologna was a feasible destination to go with my expiring air miles, and that Padua was only about an hour away by train, I decided I had to make the detour.

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Stupidly, since my trip to the chapel was the only reason for going to Padua, I forgot that you're meant to book tickets in advance, only realising this on Thursday night when it was too late. The joys of travelling in the off season, however, ensured that when I turned up at 9 am, when the ticket office opened, I was the only person around and the friendly staff quickly booked me in for the 9.25 timed visit, before seeing me on my way with a chirpy, "Let's go! Keep it up!" (Okaaay, will do...)

Before being allowed inside the chapel, you have to spend 15-20 minutes (depending on the season) in a climate-controlled lobby which somehow adjusts you so that your moisture levels or something (???) don't damage the frescoes. I was the only person in my 'group' (up to 25 people are admitted at a time), although when I got in to see the chapel there were three people from the previous group still in there. In summer, you're only allowed to stay inside for 15 minutes, which they extend to 20 in winter. When the buzzer sounded and the other three people left, I just stayed put, on the logic that they'd obviously got a double go, so so should I. Luckily enough, the guard let me stay (the next group were not so lucky, and were made to leave at the same time that I was), so I ended up with a whole 40 minutes to admire the frescoes in relative tranquility. When I first stepped inside, I felt a sensation almost like panic that I wouldn't be able to take in all of the chapel's beauty in such a short space of time, it was just overwhelming, but the 40 minutes gave me plenty of time to really look at the details. I was actually glad that photos weren't allowed, since that forced me to really look at it rather than just snapping pictures.

Best of all, when the first group were going out and the next group was coming in, the guard stepped out to accompany them and I was left all alone in the chapel. It was only for about 30 seconds, but it felt magical. The experience of being all alone contemplating a masterpiece of Western art dating from the early 14th century (entirely the handiwork of Giotto, by the way) made me feel like a millionaire. I can only imagine how immeasurably better the experience was than it would be at the height of summer with 25 people talking and jostling in that small space.

This experience is fresh in my memory, so it might be an unfair comparison, but for me this was at least as good as the Sistine Chapel (which was full to the brim when I went in September 2009).

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As for the rest of my time in Padua, I looked around the attached museum, which was huge, but which to be honest, I probably could have skipped since it didn't really have any stand-out pieces. I then wandered around the centre again, going by the same places I'd seen at night. Other than the chapel, I didn't really have any ideas on what Padua had to offer or plans of what to do, so I ended up just having lunch and then hopping on the train to Bologna, where I was booked into a hotel for the next few nights.

So I left feeling that there was probably a lot more I could have seen while I was in the city, if I'd had longer, or even if I'd had a clearer plan, but very happy with my visit to the chapel, so it's all good really.

This building doesn't look very special in the photo, but I loved its elegant harmony

That awkward moment when you're caught sleeping with your horse for all eternity

The astrological clock - impressed it still tells the right date

Lovers in a Paduan square

Square with the astronomical clock and the pretty building above

16 comments:

  1. Sounds awesome sis :-) x

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  2. Wonderful. Mx

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  3. Love the horse. It might be the same one that found its way into the british hamburgers.

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    1. You never know! They were really horse-obsessed it seems, all the pre-Christian tombstones had horses on

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  4. Beautiful pictures! That chapel seems like something to see!

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    1. I would definitely recommend it if you ever get the chance (I can't take credit for most of the photos though!)

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  5. I love how much you love art history ... But in a totally unpretentious way (cf your horse comment!). Hope you ate well in Bologna. It would be hard not too.

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    1. Hey thanks, that's really nice to hear. I do, although often it's the stuff that strikes me as unusual or amusing that I really love the most. And then there are those things that are just so beautiful, it's breathtaking. I never got the chance (or more accurately, chose not to study ) art history after high school, but I feel really privileged to have the chance to go to some of the world's best art galleries etc. Posts on bologna, inc. food coming soon!

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  6. The man and horse thing is just weird. Weird.
    And I've never heard of the climate controlled room, that's so cool and sci-fi. Can you read a book or something when you're waiting in it or do you just have to stand there?
    It's great that you got to admire everything on your own, it does lead to a completely different experience. My mother and I went to the Sistine Chapel about six years ago and through an amazing stroke of luck, we got to see it on our own. It was amazing and I'll treasure the memory forever :)

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    1. They have a little video to watch, which is doubly good because it points out some of the features of the frescoes and explains the conservation process. Wow, that's amazing that you got the Sistine chapel to yourselves, lucky you!!

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  7. I love being alone with art, and otherworldly beast cadet art is the very best!

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    1. Definitely a huge privilege!

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  8. I agree with you, sometimes it's a relief when pictures are forbidden in beautiful churches, museums (etc). It allows you to avoid jumping into the future of already imagining where the photos will end up for sharing and for blog posts, and forces you to stay present; to just enjoy the moment by absorbing as much as possible.

    I love the idea of a climate control room too! I have never heard of that!! I think of it as a pre-meditation, or like a brain palette cleanser before entering the chapel. That's my new age side coming out, by the way. :)

    Just lovely, Gwan!!

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    1. I know, I went to a different chapel and swear I spent the whole time trying to sneak photos when the guard wasn't looking... Tut tut!

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