Padua: Scrovegni Chapel, Basilica of St. Anthony, Prato della Valle

A Padua street
A Padua street

The train from Venice to Padua (Padova) takes a little more than 25 minutes. At least, that’s how long the train I was on this morning took. I imagine it depends on whether you take a rapid train with limited or no stops or a slow train with frequent stops. Both types of train taking the same time would require bending space-time. I don’t think that happens often on trains.

This is the first time I’ve been in Padua. The two cities—Venice and Padua—couldn’t be more different. Well, I suppose they could be more different. They could, for example, be in different countries. They’re not. They could be of different vintages. For example one could be made up exclusively of structures built in the medieval times, while the other was entirely built this century. That’s not the case here. Or one could be on Earth and inhabited by earthlings, while the other is in another solar system or galaxy and inhabited by extraterrestrials. Nope. They’re both terrestrial. I don’t know if I’d recognize extraterrestrials, but I don’t think I’ve seen any here, their foreign language notwithstanding.

Venice versus Padua

A dead-end canal in Padua
A dead-end canal in Padua

Okay. Now that I think of it, maybe Venice and Padua have more similarities than differences. But they do have significant differences.

For one, water doesn’t feature largely in the Padua landscape. There is a river. But, based on the one section I saw, Padua seems to almost ignore it. I came across a couple of canals, but they don’t appear to be functional. One dead-ended at the spot where I came across it.

On the other hand, water defines Venice. Its waterscape is almost as salient as its landscape.

Also, Venice feels older to me. And, as far as I can tell from my short time in Padua to this point, Venice has way more grand buildings and cultural high points than Padua. That having been said, I like Padua so far. It’s just not Venice. Then again, what is?

Today wasn’t as jam-packed with sightseeing as my normal travel days. That’s primarily because most of the museums here are closed Mondays. The Botanic Garden normally opens Mondays, but when I went, it was closed for a special event.

I’m in Padua tomorrow too, so it will probably be busier.

That’s not to say that I didn’t do anything. I visited the Scrovegni Chapel, the Basilica of St. Anthony, and Prato della Valle. I also did some walking around to get a feel of the city.

The Scrovegni Chapel

One of the many side-wall frescos at the Scrovegni Chapel
One of the many side-wall frescos at the Scrovegni Chapel

The Scrovegni Chapel is probably the biggest tourist attraction in Padua. (By “biggest” I mean significance, not volume.)

Reginaldo degli Scrovegni commissioned the building of the chapel to atone for his sin of charging usury interest rates, something that the Catholic Church forbade at the time. If you make enough money charging usury interest rates, I guess you can afford to buy atonement for just about anything.

“At the time” was the late thirteenth, early fourteenth century. The chapel was completed circa 1305.

But it’s not the structure that makes the chapel significant. It’s the frescoes that adorn the walls and ceiling. Giotto di Bondone painted them in pre-Renaissance times. That was not his fault. He died in 1337, before the Renaissance started. Thus, you can’t really fault him for not painting them in the Renaissance.

The frescoed Scrovegni Chapel ceiling
The frescoed Scrovegni Chapel ceiling

The vibrant frescos are religion-themed. No surprise there. Did I mention it was built as a chapel? The ceiling portrays circular paintings of religious figures set in a starry sky. Among those religious figures is the Christian Big Guy, God’s Kid. Jesus also figures prominently in the frescos on the walls. Giotto gave him real superstar treatment.

Apropos of none of the above, keep in mind how long ago Giotto completed his frescos. It was about 1305. Vincent van Gogh was not even a twinkle in his great, great, … great grand-parents eye when Giotto painted his starry sky.

To be clear, as far as I know, there is no connection between Giotto and van Gogh. I just free associated on starry sky→starry night. Never mind.

A portion of the back-wall fresco
A portion of the back-wall fresco

To visit the Scrovegni Chapel you have to buy a timed ticket, with only 25 people allowed in at a time. At your appointed time, they let you into a small theatre that plays a 15-minute film. The audio is in Italian. There are English subtitles. The theatre has plain chairs on a floor that’s not raked. I wasn’t the first person in the theatre. Consequently, I was in the third of four rows.

A couple of tall people sat in front of me. By “tall” I mean of normal adult height, i.e., taller than me. As a result, I could see the first couple and last couple of words of each subtitle, but nothing in-between. I don’t speak Italian. I think I missed a lot.

At the end of the film they allow you in to see the frescos for 15 minutes before they usher everyone out.

Basilica of St. Anthony

Inside the Basilica of St. Anthony
Inside the Basilica of St. Anthony

The Basilica of St. Anthony is a big, beautiful church. It’s also the final resting place of St. Anthony.

At the saint’s above-the-floor tomb, signs in multiple languages told people that they had to sanitize their hands before touching the tomb. While I was there, a couple of people did lay their hands reverently on he tomb. Maybe they sanitized their hands earlier, but I didn’t see it. I hope the saint didn’t catch anything in the afterlife.

Plexiglass sheets stood on two sides of the tomb. The sheets were thoroughly covered with taped, small, modern pictures of individuals. Someone taped another picture onto one of the sheets when I was there.

