Today, after a missing the last reasonably-priced train to Milan for the day, we decided to mix things up and pick a city from the list that was relatively inexpensive. Minutes later we were boarding a train for Ferrara, a small city between Bologna and Venezia. I had read about Ferrara in books and studied the famous Este family, that had ruled over the city during the Renaissance, so I knew some about the area before we arrived. Without maps, city guides, or any sort of orienting material, we made it from the train station in the suburbs to the city center by following the city buses and general traffic routes.
In the middle of the city there is the Castello Estense, a moated medieval castle built in 1385 to protect the Este family from riots by the commoners. In addition, the Cathedral of St. Giorgio is nearby, completed in 1135 and featuring a marble Romanesque facade and an elaborate Gothic interior. Beyond these most noteworthy, the city holds countless notable buildings, as it served as the court of the powerful Este family for hundreds of years. It was the birthplace of or an important destination for many notable personages, including author Giorgio Bassani, artists Leon Battista Alberti and Titian, zealous preacher Girolamo Savonarola, and musicians Frescobaldi and Josquin des Prez, among others. The city not only has a remarkable heritage and a beautifully organized Renaissance layout, but holds the genuine charm of a true Italian city, still under the tourist radar for the most part.
We discovered that the entirety of the city travels by bicycle. We saw two or three cars during our entire journey, and people looked at us when we were walking instead of pedaling through the side streets. In the evening the main square was buzzing with activity, with the markets selling handmade leather goods and crafts, families having a meal, a wedding reception being held nearby, and the bars brimming with young people gathering for aperitivo. I would wholeheartedly endorse Ferrara, but the more people that visit the higher the likelihood of its authentic charm being diminished.
If you do go, I recommend blending as much as possible in order to enjoy this truly remarkable city.