edicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, Parma's Cathedral represents one of the
finest examples of Romanesque architecture. Over the centuries a series of changes
have brought about modifications to the building's structure.
A violent earthquake destroyed it in 1117 and spared only the apses. The cathedral
we see today was then finished in the 12th century. The bell tower was erected
in 1200 and the side chapels were added in later periods.
The austere façade consists of sandstone blocks enhanced by three rows of loggias,
while the central portal is preceded by a prothyrum with column-bearing lions.
Above the bell tower spire there is a gilt embossed copper angel whose original
is inside the church.
The interior, in the form of a Latin cross, has a nave and two aisles on pillars
with beautiful capitals and is quite an impressive sight with its magnificent
frescos, women's galleries and the presbytery raised above the crypt. The extremely
interesting dome frescoed by Correggio between 1526 and 1530 is dedicated to the
Assumption of the Virgin, in which very soft "chiaroscuri" cancel any sense of
real space. The bas-relief of the "Deposition", now embedded in a wall of the
right transept, is one of the finest examples of Benedetto Antelami's work and
of Romanesque sculpture. Under the transept and the presbytery is the crypt supported
by columns of various materials and dimensions, with capitals decorated with plant
motifs, dating back to the building's first stages of construction (end of 11th,
beginning of 12th century). The mosaic fragments with fish and geometric shapes
seen in the floor date from the early Christian period and come from the city's
ancient basilica (5th to 6th century).Ph: ©Franco Furoncoli Fotografo
This octagonal Roman-Gothic construction in Verona marble, with graceful architrave
loggias all round it, is one of the extraordinary testimonials to the moment of
transition from Romanesque to Gothic art in Italy.
Benedetto Antelami designed and created almost all the sculpted elements, including
the zoophorus that runs parallel to the base, the legendary scenes of the portals,
the individual figure placed in outside niches, and the statues of the Months
inside. Of special note are the statues of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
The lower "band" of the Baptistery has a bas-relief zoophorus running completely
round it, with figures of real and imaginary animals, diabolical and sea monsters,
centaurs, mermaids, unicorns and signs of the zodiac. The band of 79 marble slabs is broken by
three large arches inside which three portals open: portal of the Virgin, portal
of Judgement and portal of Life, in which the tales of the origins of Christianity
can be seen.
The interior is a vast room of sleek, elegant lines, with double the number of
sides of the octagonal external perimeter. In the centre is the double basin for
baptism by immersion, surrounded by famous Antelami sculptures of extraordinary
quality, variety and richness. The high-relief sculptures of the months, seasons
and signs of the zodiac are especially famous. Ph: © Amoretti Fotografo
San Giovanni Evangelista
The church of St. John the Evangelist was built in the 10th century but reconstructed
between 1498 and 1510 by order of the Benedictines. The rich Baroque façade in
white marble, built between 1604 and 1607, contrasts with the complex's Renaissance
architecture, enhanced by the harmonious ensemble of the cloisters of the adjoining
monastery and the tall graceful bell tower. The harmonious interior in the form
of a Latin cross, with a nave and two aisles defined by classic fluted greystone
pillars, is famous for its pictorial decoration. A frieze depicting Jewish and
pagan sacrifice, painted by Correggio in 1522-1523 with the help of Francesco
Maria Rondani, runs along the nave.Ph: © Franco Furoncoli Fotografo
The remarkable dome portraying The Vision of St. John at Patmos, or the Transit
of the Evangelist according to various Church Fathers, was painted by Correggio
(1520-24), to complete the unified decorative plan of the entire church.
Of particular interest are Gerolamo Bedoli's large altar-piece behind the high
altar with the Transfiguration and the wooden choir inlaid and carved by Marcantonio
Zucchi (15212-31), the vestry painted by Cesare Cesariano, the library (in which
several examples of illuminated manuscripts from 1400-1500 are kept), as well
as the famous cloisters.
Ph: © Amoretti Fotografo
Old Pharmacy of San Giovanni
This historic pharmacy stands within the walls of the monastery of San Giovanni
and records of it exist from 1201 but its origins probably date back even earlier.
Built and run by the Benedictines, it remained in operation until 1766. After
being bought by the state it was restored and opened to the public in 1959.
Three rooms can be visited that are fully furnished with shelving dating back
to the 16th and 17th centuries and on which a rich array of aoothecary jars are
displayed. These jars, attributable to various methods and periods of workmanship
and differing in shape and size, include majolica jars, flasks, pots and mortars
for the preparation of medicines.
The Sala del Fuoco has a serving counter with precision scales. In the Sala dei
Mortai the masters of ancient medicine look down from their lunettes, and the
Sala delle Sirene is dedicated to the Parmesan masters of medicine and pharmacy.strong>Ph:
© Franco Furoncoli Fotografo
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Madonna della Steccata
This central-plan church, the work of Bernardino and Giovan Francesco Zaccagni
who between 1521 and 1525 treturned here to the architectural precepts developed
by Bramante, is strongly linked to the Parma war of 1521 and was offered in thanks
to the Virgin for victory against the enemy. Towards the end of 1600 modifications
and embellishments were added to the exterior, as well as the large balustrade
that runs around the arms of the cross. The interior, the work of the greatest
masters of the Parmesan Renaissance, has a number of important paintings as seen
on the high altar: Parmigianino's Wise Virgins and Foolish Virgins, Anselmi's
Coronation of the Virgin (1540) and Bedoli's north and south basins (Pentecost
and Adoration of the Shepherds). The dome, dating from 1560, has a fresco by Bernardino
Gatti (Assumption of the Virgin). Ph: © Carra Fotografo
Camera di San Paolo
This was originally part of the apartments of the Abbess of the Benedictine convent
of San Paolo, which was restructured and decorated, starting in 1514, according
to the wishes of Abbess Giovanna of Piacenza.
The extraordinary pictorial decoration inside it, the work of Correggio carried
out in 1519, is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the late Italian
The room is covered by an umbrella vault divided into sixteen segments with late
Gothic stringcourses. In the centre of the dome are the family arms of Abbess
Giovanna, while inside the segments are sixteen ovals from which vivacious and
delicate figures of jubilant cherubs appear, open to the sky. The base of the
vault has false marble lunettes, painted as bas-reliefs, depicting Olympian deities.
Depicted on the hood of the large stone fireplace is Diana on a chariot as she
is about to go hunting.
The meaning behind this image is certainly broader than that of a simple hunting
allegory centred on the myth of the hunting goddess. In fact, the most widespread
interpretation holds that the pictorial cycle tells of the intensive struggle
the Abbess waged against the civil and religious authorities who were determined
to reduce the political power of religious orders.
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