The city of Parma
Parma is a city with almost 200,000 inhabitants with just as many again in the surrounding provinces. Split from west to east by via Emilia – it is located between Piacenza and Reggio Emilia – and the river Parma runs from the south to the north. The river is nicknamed “la voladora” because when it floods, it takes everything with it down towards the valley. Parma's title of ducal city or "petite capitale" comes from its two centuries of Farnesian domination and especially from the influence that Maria Luigia and her reign had on general traditions and customs. Locals from Parma like to remember their roots and like to be seen as descendents of the sensitive Duchess. It is probably due to this illustrious past that the locals are well-known for their elegance. You will find it hard to see anyone in the central streets and boutiques who is not well dressed with clothes being just as good as the “prêt-a-porter” an high fashions of the capital.
Parma is also of course, the capital of good food. The many restaurants, to suit all tastes and pockets, are testimony to this. Capital of Parmesan cheese and Parma ham this is a real "food valley" thanks also to the presence of companies famous the world over, such as Barilla – which exports spaghetti, pasta, biscuits and thousands of types of bread and bread-sticks to America, Russia, Europe, Asia – and Parmalat, which specializes in milk and dairy products.
Parma was recently voted as the city with the best standard of living.
The heart of the city is Piazza Garibaldi, which stands on the site of the former Roman court. From here the historical centre develops, the ‘noble' area with its beautiful palaces shops and elegant bars.
On the other side of the river is the Oltretorrente, the city's most characteristic area which still has an old feel about it even though recent town council works have re-modernised even the smallest areas and piazzas. In the Provinces
There are some wonderful places close to Parma that are easily reached by bus or by car: Fontanellato, with its Sanvitale fortress, perfectly conserved at the centre of the village is inundated with tourists every year. As well as being an enchanting area, inside the castle you can visit the Diana and Atteone room, decorated with frescoes by Parmigianino. Every fourth Sunday of the month there is a massive antiques market where you will find everything, from necklaces to furniture, from decorative items to old clothes. Every month thousands of tourists fill the streets of the old town.
The Santuario della Vergine Maria is a mecca for many pilgrims, a temple visited by followers from all over Italy.
A few kilometers away is Soragna, another village in the Po valley, characterised by the presence of a beautiful castle that is still inhabited by the prince of Soragna, Diofebo Meli Lupi. A few kilometres farther away is San Secondo where another ‘marvel' welcomes tourists with a particular appreciation of castles and frescoes - the Russian residence with its lounge, decorated with frescoes from floor to ceiling, it is a unique example of its genre, although the whole building which has only been partly conserved, offers many other beautifully frescoed rooms.
For those who want to travel farther than San Secondo, then the village of Fontanelle is worth a look, it contains a handful of houses in the heart of the valley and is where the writer Giovannino Guareschi was born, as well as being homeland to Pietrino Bianchi, a famous journalist and cinema critic. Further on, still heading toward the Po, but approx forty kilometers or so outside Parma, you will reach Zibello, another famous centre in the Parma basin and home to Culatello, the king of salami.
Busseto may be a little out of the way in comparison with the other villages mentioned, but it is the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi, the great musician and composer who conquered the world with his operatic works. From here, you can head for the mountains and will reach Langhirano, kingdom of prosciutto ham, Felino, where cured meats are prepared, and Traversetolo where every Sunday they hold an enormous market full of local foods and people.
Food and drink in Parma
Where to start? With parmesan cheese or prosciutto ham, with the anolini stew or the herb tortelli? Parma, proud of its role as the petite capitale in the 'Food Valley', has great traditions of good food behind it. And the cuisine, with its typical products and characteristic dishes is one of its main attractions for visitors. Its really unique cured meats are also worthy of their fame. Beginning with the raw ham, produced in the Langhirano area; and then the Felino salami, the culatello from Zibello, and the cooked shoulder from San Secondo. Less prestigious are the area's wines: the red wine from the hills of Parma, the Sauvignon and the Malvasia. These are honest wines which are great for accompanying a plate of cured meats. As far as Parma cuisine is concerned, you are spoilt for choice. In the old town, as on the city's outskirts, there are typical restaurants, from trattorias to more chic restaurants. A place to start especially for those for whom money is no object, is Parizzi. This is one of the city's most famous restaurants and is on the very central Via Repubblica. The owner, Ugo Parizzi offers top quality Parma dishes: from tortelli to parmesan cheese, from tripe to parmesan to beef stew. The cured meats are excellent, as is the wine list. Even more centrally located, in an enchanting location is the Angiol d'Or: overlooking Piazza Duomo (in summer you can eat out in the open with a view of the cathedral and the baptistery) and even here, typical dishes are served (herb or pumpkin tortelli, tripe, excellent cured meats). The chef, Jean Pierre Pastor, also offers a reworking of recipes created by the cook to Duchess Maria Luigia, published in a book in 1832.
