My memories of Pavia are mainly linked to the crazy university parties I used to go to a few years ago (well, maybe a little bit more than just a few..). Back then, I had no idea that this cute little town along the via Francigena was a key court in the Italian Renaissance and is a real treasure trove of historic sites…
Located in Lombardy, just a 30-minute drive from Milan, Pavia is a charming university town rich in history and elegant buildings, on the banks of the river Ticino, surrounded by the rice fields of Lomellina.
Pavia can be easily explored by foot, so I parked the car along corso Matteotti and started my tour from the Church of S. Pietro in Ciel D’Oro (St. Peter in Golden Sky), an ancient basilica dating back to the 8th century whose name refers to the gold leaf mosaics that formerly decorated parts of the ceiling. This church is the resting place of the Saint Augustine, whose remains are kept in a beautifully decorated marble tomb. Guys, this place was a real surprise… I didn’t even know it was featured in two literary masterpieces like Dante’s Divine Comedy and Boccaccio’s Decameron!
Close to this church there’s the Visconti Castle, which houses the Civic Museums. The castle was built by Galeazzo II Visconti in the XIV century and hosted some pretty illustrious guests like Leonardo Da Vinci and Petrarca. The Castle is also the site of artistic exhibitions and festivals, such as the Autunno Pavese, the most important food and wine exhibition in the area – don’t miss it if you are around in September!
From the Castle I crossed the road and strolled along Strada Nuova, the ancient Roman cardo and today Pavia’s main street, which leads to the many other treasures of this city. At the beginning of Strada Nuova there’s the Fraschini Theater, built in the XVIII century and named after a famous tenor of Pavia, while a little further down is the University, one of the oldest in the world – apparently an edict issued by King Lotarius established a prestigious imperial school of law in 825! The Italian poet Ugo Foscolo was a professor here and among its celebrity alumni were Alexander Volta and Christopher Columbus. Just beside the pretty cloisters of the university, in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, rise three amazing Medieval Towers dating back to the XI century.
I spent some time exploring the side streets off Strada Nuova, with lots of pretty little shops and picturesque corners, before reaching Piazza del Duomo and its imposing Duomo, whose dome is the third largest in Italy (after the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome and the Cathedral of Florence). Guess who contributed to its design? Leonardo da Vinci, of course!
Just around the corner from Piazza del Duomo is Piazza della Vittoria, the heart of Pavia and the hub of city’s social whirl, with lots of bars and restaurants – the perfect spot to enjoy an aperitivo after all the sightseeing. The southern side of the piazza is dominated by the elegant Broletto, Pavia’s old Town Hall, while on the opposite side there’s an underground market.
Back on Strada Nuova I had a quick look at the Arnaboldi Gallery, an elegant space covered by a glass dome which was the center of commercial trading at the end of the XIX century, and then reached the Covered Bridge, Pavia’s most famous landmark. This bridge is a reconstruction of the medieval bridge that was damaged by the bombs during the Second World War, and connects the city center with Borgo Ticino, a picturesque district with colorful houses and typical trattorias.
Other important sites include the XIII century Church of San Francesco, the Basilica of San Michele Maggiore, which is considered a Romanesque masterpiece, and the majestic Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, one of the finest examples of Lombard Gothic architecture.
With some time still on my hand, I took the car and went to Certosa di Pavia, a beautiful Carthusian monastery complex just outside Pavia. This masterpiece of Lombard Renaissance was commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who wanted it to be a private chapel and a family mausoleum. It took almost a century to finish it and I must admit that I’m not surprised at all – the marble facade is covered in a myriad of exceptionally detailed sculptures, while the inside is all about frescoes, with the ceilings painted in deep blue and golden stars. Here are the tombs of Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice D’Este, beautifully carved in marble. It is possible to visit the complex with a guided tour (in Italian only) led by one of the monks that still inhabit the place – it’s free but perhaps you can then buy some delicacies from their little shop.
That’s the end of my day trip to Pavia, such a pretty little town with so much to offer to travelers… don’t miss the chance to visit it as a day trip from Milan or on your way to a wine tour in the Oltrepo’ region!
To visit the Certosa, there are regular buses from Pavia (via Trieste, near the train station) and from Milan (viale Famagosta) which stop opposite to the church of San Michele. Alternatively, you can catch a train on the Milano-Bovisa-Pavia line stopping at the little station of Certosa.
Feeling hungry? Don’t worry, Pavia is packed with nice places to sample the local cuisine, from the historic pizzeria Marechiaro to the trendy Infernot wine bar, the cosy Osteria della Madonna or the mouthwatering panini of Puro Slow Burger. For your sweet tooth, grab an ice cream from Gelateria Cuore or try the delicious pastries of Pasticceria Vigoni.
Until next time,