Beside each of the sheets was a plexiglass box with a slot at the top. Signs beside the boxes, again in multiple languages, said the boxes were for pictures and petitions for St. Anthony. I’m not sure, but I think if you include a stamped, sell-addressed envelope with your petition, St. Anthony will respond to it.

Chapel of Reliquaries

The Chapel of the Reliquaries
The Chapel of the Reliquaries

St. Anthony’s Basilica includes all of the usual old church stuff—old art, an altar, pews, soaring ceilings, and what have you. But, as mentioned above, it also contains the tomb of St. Anthony and, as not mentioned above, a Chapel of the Reliquaries. The chapel has many reliquaries. Not all of them contain St. Anthony’s parts. There are other skeletons out there missing parts because they’re in St. Anthony’s Basilica’s Chapel of the Reliquaries.

A view from one of the cloisters
A view from one of the cloisters

But St. Anthony is, indeed, well represented there. The chapel contains reliquaries with one of his fingers, his tongue, his lower jaw, and his vocal cords. What the heck was left to bury in the tomb?

Out back, the basilica has some pleasant cloisters with a nice view of the rear of the basilica, which I found more attractive than the front.

Prato della Valle

Prato della Valle's central fountain
Prato della Valle’s central fountain

Padua’s Prato della Valle is a pleasant public square in central Padua. Although, to be more precise, it’s a pleasant public oval.

The oval square sits where there used to be a Roman theatre. But I guess that didn’t work out for them. I understand the theatre business can be tough. Later, Saint Anthony preached there. But his preaching days ended with his death. Death has a way of cutting things short. It’s weird how some spots just can’t hold onto their tenants.

Prato della Valle's moat
Prato della Valle’s moat

Today it’s a public oval square. We’ll see how that works out.

A tour book tells me that Prato della Valle regularly hosts markets and other public events. Today it hosted me and a bunch of other people enjoying its grass, trees and central fountain.

A moat runs around the perimeter of the oval. Statues line the sides of the moat. I think the moat is there to make it easier to defend the park if it’s invaded. I might be wrong about that. It also works well aesthetically.

Walking around Padua

Another Padua street
Another Padua street

Throughout the day I did some walking around. I like Padua. It’s not as spectacular as some cities, but it’s old section has a quiet charm.

I wasn’t as impressed on my almost half-hour walk from the train station. Most of that walk was along a main street. The street had a tram line, buses and cars. It was a bit too mechanically frenetic after Venice, which was humanly frenetic.

And the buildings along the street were uninspiring.

Things improved greatly when I left that street to head to my hotel a few blocks off it. Traffic was almost non-existent. The buildings seemed more vintage and were more charming.

One of the buildings of Padua's university
One of the buildings of Padua’s university

Padua’s university is close to my hotel. I didn’t do much exploring of the university, but the buildings I saw were impressive.

If I understood the banners hung around the university, it’s celebrating its 800th birthday in 2022. Either that or they only have 800 students this year. Or maybe the tuition in 2022 is 800 euros. I don’t know. My Italian is a little bit nonexistent. It has something to do with the university and the number 800. I think it’s the birthday thing.

Porticoed Padua

A Padua square (or maybe rectangle, but not oval)
A Padua square (or maybe rectangle, but not oval)

Many of the buildings in the old part of Padua have porticos. Because all of the buildings abut their neighbours, you can walk a considerable distance protected from precipitation, if there’s any precipitation from which to be protected.

You probably don’t need me to tell you that the “abut their neighbour” rule doesn’t hold at cross-streets. A lack of gaps there would severely impair driving, or walking for that matter. No, if you walk across a street in the rain, you will get wet.

I didn’t need the precipitation protection. It was a bright, sunny day today.

As opposed to a dark, sunny day. Why do people say that? Doesn’t “sunny” imply “bright” and vice versa? Yet many people say “bright, sunny.” And, lacking any rhetorical flair whatsoever, I fell into the common usage. Why do you people bother reading this? What is wrong with you?

Aside: Train from Venice to Padua

The train from Venice to Padua delivered some announcements in both Italian and English and some announcements in only Italian. When I say “the train delivered” I don’t know if it was actually the train or a person. But the announcements sounded automated, so it might have been the train itself.

Person or machine is not the point. I mentioned the announcements only to introduce a question. Is it normal to fear that the unilingual announcements, which I couldn’t understand, provided vital instructions that I must follow precisely if I want to avoid certain death on the trip? Just asking.

Fortunately, I left the train alive, as evidenced by this entry. Surprisingly, right?

A Key Aside

My Padua hotel brought back memories. It’s not that I’ve ever been here before. This is my first time in Padua. So being in this hotel before would have required an out-of-body experience. I’m pretty sure that hasn’t happened. And it’s an independent, family run hotel, so it’s somewhat unique.

It’s the key that brought back memories. It is a key. Not a card. And, like in European hotels of old, it’s attached to a thingamabob that you pretty much have to leave at the front desk when you go out because the thingamabob is too big to carry around conveniently. And the thingamabob is heavy enough to give you a hernia if you carry it for too long.

How do they make those thingamabobs so heavy? I don’t know what they’re made of, but I think a black hole somewhere is missing some mass.

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