Tradition meets innovation at the Greppia, which offers a top class menu: veal carpaccio with fresh fig sauce, (in summer and in autumn), parmesan mousse with pears in wine, tortelli, pasta with basil and pine nut sauce and and pigeon in white wine stuffed with pistachio (in autumn and spring); and there is an excellent sweet trolley with a good selection of wines. Other temples to local cuisine include the characteristic Sorelle Picchi (only open at lunchtime: you go into a delicatessen and at the back there is a room with tables laid out and various trattorias where you can eat well at prices to suit all pockets, especially at the Tri Siochett, ten minutes car journey from the city. And for those who have already tried the local cuisine and fancy a change, Parma Rotta, which is good for its grilled meat and Le Viole, an excellent restaurant which combines classic dishes and innovations. If you happen to be outside the city, and consider yourself a gourmet, then don't miss a trip to Villa Maria Luigia, in Collecchio, housed in the hunting lodge of the duchess Maria Luigia, in a beautiful park. The owner, Giancarlo Ceci, offers a variety of set menus and a la carte dishes. This is a place we can really recommend both for the quality of the food (from the starters to the dessert and including the wine as well as for its charm. Top class venues include La Cantinetta in Felino and for those who want to eat truffles, the Locanda Mariella, in Calestano.
Fancy a coffee after lunch or a short stop between museums? The Caffè Cavour has a lovely salon, which is French and "retro" in style, situated right next to the old San Paolo monastery overlooking the very central via Cavour, the city's main walkway. A break at the Cavour for breakfast is one of the locals' preferred pastimes. Or if you want to sit down in Piazza Garibaldi, the city's main piazza, you might opt for the Caffè Orientale, very popular in the early hours of the morning. From coffee to herb tortelli, from an aperitif to a giant ice cream, from a bread roll to a cake, there is something delicious for everyone.
Close to the cathedral and very popular among tourists is the bar Cardinal, which has outdoor tables and specializes in snacks and aperitifs.
That's entertainment!! (in Parma)
Parma is a small provincial city but there is plenty to do and to see. There are museums, historical attractions, various cinemas, concerts and nightspots to keep everyone happy, (for those who like to paint the town red as well as those who prefer culture to pure fun). Let's start with the museums. Firstly, we have the Galleria Nazionale. The museum is located inside the Palazzo della Pilotta, a former Farnesian fortress only partly preserved, overlooking the Piazzale della Pace, in the heart of the centre, not far from the Teatro Regio and Piazza Garibaldi. You will encounter canvases from the 13th to the 19th century, with an important 16th century sculpture collection from Parma, there are major works by Correggio and Parmigianino. The sculptures are mostly relics from the city's two symbolic monuments: the cathedral and the Battistero. Still within the Pilotta, the Museo Archeologico and the Museo Bodiniano, should not be missed, nor should the Teatro Farnese, testimony to art at the time of the Farnese, a unique example of a wooden theatre which has remained intact, at least in the main structure, which has captured the hearts of tourists form all over the world. Right in front of the Pilotta is the Museo Glauco Lombardi, at no.15 Via Garibaldi. A visit to this recently renovated treasure chest is a step back in time (3 centuries ago, to be precise), to the time of the Parma dukedom – 1748-1859 – and of Maria Luigia, a sovereign who has left an indelible imprint on Parma which the locals still like to boast about. Also on display are relics, cards, décor, clothes and other items belonging to ducal families and residences. At the Pinacoteca Stuard, on Via Cavestro 4, behind Via Mazzini, the most important collection consists of a group of canvases of the Tuscan school from the 14th and 15th centuries. Among the more renowned artists on display are Bernardo Daddi, Bicci di Lorenzo, Nicolò di Tommaso as well as Giovanni Brueghel, il Guercino, Jacopo Palma the younger, il Guercino and Bartolomeo Schedoni.
