A visit to the city needs to start with the marvellous view provided by Piazza Duomo, the cathedral square where the Baptistery and the Bishop’s Palace create a wonderfully evocative medieval setting.
The Cathedral (XI-XII centuries) is one of the highest expressions of Romanesque architecture in the Po river plain, with a superb façade with its pitched roof and Latin cross plan; a wealth of masterpieces are housed inside, the most renowned are undoubtedly the cupola with its fresco by Correggio (Antonio Allegri) showing The Assumption of the Virgin (1526-1539), and the Deposition, Benedetto Antelami’s first dated work (1178).
Antelmi’s imprint is even more obvious in the Baptistery (one of the most important examples of the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic style), built in pink Verona marble with an octagonal layout: the artist supervised building works and personally executed most of the renowned, admirable plastic decorations.
A stone’s throw from the Cathedral stands San Giovanni Evangelista, the Renaissance church of St John’s (with a Baroque façade and bell tower), housing extraordinary paintings: in particular, the cupola depicting St. John’s Passing, frescoed by Correggio in 1520-21, and several frescoes by Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola) in the intrados of the three chapels.
It is certainly worth visiting the entire Monastery of St. John’s, with its fascinating renaissance cloisters and the Ancient Benedictine Apothecary’s.
Parmigianino’s work can also be admired in the Madonna della Steccata, a splendid Renaissance church possibly designed by Bramante; its most important work is the decorative cycle in the Presbytery’s archway, which Mazzola painted in 1530-39 on the Evangelical theme of the wise Virgins and the foolish Virgins, while the city’s other 16th century “presiding deity”, Correggio, was working on another masterpiece, the Camera di San Paolo, St. Paul’s Chamber: the vault in the apartment belonging to the Abbess Giovanna Piacenza, which he frescoed in 1519 as an allegorical arbour reminiscent of Mantegna as well as of Leonardo, is one of the most extraordinary works of the late Italian Renaissance.
A short walk from St. Paul’s Chamber takes you to the imposing Palazzo della Pilotta, a palace built by the Farnese duchy and which houses the Palatine Library, the National Archaeological Museum, the wooden Farnese Theatre (one of the most beautiful historical theatres in the world). the Bodoni Museum and the National Gallery, undoubtedly one of the most important picture galleries in Italy (Correggio, Parmigianino, Beato Angelico, Leonardo, Cima da Conegliano, El Greco, Van Dyck, Carracci, Sebastiano del Piombo, Tiepolo, Canaletto and so on); close by stands the neoclassical Teatro Regio, one of the most renowned theatres in Italy, testifying to the close relationship between Parma and the opera. Numerous other theatres, both experimental and traditional, offer interesting drama repertoires, ballet performances and top quality concerts.
A visit to Parma does not end here. Visitors can take a walk in the Ducal Park, a magnificent example of ‘French style’ garden with numerous sculptures by Jean Baptiste Boudard, admire the Ducal Palace which is housed in the park; visit the Town Hall and the Governor’s Palace, both overlooking the central Piazza Garibaldi, the Lombardi Museum (housing memorabilia belonging to Marie Louise and Napoleon), the Stuard Picture Gallery, the churches of St. Antony, St. Sepulchre, the Annunciata church and the Santa Maria del Quartiere church, the house where Arturo Toscanini was born, the House of Music, the Castle of Puppets (with the magnificent collection of puppets crafted by the Ferrari family), the Auditorium Paganini, the Certosa di Paradigna (the Carthusian monastery in the outskirts of the city).