“The cafè with no doors”, as the Paduans called CaffË Pedrocchi for many years – and as a matter of fact between 1831 and 1916 the doors were always open, night and day, as the old proprietors intended them to be. It was only the dangers due to the war that caused the cafè to adhere to the opening hours of the other public houses.
When at the beginning of the 19th century Sior Antonio Pedrocchi began to acquire the area which was later to become the premises of this “establishment”, he was already a well-known coffee-maker (the writer Stendhal actually defined him as the best caterer in Italy, almost equal to those of Paris) and coffee was already such a widespread fashion that in Padua there were already quite a number of coffee shops. Pedrocchi’s intention was to take advantage of his cafÈ’s central location and its closeness to the Bo, the main University building, to make it the focal point of the arts and commerce of the city. That he managed to do this is thanks to the skill of the Giuseppe Jappelli, the architect. For as soon as it was inaugurated in 1831 CaffË Pedrocchi became a meeting place for students, artists, literary figures such as Ippolito Nievo or Giovanni Prati, or of patriots like Arnaldo Fusinato. In an internal room, the white room, there is a plaque to commemorate the firing of a bullet by an Austrian during the unrest of 1848.
Palazzo del Bo
The hospitium bovis or the Ox Hotel, called “bo” in Veneto dialect, was one of the buildings occupied by the University of Padua in the course of its gradual expansion, and the skull of an ox, the sign of the hotel, has remained as its symbol.
The ancient Paduan college was founded in 1222 by joint wish of some students and professors coming from Bologna and by the highest offices of the city, Bishop Giordano and Governor Rusca. In those times Padua was in great ferment.
Palazzo Municipale or Del Podestà
Beyond this block is the area in which, during the Middle Ages, the civic palaces were built – Palazzo degli Anziani and the Palazzo del Consiglio – on the north side, and Palazzo della Ragione and Palazzo del Podest‡ on the south side. While the first three (Palace of the Elders, of the Council, of Justice) have maintained their mediaeval aspect, the fourth, the Governor’s Palace, the seat of civic power, was completely rebuilt in the middle of the 16th century on a plan by Andrea Moroni. Moroni’s Governor’s Palace not only represents the vertex of Paduan architecture in the Renaissance period but is also one of the most remarkable stylistic achievements in the Veneto.
Piazza delle Frutta
After tasting a good cup of coffee at Pedrocchi’s, we leave through the south loggia and take Via G. Oberdan on the left – it was once known as the Salt Street – and this leads us into the heart of 13th century Padua. It also marks the northern extent of the area of the Commune palaces. Along the whole left side stands Palazzo degli Anziani – palace of the Elders –
By now we are in Piazza delle Frutta and immediately after the tower we come to the Palazzo del Consiglio – Here the portico has little shops inserted into its arches, but whilst this may be characteristic it hardly enhances the continuity and harmony the architect had created by means of the three two-mullioned arched windows on the upper range and the three arches of the lower range.
Now we have reached one of the busiest parts of Padua, for Piazza delle Frutta – the Fruit Market, have been the hub of city commerce since the Middle Ages. Documents from the end of the 13th century testify that an incredible variety of merchandise was sold here. The whole area of the two squares and of the buildings facing onto them were divided into sectors in every one of which a particular product was either sold or crafted: shoes (which explains the square’s former name “Peronio” deriving from pernes = boots, shoes), dressed pork products, oil, cheeses, fruit, vegetables, gloves, silk, embroidery, yarn, leather, cutlery, cloths, poultry, iron and wrought iron, grains, straw, wine, etc. – even gold and silver.
Passing under the archway of the Clock Tower we enter the Piazza or Corte Capitaniato – Commander’s Court. We are now within the complex of buildings that made up the Court of the Carrara. The whole area was surrounded by a wall and it was bounded in the north by the Church of San Nicolò
On the left, now the premises of the Fine Arts Faculty, stands the Loggia del Capitanio, attributed to the renaissance architect Andrea Moroni, as is the palace at no.18 on the opposite side.
Returning to Piazza Capitaniato we proceed westwards to the corner with Via Accademia, turn left, and at no.2 we come across a plaque put up in 1969 bearing an inscription in both Italian and English – the initial scene from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew which, of course, is set in Padua. At no.3 there is the entrance to the “Reggia Carrrarese” Primary School which, when it was built in the last decades of the 19th century was considered to be one of the most advanced educational institutions of its time. A little further on, we enter the Corte Accademia – The Court of the Academy – overlooked by the Loggia Carrarese. This elegant Loggia of two architectural orders dates from the first half of the 14th century to the time of the Lordship of Ubertino; it consists of narrow pink marble columns that delicately contrast against the multi-lobe-shaped brown beams forming the barbican.
Piazza delle Erbe
In the 13th century, the Piazza to the south of Palazzo della Ragione was, like its twin Piazza delle Frutta, a very active trade and craft centre; here there was trading in wine, reed-matting, iron, furs, parchment, clothes, and especially in wheat, vegetables and corn. Even in those days, as now, it was surrounded by buildings although these have altered over the years – but the layout of the Piazza has largely remained unchanged. It is a pleasure to cross it during the week when the air is filled with the sounds, colours and aromas of the market stalls, but also on holidays or in the evenings when it is empty and silent and possible to admire in all its majesty.
As we approach it from Via D. Manin the space opens up before us as in a theatre, and in the background stands the long south wing of Palazzo della Ragione. We can stroll under the arcades to the right and gradually allow our attention to be drawn to the succession of loggias and porticoes of the “Salone” or Great Hall. Or we may like to turn left and let it reveal itself a little at a time, together with all the other “scenes” of the piazza.
Moving right or towards the south, we walk beneath the external portico of the “Salone”. If it is not a market day, we can easily perceive the trapezoid shape of the piazza since the space begins to progressively grow wider. On the other side there is a row of buildings mainly rebuilt in the 19th century, which are the backdrop to the historic Jewish district, the Ghetto, extending further south. Let us continue to the south east corner of the Salone, also called liars corner because auctions used to take place here, and it was where idlers would meet. Passing the entrance to the Scalone dei Ferri or stairway, along the east side, we come to the VÚlto dell Corda – flogging arch, where punishment was inflicted upon the guilty. This links the two piazzas. Above the archway a Romanesque structure unites the Palace of Justice to the Palace of the Governor: civil power linked to justice.