Lovers of science and nature should not miss the University of Parma's Natural History Museum in the street of the same name and the Orto Botanico, at no.70, Via Farini. The city's cathedral or Duomo is situated in the centre is an example of Romanesque architecture and is well worth a look. Benedetto Antelami's Battistero, the Vescovado, the church of San Giovanni, or the chamber of San Paolo, frescoed by Correggio, are also worth seeing. The Csac, the centre of archive studies of communication should definitely not be missed, an appendice to the History of Art Institute, part of the Faculty of Arts, which is a great museum of contemporary art which contains thousands of works including canvases, photos, sketches by top fashion designers etc. The museum cannot always be visited however, so 'phone beforehand. The building is in the station area, (at no.6 Via Palermo on a recently redeveloped, old industrial estate) not right in the centre but easily reached by bus. You can even walk there. Certosa di Paradigna is also a short walk away and is an old Cistercian/Benedictine monastery, currently being rebuilt, which is only a few kilometers from the city.
Cinema Almost all of the cinemas are located in the centre within a hundred meters or so of Piazza Garibaldi and its surrounding area (such as cinema Roma in Viale Fratti), or in the station area, eg. Trento cinema on the road of the same name.
The Capitol multi-screen cinema, the city's biggest cinema in San Pancrazio, on the western periphery of Parma on Via Emilia. Among the three independent cinemas, the Astra, just outside the centre is the largest. It features art house films as well as a range of selected first screenings and in summer, in the summer arena, there are some interesting second showings and other unedited, ‘surprise' showings. In addition, at the D'Azeglio cinema, on the Oltretorrente road of the same name, there are displays, a cineforum and films in their original language. Il Cinghio, in the area of the same name on the city's southern periphery, there are some top quality exhibitions and really good old as well as more recent films. In this cinema, which also serves as a theatre, there are often classical and modern concerts, especially in winter. Still at the Cinghio, you will often come across photographic exhibitions in the room next to the cinema.
Firstly, there is the Teatro Regio, in Via Garibaldi, which is a temple to opera. Every year a winter season is organized and tickets sell like hot cakes. Parma locals, are music experts and fans of Giuseppe Verdi, and therefore keen on opera. The billboard also lists symphonic and chamber music concerts with the world's best orchestras. In summer, the biggest and most imposing shows move to the Piazzale della Pilotta, which turns into an arena.
At Teatro Due you can see plays as well as musicals and more avant-garde shows. There are classical music concerts too at the Galleria nazionale (in winter) and at the Fondazione Magnani (in summer), in Mamiano, a small settlement 15 minutes by car from Parma, towards the hills of Traversetolo.
