Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Italy - Ferrara

Dedicated to Lee, Judith, Onners and GP, who all left such great comments. Thanks guys!

There are no Ferraris in Ferrara. There are also no youth hostels any more.

The place I was going to stay at was centrally located and had a very nice little promo pamphlet. The door was sealed with a steel bar contraption straight out of the Dark Ages. Apparently, according to the nice people at Tourist Info, it closed for good last week. Since it's located on a road I've used frequently, I've had plenty of opportunities to kick the bars and feel vindicated.

Ended up in a nice enough, if isolated, cheap hotel along a medieval street lined with overhead archways and gorgeous doors. Around the corner from a gelati place. Thank you, closed hostel!

The main things I've checked out here have been the Castle Estense, the Cathedral, the associated Cathedral museum, a couple of palazzo (palaces of the wealthy, not always royal), and the major art galleries. That seems to be my usual list of must-sees for short stays in Italian towns!

The castle is right in the middle of the city. It's very much a fairytale castle style, with turrets, drawbridges, a green moat with little fountains, cannons, and dungeons where "two young lovers with their bodies on fire..." got decapitated. In fact, the lovers where the 20-year-old new wife of the ruler and his 20-year-old son. Guess who ordered the execution. In penance, he commissioned an altarpiece of the Madonna and child which doesn't look at all linked, except it's titled "The Decapitation Altar".

I'll spare you detailed descriptions of the other sites, but the contemporary art gallery's exhibition at the Diamante Palazzo (diamond palace, covered with pyramid-shaped blocks of marble to make the whole thing look like a cut jewel) needs to be noted. It was a biographic survey of Corot (I know he's not contemporary at all by Australian standards, but we're in a continent where buildings twice as old as our nation are common. And he's an important figure in early modernism).

They had brought together works from major private and public galleries across Europe and the USA, including major pieces which I had really not expected to see in the flesh. It was great to spot stylistic links betwen his works and the other members of the Barbizon school, and connect what was happening in the 1830s-1860s with his artwork to what was going on in Australia. The whole thing was in Italian, but I think I gained a lot from seeing it.

I'm off to Venice now. (I've been meaning to say that for a while!) Just need to book a hostel, train, and wait for it to come to me. But before I go, there's a few comments I need to post -

Onners! Thanks for all the comments, and for the offers of help in Rome. Sorry I didn't contact you before, but since I knew I was spending the week with Anna... Well, you know. I will definately be in Rome around the 23-24 November, as I'll be flying back to Egypt on the afternoon of the 24th. I'll give Slim a call, thanks again!

And in whilst Rome, Romans try to ignore gawking tourists, hold protests, dress up in designer labels and do the same to their boutique dogs, ride vespas and park improbably small cars in unlikely places. And drink coffee standing up. I think it should be be possible to build a cardboard copy of Rome in about a day. And despite recieved wisdom, most railways will go to Rome. Following roads will only get you there half the time.

The reason you're getting this on the Blog rather than as an email is because I can't find your email address on my online accounts. Could you please send a quick message to my gmail account, which is ? Cheers mate, look forward to seeing you back in Australia!


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