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 Historical Background
Parma began as a Roman colony in 183 BC set on an old Celtic settlement (which in turn was based on former settlements dating back to the 17th-13th centuries BC). Its founders were the triumvirate of M. Emilio Lepido, T. Ebuzio Caro and L. Quinto Crispino. At the time, the city had around 2000 inhabitants and saw a period of rapid growth. The land was fertile which led to pig and sheep rearing, in turn giving rise to beautiful wool to the extent that the industries of spinning, weaving and dyeing boomed. The traces of Roman settlement are still clearly visible. Especially the Via Emilia which crosses the city taking various names in the centre from Via Gramsci to Via D'Azeglio, from Via Mazzini to Via Repubblica; all the other streets of the old town (or at least the oldest) run perpendicular or parallel to this one according to the ancient layout of Roman settlements. During this period the town had a theatre, an amphitheatre, a thermal spa, a basilica and of course a forum, where Piazza Garibaldi stands today, and which is still the very heart of Parma.
Darker times came with the Barbaric invasions (V and VI centuries). The Huns, the Erulis and then the Longobards (570) – in the intermediate period of 493 to 569 with Teodorico and the Byzantine government, the city, In those years it experienced raids and destruction which completely changed its appearance.
After the French reign, the bishops' hegemony began until the period of the struggle for investitures, when Parma became the scene of many an animated event with internal wars. Despite its being a small city it gave rise to two antipapal figures: Onorio II (Cadalo, remembered as a great sinner in one of the cathedral's chapels) and Clemente III (Giberto da Parma).
The Romanesque period gave Parma its artistic masterpieces such as the cathedral, the work of Wiligelmo and Lanfranco, the Vescovado, of which a trace of the original building remains (the city's oldest wall in an alleyway of the Vescovado), the Benedetto Antelami baptistry, testimony of the passage from Romanesque to Gothic style.
Federico Barbarossa and his nephew Federico II di Svevia, saved Parma from total destruction and dreamed of the construction of a new city called Vittoria. Defeated by troops from the surrounding anti-imperial cities, they gave up their intentions in 1248. The other great period of fervor took place with various ups and downs due to ongoing wars for supremacy between various important families. During those years of upheaval, and well into the Rennaisance, two figures stand out: Grapaldo and Taddeo Ugoleto who, together with other humanists, spread new ideas, inflaming the Italian states.
With the beginning of the Ducato, Parma became a ‘little capital' a title that it still holds today. And the period of the Farnesian duchy began with Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese, who was already bishop of Parma from 1509 to 1534). After having constructed the Dukedom of Parma and Piacenza, it was handed to his son Pier Luigi giving rise to two centuries of history which changed the face of the city. In Oltretorrente the dukes built their palazzo, which now stands inside the Parco Ducale; they commissioned Gian Battista Fornovo to build the Steccata church, and Aleotti and Magnani to build the Quartiere, with the dome decorated with frescoes by Bernabei. The Pilotta was built on the other side of the river - an enormous complex more like a castle than a palazzo, which became the home to workers at the Farnesian court and a depository for arms and equipment. The Reinach Theatre was annexed to the Pilotta, a real architectural jewel that was completely destroyed by bombs in the second world war. The construction of the Cittadella is also credited to the Farnese. It is a pentagonal complex, originally part of the city's fortification. Many of the most beautiful churches which can still be visited in Parma were commissioned by the Farnese and remain testimony to the beauty of the baroque period, or the older ones testify to the transition from Mannerism to baroque. San Quintino, Sant'Alessandro, the Rossi oratory, San Vitale, Santa Croce, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Santa Cristina e Sant'Antonio, where even Jacopo Bibiena worked.
In 1718, the dukedom passed to the Bourbons when the Farnese family died out and a new period began for Parma. Often the city's rulers were involved in distant wars. Filippo di Borbone, second cousin to Elisabetta arrived to rule the city after several years. With him, Du Tillot arrived in 1759, an able minister who chose to be linked to France rather than Spain. A man of great intelligence, he was surrounded by intellectual friends such as Condillac, Millot, Petitot, Boudard, Ravenet, Paciaudi, Bodoni and many others. Du Tillot brought an "international" flavour to Parma, livening up daily life and giving the economy and culture a boost. He also aimed to brighten up the city itself and open schools.
Throwing Du Tillot out in 1765, Ferdinando, Filippo's successor, put an end to the period of reform and liveliness. He died in 1802, the duchy ended up in the hands of Napoleon. Parma's occupation ended with the Congress of Vienna, which settled the most important matters. It was officially decided to assign the duchy to Maria Luigia, now a symbol of Parma. Neipperg, then joined her, governing in a relaxed, detached manner. The construction of Teatro Regio, and the Palazzo Ducale (no longer in existence) near to the Pilotta dates back to this period. Maria Luigia died in 1847. The Treaty of Paris (1817) establishes that the dukedom passed to the Bourbons and Carlo Ludovico arrived in Parma. In the meantime, the Independence war broke out and various liberal movements developed within the city. The Bourbon leadership ended definitively in 1859. The following year saw the annexation of Parma to Piedmont.