Padua is a place of gathering for the faithful. Every June, pilgrims come from all over the world to honor St. Anthony of Padua, a 13th Century itinerant preacher whose spell-binding sermons packed the pews in churches throughout Italy. The Basilica di S. Antonio, built over his remains between 1232 and 1307, celebrates his sanctity with works by Dona-tello, Sansovino, Menabuoi. Venetian influence is evident in the church's design. Byzantine domes, an ornate facade and two high, thin bell towers give the exterior an eastern appearance. The interior, despite its Gothic plan, also has many Byzantine decorative details. The Chapel of St. Anthony, where the revered tomb lies behind the altar, is a 16th Century design by Briosco.
In Piazza del Santo, to one side of the basilica, stands a famous equestrian statue of Erasmo da Narni, called Gat-tamelata, by Donatello. This sculpture of the great Venetian condottiere is believed to be the first great bronze cast in Italy during the Renaissance. Also in the piazza is the Oratorio di San Giorgio, originally a private mausoleum for the prominent Soranzo family. The oratory is completely decorated with beautiful frescoes of the lives of the saints by Altichiero and Avanzo. On the corner of the piazza is the entrance to the Museo Civico which houses pain tings by Bellini. Titian and Giorgione. among others.
The via Belludi leads to another notable square, the Prato della Valle. A small park at its center is reached by crossing one of the four stone bridges over a circular moat. In the park itself is a circle of statues: famous past citizens of Padua.
The city centers around the crowded Piazza delle Erbe, one of the three market squares. Here stands the Palazzo della Ragione, called locally II Salone, a massive medieval structure. The interior is one vast hall, decorated with fine frescoes and housing a large wooden horse copied from Donatello's bronze masterpiece. Behind II Salone is a large coffeebar, Caffe Pedrocchi, famous throughout Italy as a gathering place for intellectuals. During the Risorgimento, liberals from the nearby university would meet here to discuss the founding of the new nation.
From here it is only a short walk through Piazza dei Signori to Padua's Duomo. Although the cathedral was designed by Michelangelo, many alterations in the master's plans were allowed and the result is rather disappointing. The most interesting corner of the church is the frescoed Baptistry.
North to Cappella degli Scrovegni
To the north of the university lies the Cappella degli Scrovegni, also called Madonna dell'Arena, because of the nearby ruins of a Roman amphitheater. Enrico Scrovegni commissioned this richly decorated chapel in 1303 to atone for his father's sinful miserliness and usury. It contains a cycle of frescoes that depicts the history of Christian redemption from the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary through the Last Judgement. The panels are considered Giotto's masterpieces; his style marked a turning point in western painting because he gave the human figure more physical solidity and emotional depth than it had had since ancient times.
It is lucky for art lovers that the Arena Chapel escaped the fate of the nearby Erimatani whose apse, covered with precious Mantegna frescoes, was bombed during World War Two. That was the greatest loss of art the Italians suffered during the last war.