Parma's beauty, as a ducal city, is for the most part concentrated in its old town. To really get to know the place though, you need to take a walk around Oltretorrente, or rather in the area around the river Parma which is most characteristic, with its narrow streets, little piazzas and rows of houses that bring to mind the streets of Venice. There is the Parco Ducale with its palazzo (now home to the police's provincial headquarters), enclosed by trees and green meadows which are so attractive to young and old alike. Another historic monument and a place to relax and regroup is the Cittadella, which is surrounded by one of Parma's most elegant areas. The old town really consists of ‘everything surrounding Piazza Garibaldi'. Apart from bars and shops (this area is a real godsend for those who love shopping) the majority of the monuments, historical palaces and museums are concentrated in a circle, its encompassed by Via Mazzini, Via Repubblica, Via Garibaldi and Via Farini. There really is a great deal to see here. Leaving the piazza and entering Via Cavour, (the main walkway where thousands of youngsters meet up to strut their stuff in the afternoon) you will soon reach the cathedral and the Battistero. The Vescovado, overlooks the same piazza and houses the administrative offices. Situated behind the cathedral is the church of San Giovanni, which is worth a look; it is a building which displays several different styles of architecture, especially important for its dome, decorated with frescoes by Correggio: a scene depicting the ascension of the saint which has conquered the world. The entire monastery annexed to the church is fascinating, with its unique library decorated by frescoes and the cloisters adorned with an abundance of flowers, if you are really lucky, the monks will show you some of the most ‘secret' cloisters. Beside the monastic complex is the Spezieria di San Giovanni, an old ‘pharmacy' which is a mecca for tourists and students from all over Italy and the rest of the world. Not far from there (turning into Via Cavour and entering Via Melloni) is the monastery of San Paolo. The abbess' chamber is worth a visit, as it bears marks of Correggio's works. From via Melloni to via Garibaldi: the spectacle of the Piazzale della Pace, with the Pilotta will soon put in an appearance and will not disappoint. This imposing Farnesian fortress, overlooks a green meadow, and captures the heart of many a visitor. Not far away, towards Via Mazzini on the left hand side is the Steccata church, a baroque masterpiece with a triumphant arch inside and a small but masterful Parmigiano fresco. The piazza adjacent to this church bears the same name and is also very attractive. Then there is the Parmigianino monument, at the centre of the piazza with a fountain beneath, ideal for letting the young ones play around and giving your dog a drink. The Vender clothes shop is very interesting and has remained more or less the same since the beginning of the century; it still manages to fascinate locals and tourists alike.
The old town is full of churches and some of these are really worth a look. If you are in Via Repubblica you must visit Sant'Antonio Abate, on the corner of Via Saffi (inside there is a fresco by Jacopo Bibiena) and Santa Cristina, on the corner of Via XXII Luglio. Close by, in borgo della Posta, is another small but fascinating sanctuary surrounded by old palaces, almost completely hidden: Santa Maria Maddalena, where both Catholic and Orthodox religious rites are practiced. In Via Garibaldi, Sant'Alessandro is worth a visit if you are lucky enough to find it open and in Piazzale San Bartolomeo stands a church of the same name.
There are also plenty of palaces belonging to old families of the local nobility. You only need to take a walk to notice them with their imposing façades, internal gardens and gorgeous staircases. There are some in Via Repubblica (Palazzo Rangoni, home of the prefecture, Palazzo Marchi, etc), in Via Farini (Palazzo Carmi, Palazzo Meli Lupi), in Piazzale Santafiora (still in Via Farini) stands the Palazzo Pallavicino, still lived in today by the Marquis Pierluigi. Palazzo Valenti, Palazzo Tarasconiare in Via XXII Luglio.
This is the most characteristic area and can be reached by taking Via Mazzini, towards the river and crossing the ponte di Mezzo. Before heading into all the small villages it is worth taking a look at the Ghiaia, the covered market at the end of Via Mazzini, where the river once ran. Oltretorrente's main road is Via D'Azeglio. Not far from the bridge is the chiesa dell'Annunziata . A little further on, is the old hospital, a Renaissance complex, now home of the State Historic Archives, the town archives, the town video library and a few societies. Every Thursday, the mercatino dell'antiquariato or antiques market takes place under the building's porticoes. Further on are the “di Pavlot” towers, symbolic of the area and a lovely example of medieval architecture. Via D'Azeglio's side streets are worth a visit as this is the heart of the real Parma. Parco Ducale
The city's common has various entrances (Ponte Verdi, Via dei Farnese, Ponte Caprazzucca, Via Kennedy, Via Pasini). For a refreshing, relaxing walk, immersed in greenery this is the ideal place. A paradise for children who can play, use the roundabout, hire small cars and run without danger. There is a splendid lake with ducks and swans and the Trianon fountain in the centre. A visit to the Palazzo Ducale surrounded by Boudard's statues is a definite must.
Built during the time of the Farnese, the Cittadella was a type of fort. Its perfectly conserved bastions are a long and very popular jogging track today. As in the Parco Ducale, the greenery and the trees make this a great place for babies and children. There are many students who take refuge here in the summer to read or study on the isolated benches. Inside there is also a youth hostel.