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.
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.
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).
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|